Voting age “must be lowered to 16”, says new speaker of Polish parliament

The new speaker of Poland’s parliament – who is one of the leaders of a coalition of opposition parties preparing to form a new government – has declared his aim to lower the legal voting age from 18 to 16.

The pledge was made by Szymon Hołownia, leader of the centrist Poland 2050 (Polska 2050) party, during a meeting with high-school students in Kraków.

Hołownia was three weeks ago chosen as speaker of the Sejm, the most powerful lower house of parliament, by the chamber’s new opposition majority.

📌Wizyta Marszałka Sejmu w Krakowie. Relacja

W czwartek, 30 listopada, marszałek Sejmu @szymon_holownia udał się z wizytą do Krakowa, gdzie spotkał się z uczniami V Liceum Ogólnokształcącego im. Augusta Witkowskiego w ramach lekcji obywatelskiej. To drugie tego typu wydarzenie -…

— Sejm RP🇵🇱 (@KancelariaSejmu) November 30, 2023

“The voting age must be lowered to 16,” said Hołownia, reiterating a promise he made earlier this year before the elections. “Why? Because it will be fair. Society is ageing, which means that with each election, the percentage of older voters is getting larger.”

“We, the elders, by voting today, are planning your lives for much longer than for ourselves, because we will leave this world sooner, and you will continue to bear the consequences of our decisions,” he added, quoted by the Dziennik Gazeta Polska newspaper.

Poland’s most recent census showed the proportion of people of retirement age rose from 17% in 2011 to 22% in 2021. The state statistics agency, GUS, forecasts that around 40% of the population will be aged over 60 by 2050.

Poland’s population is set to shrink 23% by 2100, the seventh largest decline in the EU, new @EU_Eurostat forecasts show.

The ratio of the elderly to the working-age population is set to rise from 30% to 60% over that period

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) April 20, 2023

Hołownia admitted, however, that lowering the voting age would be difficult because it requires a change to the constitution. That can only be done with the support of two thirds of members of the Sejm and a simple majority in the upper-house Senate.

Poland 2050 holds only 7% of the Sejm’s 460 seats and five of the 100 in the Senate. It is part of a coalition of groups that together won 54% of seats in the Sejm at October’s elections. Even if all members of that coalition supported changing the constitution, additional votes from other parties would also be needed.

“I will need to find allies for this and I hope we will find them,” said Hołownia. “Whenever there is a constitutional moment [i.e. discussion of changing the constitution] I will be a great supporter of this and we will prepare a proposal on this matter.”

In the October elections, turnout was exceptionally high among the youngest voters, according to exit polls. It reached 69% among those aged 18-29, higher than the 67% turnout among voters aged 60+.

The trio of opposition groups ready to form a new government were the most popular among young voters, with the centrist Civic Coalition (KO) winning 28% of their support, The Left (Lewica) 18%, and the centre-right Third Way (Trzecia Droga) alliance getting 17%. Poland 2050 is part of Third Way.

By contrast, the ruling national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party was the least popular party among the young, picking up only 15% of their votes.

During his meeting with high-school students, Hołownia also hailed the unprecedented online interest in the workings of parliament since October’s elections, including record viewership on the Sejm’s YouTube channel.

The channel now has over 380,000 subscribers, of whom over 300,000 have started to follow it since Hołownia became speaker, notes news website Wirtualne Media.

Hołownia acknowledged that some politicians from the outgoing ruling Law and Justice (PiS) camp have criticised him for caring about such things. Many have suggested that, as a former TV presenter best known for fronting talent show Got Talent!, he cares too much about ratings.

But “they should also care about YouTube, because their power comes from people’s decisions, and not divine right, as some seem to think,” said Hołownia, who has also launched a new Sejm podcast.

“Until recently, [the Sejm] did not enjoy the best reputation,” noted the speaker. “But suddenly, after the elections on 15 October, it began to enjoy great interest from Poles.”

Regular polling of trust in institutions by the IBRiS agency shows that the Sejm has continually been among the least-trusted institutions in Poland since the surveys began in 2016. This year, just 29% of Poles said they trusted it.

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: SejmRP/Twitter

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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