Every day something remarkable occurs – from the latest crisis in Syria, to the newest scandalous Miley Cyrus dance move; to road blocks, public transport schedules and political debates on a national level.
Time and time again issues arise, before falling into the inconspicuous mental abyss of those who debated them, and fading away completely for those more concerned with whether or not they can master ‘the twerk’ in time for the weekend.
The latest hot coal issue is that of Vote 16. The argument is whether youths should be given the right to vote at the tender age of 16; and consequently, be given a stronger stance in democratic society. KSU, together with Aġenzija Żagħżagħ, have taken a new initiative to reach more youths and encourage them to play a more active role in their society, while strengthening educational values and political participation. Together, alongside a number of student organization representatives, they debated the pros and cons of allowing fresh graduates from secondary school to have the right to vote. Dr Stefan Buontempo, Parliament Secretary for Research, Innovation, Youth and Sport was also present for the debate.
Paul Caruana Turner, representing KNZ, in favour of the motion passing through, based his argument on the fact that since the government and society accept 16 year olds entering into the working world, then the aforementioned deserve the selective right as to who governs them and on how the taxes they pay are spent. Caruana Turner also broached onto the possibility of having a 16 year old contest elections and possibly being elected – the ultimate indication that society does recognize the full potential of its youths. This, he expounded, is the true definition of democracy.
Following the same line of thought were Rosa Huhtamäkiv (We Are) and Joseph Masini (Pulse) who fully support the premise, saying that it is the educational system’s responsibility to teach youths about social responsibility, as already proven by young electives. In fact, it is their slightly older peers who are providing so much opposition.
“The process to learn is not achieved by voting…The right to democratic election is through education” counteracted Martha Mifsud (AEGEE) and Ryan Sultana (Science Students’ Society). The two emphasized that the next two years are essential for a 16 year old fresh out of secondary school who does not have the necessary education to represent society. Apart from this, they voiced the reservation of many that if 16 year olds were to be given the chance to vote, it would go against many legislative regulations, in which under 18s are still considered to be minors.
Neutral ground was held by Oriana Farrugia (SHS Studenti ghall-Harsien Socjali) , Brendan Zerafa (JEF) and Beppe Degorgio (SDM). The trio stated that in order for us to pre-empt such a move, one should conduct studies on a local level, as well as internationally. Nevertheless, they recognized the possible crisis which could arise if a 16 year old was to be elected into a position of power.
The second debate continued on the same lines as the first, this time deviating from the more specific issue of voting at 16, and towards the more general aspect of youth participation in politics.
The debate was kicked off by youth advocate Luisa Tolu (We Are), who put forward her beliefs that youths are no less active in politics than their older counterparts, in a positive and cheerful manner which would come to typify the rest of the debate. Luisa highlighted Malta’s political and social consistency as being a stabilising factor in terms of the existing status quo, implying that change is not needed or desired. She did continue to state that if one empathises with foreigners of different backgrounds who come to Malta as outsiders, the possibilities of betterment truly come to the surface. Pulse representative Ryan Pace stressed the importance of encouraging the participation of youths in politics while not intrusively forcing matters down their throats. He also lamented the stigma of associating student associations to senior political parties, which he considers to be completely misconstrued. This perception wards off well-intentioned youths who for whatever reason do not seek involvement with the country’s main political parties.
Paul sought to immediately clarify that there must be a clearer distinction between students and national politics. Paul also pointed out the fact that student activism is greatly dependent on necessity; and if students do not feel they have issues to solve, they will not be motivated to participate – and this can be viewed as a good thing given that the students feel satisfied, although it could also be connected to the fact that Malta only has one university, which could lead to a slightly apathetic attitude of just dealing with it since there are few educational alternatives. Dyana Lee quickly declared her full support towards the idea of youth participation in politics. However she referred to the way older and more established members of society refuse to consider the youth as a feasible source of input in the form of ideas and energy. Dyana Lee also commented on the Pulse/SDM sense of opposition as being derivative of the national border between the Nationalist and Labour parties, and being generally detrimental to political youth participation.
Asma Dekna was true to her representation of AISEC in her unrelenting view that politics should be taken internationally and not locally. Asma accentuated Malta’s political stability, praising it while admitting that a lack of any need for revolution on any scale might not be the most effective method of encouraging youth involvement in politics. Therefore youth should be turning to foreign grounds for inspiration and motivation, such as the gay issue currently burning heatedly in France.
The topic proved to be an intense one yet, to their credit, the participants maintained a dignified and respectful manner. The debate yielded a stunning flow of ideas and productivity which provide an underlying sense of hope for the future of youth in relation to politics, through the presence and passionate commitment of the youthful participants themselves. Both debates where hoisted by Dr. Andrew Azzopardi.