Photo: Zoe Louise Gatt
The Maltese Parliament took a step into the unknown last night when it unanimously passed a law to lower the national voting age from 18 to 16.
Malta is now one of the only countries in the world, along with Austria, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Cuba, and the tiny islands of Jersey and Guernsey, in which 16-year-olds can vote. 16-year-olds can also vote in Serbia, Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina but only if they are employed.
Politicians of all hues welcomed the landmark decision, with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and the Opposition’s spokesperson for youth Ryan Callus both saying Malta has made history again and parliamentary secretary for reforms Julia Farrugia saying the government has proved its faith in the nation’s youth.
The Partit Demokratiku and Alternative Demokratika have also welcomed the decision.
— Joseph Muscat (@JosephMuscat_JM) March 5, 2018
— Ryan Callus (@RyanCallus) March 5, 2018
The National Youth Council and the youth wings of the Nationalist and Labour parties also hailed the decision, while the European Youth Forum issued a statement to congratulate Malta.
“The benefits of lowering the voting age to 16 are undeniable,” the EYF said. “Not only has it been proven to have a clear, positive impact on youth engagement and young people’s political knowledge but also helps to instill a habit of voting at a younger age, ultimately boosting lifelong participation rates.”
However, several Maltese people took to social media to express their frustration, with many questioning why 16-year-olds have been entrusted with the vote although they are not allowed to drink alcohol, drive or have sex and are still considered as minors by the Family Courts.
“So now that 16-year olds are going to vote, they will also be sent to prison as an 18 year old?” one woman asked. “And what about right to drive and get married? Rights bring with them responsibilities but we also know, even with the latest scientific testing, that their brains will not be fully developed. Yes, we listen to what children have to say as always, but not give them such responsibility. I believe that Parliament made a grievous mistake and disservice to youths today. I would have preferred if they raised everything to 21 years, including incarceration at Corradino, and invested in a ‘corrective facility’ for minors.”
And one man summed up the new reality quite succinctly: “So 16-year-olds aren’t allowed to enter Havana, but can choose the next government…”