Thu | Jan 18, 2018

Age does not matter - Youth say voting will not depend on maturity of political representative

Published:Wednesday | March 29, 2017 | 12:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin

Several young people across the Corporate Area have strongly dismissed assertions that the age of a political leader will influence their decision to take part in the democratic process.

A debate has again stirred surrounding the capacity of the leaders of the two main political parties to reach the youth population and the role their ages would play. Dr Peter Phillips, president of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP), is 67, and Andrew Holness, prime minister and leader of the governing Jamaica Labour Party(JLP), is 44 years old.

On Sunday, Phillips became president of the PNP by acclamation at a special delegates' conference held at the National Arena in Kingston, taking over the reins from outgoing president Portia Simpson Miller.

Jherane Patmore, programme officer, J-FLAG, and programme manager, We-Change, was among several youth who took part in The Gleaner Editors' Forum, which was held at the newspaper's offices in central Kingston, where the issue of youth participation in the democratic process dominated the discussions.

For her, if youth who entered politics were not bringing innovative ideas to the table, they would have been wasting time.

"I think the question of age is kind of funny, because I see a lot of older persons in Parliament, yet a lot of issues regarding the elderly are not addressed, so I am not sure it's easy to equate the two (age and effective leadership)," she argued.

"Secondly, in terms of bringing younger persons in the party, I think it's kind of a 'look-good' [move] for politicians. However, I am wary of young persons who have the same policies as older persons. I love to say that they are old wine in a new bottles. They are not necessarily bringing anything new or good to the table," she told The Gleaner.

She urged policymakers to take the discussions beyond a person's age, noting that it was important that leaders make it their priority to include all sectors within society.

"We shouldn't be looking so much at a person's age, but how are they mainstreaming youth into politics. That's important. The policies that they are looking at, is it age-sensitive? Not just for young people, but what about pensioners, especially with the new Budget that came out for group health insurance? How does that affect the elderly person? I think when we talk about age in politics, it is very monolithic."


Look at competence rather than age


Oshnel Bryan, sixth-form student at Wolmer's Boys in Kingston and a member of the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN), had similar opinions indicating that there should be more emphasis on competence.

"I understand the fact that we want young, innovative minds, but, at the same time, we have to look at competence. Fidel Castro was a wonderful leader; he was also very old. So if it is that we are looking at competence and plans that a 67-year-old leader is putting forward versus a 44-year-old, we have to look at whose plan is better," he said.

Christopher Harper, also of JYAN, had a different view. He said with the changing times, a leader must be able to adapt.

"For me, if I see someone who is younger, with the experience, knowledge and competence, I would be more inclined to vote for that person. Times are changing," he declared.

"The thought that came to mind was this whole idea of sustainability. We do have more older politicians leading the charge, but, at the same time, how many youth are being trained, are being prepared to take over the reins as soon as they can no longer perform?" he asked.