The Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Dr. Steve Surujbally on Monday defended the decision by the elections management authority to engage a youth organisation in pushing for more young people to vote in the upcoming general and regional elections.
Surujbally told Demerara Waves Online News that there was no need for the seven-member commission to bless GECOM’s partnership with the Guyana National Youth Council because a broad decision has been already taken in keeping with its mandate to maximize participation at the polls.
“Wherever these youths are in civic society already existing then I think one doesn’t have to go back to a commission to get that (approval). The Commission has given its overall ruling that we must focus on getting people out to vote,” he said.
Surujbally said GECOM was willing to partner with any civic organisation or collective such as those at the Guyana School of Agriculture, University of Guyana or the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts to get youths to be involved in decision-making through the ballot box.
“Bearing in mind that empirical observation is revealing that the youth may not be coming out in large numbers, it follows that part of that focus is to get people to vote. The civic aspect of the civic and voter education has to be focused on youth,” he added.
The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) earlier Monday castigated GECOM for partnering with the Guyana National Youth Council, saying it was a “group of partisan persons” who amounted to “creature of external interference through the United States (US)-funded Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) project. Government and the US last year had been engaged in a heated diplomatic spat over the crafting of the project that even had resulted in the Chief of Party for the project, Glen Bradbury being told to leave Guyana. He stayed on and resumed duties after the issues were resolved.
The PPP is apparently worried that the project was aimed at bringing out more youth voters in favour of the opposition. “That is what we would like to have clarity on because we don’t see how GECOM can enter into this kind of formalistic relation with a youth organisation led by the LEAD project,” PPP General Secretary, Clement Rohee told a news conference on Monday.
The left-leaning PPP often points to the role of the United States in removing it from office as had been the case in the 1960s during the Cold War.
But the GECOM Chairman said there was nothing special about the Guyana National Youth Council other than it would be used as a vehicle to deliver messages. “Nothing special! They will help us carry our message and we will be part of any message that they are sending,” he said. He pointed out that if the Council holds Town Hall meetings, GECOM’s representatives would be there. They are like a machine helping us out,” he said.
The Guyana National Youth Council declined to comment immediately on the position by the governing party.
Surujbally said the matter might be discussed by the Commission on Tuesday, but his position would not change. “The commission has unanimously has given the directive that we must target the electorate of Guyana to ensure that they all come out and vote,” he said.
GECOM has said in a statement that the National Youth Council would be consulting and collaborating with the elections management body in producing a number of strategic communication messages for dissemination countrywide.
The Council has reportedly outlined a plan pertaining to a robust public awareness campaign that is expected to capture the attention of youth in positive ways, encouraging them to get out and vote in the upcoming elections.
GECOM and the Youth Council are expected to ensure that the youth of Guyana understand the significance of how voting impacts their future and that of the next generation.