While half of all applicants are between 41 and 60 years old, there are only thirty-one applicants under the age of 20 competing in the national field of nearly 5,600 people. LSM spoke to two of the youngest city council candidates to hear their take on being a teenage political candidate in 2021.
19-year-old Rūdolfs Strazdiņš is running for Progressives in Jurmala, focusing on issues of infrastructure and public accountability. Having joined the center-left political party last year, he seeks to use his race to become more actively involved in politics, saying:
“I like to talk about politics, and sometimes complain, but there’s no point just talking about it, you should do something too.”
He criticizes the outgoing leaders of the city and lashes out at the mayor of the Union of Greens and Farmers Gatis Truksnis, victim of scandals, declaring that “there is a feeling of hopelessness, not only among the young people, but among everyone, because the city council is basically untouchable. There are endless corruption scandals, personal scandals involving the mayor and mismanagement of funds. “
He believes the local government is too focused on the city’s tourist hub and neglects the city’s suburban areas when it comes to infrastructure. In addition, public transport modes as well as pedestrian and cycling infrastructure all lack adequate funding, according to Strazdiņš.
“Accessibility is a big problem. Overall it’s not that bad in the city center, but if you get away from the city center it’s basically stuck in Soviet times. There was no major reconstruction. This is bad enough. Even the most recent projects still don’t live up to the highest quality standards.
Strazdiņš says he runs mainly to demand change. “People don’t think it’s possible to change, and I’m here to prove them wrong,” he explains. “It is very important to get them (young people) to vote for the first time. The current council has not done enough for young people. Unfortunately, people are starting to lose faith in democratic institutions all over Europe and around the world, and it’s quite sad, but the only way to improve these institutions is to participate on your own. You can’t just sit there and do nothing and say, “oh, the government is doing this and that, and I don’t like that”. You have to participate yourself to improve it.
Despite this, he says he does not expect to be elected to city council, where each seat represents about 3,900 residents.
“I don’t think a lot of people would be influenced by me, but even if I influence a person, it’s a success.”
At the other end of the political spectrum, Edijs Jakubausks is a candidate for the National Conservative Alliance in the municipality of Saldus and hopes to use his first political candidacy as a springboard to launch a longer political career.
As chairman of his high school student council and having participated in the National Youth Parliament program for two consecutive years, he has a clear belief that politics is his career.
“I have wanted to be a politician since I was 16. I just want to make people’s lives better. That’s why I want to be a politician. It is my dream to one day become President of Latvia. The only thing I can do is work for my nation, and that’s what I want to do. I think I will achieve this dream, ”he said.
The 19-year-old, who identifies as a curator and “a great patriot”, hopes for more cultural events for young people in his municipality.
“There are not enough activities for young people,” he says, explaining that the events organized so far in the region have been mainly aimed at attracting the older generations. Living in the village of Druva, he describes how he is usually bored as there are not many cultural events for young people.
Something to do
“My friends also say they have nothing to do. It’s the most important thing I want to fix, because it’s sad, ”he says. There is a lot to be done regarding culture, starting with building a new cultural center and hiring dedicated staff to organize cultural events, he said, adding that he believes the Municipality of Saldus can help. day to become the best Latvian municipality on the cultural scene.
He also mentions infrastructure as one of his main priorities, denouncing their dismal state. Citing one example, he tells the story of a road from Saldus to the village of Satiķi which had undergone major repairs just a few years ago, but is already again in a terrible state.
“After this winter, this road looks like a war. It’s a disaster. It is impossible for a car to drive, ”he explains.
Jakubausks hopes for greater inclusion of citizens, explaining that in his local branch’s electoral platform, the National Alliance seeks to create local “citizens councils” in local areas of the municipality for citizens to express their views.
“We want to create little councils in the villages where people can express their ideas and make those ideas come true. I think it’s a good idea to include people in this process and to improve our lives because they are involved, ”he explains.
Although young people are relatively rare on the ballots, both candidates agree that being younger is not a handicap.
“I don’t think it’s difficult to be a candidate because I’m young. Of course, it’s hard to get into city council, but I don’t feel like people say ‘Oh, you’re too young, you’re nothing.’ No, people are happy, and those who know me say “this is the place for you, Edijs” “, says Jakubausks.
“I think young people need to get involved in the political process because they see it a bit differently. It’s good that we can see things from the other side that older people cannot,” says Jakubausks.
Likewise, Strazdiņš also notes the support of her peers and party colleagues as the main motivation: “I did not intend to run at the start, but I received the support of Jana, who is the leader of our list, and Sarmīte, who in fact, oddly enough, was the principal of the previous school I attended. So it was very encouraging, ”he says.
While their party’s official positions are different on many issues, the two candidates reveal that when it comes to identifying key issues, there are a surprising amount of similarities. Agreeing on issues such as infrastructure and youth engagement, the candidates’ main disagreements revolve around ideological issues such as LGBT rights.
Strazdiņš and Jakubausks, while coming from two very different parties – at least on paper – both agree that the status quo is not tolerable and that the younger generation must lead the change. When June 5th arrives, we will see if young Latvians will show up to vote for those who have the courage to be on the ballots.
You can find out more about the local elections on June 5, including party lists, manifestos and information on the voting process on the website of the Central Election Commission: https://www.cvk.lv/fr/elections/elections-locales/elections-locales-2021