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“Not too young to run for office”
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“Not too young to run for office”

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Angelique PouponneauWith election day looming, Angelique Pouponneau, 26, a Commonwealth Correspondent from the Seychelles, questions the rules about eligibility to run for office and speaks with youth who have stepped into the political arena.

In some countries, the only eligibility requirement to run for election as a member of parliament is to be aged 35.

They do not state whether you have a record of making a difference for the community and transforming lives of others; they do not require that you have shown a level of compassion and experience in representing the voice and advocating for others – no, the requirement is simply that the prospective candidate must be aged 35 or above.

This, of course, means that young people are left out of participating in the political process other than as a voter.

I was astounded when I heard of a law prescribing such age discriminatory practices. Nigerian Youth recently started the “Not Too Young to Run” campaign,  advocating for laws to reduce the age qualification for President from 40 years to 30 years; Governor 35 to 30, House of Representatives 30 to 25 and State House of Assembly 30 to 25. It was comforting news, but I question why these age restriction in any event.

I turned to the Constitution of Seychelles for solace, and found Article 24 says that every citizen of 18 years may vote, be elected, and participate in public affairs.

It was good news that indeed, if you were able to be solicited for a vote you could be voted for. There are a few young candidates in the parliamentary elections scheduled for September, 2016. I spoke to two candidates; one from the ruling party, ‘Parti Lepep’ (People’s Party) and the other from a newly formed opposition party, Seychelles Patriotic Movement.

There has been an ongoing discussion on the number of women participating in the elections, but I spoke to Miss Audrey Vidot, a 29 years old young lady who was District Administrator before becoming a Parti Lepep branch coordinator.  Youth development is one of her priorities under her term as a member of parliament. She makes it her responsibility to voice out for the youth of Seychelles and to support empowerment programmes to build leadership skills. As well, she supports government policy that will engage youth in community activities to enjoy the opportunities that can benefit them personally by being socially productive, developing democratic or civic mind-set and enhance their resumes for future jobs or applications to educational institutions.

We asked her how voters reacted to her age. She said they welcomed her. She has the energy, enthusiasm, determination and the experience to be a potential member of parliament by sharing her leadership skills and good governance in her field of community work.

In Seychelles we have seen few young people stand for elections despite the Constitution permitting anyone aged 18 to do so. Audrey has a message to other youth.

“I strongly believe that engaging young people can be rewarding on many levels. I would recommend that youth of Seychelles to take on board opportunities and challenges that can build and improve their leadership skills to help them gain experience and confidence, respect and recognition from peers or adults in the community we live in,” she said.

The district of Les Mamelles is hotly contested. Social media has criticised one young candidate’s move to a newly formed political party, the Seychelles Patriotic Movement, after his dedication to three former political parties in the previous elections. His motive for the move and his political maturity have been questioned, but that did not stop young Daniel Laurence. He is a 23 year old who is determined to win the elections and do the best for his constituents. He has shared his view on the power of young people on social media, probably the most effective way to reach the youth of Seychelles:

“Youth of Seychelles have a goal and pursue it diligently. Do not let criticism bring you down, because he who dares criticise you negatively does not want you to know how he rated your ability to turn things around in your favour. Rise above the odds valiantly. Youth trust that with our power we can move mountains.”

We spoke to Daniel on his views of the power of young people.

“Here in the Seychelles the youth are filled with tremendous energy and towering ambition and their influence can be used in either a constructive or destructive manner. It is for us the national leaders to play our part in mobilising their abilities and provide them with suitable opportunities and objectives. What has pushed me into politics is because I feel that the faith of this country lies on upon this generation to make a difference such as to share education, especially on how we can advance forward in fostering a peaceful platform on which we can exchange intellectual political debate,” he said.

“Our generation is self-empowered and they are making themselves prominent against government policies and programmes. I’ve seen that they want to take the government to task. However a sizeable number of these youth are without proper guidelines about their future. It is very dangerous to allow them to remain idle as it will increase the frustrations. It is a big national wastage if these capable are not allocated suitable jobs. ….  It is upon me as a leader to tap in their skills for the developmental project of this country.”

As the elections heat up we look to Zambia for hope that more young people will be involved in the political process, not merely chosen because of their age but the energy, creativity and vision for a different world than the one we have grown so comfortable with.

Congratulations to Buumba Malambo, aged 24, who proved herself as a child activist and is now councillor for her constituency. The message here is that we are not too young to run. As the gender struggle encouraged women into decision making processes to make headway for women, we need young people in decision-making processes to make headway for the youth.

photo credit: Voted yet? #elections via photopin (license)

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About me: I am a barrister, advocating in all the Tribunals and Courts in the Seychelles. I am interested in sustainable development, the rule of law and international affairs.

I also support inclusive education systems so I volunteer at the School of the Hearing Impaired to teach English and Math. I would like to continue using education and the creation of opportunities for the advancement of young people, ensuring their voices are heard at national and international levels.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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