Adolescents who are 16 and 17 years of age vote for the first time in Argentina this year. In response to the initiative from President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's party, Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory), and the enthusiasm of mobilized youths, Congress has approved the new measure. In Argentina all citizens between ages 18 and 70 must vote. Those outside of that range may attend events at polling stations or choose not to participate at all.
Nicaragua, Ecuador and Brazil have already extended suffrage to adolescents 16 years old and older. Argentina joined the list last August when the youth voted in the congressional primaries. This Sunday they will have the opportunity to vote in the general elections.
Still, only 42,7 percent of the youths eligible to vote have renewed their ID cards in time to participate. These newcomers represent almost 1,9 percent of all voters. According to Federico Aurelio, a consultant, their contribution will not be a determining factor in the outcomes of the elections. "If the candidates were neck-to-neck the youth vote would be significant but that's not the case," he said.
Surveys of persons between 16 and 23-year-olds show that those who identify themselves as followers of Kirchnerismo show greater interest in politics. "Those youths are more likely to go to the polls," Aurelio said. "Their party leaders are always advocating for young people's participation. On the other hand those who do not support the Front for Victory are those who have lost faith in politics, who feel discouraged and therefore may not even vote." There are no statistics on how many of the 16 and 17-year-olds eligible to vote actually participated in the primaries.
Kirchnerismo celebrates the youth's engagement and participation
Pilar Garrido is 16 years old and lives in Buenos Aires. Garrido said she rushed to get her ID card renewed because she wanted to vote for opposition member and Peronist candidate for representative, Sergio Massa. Massa is the current mayor of Tigre, a town on the outskirts of the capital.
"When we vote we are saying what we want for our country," Pilar said. "I am scared to go out on the street. I live in a gated community in Tigre and I see the disparity between rich and poor because there are slums around. There is a wall that separates those of us who have food and good schools and those who do not have clean water. Poverty leads to lack of security. I don't think that I know a lot about politics but I know the candidates and I know what the ones who are currently in power are doing. I would vote for Massa because he's doing things well. He improved the streets and I saw that he went to the slums to help."
Tomás Mira, 16, will vote this Sunday. But, he doesn't know for whom just yet. He's from Parque Chacabuco, a middle class neighborhood in the capital. He also hurried to get his papers in order because he wanted to participate in the elections. "I am interested in politics and now that the state has given me this opportunity I think it would be good to take advantage of it," he said though he has reservations about extending voting rights to the youths.
"I don't agree with some aspects of it," he explained. "There are civil rights that don't concern us yet. Why do I have the right to vote for a political party that may later pass a traffic law when at 16 years old I can't drive. I also don't think it's right that it is optional for us and not for those who are of age," Tomás continued. He learns about what's happening in politics through newspapers and conversations at school.
"For now I'm not sure who to vote for, Tomás continued. I'm not 100 percent sure because I don't know all the parties well enough. Among the most well-known, I lean toward some more than others. But, I want to get to know them all." Tomás said he was also considering spending some time looking for answers through advertisements online and by asking his acquaintances about the candidates' backgrounds.
In 2012 Kirchnerismo promoted the so-called "youth vote" law and this year it was approved in Congress without the support of the opposition -not because they all rejected it but because they had left the floor over another dispute.
There were leaders who opposed to the measure because they considered it was a maneuver that would only favor the Front for Victory. President Kirchner, a Peronist herself, complained during a debate last year saying "What is all this talk about the youth being manipulable? Oh, please."
Sergio Massa, who was then a member of the president's party and who has since joined the opposition, was in favor of the law. "I think it's important to increase participation. Personally when I was 16 years old I was politically active so I couldn't put the age limit there myself."
Another dissident Peronist, the governor of Córdoba, José Manuel de la Sota, took the initiative down a peg. "Letting the youth participate is good but it's more important to give them work. Voting is good but we'll have to see if they are interested. In Córdoba 16-year-olds can vote but it has been a failure."
"We are going to vote down this measure because it's hypocritical, deceitful and divisive," said the then representative of the conservative party Propuesta Republicana (PRO), Laura Alonso. In the multi-faceted center-left the positions were diverse. Elisa Carrió opposed the measure and asked if the president's party was going to buy the youth vote. "What are you going to offer them in school and what are you going to offer them out of school? Money? Maybe drugs?" The socialist Hermes Binner who now stands as a candidate supported the measure saying, "we have faith in the youth." The centrist Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) supported the initiative but urged that voting be made compulsory.
Inspired youths also participated in the debate outside of Congress. Gianna Cambrusano, a 19-year-old resident of Caballito, a middle class neighborhood in Buenos Aires supports the Frente Cultural La Gleyzer, an organization dedicated to the youth. "In our organization there are many members between ages 14 and 22 and those who are going to vote are very excited," she said. "The youth vote is important for political inclusion. For party members and activists it's an acknowledgement of those who are already participating in the political process," said Gianna, who will vote for the parties Front for Victory and Alternativa Popular or Popular Alternative.
Contrary to the majority of the country, Buenos Aires has never been a supportive district of Kirchnerismo. At the Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) the party always loses elections for student delegates to the leftists and radicals. Gianna, however, said that in public highschools around the city, where there is political engagement, the government has more support than it will find at the university level.
Translation: Dyane Jean François