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That crucial youth vote

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The last time the New Democratic Party (NDP) was in government, those people on the voters’ list who have just turned 18 were three or four years old. They only know life under the Unity Labour Party (ULP) and they have experienced no prime minister other than Dr Ralph Gonsalves.

According to information provided by the electoral office, first time voters number 11,904 persons and when one considers that in the December 2010 elections, {{more}}a mere 1,531 votes and one seat separated the two major political parties, one can understand the resources being expended by the political parties to secure the youth vote. These are the people who will determine who will form the next government in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The closest margins in 2010 were in Central Leeward, North Leeward and South Leeward, where the winning candidates all won by fewer than 200 votes. In each of these constituencies and the others on the mainland, the number of new voters who have registered number in the hundreds. These are the minds and hearts the parties are trying to capture.

Many of the new voters are the children of the Education Revolution, who have just come of age and most likely benefited from policies of the ULP government, such as universal access to secondary education, increased places at the St Vincent and the Grenadines Community College and increased opportunities for university education. It also does not hurt that at least five of the ULP’s candidates are relatively young, energetic men with whom the youths can relate.

The NDP is therefore playing on the backfoot and they know it. That party’s vice-president St Clair Leacock has repeatedly expressed his frustration with the number of young people who are lending their support to the ruling party. The NDP must find a way to convince the new voters that much better prospects await them under a NDP government than the life to which they have become accustomed. The spokespersons of the ULP, on the other hand, must paint a picture of a past under the NDP to which no one would wish to return. They must show that their plans for the country will usher in prosperity and provide opportunities for them to fulfil their dreams.

Truth be told, youth vote or not, this election will not be a shoo-in for either party. In the same way that the new voters represent a large pool from which new supporters can be tapped, they are also the group most likely not to go out to vote, despite turning up in large numbers at the rallies. Election Day mobilization machinery is therefore key.

The advertisements being played on radio, television and social media, which predominantly target the youth, will increase over the next week. In making their decision, the young people are urged to examine the party manifestos, quiz their candidates and listen carefully to their answers. They should speak to older persons whose judgement they trust if they are unsure, but ultimately they should not let anyone make the decision for them. Remember, no one will know who you voted for, so vote for the candidate or party you think will be in your best interest and that of your country. Choose wisely.

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