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U.S. denies youth voter education programme partisan

Deputy Chief of the US Embassy in Guyana, Bryan Hunt

Even as the seven-member Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) discusses the future of collaboration with the Guyana National Youth Council (GNYC) on a youth-targeted public education drive, the United States (US) denies that the project is politically partisan.

Deputy Chief-of-Mission of the American embassy here, Bryan Hunt told Demerara Waves Online News that the nationwide GYNC-GECOM project is not concentrated on social media but will include radio, television, newspapers and face-to-face interaction regardless of political constituency.

“In the design of the project, we’ve worked very closely with GECOM to ensure that the impact of encouraging young people to vote is one that is felt across the country in all segments of the electorate so that it does not disproportionately advantage one political grouping or another,” he said.

The US-funded Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) project is working closely with GNYC and GECOM in crafting messages to get more young people to vote in the May 11, 2015 general and regional elections.

The Latin American Opinion Poll (LAPOP) project recently found that Guyanese youths are far more interested in politics, democracy and governance than are older folk.

The most senior American diplomat here said the US insisted that GECOM be “intimately involved in any sort of voter outreach campaigns that the embassy is involved in because we want to ensure that both the delivery of those campaigns and the content of those campaigns is absolutely not partisan.”

Hunt stressed that the US mission was keen on ensuring that no party secures a political advantage as a result of the voter-education campaign.

On the claim by the People’s Progressive Party’s youth arm- Progressive Youth Organisation (PYO)- that the International Republic Institute (IRI), which is implementing the US$1.2 million LEAD project, having been instrumental in the removal of governments in other countries, Hunt said: “Anything that’s  being done under the auspices of the LEAD programme is part of the specific agreement that we have with the government of Guyana,” he said.

The PPP has strenously objected to GNYC’s involvement saying that it is made up of partisan persons and is not broadly representative of Guyanese youths.

The Deputy Chief-of-Mission argued there was nothing unusual for international donors to work with election commissions and civil society groups to encourage voter participation by, among others, women and youth.

The PPP’s claim that GECOM commissioners have not approved the involvement of GNYC was raised at last week Tuesday’s statutory meeting of that election management agency. Sources confirmed that the PPP-nominated commissioners presented evidence to prove its claim that a number of GNYC members are politically partisan based on their Facebook profiles/pages.

One ruling party nominated commissioner has since committed himself to conduct more background checks on the organisation with a view to presenting more information to the commission. An opposition-nominated commissioner, however, contends that GECOM has no role in determining who is affiliated with an organisation. That commissioner emphasized that it would be GECOM’s approved messages that would be disseminated.

GECOM Chairman, Dr. Steve Surujbally is already on record as saying that he saw no need for the commission’s approval of the GNYC’s involvement since the seven-member body has long agreed in principle that steps should be taken to maximize voter turnout.