Time for Change: Should Voting Eligibility Drop to 16 Years

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Every election is unique and perceptions of the candidates, the environment and the issues are dynamic. In fact, if you just look at recent history, you can see perceptions about a need for ‘change’ actually has changed quite a bit.
From the Yumi Toktok Strets perspective on discussions and debates being posted to the forum, there is a trend which points to one direction; to win the 2016 elections, political party’s must have a big bold economic message that tangibly impacts people’s lives, and that message must give people a reason to vote.
From the trend being witnessed on YTS, political party’s must act progressively through policies within the next 18 months. One thing that is visible, party’s must motivate young people and their parents to vote united in 2016. The issue of voter turn out though is a depressing low after the 2014 bi-elections.
From the YTS point of view, the defining issue of the moment is the explosion of inequality, where the rules are rigged by the one percent who sit inside the red roof. As one YTS member sums it up ‘We want candidates and voters in 2016 who will speak for the need to change the system so that it works for everyone and not just 52 people.’
Young people dominate the population and one big idea to inject into the 2016 elections would be to reduce the ‘voting age’ from 18 to 16 years. This would directly empower youths to vote and provide some needed change as the current registered population which are the ‘mature’ population are too lazy to vote and complain too much come election day in Vanuatu.
Take for example Great Briton, where the Labour Party wants to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 as it feels ‘Britain will only succeed as a country if we give our young people the chance to fulfil their potential and play their part’.
‘And when decisions are being taken which affect their future, a democratic country like ours should ensure that they have their voice heard’.
‘Too many young people are turning their backs on politics which is bad for our country and bad for them too’.
‘That’s because too often young people don’t get a look-in with politicians who know they can’t vote – or assume that they won’t vote’.
For Vanuatu though, voter turn out has been steeply the lowest in history and the mature population are not helping by the ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude they display which also discourages family members and contributes to the low turn out on polling day.
political will and weak coordination among government agencies, civil society, and academe to a lack of institutionalized opportunities.
The challenges are not only limited to writing the policy, but extend to its implementation, which is a key to success. A successful youth policy has to have sustainable mechanisms for funding, clear monitoring and evaluation indicators, and a strategic direction for implementation.
In Nepal, the National Youth Policy, endorsed in 2010, was seen as a means and not the end to improve the lives of young Nepalese. It was accompanied by an Implementation Plan, which tackles government accountability, allocation of responsibilities, and provision of funding: e.g., who does what, how they’ll do it, and how much it will cost. Some 17 government ministries were involved with the Plan. It even resulted in a Youth-Responsive Budgeting System, which is a software package that administers allocation and responsibilities for technical and financial resources for young people’s programs.
The promise of youth policies
The crafting of a national youth policy is a worthwhile pursuit for non-government326795_373656856048691_1704832143_o organizations, governments, and youth. Nepal and Timor-Leste are just two examples of successful youth policies.
With the use of new media, access to information and networking tools have opened up new opportunities, allowing more and more young people across the region to be engaged in political issues and socio-civic activities. More governments are seeing how young people can be agents of change. Truly, now is one of the best times to engage youth in decision-making.
If the choice for ‘change’ hinges on the ‘will to vote’ situation then the hope for progress in Vanuatu is very slim. One solution would be to allow the younger population who do make up the majority in the country the right to vote. It would really make a difference if the Government could provide some rights to the majority age group which is the age groups of 16 to 17 year old and ultimately let them decide the nations future.
Young people often need to be talked to in plain language about why their vote matters. Since they do make up the majority proportion fo the population, legislators need to know what voting means to young people and how they will feel if given the opportunity at an earlier age. In Vanuatu we need to break down the political concept so it is understood by the people. At most times our Government must show us the people how voting (and taking pro-active actions) can make a difference.
The primary indicator of voter turnout is registration. Once registered, voters are much more likely to turn out to vote but the disparity in registration rates can be seen with young voters. Engaging potential voters at a young age is a successful way to increase voter registration, not just in the short term but also over a lifetime.
‘Change’ will happen but it depends upon getting out the votes on polling day. For young people to be a ‘future’ for Vanuatu, there is the need to get them registered, keep them informed and get them involved which is very necessary. Lowering the voting age to 16 is a big idea but with proper provisions included it should instill a sense of responsibility and civic duty into the population and in the process, give them the power over their lives that they so richly deserve and need.

Author

Witnol Benko

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