Argentine congress considers lowering voting age

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – Debate began in Argentina‘s senate Wednesday on a proposal to lower the voting age from 18 to 16, while another battle heated up over efforts to bring politics into the public schools.

Sen. Anibal Fernandez, who is sponsoring the voting measure, said it’s “stupid” to think 16-year-olds aren’t mature enough to vote. A hundred years ago, Argentina set the voting age at 18, and Fernandez argued to his fellow senators that people have advanced enough since then to lower the age by two years.

Sen. Gerardo Morales, who leads the senate’s largest opposition party, said the Radicals are “clearly in favor of expanding rights” and would support the measure.

Other opposition figures have alleged that giving younger teenagers the vote is an attempt by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to swing the next elections. They point to a recent effort by “La Campora,” a pro-government youth movement, to lead political discussions inside public schools.

Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri said such partisan politics have no place in public classrooms. Several teachers were disciplined, and Macri’s education minister set up a toll-free line parents can call to report alleged efforts to use public schools to improperly influence young people.

Pro-government lawmakers asked a judge to shut down the number as an attack on the free speech rights of teachers and students, and rock musician Fito Paez stirred the debate by saying in a radio interview that “these people would have been turncoats during the dictatorship; they would have turned people in.”

Paez’s pro-Kirchner sympathies are well-known: He generated weeks of headlines when he said “half of Buenos Aires makes me sick” after Macri won election.

Still, in a country whose 1976-1983 dictatorship killed as many as 30,000 suspected “subversives,” his reference to the era’s turncoats touched a nerve. Daniel Lipovetzky, a city lawmaker with Macri’s PRO party, gave Paez until day’s end Wednesday to retract his words or face a libel suit.

Both sides have appealed to free speech rights in the battle for the youth vote, but neither side has been immune to excesses.

Government opponents cite the case of a 16-year-old in provincial Cordoba who was disciplined by his school last month after writing “this is disgusting” in a visitors’ book during a class field trip to an exhibit honoring Evita Peron. The iconic first lady’s populist legacy is celebrated by the current president, but many still blame the late wife of Gen. Juan Domingo Peron for fundamental problems in Argentina.

The teenager spoke out Tuesday after his parents complained and the provincial education minister removed the disciplinary warnings from his file.  “They shouldn’t punish me just for having a different opinion. I didn’t kill anybody or anything,” Walter Dominguez told reporters in Cordoba.

As pro-government senators argued Wednesday for giving young people like Dominguez the right to vote,  opposition congressmen were presenting their report summarizing an investigation into the parents’ complaints in Buenos Aires, saying classrooms must be kept free of political ideologies.

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