Argentine lawmakers approved a bill lowering the country’s voting age, a move that could rally youth support as President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner tries to revert a slide in her popularity ahead of congressional elections next year.
The lower house approved the bill in a 131-2 vote yesterday, converting Argentina into one of only a handful of nations where 16-year-olds can vote. The government-backed bill, which passed the Senate in early October, allows young people to cast ballots two years before voting becomes mandatory at age 18.
Fernandez has courted young voters since being elected in 2007, naming members of the government-aligned “La Campora” youth group to top positions and tapping funds from the social security agency to provide students with free laptops. Expanding the suffrage may help build support for the government even further as the opposition tries to capitalize on growing frustration with Fernandez’s handling of the economy, political analyst Carlos Fara said.
“The government believes that the more politically active young people will vote for the ruling party,” said Fara, who runs Carlos Fara & Asociados in Buenos Aires.
Some of Fernandez’s youth supporters have been calling for a change in the constitution to allow Fernandez to seek a third term in 2015, carrying banners that read “Cristina Forever” at recent rallies. While Fernandez hasn’t said whether she backs such a move, her ruling Victory Front coalition would need to add seats in the mid-term elections to reach a two-thirds majority needed to change the nation’s charter.
“The 2013 elections are very important to install the possibility of changing the law to allow Fernandez to run again,” Fara said.
The lower house vote involved 134 deputies out of 257, as opposition lawmakers from the Radical Civic Party and Socialist party boycotted the session over comments made by Andres Larroque from the ruling coalition.
Fernandez has sidestepped questions about her political future, and says enfranchising young adults expands democratic rights in the same way her government has promoted legislation to allow same-sex marriages.
“The constitution doesn’t allow my re-election as president, so this is beyond what I want. It’s not my responsibility to reform the constitution,” Fernandez said in a Sept. 28 exchange with students at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. “It doesn’t depend on me.”
Yesterday, 28 opposition senators signed a statement pledging to vote against any attempt to modify the country’s constitution.
“We need to honor the constitution and there’s no need for reform,” said Senator Adolfo Rodriguez Saa, who ran the country as president for a couple of days after the 2001 financial crisis. “In 2015 we’ll have a new president in Argentina.”
Fernandez’s approval rating, which surged in October 2010 after her husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, died of a heart attack, fell to 24.3 percent in September, the lowest level since a months-long farmers’ strike in 2008, according to Buenos Aires-based polling company Management & Fit.
On Sept. 13, thousands of Argentines poured into the streets throughout the country banging pots and chanting anti-government slogans against Fernandez’s ban on buying dollars and her failure to combat a rise in crime and inflation that economists say exceeds 20 percent.
It was the biggest national protest since the farm crisis, with several protesters carrying banners opposing any move to reform the constitution.
Argentina’s gross domestic product was flat in the second quarter, the first time the economy failed to expand since the third quarter of 2009. Industrial production has contracted every month since April, while auto exports fell 28.4 percent in the first nine months of the year.
Fernandez’s spokesman, Alfredo Scoccimarro, didn’t return a phone call and e-mail seeking comment