5.2 Youth participation in representative democracy
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The minimum age to vote in elections is 18, whether it is locally, nationally or European-wide. This minimum age also applies to referendums.
Young citizens displaced in work, students, researchers or scholarship students may resort to early voting, when they are not able to exercise the right to vote in the respective Assembly, according to Organic Law no. 3/2010. Young people who are abroad under an exchange programme may also vote early. The National Electoral Commission clarifies several issues about early voting.
In Portugal, there is the perception that youth participation in electoral acts is low.
Concrete data points to variable numbers, which fluctuate according to the type of electoral process. For example, and according to Cunha and Valente (2014), addressing the Youth Vote in the Elections of the European Parliament, we can see the percentages of the youth vote regarding 2009 and 2014, between the ages of 18 and 24, being around 29% – the European trend – and the lack of identification with political parties being around 68%, which is a relevant indicator. This goes hand in hand with a high factor of unfamiliarity of how democratic institutions work, both national and European. Nevertheless, the importance of democracy is almost unanimous in the motivations of those who vote, and important elements of reflexion are listed according to the Flash Eurobarometer (refer to no. 375) about European youth and the participation of young people in democratic life.
In formal terms, there is no differentiation between young people and other voters in regard to their passive electoral capacity, with the exception of the election for the President of the Republic (Head of State), which is prohibited for young people. The Portuguese Republic Constitution states that are eligible for the Presidency of the Republic the voters of Portuguese origin, aged over 35 (article 122nd, Constitution of the Portuguese Republic). For all other elective functions, the Constitution states that Portuguese citizens and voters are eligible, without prejudice of the restrictions established by electoral law, due to local incompatibilities or exercise of certain functions, which means that the minimum age to be a candidate is 18. There are no quotas for young people or any special provisions regarding young people as candidates. In Portugal, the average age of the Parliament’s members is 48, with no positions reserved in Parliament for young people.
Still, as stated above, the intervention of young people in society and the exercise of citizenship results in an active transformation of their integration, through movements such as youth associationism and volunteering, where the idea of actions to see visible results seems to be gaining momentum, that is, the need to act and see an immediate or concrete consequence of that action, outside of the direct political representation context. For example, youth associationism in Portugal is comprised of more than 1200 active youth federations or associations. According to the Law of Youth Associations (Law no. 57/2019, of 7th August article 3rd, n 2), youth political parties are treated as youth associations, respecting specific legislation about political parties.