Watch: God forbid we spent 30 years educating youths before giving them the vote - Farrugia Portelli

Parliamentary Secretary says voting at 16 law fulfills another PL electoral pledge

Malta followed in Austria's footsteps on Monday night when MPs unanimously voted to extend suffrage to 16- and 17-year-olds.

But while Austria began teaching students about democratic participation almost 40 years ago and has spent the subsequent decades refining its civic education classes, Maltese youths have been flung onto the local political scene with little more than a wing and a prayer. 

If that gaping knowledge gap has Julia Farrugia Portelli concerned, she does a good job of masking it.

In this Times Talk interview, Ms Farrugia Portelli - who was tasked with spearheading the reform as parliamentary secretary for citizenship - acknowledges that education will be key in ensuring the reform is a success, though she is more focused on campaigns which will begin from here on in, rather than the longer-term groundwork. 

The decision to lower the voting age, she insists, was part of the Labour Party's electoral manifesto, and youths were overwhelmingly in favour of the change. 

"God forbid we had to spend 30 years educating youths and then another 30 to give them the vote," the parliamentary secretary says when presented with the Austrian example, arguing that stakeholders did not raise concerns about a lack of educational preparedness.   

In reality, the University Students' Council did highlight concerns that civic education in local schools is severely lacking, though their objections, publicised just 10 days before the Bill passed into law, were quickly drowned out. 

"This is a continuing journey," Ms Farrugia Portelli adds, noting that Monday's vote completed a process which had started last legislature, when 16-year-olds were allowed to vote in local council elections. 

Will we be able to protect youths as young as 12 from vote-hungry politicians bearing freebies? 

Ms Farrugia Portelli is confident that won't be a problem. 

"I trust our electorate is mature enough not to be swayed by gifts," she says, adding when pressed "we already have mechanisms which assess how candidates spend their money during electoral campaigns."  

Watch the full Times Talk interview in the video above


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