Round 1: Essay
Fijis youth can be defined as any individual between 15 and 35 years in age. However, there are varied definitions of youth with regard to age so this poses a challenge. According to the 2017 Census report, Fijis population stands at 884, 887 and the median population is 27.5 years, which means that Fijis youth constitute half of the entire population (1). Narrowing it down to the most recent General Elections that were held in November 2018, we had a total of 637, 527 registered voters out of which 52.
7% of that total was youth (2). That is, 334, 303 thousand voters which means they represent the largest demographic unit and political constituency (3). Thus, effective participation of youth in electoral activities and processes is critical to democratic developments both in Fiji and generally around the globe.
Many of Fijis young people are unemployed, have access to communications technology and still feel disconnected from democratic and political activities. I have also noted young peoples distrust in political processes let alone electoral processes due to lack of awareness and what they believe is the issue of corruption among leaders.
Some youth believe that their vote will not make any difference as they think and feel that elected leaders are only there for their own interests, not to mention the fact that their vote does not really count as the person they vote for does not actually win a seat in Parliament. While these sentiments may be true for some, it places an obligation on key stakeholders such as the Government, FEO, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and other relevant stakeholders, to take measures, including affirmative action programmes to ensure that young people have access to education, training and opportunities for association, representation and participation in democratic and electoral processes.
Fijis National Youth Policy has also been designed to recognize that 3.1 our youths are instrumental to Fijis development and it is imperative to develop their full potential and their active participation in national development. Integrating them into the local-global dynamics is also important, given that this will promote their sustainability and 3.3 the National Youth Policy advocates a framework of networking, partnership, dialogue and multi-sectorial co-operation between the various stakeholders in Public Sectors, the private sector, non-governmental organisations and civil society. This will ensure that the full potential of young people is developed for the betterment of the nation (4).
For starters, it is encouraging to note that a school education initiative is underway, in FEOs effort to get youths in Fiji to first understand the voting process.
FEOs Year 10 Education Curriculum called Introductions to Elections: A Learning Module for Year 10 Social Science, consists of a students workbook, a teachers manual and a mock election kit. It is envisaged that in 2 to 3 years time, these young people will join over 630,000 registered Fijian voters and ultimately vote.
Furthermore, FEOs website has been re-designed in such a way that not only is it user friendly but disability friendly too with features such as text-to-speech feature which can be utilized by students who are visually impaired – the web address www.votereducation.feo.org.fj.
Alternatively, FEOs engagement with youth in the past has also been in the form of Voter Awareness visits to villages, rural areas, settlements, NGOs, religious organizations, tertiary institutions and secondary schools where youths are not only encouraged to register to vote but also kept abreast on the voting process. Whether the engagement activity was requested or self-initiated, youth participation on these visits are often high.
More so in the 2018 General Election, FEOs approach to this youth challenge have included the use of internet and social media. However, as experience has taught me, more sophisticated approaches needs to be developed and alternative methods need to be considered to produce higher involvement among youth.
In Canada during the 2015 election, youth voter turnout significantly increased. Following the 2011 and 2015 elections, Elections Canada commissioned a first-ever National Youth Survey to provide a better understanding of the voting behaviour of youth aged 18 to 34 by gathering information on motivation and obstacles (if any) to voting. In doing so, they found that facilitating registration and access was a key priority area so community relations officers set up registration camps in places with a high youth population density. Then they communicated with the heads of the main national student associations to discuss how best to facilitate voting by students on Election Day. Elections Canada made sure that returning officers paid special attention to young people, since the election period coincided with Christmas exams and holidays. (6)
Voter registration and polling stations were set up on campuses to make it easier for young people to vote. Along the same lines, as part of a pilot project in 2015, returning officers opened 71 satellite offices at select campuses, Friendship Centres and YMCAs to provide information, registration and voting services to youth. Following this, 1.76 million letters was sent to potential voters, asking them to register or to confirm their information. One month prior to the election of 19 October 2015, letters were sent to some 52,000 unregistered 18 year olds. In spring 2015, moreover, Elections Canada began asking civil society groups to promote their online registration service, which has been in existence since 2012. (6)
Elections Canada also made the most of advances in technology in its effort to engage youth for higher participation in the electoral process.
Student Vote Program (SVP) was also a successful approach strongly supported by Elections Canada. In this program, students under the age of 18 experienced what it was like to be part of an electoral process through a parallel election at their school. When this program was evaluated by Elections Canada in 2011, it found that the program has a significant positive impact on many factors associated with voter turnout, including political knowledge, interest and attitude.
South Korea recently held elections in 2017 and it is one of the countries with a track record of high voter turnout due largely to highly contested issues. In South Korea, when its people are unhappy with the ruling party or frustrated with leadership, they take to the polls and make sure that their vote counts. They also have a high youth voter turnout at 70% of the youth between ages 19-29 years, and this could be credited to the number of youth outreach programs such as celebrity endorsements, mock election days, and media advertising that may have made the youth turn out to vote in large numbers. (7)
What we can do?
A national youth survey must be conducted for the purpose of assessing the attitude of young voters, which in turn will help FEO develop a comprehensive and informed education and communication strategy. With this, FEO must work hand in hand with key stakeholders and forge new partnerships and associations with key youth organizations and civil society organizations as well as religious organizations for better youth representation and participation in the electoral process. FEO can make it itself be part of the National Youth Council annual agenda particularly when it conducts its visits, meetings and discussions nationwide with youth organizations. Like Canada, meetings with head of student associations should also be initiated so that issues concerning our youth with regard to their lack of interest in the electoral process is discussed, as we look for solutions to how youth voters can be inspired to vote.
In terms of maintaining that strong online media presence, in 2022 FEO can take creativity to another level, following in the steps of big democracies such as South Africa, by working with any of our mobile phone organizations such as Vodafone or Digicel, to create an animated digital game that can educate new voters about how to vote and election-related issues. In South Africa, the game was significantly enhanced and expanded to include the voter registration process. The updated version of the game was released in Android, Apple and Windows. Scoring for the game showed that about 67% of the questions in the game were answered correctly in less than a year, tens of thousands had downloaded the app and played. (8)
On another note, those conducting registration exercises should also be adequately and properly trained to give out information when conducting registration and awareness exercises simultaneously. These assistants should be trained in such a way that the outcome is the same. In other words, whether the Coordinator, the Officer or the Assistant is conducting this session, the outcome should all be the same. In this way, all answers to queries posed are answered and not recorded with a response for a later date, to be answered by those in a higher position, as was the case in the recent past.
Prominent people should endorse the importance of voting so young people can be inspired to vote. This marketing strategy is used often to promote something or raise awareness on something and in most cases has worked wonders, particularly for countries like South Korea where celebrity endorsements played a key role in the high youth voter turnout. Imagine using sports celebrities such as Semi Radradra, Jerry Tuwai, Sevu Reece, Meli Derenalagi to name but a few, to promote when, where and how to vote. I wish to use a personal example of this celebrity endorsement in a campaign I designed for FICAC back in 2013 in which a nationwide roadshow was conducted to raise awareness on the kind of corruption that can be brought forth for investigation seeing that FICAC, at the time, was receiving all sorts of complaints including domestic related ones. Local prominent people were used for this campaign, the likes of Dr. Robin Mitchell, Pacific sprint king Banuve Tabakaucoro, youth advocate Fatafehi Ditoka, womens tennis champion Annie Shannon (prominent in the Western Division) to name but a few. As a result, FICAC received one of the highest number of complaints in that year alone. These celebrities can participate in a television and radio campaign in which they can discuss why voting is important to them and encourage all young Fijians to follow suit
Furthermore, the Electoral Commission may want to develop a young agenda for elections. This can be discussed further.
FEO has maintained a strong presence in its relationship with the Ministry of Education through its Year 10 School Education Curriculum. This relationship must be maintained at all times possible.
The Strategic Development & Communications Directorate, when conducting these exercises must create Quarterly reports for all education, communication, public relations and engagement activities conducted each month, compiled for each quarter and recorded for annual reporting purposes. These reports can be narrated and then annexed into headings, for example:
Annex 1: Number of newspaper articles for October 2019, each day in October, the issue, which paper etc.
Annex 2: Number of radio coverage for October, 2019. This can record all news item that is FEO or EC related (must clearly demarcate between the two), issue being covered, radio station covered, type of coverage (i.e. talk back, news, ad etc.)
Annex 3: Number of TV coverage for October 2019. This can record all news TV coverage and on which TV station it was aired and the issue aired including what type of coverage, i.e. news, nai rogo leka, 4 the record
The narration of these reports must reflect the impact and outcome of everything we are doing and must be properly documented. For example, if 123 youths turned out for Nasova voter awareness, how many of those youths actually registered? If 123 registered, then the impact and outcome was positive, bearing of course on the awareness conducted that resulted in this. While recording these sessions, evaluation forms must be given to participants, at least half of the number in attendance, so we can gauge how well we are faring in as far as information dissemination is concerned.