Following the government’s announcement that the legislative procedure has been started to allow local council members as young as 16 or 17 to become mayors and deputy mayors, some of the comments made against this massive vote of confidence in the next generation of politicians were disheartening, to say the least.
I take massive pride in my political background. I started my political participation as a member of the Labour Party’s youth branch, a traditionally progressive faction that has contributed towards legislation that has helped shape the country to become more inclusive and open-minded. Among these many reforms, one can mention the introduction of LGBTQ+ rights and the decriminalisation of cannabis for personal use.
Above all, however, Labour Youths championed the idea of youths as young as 16 years of age having the right to vote. Through the ‘Vote16’ campaign, many youths could voice their desire for the right to cast their vote in both general, European, and local elections. On the 6th of March 2018, their wish was officially granted.
For the first time, during the European Parliament and local council elections in 2019, young voters had the right to cast their ballot in this country’s democratic process of electing the people’s representatives. These elections weren’t just a first for 16-year-olds voting but also for being candidates themselves. It is a cliché to say that “history repeats itself”, but that day, too, we had people asking, “16? 17? How can I trust a 16-year-old to be part of the team that runs the place where I live? They’ll never be elected.” Lo and behold, in St Paul’s Bay, 17-year-old Carlos Zarb got the second-most number of votes in the whole locality and was technically supposed to become St Paul’s Bay’s vice-mayor. However, due to the legislation at the time, he could not be appointed and had to wait until he “came of age”. Even then, he only got to serve as vice-mayor because the person occupying that role dropped his title.
So, if the electorate has no faith in our youth, why was Carlos elected? Was it because St Paul’s Bay residents were mindless in expressing their trust in a 17-year-old? Or was it that he got lucky? No. Residents gave him their vote because he shared a vision and determination to strive for the betterment of the locality. Carlos offered a fresh face with new ideas for the future that benefit the residents in the present while keeping the locality’s future in mind and safeguarded. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
First hand, I enjoy seeing this drive and determination every day within our youth branch. Young people coming up with ideas for a better state of living in this country. Teenagers with a vision of wanting a better future for themselves. This eagerness gives me hope that tomorrow’s leaders will make Malta proud and more successful than ever. During the closing of the Labour Party’s Annual General Conference recently, one of the speakers was a young activist from Labour Youths and a confirmed candidate for the Labour Party in the local council elections for Birgu, Rianne Cini. Rianne showed resilience and is proof that character is built through experience and drivenness.
It is that same character that should be considered when voting for local government, not the age of birth listed on a candidate’s identity card.