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OP-ED | 06-07-2024 05:27

Are youth votes wasted on the young?

Electoral opportunism is at work.

It would seem that 13 is not an unlucky number for libertarians at least, judging from the vigour with which government members are pushing for the reduction of suffrage to that age to be included among the reforms for the second half of the year now beginning.

A reform perhaps in tune with the increasingly adolescent, if not infantile tone of political discourse, as was recently made manifest by the generally vapid speeches in the marathon Congress debates on the ‘Ley de Bases’ omnibus – it might also be said that the President himself, brilliant economist although he undoubtedly is (with slightly more doubts as to his self-proclaimed right to a Nobel Prize for Economics), would sometimes seem to approximate that mental age when he bursts into his tantrums and scabrous insults, gesticulating like a teenage bully. Yet, as so often, there is method in his madness – just as Cristina Fernández de Kirchner lowered the voting age to 16 in 2012 to tap her popularity among the teen vote in times when it was not an oxymoron to call La Cámpora a youth movement, so similar electoral opportunism is at work here with Javier Milei being seen as the voice of the even younger, not without reason.

If infantile politicians are a backhanded argument for lowering the age of their voters, better grounds can be advanced, among which the government’s favourite line of reasoning – the equation of their proposed age of criminal responsibility with the right to vote – should not be included. There lies a huge distance from knowing the difference between right and wrong to accumulating the adult responsibilities and civic experience to make decisions in public affairs. A better argument would be that if their future has been mortgaged by the older generations thus far into this century, they deserve a voice towards salvaging their own adult lives. It could also be argued in favour of their enfranchisement that against their emotional immaturity and incomplete education of increasingly dubious quality, those aged between 13 and 15 are way ahead of their elders in mastering a fast-changing technology, a far from minor criterion.

Against that it might be pointed out that this age-group also tends to be highly apolitical (not uncommon among increasingly disenchanted adults either) and can only be attracted by heavier doses of music, TikTok and abuse of social networks, even then restricting their interest to electoral campaigns rather than the tedious routine of day-to-day governance – an exasperating trivialisation of politics at the expense of substance. Yet reversing this syndrome could also be negative. Should those in the first years of secondary school become highly politicised with the thrill of being able to vote, this could be at the expense of an education already in acute crisis – if the teaching profession continues to be dominated by KIrchnerite trade unions while a libertarian version of La Cámpora emerges, the resulting tensions could also lead to a new grieta chasm dividing classrooms with none of the mutual respect between teacher and pupil so essential to learning.

Education has already been threatened by a libertarian voice – three months ago the La Libertad Avanza deputy Alberto Benegas Lynch Junior proposed that school attendance be made optional, almost explicitly advocating child labour when he argued that children could be more useful to their parents in the workshop than in the classroom. Justice Minister Mariano Cúneo Liberona chimed into the campaign to lower the voting age by saying: “At the age of 13 you can carry out legal and commercial transactions, have a family and decide your career so why should you not be able to vote?” Quite apart from the dubious desirability of parenthood at the age of 13 (there are too many teen pregnancies as it is), Cúneo Liberona might as well add the right to work to his long list of things the lower teens can do, thus echoing Benegas Lynch’s enthusiasm for child labour.

Government spin doctors might relish a juvenile booster to slender Congress libertarian ranks but the symmetry with the Kirchnerite Law 26,744 to lower the voting age to 16 is too close to back an image of offering something new – this common denominator of electoral opportunism would suggest that Argentina’s new government is just another populism with a cyclical outlook obsessively following opinion polls rather than the bold structural reforms underpinned by the Pacto de Mayo which is to be belatedly signed in Tucumán on Independence Day next Tuesday.

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