Margaret Thatcher started in local politics when she was little over 25 years old and at the age of 34 she was elected to the British House of Commons. The youngest sitting democrat in the USA was 29 years old when he joined the Congress. Kim Chong-Un became the leader of North Korea when he was 27 years old and Vladimir Putin started off as a member of the Communist Party and KGB in his twenties during his university studies. Does the world lack young politicians? That was the main topic at the Congress of Freedom in a Digital Age in Warsaw.
Do we need age quotas or shall we give the right to vote to 16-year-olds?
There are more than enough examples of young politicians. Ministers or deputies under 30 are not so exceptional. Let´s have a look at pure statistics. In the Czech Republic, 13 people under 30 years of age were elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 2010. In other words, 6,5% of the chamber represented the age group of under 30. That is not too bad. But why are not 21% of the representatives under 30, which would reflect the amount of voters in the same age group? One of the possible reasons could be that young people are still searching for their own way, they are still developing opinions and deciding which political party to join and which to quit. They do not have famous faces and a base of voters or they are simply not attracted by politics. No matter what their reasons, their objective should not be to achieve a percentage of the power and to introduce new quotas. What we need much more than a state-given amount of young people in politics are more good ideas. It does not matter if a 25 or a 57 year old person comes up with them.
Let´s stop complaining that it´s not possible
Young people sometimes complain that it is not possible for them to establish themselves in political parties. That was another topic at the Congress of Freedom. According to the moderator, Angela Merkel pushed through erasing some young people from the list of candidates of her party. Is it Angela Merkel´s fault that there are only few young people in the Bundestag? I do not think so. Angela Merkel might be – according to the Forbes magazine – the most powerful woman in the world, yet she has little to say about the constitution of the parliament in Germany. It is the voters who decide. In big parties, young people might face obstacles. However, if they are sure that voters want to elect them but the party is standing in the way of their election, they have no other option than to found a new party. Very hard work, but doable. Interestingly enough: 8 out of the 13 Czech young deputies have been elected for newly founded parties.
Too rapid a political rise? Wait a moment. We, the young, need time.
What is inspiring about Margaret Thatcher´s story is the gradual growth of her political career. She started in her 20´s but was not elected Minister of Education until the age of 45. At the age of 53 she was already ruling Britain as Prime Minister. There is no need to rush. Here in the Czech Republic, many politicians experience a swift start. Unfortunately, the risk of a prompt fall is high. In some cases young people suffer from an overdose of the feelings of fame, importance and uniqueness of their personality.
New media – a weapon for young people
Young can do wonders with very little. Social media and blogs allow us to reach masses of people with small expenses. For example Richard Sulík managed to gain voters through blogs where he published his original opinions and recommendations. His case shows that more than millions on his bank account, a politician needs ideas. Social media by themselves are not a guarantee of success. Without good content you cannot score points. That is why Richard Sulík also emphasised collecting contacts and creating a database. He stays in touch with people that he met and whose contacts he collected step by step. This is another innovative piece which can help young people in politics.
I was born in 1984 – just like Mark Zuckerberg, Kim Čong Un or Prince Harry. Although I believe that young people and politics do belong together, I am not in favour of any quotas. Reducing voting age would not help either, in my opinion. The only thing which can bear fruit is our own work. It is correct to reach higher positions later in life. No pain, no gain.
Many thanks to the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for enabling me to participate at the Congress of Freedom, especially the panel treating activities of the young in politics.