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Guyana National Youth Council responds to critics of its role in stimulating youth voter-turnout

Guyana National Youth Council (GNYC) representatives meeting with GECOM officials last week Thursday.

The Guyana National Youth Council (GNYC) Tuesday sought to dispel accusations by the ruling People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and its youth arm, Progressive Youth Organisation (PYO), that it was a biased entity with no track record in youth affairs.

“The Council’s membership is inclusive of Guyanese across the diverse political, geographic and ethnic spectrum and the leadership intends to continue engaging youth in a manner that promotes the development and education of Guyanese young people, (regardless of their political affiliation),” the council said in a statement.

The GNYC came under blistering attack by the PPP on Monday as an agent of the United States (US)-funded Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) project whose aim was to interfere in Guyana’s affairs by partnering with the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to bring out youths to vote in the May 11, 2015 general and regional elections.

PPP General Secretary Clement Rohee said that one of the things that his party wanted to know was whether the GNYC-GECOM arrangement was aimed at targeting opposition supporters .

While Rohee said that GECOM’s seven-member Commission did not approve engaging the GNYC, the Chairman of GECOM, Dr. Steve Surujbally said there was no need to get specific approval for the youth organisation’s involvement because the commission has been broadly mandated to take steps to maximize voter turn-out.

Following is the full text of the Council’s statement.

The Guyana National Youth Council (GNYC) is pleased to partner with the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) in the coming weeks towards implementing a national voter education campaign for the upcoming General and Regional Elections, as announced in a recent press statement by GECOM. 

The GNYC in furtherance of its role and in keeping with its mandate strives to promote youth engagement and participation in decision-making, and therefore seeks to partner with other stakeholders in this regard.

The Voter Education Campaign is to encourage youth participation and to provide spaces for young people to engage with all political parties as well as GECOM with a view of understanding the mandates of all parties, the voting processes, and the right of young Guyanese to participate in processes that impact on the development of Guyana. Voting and participating in the political processes are critical ways through which citizenship develops within young people. The methods through which society educates them about their roles and responsibilities as active citizens are therefore critical. Nurturing a sense of citizenship is fundamental to building sustainable democracies and the GNYC hopes to continue to encourage this through our work. 

While there is no recorded statistic on the youth voter turnout at elections, we have examined the regional and international trends. Data on youth voter turnout from various countries suggests that young voters tend to participate less in elections compared to older citizens (Enhancing Youth Political Participation, UNDP, 2012). Further, a 2012 survey from the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) has shown that youth is the segment of the population that is most disengaged from electoral processes and the most critical and suspicious of political institutions. 

Additionally, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, “in the developing world, youth have rapidly come to make up a majority of the population, yet can still feel politically disempowered and economically abandoned by civic society”. While ICTs and social media have broken down some of those barriers, direct youth oriented campaigns have also attracted more young people, for instance: My vote rocks and “Rock The Vote” campaigns. 

It is in light of this and previous youth-targeted campaigns of the GNYC (My Voice Matters and The Guyana I Want) that the GNYC is embarking on a youth voter education campaign: “Vote Like A Boss”. 

The GNYC is a legally registered and independent youth-led NGO established in September 2014 after a series of broad-based consultations with youth and youth serving entities which began in early 2013. While this was before the GNYC’s partnerships with its current donors (Cuso International and USAID LEAD project), the process was facilitated by the Commonwealth Youth Programme. As a network committed to youth development, education and empowerment, the objectives of the GNYC are to engage youth stakeholders towards the creation of sustainable strengthened youth networks and to foster the development of youth leaders at the community and national levels. Quite broadly, we exist to promote a national youth identity which is sensitive to the diversities of the GNYC membership with a view of enhancing the common aspirations, fostering goodwill and solidarity among Guyanese youth.

Since our official launch in September 2014, we have conducted monthly capacity building sessions with over 100 youth organizations and individuals in the area of fundraising, advocacy, activism, youth participation and engagement. The move towards launching this voter education campaign was requested by our members, who wanted to be involved in the political processes without ascribing to any particular party as the GNYC’s mandate is a non-partisan one.

The GNYC aims to educate the public, particularly youth on their rights and responsibilities as it relates to the voting process, with a focus on policy. The campaign will include the use of social media, television, radio and face-to-face engagement and anticipates the release of at least 4 exciting Public Service Announcements as well as grassroots Elections Fairs and Forums. There will also be platforms for young people to engage their leaders through a National Elections Forum. Thus far, the GNYC has been able to secure partnerships with GECOM and some funding via USAID through their Leadership and Democracy Project to ensure this campaign comes to fruition and will be engaging the youth organizations within our network to collaborate. 

The GNYC wishes to reiterate that the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Youth Empowerment 2007-2015, approved at the Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting in May 1998, includes a priority action for governments to “Promote the participation of young people in decision-making”. The aim of this priority is to promote positive national role models and self-images for young people, and foster their sense of responsibility and self-esteem. The priority includes Governments agreeing to: Encourage young people to register to vote (4.5); Review the voting age and consider whether it should be lowered to enfranchise greater numbers of young people (4.6); Support civil society organisations that practice participatory democracy (4.7). 

The Council’s membership is inclusive of Guyanese across the diverse political, geographic and ethnic spectrum and the leadership intends to continue engaging youth in a manner that promotes the development and education of Guyanese young people, (regardless of their political affiliation). The Council guarantees its commitment to educating and building the capacity of young people with a view of encouraging more youth involvement in the political and developmental spheres of Guyana. To that end, we are open to partnering with all interested individuals and organizations. 

The GNYC encourages any non-partisan group that would like to partner with us on this initiative to contact us via email on [email protected] or [email protected] The Council in the coming weeks will be seeking out additional partnerships within its youth network, the private sector and the international donor community and would like to use this opportunity to issue an open invitation to all GNYC members, individuals and organizations interested in learning more about the campaign and getting involved to attend a planning meeting at a venue that will be announced via our facebook page by COB Thursday (www.facebook.com/guyananyc). Persons wishing to ask further questions on the campaign are welcome to also do so at that time.