It is said that the youth vote will be one of the deciding factors in the upcoming elections. While there is little dispute that youths form a sizable voting segment, two questions are raised: What is an approximation of the numerical size of the group? Secondly, and more importantly, if it is a potentially key voting constituent, will it actually prove to be so come May 11? First a stab is taken at the numbers.
In a place lacking official figures, there can be only approximations that emanate from the empirical and anecdotal. There is, however, a solid source of evidence, compliments of Gecom’s Official List of Electors (OLE) for 2011, and the Preliminary List of Electors (PLE) for 2015, and the resulting difference. The list follows hereunder.
Guyana Elections Commission – ITD
District summary of OLE 2011 to PLE 2015 with difference
The numbers quoted are used to make some assumptions, and then reach some conclusions. Youth is defined as a registered voter between the ages of 18-25 years. How much does this youth bloc contribute to the eligible voting population? Most will agree that it is neither 15% at the bottom nor 50% at the top; most would be comfortable with somewhere between 25-35% as a more accurate indicator. Now the focus shifts to the aforementioned table itself.
For starters, that total PLE number of 567,125 for 2015 looks rather high. Nevertheless, youths could represent anywhere between just over 100,000 and slightly under 200,000 voters (using the 25-35% range), which is a really significant number. Also, the difference column of 91, 629 new voters can be rationally and safely attributed mainly to the youth segment under review. It must be primarily youths, as this country attracts a minimal number of remigrants, and non-Guyanese migrants. Still for the sake of balance, an arbitrary elevated amount of 9,000 (10%) of the difference is allocated to remigrants and other arrivals, which means that there are over 80,000 potential first-time voters in the lineup, and all from the youth camp.
Thus, by any measurement youths feature prominently in the electoral statistical edifice. Will this group rise to a defining moment in local political history to be a difference-maker? Has it displayed what it takes to be an agent of change?
No question that Guyanese youth is socially conscious, even if from a distance. There is awareness of youth unemployment and prospects; pervasive corruption; police problems; narcotics and money laundering sectors; and political maladministration, among other concerns. To digress monetarily, it must be disheartening to youths to see a one-time leader who claimed to stand against all these ills, now identifying with those who deny that such exists. Youths have to feel used. But does their awareness excite political angst acute enough to motivate to be engaged? To be engaged sufficiently to respond to party overtures? Or to mass numbers to become a distinct force? Rather sadly, the physical and environmental evidence suggests that, with scant exceptions, youths are neither present nor involved in discernible numbers to be catalysts for change.
One astute and objective observer has labelled the youth presence in the current elections process as “fair.” Fair is not enough. It is reflective of existing political apathy, and wider societal disengagement. This could be part of the story, but for youth voters, there is growing consensus on the ground that there are other pressing priorities, namely of the social and hormonal varieties.
To the proverbial wine, women, and song, there can be added modern toys and gadgets, quick hustles, and survival struggles, all of which leave little room for the interest and presence of dedicated game-changers. The intense spiritual association, and sustained emotional immersion, if not investment, in the vital affairs of the day is just not there. There are loud, but manifest only lukewarm commitment, including voting. They talk, they listen; but any efforts to mobilize them results in resistance or retreat.
Instead of deciding and participating for themselves, youths are content to learn at the feet of those locked in sharp remembrances and immovable prejudices. The wave of the future is unwilling to be part of the present, may not even vote, and that is a problem for society. It reduces any contest to the old and predictable. Post May 11 will furnish ample evidence as to the accuracy of both the numbers shared and stances taken.