Austria opens the polls to 16-year-olds

Austria becomes the first country in the European Union to grant its 16-year-olds the right to vote in a general election this weekend but the move has provoked widespread controversy and criticism, even from the teenagers heading for the ballot box for the first time.

The new law lowering the voting age from 18 to 16 was passed last year by Austria's grand coalition government of conservatives and Social Democrats. It was expected to be used for the first time in polls scheduled for 2010, but the governing coalition was consumed by infighting and collapsed in July. And 200,000 new Austrian voters aged 16 and 17, now have a chance to vote on Sunday.

The move is designed to offset what is seen as a demographic imbalance caused by the Alpine state's rapidly ageing population. Last year Austria's 65-year-olds exceeded the number of 15-year-olds in the country. However, critics have argued that given the snap elections, the youngsters have not had enough time to prepare themselves as a result. And some of the would-be voters - who can purchase beer and wine even though they cannot drive or do military service - concur.

"I don't agree with the idea of teenagers of my age being given the right to vote," said Julia Tauschek, a 16-year-old high school pupil from the Austrian town of Linz yesterday. "We simply don't know enough about politics and we are not taught much about them at school either."

Sunday's contest is expected to be neck and neck battle between the conservative People's Party and Social Democrats, and opinion polls suggest far right Freedom Party and rightwing populist Jo(umlaut)rg Haider's Alliance for Austria could end up as kingmakers. The tight race means politicians have attached special importance to the new generation of voters: "It could be decisive because every vote will count this time," said Laura Rodas, 27, a Social Democrat MP who firmly supports the drop in the voting age. "I think we should be showing young people how politics can change the world."

Austria's rightist Freedom Party has gone out of its way to appeal to young voters. The party's perma-tanned 39-year-old leader, Heinz-Christian Strache appears at rallies surrounded by fans half his age. He portrays himself as a sort of rightwing Che Guevara on his web site and uses the Obama rallying cry "Yes we can!" at political meetings.

Christoph Hofinger, director of Austria's SORA institute for social research and analysis insists that lowering the voting age is simply designed to reflect the true make up of Austria's population: "Giving 16 and 17-year olds the right to vote helps to maintain the balance between the generations."

That view is contested by Austrian political scientists like Ferdinand Karlhofer of Innsbruck University. He maintains that research in the run up to this Sunday's poll has shown that the election will almost certainly be decided by voters aged 50 and over. "The idea that teenagers will have a big influence is just wishful thinking," he said.

Austrian media interviews with a random selection of 16-year-olds yesterday, produced very mixed results. Linz schoolgirl Julia Tauschek complained that her knowledge of Austrian politics was limited to what her mother had told her and to a background briefing on politics given during a two-hour history lesson at her school earlier this week.

Matthias Schrammel 16, a first year pupil at a Vienna business school said that he looked forward to voting on Sunday because he wanted to "influence politics". But he also complained that many of his contemporaries were ill informed and would probably end up "putting a cross on their favourite colour" once inside the voting booth.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower