A publication by the Institute for the Development of Legal Education and Civil Society titled “Election of members of youth assemblies – a new reality with old solutions,” authored by Jan Zapolski-Downar, will soon be distributed to decision-makers.
Despite the existence of groups titling themselves “youth assemblies” in 10 provinces, prior to June 2021 they did not have the legally sanctioned character of advisory bodies. They were mainly educational in nature, and the method of selecting members did not necessarily meet certain criteria.
This situation changed with the entry into force of the amendment. Thanks to the regulations introduced, the provincial youth assemblies were given specific competencies, and the provincial assemblies began to create acts of local law establishing youth assemblies and granting them statutes. What remained to be determined, however, was the fundamental issue for the proper functioning of any body, namely how to elect its members. Various solutions were proposed. From four-choice elections through recruitment, and finally competition. The author presents the problems of this issue on the example of three legal acts sanctioning the establishment of youth provincial assemblies in three local government units – the Lower Silesian, Pomeranian and Łódź provinces.
In the Lower Silesian province, elections were established as the method of staffing the youth assembly. The term of office of the assembly is two years. The active right to vote is granted to “(…) students of secondary schools operating in a given electoral district, provided that the principal or student government of the secondary school has registered to participate in elections to the Youth Sejmik”. The passive right to vote is granted to “persons between the ages of 15 and 21 who live in the area of the electoral district they wish to represent or attend a secondary school in the area of the electoral district they wish to represent, submitted by the entities provided for in §24.3.1-5 of the Statute or pursuant to §24.3.6 of the Statute.” Formulating the active and passive rights in this way is of practical value, as it allows participation by those who want to get involved and are not from a particular province. Also positive is the solution allowing passive participation in elections, without the need for a school to nominate a candidate who has received the support of 30 people eligible to vote in a given constituency.
The candidates with the highest number of votes received are elected as councilors. In the event of a tie in the number of votes received by candidates in the last “seat” position, a drawing of lots shall be held among these candidates. To participate in the election, the school may be notified to the Election Committee by the principal or student government.
The regulations set forth in the statute of the Youth Assembly of the Lower Silesian Voivodeship are a shining example of transparent and pragmatic rules and can serve as a model for other provinces.
In the Pomeranian Voivodeship, elections to the Youth Provincial Assembly took the form of recruitment. The term of office of this body is one year, and the status of candidate is granted to a high school student aged 15 to 19 years old residing in Pomorskie Voivodeship and proposed by the relevant entity. The selection of members is made directly by the Sejmik in the form of a resolution.
The adopted solutions have many drawbacks. They disproportionately limit the opportunities for civic activity of those studying in the province’s high schools and living outside the province. Young people are realistically deprived of both active and passive electoral rights. The selection by active politicians makes the whole process vulnerable to partisanship and the exclusion of young activists not affiliated with incumbent political options in the Assembly. In addition, the selection model itself, in the form of recruitment, raises significant questions about its legality.
In the Lodz Voivodeship, members of the Youth Sejmik of the province are elected by competition. The term of office of the Youth Sejmik is 2 years. In order to become a candidate for a member of the assembly, it is necessary to meet as many as 12 criteria. The basic ones are the age of 14-20 and simultaneous residence and study in the Lodz province. In order to become a member of the Youth Sejmik of the Lodz Voivodeship, it is necessary to take part in a competition in which one must write a written work on the topic: “(Sub)different Lodz – in my opinion the most interesting thing in the Province is…”. Such a criterion for the selection of candidates is irrational and unrelated to the activities that should realistically be undertaken by youth councilors.
The statute governing the work of the Youth Council of the Lodz Voivodeship also contains provisions that allow its dissolution on arbitrary grounds. These provisions are unlawful and violate the right to self-determination of the youth auxiliary body. Such solutions paralyze the proper functioning of the body and completely contradict the idea of youth councils.
The youth council is supposed to be a consultative, advisory and social body, auxiliary to the municipal bodies, and at the same time democratic, apartheid and as independent as possible from other bodies. The form of election that enables such proper functioning of the assemblies is universal suffrage, with the establishment of passive and active voting rights among young people in the broadest possible way.
A statutory amendment is needed specifying that the basis for election to youth advisory bodies is the election procedure. It is also important to provide active and passive electoral rights to those who are studying but do not reside in the province.
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The study was prepared as part of the Youth Interventions project, implemented with the support of the PGE Foundation.