CLAD in white T-shirts, the young men who stood under a tree at the entrance to Yallahs Primary School in St Thomas on Election Day were there with one intention only: to sell their votes to the candidate who could afford them.
The group of about nine said that they had grown disenchanted with the current political system, as with each general election came a fresh round of promises that are yet to be fulfilled. Most had cast their votes in 2007, eager for a change, but found themselves no better off for their efforts.
This time around, they said, they were not going to be fooled. They wanted some sort of incentive in exchange for their ‘X’.
“We are no dunce, we are pushing for what we want, but at the same time, for us to vote today, they (politicians) would have to pay us for today, tomorrow and even for a week,” said one of them, who explained that he was a 23-yearold, first-year student at a prominent teacher’s college in Kingston.
“Give us what you can give us now, because at the end of the day, we still have to find our own college fees, we still have to mind our pickney off our own. We just want what we can get now, give it to us now, because we know we won’t see you after,” he stated.
He said that he was speaking on behalf of a number of other young people in his community who had chosen to stay home that day instead of voting.
According to the Electoral Office of Jamaica, only 52 per cent of the electorate in Jamaica turned out at the 6,629 polling stations in 2,200 locations islandwide to participate in Jamaica’s 16th election since Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944.
In the end, the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), led by Portia Simpson Miller, steamrolled the Andrew Holness-led ruling Jamaica Labour Party, winning 41 of the 63 parliamentary seats.
Both parties had made the youth a major focus in the past few election campaigns, with catchy jingles, slogans and advertisements that seemed geared specifically at capturing their attention.
However, these young people said that there was a disconnect as nothing the politicians said seemed to speak to their reality.
“These are all youths that want better, they want to work. Some of us go school and we never really understand the value of school in a certain way, so we come out without CXCs, but that doesn’t mean we are uneducated; most of us would want the chance to go back,” he said, while pointing out that a number of them were going to evening classes and colleges in order to better themselves.
“With politics, they come today and say ‘all right now, this is it, vote for us’. We say ‘all right, start some school ting that we can go free CXC classes’. And dem say, ‘yeah man, you are going to get that’, but it no work out.’ We try to work and send ourselves, but that still don’t work out sometimes because some of us have families to take care of. Some of us have to stay with friends because we don’t have it certain way,” he said.
“It not going to be better, we don’t see how it’s going to be better. We give them ways in which we want it to be better and it’s not better, so we, as youths now, we kick back, and we say all right then, we have a vote and this is politics,” he stated.
As the young men waited under the tree, persons made their way steadily into to the polling division on the school grounds. Although they were all enumerated and had their voter IDs ready, the young men stood a good distance away from the large throng of outdoor agents for the PNP’s candidate, Leonard Green, and the JLP’s James Robertson.
The bunch was adamant that they would not be moved until they were given at least $25,000 each. They were all born in the parish, but mostly educated and worked in Kingston.
“We are not stupid, after they win or lose, tell me one reason why they would come back and look out for us as youths in the community that them done have already as undereducated people?” one of them asked.
Another young man who stood among the group declared that he hadn’t quite made up his mind as to which of the two major political parties he would vote for. Even so, he knew he had to make a decision soon because his mother had given him an ultimatum earlier that morning.
“This morning she woke me up early and say I should go and vote and I say ‘I’m not voting, you know, because things not going to be better’, and she turn to me and said ‘you know that if you don’t vote you can’t sleep here tonight’, and I said ‘for real, Mommy?’ and she said ‘I’m serious, try me’.
“Right now, she constantly a ring off my phone, but I’m not answering it, because mi no really ready yet, I’m weighing my mind,” said the 22-year-old electrician, who said that he had voted during the last election.
He said that he was challenged in making a decision, since he was not pleased with the conditions in his constituency.
“To be truthful with you, I have an empty fowl coop and I go to the (constituency) office and I write down my name to see if I could get a start; all now, them nuh do nothing for me,” he said.
“Mi no really have the money to start it, but mi link them and me say mi woulda even buy the feeding and they supply me with the fowl, but all now,” said the youngster, who said that he really wanted to attend HEART Trust/NTA so that he could be certified as an electrician.
Beside him, his friend, a 23-year-old who said that he was forced to leave the University of Technology (UTech) to seek a job after impregnating two girls, was convinced that voting would not be the solution to getting him back on the right track.
“I don’t see the sense right now. Why I should vote?” he asked.
Across the road from the group, three other young men sat under a tree talking while taking in the day’s activities. They, too, were all wearing white T-shirts, although two of the three had voted earlier in the day.
“Nothing not going on, because about eight factories that used to employ the people dem, lock down,” said the only one of the three who had refused to go and vote.
His friends said that they voted for the candidate representing the party that had the better manifesto.
In other sections of the constituency, the Sunday Observer got similar responses from other young people.
“I don’t see any benefit. I don’t see anything changing in the community; because the road bad, we don’t have any jobs and we don’t really see any form of development,” said Shawna, 22, who added that she had to earn her living by peddling on the streets of downtown Kingston, although she had graduated from one of the traditional high schools in Kingston.
“It’s all promises. But I don’t really look to any of them for handouts, I just do my little hustling,” she said.
Robertson, who was seen speaking with some of the youth, later told the Sunday Observer that they would vote for his party, but that they would not be paid to do so.