Tomlinson wants online voting talks

New PNPYO president outlines plans for improving political organisation

BY HG HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 18, 2018

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NEWLY ELECTED President of the People's National Party Youth Organisation (PNPYO) Krystal Tomlinson is urging discussion centred on the possibility of online voting in national elections.

Tomlinson, 27, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer days after she was catapulted in the position to succeed Norman Manley Law School student Connoly Black, insisted that there was a strong possibility that voters, the younger ones in particular, could see online voting, as exists in some developed countries, as one way of improving the voter turnout, which dipped below 50 per cent during the 2016 General Election.

“I think in this century, particularly, we have to start rethinking how some of the current ways of getting added to the voter's list discourages young people. Things like online voting, if we are not willing to have those conversations, I think you're excluding a lot of the digital natives who would do it,” said the former Festival Queen.

“If you telling me I have to go to a high school, stand up in a line, then go draw back a curtain… do I want to spend my time doing that? I know it's important to vote, but I think it's going to take a little bit too much work to exercise that thing which we say is my right.

“I hope over the tenure of leadership I can stimulate some of those conversations in the public, within the YO itself, within the PNP to get that as part of the agenda when we talk about getting youth involved... how can we pull down some of the barriers and increase access and favourability towards the system because it is archaic. I think it's time for us to start questioning some of it. I believe I still have some convincing to do if I'm going to turn the unattached, the apathetic, the disinterested voter into a participant into the political space, and it doesn't matter to me so much that they vote the way I vote, but they must again see it critical to vote … they have to,” she said.

She argued that while people understand the importance of voting, the way must be cleared for them to do so.

“Regarding young people, politicians chase votes; if you don't vote, politicians don't choose you, which means you are going to always be behind the eight ball trying to get the attention of those who have the influence. So youth need to get organised in the same way that youth were in Arab Spring, in the same way they were in Washington for the Wall Street issues. We have to decide how we want to structure ourselves as young people so we can have some influence. If we want influence, we need some structure.

“Speaking towards the peculiar needs of youth, there are so many barriers that restrict or discourage us from even attempting to register. I mean something we take for granted like the fact that we must be at an address or location to be confirmed. Youth at our age are moving around the university, and you not allowed to use UWI as an address and you're gonna be living there for two to three years.

“It's ike you're telling me I have to be a proper-proper adult in my twenties, paying rent somewhere in order for me to even register to vote. Those things I consider to be unnecessary barriers, and there are countries in the world where people are asking that you remove those restrictions to say I have to be at a house for you to find me to vote.

“That's not a requirement for my passport. That's not a requirement for my driver's licence — that you be able to come to the house and find me — and my right to vote should not be in jeopardy because of something like that,” she said.

The host of two television programmes — Nyammings and E Prime — both aired by Television Jamaica, Kingston-born Tomlinson was raised in Portmore, St Catherine, followed by a movement further west to Mandeville where she shared school time between Manchester High School and deCarteret College.

A graduate of The University of the West Indies with a first degree in International Relations, and a double minor in Political Science and African Diaspora Studies, Tomlinson has turned the final corner and is heading in the stretch towards earning her Master's degree in urban and rural environment management, also from the UWI.

But what inspired her to enter a political party, one that is in Opposition without any clear idea of when the PNP will assume political leadership of the country again?

“After speaking with the different officials in the party leading up to that final vote and decision, I was just tired of being tired of the political landscape and the sort of distrust that young people threw at the institution... an institution that is so important in nation building. There is nothing that you do or can't do without the permission or the restriction of the Government either through policy or practice, and so much of our communities depend on that sort of political patronage. A lot of the issues we face with crime and development in the communities have very strong relationships with politics, so for this generation to think that we are going to be successful Jamaicans and we are going to generate wealth without engaging in that political system meaningfully, it does not augur well for what that 2030 — 2050 Jamaica will look like, and I don't want to get to 2050 and say, 'boy, I shoulda and maybe I coulda'. So it's an attempt to help form the kind of future I want to step into so I can be proud of it.”

She revealed, too, that there was no historical family connection with the PNP; rather, the philosophical significance of getting involved with the party just evolved. “I don't know if any member of my family has ever voted. I can't remember my mother coming home with her fingers blue. The interest or conversations around politics were only stimulated based on what Prime Time News headlines had to say, but there were no strong political discussions in my family... no rifts with aunty over here or uncle over there. So I didn't have that to contend with growing up. I was really allowed to form my own opinion.

“There's strong diocesan blood that runs through my veins and I credit my years at deCarteret College for really helping to reign me in, particularly honing some leadership skills in me. That's where I started to debate, started to lead the debate society, the cheerleading society. The role I played also at the student council level, that's where — and I say it with all sincerity — I really did come to my senses in those two years of sixth form at deCarteret College,” the new president stressed.

Tomlinson credited the team led by her predecessor Black for, as she put it, “reinvigorating the blood of Comrades on the ground and youth in the community” who wanted to participate in the YO. She said that “quite a bit” of recruitment was done, in addition to the reframing of how the organs of the executive should work to entice youth participation in politics.

Accelerating the work done is one of the central focuses of the new administration that she leads, she believes.

Among the groundwork to be covered, Tomlinson suggested, is to visit YO groups across Jamaica to see where they are and to do what she termed “capacity building” for the leadership team.

“I don't want to assume that we are all already leaders and we know what to do, we have our emotions under control, we are managing our time well, we are managing our resources well, and so we are just ready to jump in and lead other people. I don't want to take that for granted. We will be re-energising the leadership team first, then the YO groups, and then we start working and serving the community. The narrative for us will not be, 'come join the YO, vote for the PNP and then life will be better'. The focus right now is to facilitate the work that young people are already doing in their social groups and their NGOs and CBOs, and to allow the YO to be a facilitator for greater influence in their work,” she said.

As for supporting a move to have the broader party advocate a particular political ideology, like Democratic Socialism, as put forward by former Prime Minister and PNP President Michael Manley, Tomlinson said that she would be willing to be a part of a discussion that would clearly define what the party stands for.

“It does require again sitting down and seeing the conscience and consciousness of supporters of the party where that is concerned. Do we have a lot of members of the party who joined because of Democratic Socialism? Does anybody understand what that means anymore? Do people care about political ethos anymore? Or is it expediency and marketing? So those questions, I think, first have to be asked and then if the answer is “yes”, we will like to honour something outside of colour differences, then we start to develop what that new conscience needs to be to drive the PNP. But I, in all honesty, believe that the tenets of Democratic Socialism still run through a lot of the organs of the party despite the constraints that might come with it — relationships that we have with international organisations, I believe that that is still at the root of what we want to accomplish.”

The ultimate question is what follows after she demits office as PNPYO President? Is there a plan to enter representational politics? To that Tomlinson stated that she had not got so far in her thinking, suggesting that such a move would be a huge step that would require “significantly more resources”.

She argued that she would want to first see how well she is able to manage the affairs of the YO in executing its strategies before thinking about serving in a broader capacity.

“Right now I am focused on the youth and getting them in, and then we can see how service will look in another five years, so I can't say yes (to representational politics) just yet.

“Three or four years ago I had completed university and moved out of that UWI leadership space, because I was on the Guild of Students and then I got into corporate life trying to figure out how to pay off student loan debt; not really trying to do anything more than earn some money and pay it off as soon as I got comfortable financially, because one of the things I did not want to do is to get into politics because I am in need of anything. That would require — perhaps I am wrong — some sort of patronage in the space that would not be healthy for a young woman. And I don't pretend to be oblivious to those kind of situations. So one of the things I was very adamant about is that I want to develop my own brand, I want to generate my own income, I want to be able to participate in the process on my own merit and not anything else,” Tomlinson said.

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