Updated 9pm- Voting age for general elections will be lowered from 18 to 16 under constitutional amendments which started being discussed in parliament on Monday evening. The same will happen for European Parliament elections.

All political parties agree with the amendments, which should therefore sail through the House.

Parliament's Strangers' Gallery is packed by young people watching proceedings. 

The lowering of voting age comes on the 70th anniversary since women were allowed to vote at general elections for the first time. Universal suffrage had been granted on a motion moved before the national assembly by then Labour leader Paul Boffa.

READ: 70 years since women first voted

At the time, the voting age was 21. It was reduced to 18 in as from the 1976 general election.

The right to vote at 16 was granted for local council elections as from 2015.

Although all those Maltese turning 16 will now be eligible to vote, potential candidates will still need have to turned 18 before they can be nominated.

Monday evening's bill will also amend the General Elections Act and the European Parliament Act.

The motion for debate was moved by Julia Farrugia Portelli, Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms, Citizenship and Simplification of Administrative Processes. In a rare move, Opposition deputy leader David Agius seconded the motion. 

The parliamentary secretary said Malta was only the second country to lower voting age to 16, after Austria. This was in line with a recommendation by the EU and it was heartening that there was near universal agreement about it. 

Mr Agius said this was a dream come true. It was now important that young people realised what this right implied. They should inform themselves of the country's democratic principles and political life in the country. 

Education Minister Evarist Bartolo said this law would strengthen an electoral system which was the envy of many countries - Malta had a high rate of participation in elections and its system was such that parliamentary representation was in strict proportionality to votes, something which could not be said, for example, for the United States. 

On that point, Godfrey Farrugia (PD) said fine-tuning of the electoral system still needed to be done, such as recognition of coalition agreements (for the purposes of calculating the majority) made before elections.

The Vote 16 amendments will see those eligible to vote rise by 8,500. They will vote for the first time in the European Parliament elections next year. 

Reducing the voting age has been discussed for a number of years and in September 2016 the Nationalist Party and PD MP Marlene Farrugia jointly presented a parliamentary motion to raise the issue in parliament.

The National Youth Council (KNÅ») was among the first to urge its adoption.

“There is an old democratic principle which states that there should not be any taxation without representation. If we were to extend this principle to 16-year-olds, they should also be able to vote, since they are allowed to work and liable to pay taxes,” the council had argued.

The government last year issued a White Paper and confirmed its intention to lower the voting age.

Few have argued against the proposals. Among them was columnist Ray Azzopardi, who wrote in The Sunday Times of Malta on December 31:

“We shall not be doing our youth a favour or justice by allowing them to vote at 16 in general elections. On the contrary, politicians shall be using them for their own interests…

“Giving our 16-year-olds the right to decide on matters concerning everyone and everything, without first endowing them with the right skills and experience to be able to make an informed decision would be both to their own detriment and to the nation as a whole”

READ: Are 16-year-olds ready to vote? - Ray Azzopardi

“One should ask, at this stage, what is the real motive behind our politicians wanting 16-year-olds to vote? What is their hidden agenda? Do they simply want to make history? Do they, sincerely, want to enhance and empower our youth or do they want to influence and manipulate young minds that are still fragile and weak?”

The debate in parliament continues on Tuesday.

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