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Too young to vote—but Tower Hamlets kids roll up at polls in double turn out

PUBLISHED: 18:32 04 February 2013 | UPDATED: 09:03 06 February 2013

Young Mayor Mahdi Alam with deputies Tanvir Raza (left) and Sonia Begum

Young Mayor Mahdi Alam with deputies Tanvir Raza (left) and Sonia Begum

© Rehan Jamil

Teenagers too young to vote in council or General elections have put adults to shame in London's East End with a turn-out to elect Tower Hamlets Young Mayor that was twice the norm.

They have elected 16-year-old Mahdi Alam with 2,737 votes to be the sixth Young Mayor—with a staggering turn-out of 59 per cent.

That compares to a mere 25.6 per cent of adults who turned out at the polls in 2010 for Tower Hamlets’ first directly-elected mayor which put Lutfur Rahman in charge.

But Mayor Rahman wasn’t put out by Mahdi’s runaway success.

“The high turnout is testament to how successful the young mayor scheme has been,” he said. “The election has engaged young people with politics and local democracy.”

More youngsters than ever voted at polling stations set up in secondary schools, Idea Stores and youth clubs—with 10,000 votes cast.

Mahdi, who goes to Stepney Green School, holds the office for two years with two 17-year-old deputies, Tanvir Raza from Morpeth Secondary in Bethnal Green and Sonia Begum from Central Foundation Sixth Form in Bow.

The results were declared at the Town Hall by returning officer Stephen Halsey, head of the council’s Youth Services.

The elections aim to get youngsters involved in the democratic process at an early age—even though they’re too young to vote for real.

Mahdi wants to focus on better job opportunities for school-leavers—he’ll be one himself, shortly—and reducing youth crime and violence with more sports and cultural activities.

Retiring Young Mayor Nahimul Islam presented Mahdi with the coveted Chain of Office. The highlight of Nahimul’s term included an anti-knife crime campaign, staging a community event, revamping the council’s AMP website and launching an inter-youth club competition.

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