With his successful campaign as an independent candidate in the recent election for the post of Toshao of Aishalton Village, small businessman Michael Thomas says he wanted to unite villagers, who have been divided because of party politics, so that they can develop themselves.
“I wanted to break that cycle of division that was created and people being scattered in their mindset because of party political allegiance and political intervention,” Thomas, 31, told Sunday Stabroek.
Even before he was nominated for the post, he said, he was approached by a political party representative to seek the nomination. That party, he said, already had potential candidates who were campaigning for both election and reelection but he thought it wiser to not contest as a representative of any political party.
Aishalton has a population of around 2,000.
Asked what prompted him to take on the challenge of leadership of one of the largest villages in the South Rupununi, Thomas said, “It was the type of leadership in which some people felt left out that caused me to think about it.”
For the past three to four elections, the toshaos elected “were politically generated,” he further noted.
There is strong representation by both parties in and out of government on the village council, and in initial meetings to plan for the future, he said, “We all agree to forget about political allegiances for our village in village matters.”
He added, “I told them that that does not mean we will forget about politics. We know general elections are coming and then we will involve ourselves in politics for our country. We all respect that.”
Political parties took a special interest in the toshaos’ elections, Thomas said, because they are trying to get a foothold in the community ahead of 2020 general elections. Toshaos are elected to serve a three-year term and are limited to two terms. Thomas gained 331 votes, defeating the outgoing toshao Douglas Casimero, who gained 81 and a former toshao Bernard Conrad who gained 12.
Thomas, who according to the elders in the community is their youngest toshao, said he was aware that the task ahead will not be easy.
With no doubts that his job ahead “will be huge,” he said, “I plan to serve my first term as best as I could, and if people think I am worthy of reelection, then we see how it goes.”
Thomas, who was born in Aishalton, attended St Ignatius Secondary in Lethem. He then obtained a diploma in computer science from the University of Guyana.
He has worked in Lethem and as district development officer in Aishalton. He quit the job at the end of his second one-year contract to set up a business because he felt that he could better serve his community independently.
“I have seen and I have experienced the way our people strive to survive, strive to make ends meet. I want to see our people develop while preserving our way of life, our language and our culture in general,” he said.
Unlike others, Thomas did not campaign with a manifesto. “I did not prepare a manifesto because I have never seen a toshao or a village council complete their promises or worked according to the manifesto.
He said he met with people and listened to what they had to say. One of the main concerns raised during their interactions, he found, was food security and youth participation in the development of the community.
“So food security will be one of the main items on the list. Farmers want to improve their standard of cultivation,” he said, while noting that while campaigning he assured villagers that he would return to them to work out a work programme.
As a young person, he said he understands when young people say that they feel left out of village affairs and are forced to leave the community to develop themselves and find employment. “I was, I am one of them. Their voices have to be heard,” he said.
Thomas said he will also continue the job started by the previous council, including the Wapichan language revival programme and a cattle rearing project.
Meanwhile, elections for toshaos in Region Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam) took place at Akawini and Wakapao. The incumbent David Wilson was returned to office as Akawini’s toshao, while Wakapoa elected Howard Cornelius as its new toshao. Akawini had 900 eligible voters but only 300 voted.
Unlike other communities outside of Region Two, where candidates are nominated as much as a month in advance of the elections, Assistant Regional Executive Officer Yvette Hastings told this newspaper that nominations for the leaders are done on the same day as elections.
Unlike Akawini where all the candidates nominated were males, she said, in Wakapoa, three women were nominated for the position of toshao but they all declined.
Hastings urged women and young people to run for the leadership position in their communities.
Elections are slated for St Monica and Kabakaburi, both on the Pomeroon River, on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.