[WATCH] The kids will be alright: parties agree it is high time Maltese 16-year-olds get to vote

16-year-olds can give a valid contribution to the political agenda by voting, although young people and the general public might not necessarily agree

Parliamentary secretary for reforms Julia Farrugia Portelli, academic Andrew Azzopardi and Nationalist Party MP Ryan Callus, on Xtra tonight, were largely in agreement giving the right to vote to 16 and 17-year-olds
Parliamentary secretary for reforms Julia Farrugia Portelli, academic Andrew Azzopardi and Nationalist Party MP Ryan Callus, on Xtra tonight, were largely in agreement giving the right to vote to 16 and 17-year-olds

The parliamentary secretary for citizenship Julia Farrugia Portelli has defended Labour’s extension of suffrage for 16-year-olds, saying younger voters were mature enough to take critical decisions.

Speaking on  TVM’s Xtra, Farrugia Portelli said children were often underestimated and that the young were able to distinguish between what is right and wrong.

Her views were largely echoed by Nationalist Party MP Ryan Callus and the academic Andrew Azzopardi, both of whom agreed that giving 16-year-olds voting rights – something only Austria has done nationwide within the EU – should have happened earlier.

“I have no reservations on giving young people the vote,” Azzopardi said. “They have a very important contribution to give, and politics benefits from the untainted minds of young people. I’m not worried that we hurried in doing this, on the contrary, I think we are late.”

“We indeed might be a bit late,” Callus said, “If it were for the Nationalists, 16-year-olds would have even been able to vote in the last election.”

Presenter Saviour Balzan asked whether giving the vote to people who could not yet enter into certain contracts would open a Pandora’s box, Callus said that although the young cannot have all the rights that adults have, “we are ready to give them the opportunity to be more involved.”

Farrugia Portelli said that around 3,350 16 and 17-year-olds were already in work.

But psychotherapist Julianne Grima suggested that young people could possibly be under more pressure by their family and friends to vote in a certain way, especially since they were still very dependent on such people.

Countering, Andrew Azzopardi said that the young already had to deal with a lot of pressure, but also the ability to absorb it. “Several times young people actually go contrary to what their parents say. The huge majority win in the last two elections shows that people who were not traditionally Labour-leaning voted for the PL. So there was a shift – and if older people can shift, then 16-year-olds with a free mind should also be able to move away from their parents’ political views.”

Farrugia Portelli said she hoped that we could foster a culture in Malta where one could make a political argument and disagree with someone else without trying to damage the other person. “I don’t want my children to be labelled as ‘blue’ or ‘red’ – politicians have to try to bring about a change in thinking.”

Giving a somewhat opposing view, student Steve Zammit Lupi, said that although not against the vote for 16-year-olds, he was unsure as to how such a proposal would serve young people well.

“It is not only a question of maturity. At 16 you are still developing mentally, physically, and so on, and it is easy to be influenced by what happens around you. I think there are other ways for young people to involve themselves in society. We need to teach the young to question things. Just giving them the vote is naïve, as it will not solve the problem,” he said, adding that people his age, who he had talked with, were also doubtful about the law and whether it was necessary.

Callus said that future electoral manifestos would “without a doubt” have to dedicate a section specifically targeting 16 and 17-year-olds. “We must approach young people and convince them through our policies,” he maintained.

Expressing a similar view, Azzopardi said that new voters were always very important for political parties.

“These young people are going to bring new ideas, innovation and creativity. They will also help average out what politicians are bringing to the table, in terms of how their proposals affect people throughout the age groups.”

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