I write this letter in an attempt to generate public debate on how best to mobilize young voters, to participate in a big way in the upcoming May 11 general and regional elections. The intention here is not simply to get them to cast their ballots but, more importantly, to get them to understand why they must do so for the APNU-AFC coalition in order to usher in the new Guyana which they want see in place.
Many will claim that this debate has already begun and they would be correct in making that observation. However, the difference in the debate I am trying to evoke is this – while it is true that the discussion in the media points to the importance of this group of voters, nothing is being said about the tactics and strategies which have to be adopted to bring these voters to the polls. No analysis is taking place on the influences these young people are subjected to daily and how they react to them. It is as if this does not matter. What I perceive to be uppermost in the minds of the debaters is the need to get young people to the polling booths on May 11 in order to bring about a change in government.
Letter writers and columnists point to the fact that young people between the ages of 18 to 35 years comprise the single largest bloc of voters in Guyana, hence their capacity to make a difference in the upcoming elections. Some estimates have this block as consisting of between 60 to 65 % of our electoral roll. The fact that young people are the largest group of voters is nothing new. This has been so since 1992 and continued to be so for every election up to the one in 2011. However, notwithstanding the number of electors on the 2015 preliminary list of electors about which some concerns have been raised because of its size, people should not be surprised about the size of the youth electorate in the 2015 list. A fact that should not escape our attention is that in all those elections referred to, this group has not voted differently from their elders. This applies to youths of all races.
Understanding this reality and finding the appropriate methods to reverse this trend is important to the fate of parties contesting the elections. My contention is that young people in Guyana have not developed the political consciousness or the organizational framework that is necessary to make them vote as a block, in the process of which their special interests are advanced. I am aware of recently formed organizations seeking to fill this vacuum, but these are yet to demonstrate their effectiveness. The weaknesses I refer to prevent young people in Guyana from realizing their political power. Women, in Canada for example, vote as a block when necessary to defend their interests. In the course of exercising their vote they make or break governments in elections. In Guyana young people’s politics is shaped by party politics. Since party politics to a great extent is generally influenced by race/ethnic insecurity; our young people’s politics in these circumstances have not been driven by issues relevant to youth interests.
I wish to warn the APNU-AFC campaign strategists that they have to be cognizant of the past and recent history of our young people’s political and electoral behaviour. This is not an argument to “knock” the nation’s youth, it is instead a plea for the required objective and scientific appraisal to help the most important block of the electorate to come out and vote for the coalition. While our message in a major way has to be directed to this group of voters, it has to be done in a manner that they can identify and appreciate. In short we have to talk their language if it is hoped to capture their imagination. We also have to inspire their involvement in formulating tactics and strategies, in order to achieve our objective. This alone will not be enough; much more has to be done, hence the need for a broad group of youth advisers to help put the campaign committee on the right track. Lest my intention be misunderstood let me assure you that I am in no way suggesting I have all the answers.
However, I am convinced that our approach to youth mobilization has to be holistic. We have to enter their minds through various means, identifying all of the major impacting influences that affect young people’s politics and voting behaviour and try to redirect those influences towards progressive politics. I wish to suggest a few areas for attention. I have already pointed to the strong hold party politics and race have on the nation’s youth. This is the dominant political influence. The following are other areas of influence: (1) religion/church/mosque, temples; (2) community politics (collective political behaviour); (3) youth clubs and organizations; (4) parental pressures; (5) elders’ influence (6) social media and TV programmes, to name a few. Since all the above in varying degrees influence young people’s politics, we have to work on all these fronts in our quest to win the votes of this group.
We have to examine each race group and see how the above influences impact the way youths vote, for example to what extent it is likely that Amerindian youths will refuse the instruction of their Toshaos on which party to vote for. Will a university student, Indian or African, whose parents depend on PPP/C patronage, when reminded by their parents how the money to pay their fees is obtained, will that student be able to withstand parental pressure and assert their independence to vote for the party of their choice? Will a youth threatened by a parent with disinheritance continue in his/her quest to assert his/her political independence? These are questions which must be asked and answered.
I will end here lest I unwittingly, sound too negative. Let me assure readers my concern is to make sure our campaign strategies guard against the temptation of generalization, since there is no single path to achieving hegemony in the fight for the youth vote. Simply appealing to the youths to vote as a block, while attractive, is not in sync with objective Guyanese reality. The party that masters youth mobilization will prevail come May 11, 2015.