Is 16 too young to vote?


The Czech Republic often suffers from post-election stalemates, yet there has never been sufficient political will to change the election system from proportional to majority. So is there another way around the problem? The Green Party think there might well be; they have suggested changing the election law to give people over 16 voting rights, saying that an influx of young voters would not only shift the balance of forces but give the government a stronger mandate.

The idea is not entirely new - neighbouring Austria has introduced a system under which young people over 16 get to vote in local elections. And the exceptionally high voter turnout out in the 16 to 18 age bracket shows that young Austrians appreciate having their say. The Czech Greens say there is no reason why a bigger share of the Czech population should not be allowed to participate in the voting process. Petr Stepanek believes that today's 16-year-olds are mature enough and responsible enough to be given that right:

"We are a country where 15 year olds are allowed to have sex and the outgoing parliament tried to pass a law under which 14 year olds could go to jail and we see no reason why - under such circumstances - 16 year olds should not have voting rights."

Under the present legislation Czechs cannot vote or drive a car until they are 18 - although they can have sex, marry with parental consent and are held criminally responsible for their actions at 16. Is there a discrepancy in this that needs to be addressed? Opinions on that vary. Political analyst Zdenek Zboril warns that although today's young people seem to mature faster the teen-years are a time of searching and uncertainty:

"As an expert on extremism I don't agree with the idea that 16 year olds should be allowed to vote."

Why? Where is the danger?

"These people are not completely formed -politically, sociologically - they often carry radical attitudes, irrational sentiments and so on."

Are you saying that they can be easily influenced in their teens?

"Yes. You know more than 85 percent of crimes are committed by youngsters in the under 25 age bracket. Neo Nazis and young Bolsheviks are usually under 18 - around 15, 16 years old ... and so on."

Petr Stepanek
So how might young voters between 16 and 18 change the political scene in the Czech Republic? Some commentators suggest that the Green Party may be seeking its own advantage here - on the assumption that many young people will want to support environmental issues. Petr Stepanek of the Green Party says that this is nonsense because it is almost impossible to predict which way young voters would swing.

"It is very unpredictable. I haven't seen a study on this. There is an example from Austria where people of this age group in Vienna voted mostly for the Social Democrats. On the other hand, since the Communists and some Social Democrats are very conservative in this country some of our young people might turn to more liberal parties or vote for the Greens. So we are not really sure what the outcome would be but this is not party politics - this is responsibility for the country. The main aim is not to put at an advantage an individual party but to increase the mandate of the government and to include people who have a big stake in it."