You’ve seen them by now: large posters filling the cities and countryside of the Grand Duchy, proudly presenting the numerous faces running for parliament. And, as with every election cycle, the political parties are bragging about the presence of ‘young’ candidates (less than 35 years of age) on their ballots. Media outlets then calculate the average age on the lists and elaborate on the hopes and aspirations of individual young contenders. While that might seem interesting for those consuming the news, it raises the question of what these candidates’ actual chances are.
The answer is ‘slim’.
Luxembourg’s fixation on individual candidates, as opposed to party manifestos, is a known phenomenon that complicates the situation for newcomers. Although Luxembourg’s political class is younger than those in countries such as Italy – especially given that prime minister Xavier Bettel is among the youngest head of governments in Europe – it is very rare for young parliamentary candidates to be elected. At the moment, none of the Luxembourgish MPs is younger than 35.
If we look at the actual reasons why the media and political parties do a rain-dance around young candidates, we find that the personality cult makes it mandatory for us to endorse new faces. If instead on focussing on the ideas of a candidate we look at their personality or appearance, then we end up with a desire to stick with the familiar faces. This is why Luxembourg holds debates between the same people on the exact same issues for years. Politicians such as Claude Wiseler, Xavier Bettel, François Bausch, Viviane Reding and Alex Bodry have been in politics for decades. Some of these candidates have lived in and from politics all their lives. The parading of young candidates is simply a means of saying: “Don’t worry, there will be more”.
There is no reason to vote for a young candidate just because he or she is young, just as there is no reason to endorse an old candidate just because he or she is old. More perverse is that these young candidates are given hope of landing posts they will never realistically get. Instead, they enthusiastically campaign on behalf of those who’ve sat in parliament for decades. They will have to “wait their turn” and play “Parteizaldot” (literally: ‘party soldier’) for years until they can hope to replace a retiring MP. Some might consider this system makes sense, but there is no way in which we can call it ‘youth empowerment’.
Young candidates are a farce, not because they are so individually but because they are being used as pawns for the promotion of those who have transformed the role of a politician from a servant of the people to a lifelong career. We ought to reconsider whether that’s healthy.
This article was first published by the Luxembourg Times.
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