Youngsters suggest ways to attract youth vote

Youngsters suggest ways to attract youth vote

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

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Two young Jamaicans involved in the island's political process have posited that civic education, portrayal of good political behaviour and an expansion of the roles of the Office of the Political Ombudsman (OPO) are necessary to achieve the objective of getting more youth to vote in elections.

According to Political Awareness and Respect Initiative (PARI) member David Salmon, young people are not voting because they do not realise the importance of the investment being made and the results earned. This, he insisted, calls for a greater dialogue at the governance and community levels.

Salmon and fellow PARI member Kahlil Hutchinson were guests at this week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange.

“I have found, in the programmes that I have managed, that young people don't see how to reach out to their elected officials and how the functions of the office [of the political ombudsman] are there to help us,” Salmon said.

“PARI serves as a way to bridge the divide on what takes place on a political level and what takes place at a youth level, and in this regard it has been achieving its function. So if we can facilitate a mechanism where the gap is lessened between the young people and the elected officials, then more people would be interested to vote,” said Salmon.

PARI is described on the OPO website as a key element of the office's public outreach campaign, and comprises a team of young people who have agreed to collaborate with the office in undertaking to engage with their peers to work towards strengthening Jamaica's democratic architecture, as well as to get them to speak on issues around politics, democracy, good governance and the rule of law.

Among the fundamental expectations of the collaboration are an increased public awareness of the Office of the Political Ombudsman and its mandate; building and strengthening partnerships with other youth organisations, national groups and informal associations; and promoting youth participation in governance.

Explaining that while PARI is achieving its function, but needs an expansion of the roles of the OPO to improve, Salmon stated that many sessions have been held with young people to discuss matters relating to respective jurisdictions and elections.

“We even had a debriefing session with Dionne Jackson Miller, where we could ask questions for young people about what they saw in the [September 3, 2020] General Election and what they would want to see being improved. There was also another session with the deputy prime minister, Dr Horace Chang, as well as [former] People's National Party General Secretary Julian Robinson, where young people could also ask questions about issues and views of the elected officials,” he said.

Making reference to the unprecedented low 37 per cent voter turnout in the September 3 election, Hutchinson argued that politicians have to actively exercise their roles to gain support.

“As it relates to the commitment and the sincerity — actions speak louder than words. When the politicians speak, they make you feel good and make you feel as if you are empowered, but as it relates to certain actions — for example, I am also the University of Technology, Jamaica Students' Union president, and we have been trying to reach out to Prime Minister Andrew Holness for over a year now but it seems like it is a dead end. On one end he makes it seem as if he is accessible to everyone but on the other end when you are trying to access him it is a bit difficult,” said Hutchinson.

He also pointed out that the Jamaica Labour Party manifesto did not outline many opportunities for tertiary students and argued that young people need to be more aware and understand the importance of voting.

“It's all about education, because you have to know why you are voting. So people generally don't vote because they don't see the impact it has on their lives and as PARI members we know that there is a huge impact,” he said.

— Brittny Hutchinson

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