The Malta Independent 23 July 2019, Tuesday

Vote 16: Debates on voting age and age of candidacy separated ‘to avoid stalling’

Neil Camilleri and Julian Bonnici Monday, 5 February 2018, 08:47 Last update: about 2 years ago

The debate on whether 16-year-olds should be allowed to contest elections was separated from the debate on lowering the voting age to 16 because concerns were expressed about the former and the government did not want progress on the latter to stall, an OPM spokesperson has told The Malta Independent.

However, the debate on whether 16-year-olds should be allowed to contest the local council elections, with the possibility of becoming mayors, will be held nonetheless, in line with the Labour Party's electoral manifesto, a spokesperson for Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia said.

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Furthermore, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat yesterday hinted the country would be moving in that direction, stating yesterday that the road towards such a development was a "natural" one.

Parliament last week approved a bill that seeks to amend the constitution to lower the voting age in general elections to 16. The voting age in Local Council elections has already been lowered. Both political parties had promised in their respective electoral manifestos to lower the voting age to 16.

But the bill in its current form, while allowing 16-year olds to vote in the next general election, which should be held in four years' time, does not reduce the age of candidacy. Public opinion on the matter seems to be divided, with many saying the government should go all the way and others arguing that 16-year-olds are not mature enough to stand for election.

The Malta Independent asked PS Farrugia Portelli, who is spearheading the reform, whether the age to contest should also be lowered.

Farrugia Portelli had, in Parliament, praised the analytical skills of 16-year-olds and their capacity to make informed choices and decisions.

She was asked whether she also felt that the age of sexual consent, the legal age for drinking and smoking and the legal age for driving should also be lowered to 16.

 

Concerns

A spokesperson said: "The electoral manifesto is committed to lower the voting age to 16 years for all elections. After a public consultation process and consultations carried forward with various stakeholders, more than 8,000 youths aged 16 and 17 will vote in the coming MEP elections.

We are the second country in the European Union and amongst the first ten countries in the world to introduce this right. This historic reform was done in the first year of this legislature because we wanted to give an unequivocal message that we value our youths and we do not think they are only the future but they are also our present."

"The electoral manifesto also pledges a discussion on whether 16-year-olds should contest local elections, with the possibility of being elected mayors. The public consultation specifically asked the public and also identified stakeholders on their views on this point. There were a number of concerns, even from youths on this matter, especially from a legal perspective.

Therefore in order not to stall the process to lower the voting age, the two discussions were separated. However, a discussion on whether 16 and 17 year olds should contest election has already started as promised in the manifesto."

Replying to the questions about the age of consent, the spokesperson said: "At the moment we are discussing the lowering of voting age and not other issues." 

'Natural' road

Speaking in Marsaxlokk yesterday, Prime Minister Muscat described the reform as "one of the biggest of this generation."

He said there would always be skepticism but "people will see it as something natural in the years to come."  The arguments being made now, he said, are similar to the arguments made when women were given the right to vote.

On the possibility of lowering the age to contest, Muscat said: "I think there is a natural road that we have embarked on and it this will not end here."

He said the next step is to educate youths on what it means to take part in the country's democratic process, adding that the young generation would be open minded and fully prepared to take this step.

 

 

 


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