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In general, Polish age limits for participation in representative democracy seem to be moderately restrictive. However, the same voting age limit applies to all levels and types of democratic procedures, although there are some differences regarding the minimum age for candidates running for president or for the position of local level executives. Regardless of the type (presidential, parliamentary) and level (local, national and European) of elections, young people acquire voting rights having attained the age of 18 not later than on the day of voting.
Only Polish citizens have the right to vote and be elected in national elections. Since 2004, Polish national law has had to comply with the requirements of the European Union and therefore it guarantees voting rights to EU citizens permanently residing in the territory of a commune and the right to stand for election in communal elections. This excludes the right to stand for local election for executive posts.
The Constitution of the Republic of Poland defines the age at which citizens may enjoy voting rights. Article 62 states that on the day citizens attain the age of 18, they acquire the right to elect the President of the Republic of Poland as well as Parliamentary deputies, senators and local government representatives. The initiative of lowering the voting age limit applicable to the above types of election would require a Parliamentary majority being in favour of amending the Basic Law. The statutory lowering of the voting age limit is only possible in the case of European parliamentary elections.
Plans to lower the voting age limit resulted from initiatives undertaken by some political groups and in non-governmental circles. In 2003, the Freedom Union (Unia Wolności) proposed the participation of people aged 16-17 in the EU accession referendum. In 2010, the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska) tried to sound out the idea of allowing junior youth to vote in local government elections. The demand to lower the voting age limit for all types of elections re-emerged in 2013 thanks to the party Your Move (Twój Ruch) (formerly the Palikot Movement) (Ruch Palikota).
The initiative to lower the voting age limit to 16 is not winning wide public support. Surveys show that not more than 15% of adult Poles are in favour (Waszak, Zbieranek 2011), however, youth organisations are quite supportive.
There are no age-based legal regulations in Poland that would facilitate participation in democratic procedures (elections, referendums). Disabled young people or those in restricted access establishments (hospitals, prisons and conscripted army units in the past) may use the facilities to which they are entitled in the same way as representatives of all other age groups.
The turnout of the youngest age groups in Poland is significantly lower than the average overall population turnout. However, since the mid-1990s an upward trend has been observed. More and more young people participate in elections. In the latest local and European Parliament elections in (2018-2019), the significant turnout’s increase was observed among youngest groups of voters, whereas the share of young voters in the national parliamentary elections had decreased.
The Political Parties Act (Ustawa o partiach politycznych) states that anyone aged over 18 may be a member of a political party in Poland. Most political parties liaise with various youth organisations. The nature of those relationships is very diversified. Some of them are officially affiliated youth organisations within political parties, some have the status of associated organisations or those loosely cooperating.
The latest data provided by the Central Statistical Office (2016) shows, that political parties have a total of 250 000 members which is almost equal to 1% of the overall population aged over 18. Comparing to 2014, a significant decrease of political party membership is observed, reaching 30%. Surveys show, that in the period from 2013 to 2015 the percentage of active members of political parties fluctuated from 3,2 to 4,2%.
In 2016, 16 political parties (versus 14 in 2014 and 9 in 2012) out of a total of 55 participating in the survey declared that they worked with youth organisations operating either within their party structures or acting as independent associations.
In 2016, the youth organizations of the party gathered 17 400 members, which is over 800 members more than in 2014. Among them were people under the age of 18, but their share in the overall structure membership was not significant as they accounted for only 6,3% (7% in 2014) of the total membership of the youth organizations of the parties. In 2016, the average youth organization gathered nearly 1 100 members simultaneously half of the youth had no more than 71 activists. Between 2014 and 2016, the share of women among youth members nearly doubled and amounted to almost 50%
In 2014 they had 16,500 members, which accounts for 5,5% of all members of political parties. 92% of them (15 400) were young people who were members of affiliated youth organisations within political parties represented in Polish Parliament. Under 18’s accounted for slightly over 7% of all members of youth organisations within political parties. The percentage of female members of youth organisations operating within political parties was 34,4%. Data on the age structure of members of actual political parties is not easily available, so it can only undergo selective analysis. For example, in 2013 the Civic Platform (PO - Platforma Obywatelska) had 3 400 members aged 18-24 (8%) and 15,500 members aged 25-40 (36%). Age demographic structures can vary significantly from party to party.
Young people as candidates in elections
The Election Code is a document which contains all the regulations concerning the voting age limit and the age limit to stand for election in Poland (Journal of Laws 2011 No. 21 item 112). Among other things, it sets the minimum age of candidates participating in various categories of democratic elections. Art. 10 (1) of the Code states that voting rights can be exercised as follows:
1) In the case of parliamentary, Senate and presidential elections- Polish nationals who attain the age of 18 not later than on the day of voting can exercise their right to vote;
2) In the case of European Parliamentary elections in the Republic of Poland- Polish nationals who attain the age of 18 not later than on the day of voting and European Union nationals who are not citizens of Poland and who attain the age of 18 not later than on the day of voting and permanently reside in the territory of the Republic of Poland can exercise their right to vote.
3) in the case of local government elections:
a) commune councils - Polish nationals and European Union nationals who are not citizens of Poland and who attain the age of 18 not later than on the day of voting and permanently reside in the territory of the relevant commune can exercise their right to vote,
b) district councils and provincial parliaments - Polish nationals and who attain the age of 18 not later than on the day of voting and who permanently reside in the territory of the relevant district or province can exercise their right to vote;
4) in mayoral elections in a commune - people having the right to elect the council of that commune can exercise their right to vote.
Under Art. 11 (1), the right to stand for election in each category is as follows:
1) For Parliamentary Elections (Sejm) - Polish nationals who have the right to vote in parliamentary elections and attain the age of 21 not later than on the day of voting;
2) For Senate Elections - Polish nationals who have the right to vote in Senate elections and attain the age of 30 not later than on the day of voting;
3) For Presidential Elections- Polish nationals who have the right to vote in presidential elections and attain the age of 35 not later than on the day of voting while enjoying full voting rights in parliamentary elections;
4) For European Parliament Elections in Poland - people enjoying voting rights in European Parliament Elections in the Republic of Poland who attain the age of 21 not later than on the day of voting and have permanently resided in the Republic of Poland or in the territory of other member state of the European Union for 5 years;
5) For Local Government Elections - people enjoying the right to vote in local government elections;
6) For Mayoral elections - Polish nationals enjoying voting rights in such elections who attain the age of 25 not later than on the day of voting; however, candidates do not have to permanently reside in the territory of the commune where they are a candidate (Journal of Laws 2011 No. 21 item 112).
Polish legislation does not mention any parities relating to the age of candidates on an electoral ticket.
In the late autumn of 2019 there were 14 under-30s deputies in the Polish Parliament. They accounted for 3,1% of all Members of Parliament, compared with 10 persons of that age in the previous term of Parliament (The share of under-30s deputies in both Lower (Sejm) and Higher (Senat) Chambers of Polish Parliament is 2,54%. ). Consequently, Poland ranked 47th in the global ranking of youth participation (2018), where the global average was 2,2%, and the European - 3,9%.
Although there is some data concerning candidate age in the most recent election, it is not accurate. However, certain general theses can be advanced. It is the candidates’ average age that is most frequently quoted in announcements. It is understandably higher in the case of elections where higher age limits apply. In 2019 the average age of all Parliamentary candidates was 46 (42 in 2015 and 44 in 2011). In the 2014 local government elections, the average age of candidates was 47 (46 in 2014) and in the 2019 European Parliamentary Election - 46 (45 in 2014). The average candidate age in elections of mayors and city presidentsin 2019 was 50 (49 in 2014), with the minimum age limit for standing for election being 25. The 2015 presidential election witnessed a generational change. The election was won by Andrzej Duda who was 43 years old at the moment of being sworn in as Poland’s president. Therefore, he became the youngest president and head of state in Europe (except for Kosovo) and one of the youngest in the world.