Lowering the right to vote to 16 is in the interest of civil society and the planet

When you are sixteen, you can go to prison in the Czech Republic, but they say you are not yet mature enough to co-decide on the future and the administration of the country you live in. Photo FB Czech High School Union

Members of the German Bundestag a few days ago approved the right to vote in elections to the European Parliament for citizens over the age of sixteen. Until now, Germans could vote from the age of eighteen, similar to the Czech Republic. Our western neighbor is thus following in the footsteps of Austria and other European countries that have already introduced similar measures.

In Germany, sixteen-year-olds can already vote in state or municipal elections in some federal states. The original plan of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s cabinet was to lower the minimum voting age in federal elections as well — but this requires a constitutional majority, which the current coalition of Social Democracy, the Greens and the liberal FDP does not have. The opposition Christian Democrats and the far-right Alternative for Germany are unsurprisingly against it.

Similar initiatives to lower the minimum voting age, at least for local elections, are also heard from time to time in the Czech Republic — the Greens bring up the issue, the Elders bring up the Pirates. However, a broader political will to deepen our democracy following the example of some Western countries is lacking in Czech politics. To the detriment of us all.

The editor-in-chief of Deník Referendum Jakub Patočka wrote shortly after this year’s municipal and senate elections that “voters are by far the most competent institution of Czech political operation”. I think this idea can be pushed even further: Young voters are by far the most competent institution of domestic political operations.

It is often said that young voters would more easily jump on the bandwagon of various extremists and populists, but little could be further from the truth. It is an idea based on impressions, cliches, and a stereotypical or pejorative view of the younger generation. This was always present as part of the natural generational clash. And not just generational — let’s remember prejudiceswhich prevailed during the introduction of women’s suffrage.

But above all, nothing like that has any support in the data, because it shows the exact opposite: while the Pirates lead the way among voters under the age of thirty, if it were only up to older voters, we would have long ago found ourselves in an oligarchic-populist-fascist hell. That it is currently the fault of the grotesque inaction of the traditional left, led by the ČSSD, is a different matter.

It is and was precisely young people and students who stirred important social changes in the bud, be they democratic ones thirty-three years ago, or social-ecological ones today — for example, during the occupation strikes that took place at Czech universities in recent days. It is likely who has the greatest interest in denying the right to vote to parts of the legally responsible population based solely on their age, and thus maintaining the status quo throughout.

Who is comfortable with the status quo?

In addition to fossil corporations, it is also ultra-conservatives, reactionaries, homophobes, religious fundamentalists and all kinds of regressive forces in general who benefit from the current mood. Their success and the influence necessary to promote their agenda — whether it is opposition to abortion or equal rights for LGBTQ people — is closely related, among other things, to the separation of formal politics from the youngest generations and other specific social groups.

In short, a chamber full of men in their fifties or sixties votes for the constitutional ban on equal marriage with much greater ease than a political body in which younger people, women or sexual minorities are adequately represented. In addition to lowering the minimum age for candidacy, lowering the minimum voting age would help break the current situation, when the average age of a deputy is fifty, only three deputies are under thirty, and three quarters of the House of Representatives are men.

It is now in the deepest interest of civil society, as opposed to fossil corporations, ultra-conservatives and all kinds of anti-democratic forces, to support young people’s interest in public events as diligently as possible and to create a background for it. We won’t achieve this with one change, but lowering the threshold for choice may be the most significant and symbolic of all.

The existing deeply conservative, if not authoritarian, system of education and the almost zero real possibility within school administrations to participate in the running of schools contribute significantly to apathy regarding politics among young people.

However, they are less fundamental compared to the formal denial of the right to vote to tens of thousands of people — although we have recognized criminal responsibility for them for a long time. When you are sixteen, you can go to prison in the Czech Republic, but you cannot decide on the future and the administration of the country in which you live.

And when you acquire the right to vote at the age of eighteen, you can quite possibly go to the ballot box knowing that your vote will not change anything anyway, because the people who stand in opposition to your view of the world have already institutionally secured control over the form of politics a long time ago. For example, the existence of the parliamentary chamber, which is reserved only for people over the age of forty.

This awareness can sow frustration and apathy towards the free establishment in teenagers and create in them the impression of a dysfunctional or incomplete democracy. Which inevitably leads to a misunderstanding of what we actually have a democratic establishment for, and distrust in it. And this is extremely dangerous in the context of the increasingly unstable and turbulent times of crisis of the current world order.

Source: Deník referendum by denikreferendum.cz.

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