New Aishal­ton Toshao aim­ing to bridge vil­lage’s po­lit­i­cal di­vide

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

By Mi­randa La Rose

With his suc­cess­ful cam­paign as an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date in the re­cent elec­tion for the post of Toshao of Aishal­ton Vil­lage, small busi­ness­man Michael Thomas says he wanted to unite vil­lagers, who have been di­vided be­cause of party pol­i­tics, so that they can de­velop them­selves.

“I wanted to break that cy­cle of divi­sion that was cre­ated and peo­ple be­ing scat­tered in their mind­set be­cause of party po­lit­i­cal al­le­giance and po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion,” Thomas, 31, told Sun­day Stabroek.

Even be­fore he was nom­i­nated for the post, he said, he was ap­proached by a po­lit­i­cal party rep­re­sen­ta­tive to seek the nom­i­na­tion. That party, he said, al­ready had po­ten­tial can­di­dates who were cam­paign­ing for both elec­tion and re­elec­tion but he thought it wiser to not con­test as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of any po­lit­i­cal party.

Aishal­ton has a pop­u­la­tion of around 2,000.

Asked what prompted him to take on the chal­lenge of lead­er­ship of one of the largest vil­lages in the South Rupu­nuni, Thomas said, “It was the type of lead­er­ship in which some peo­ple felt left out that caused me to think about it.”

For the past three to four elec­tions, the toshaos elected “were po­lit­i­cally gen­er­ated,” he fur­ther noted.

There is strong rep­re­sen­ta­tion by both par­ties in and out of gov­ern­ment on the vil­lage coun­cil, and in ini­tial meet­ings to plan for the fu­ture, he said, “We all agree to for­get about po­lit­i­cal al­le­giances for our vil­lage in vil­lage mat­ters.”

He added, “I told them that that does not mean we will for­get about pol­i­tics. We know gen­eral elec­tions are com­ing and then we will in­volve our­selves in pol­i­tics for our coun­try. We all re­spect that.”

Po­lit­i­cal par­ties took a spe­cial in­ter­est in the toshaos’ elec­tions, Thomas said, be­cause they are try­ing to get a foothold in the com­mu­nity ahead of 2020 gen­eral elec­tions. Toshaos are elected to serve a three-year term and are limited to two terms. Thomas gained 331 votes, de­feat­ing the out­go­ing toshao Dou­glas Casimero, who gained 81 and a for­mer toshao Bernard Con­rad who gained 12.

Thomas, who ac­cord­ing to the el­ders in the com­mu­nity is their youngest toshao, said he was aware that the task ahead will not be easy.

With no doubts that his job ahead “will be huge,” he said, “I plan to serve my first term as best as I could, and if peo­ple think I am wor­thy of re­elec­tion, then we see how it goes.”

Thomas, who was born in Aishal­ton, at­tended St Ig­natius Sec­ondary in Lethem. He then ob­tained a diploma in com­puter sci­ence from the Univer­sity of Guyana.

He has worked in Lethem and as district de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer in Aishal­ton. He quit the job at the end of his sec­ond one-year con­tract to set up a busi­ness be­cause he felt that he could bet­ter serve his com­mu­nity in­de­pen­dently.

“I have seen and I have ex­pe­ri­enced the way our peo­ple strive to sur­vive, strive to make ends meet. I want to see our peo­ple de­velop while pre­serv­ing our way of life, our lan­guage and our cul­ture in gen­eral,” he said.

Un­like oth­ers, Thomas did not cam­paign with a man­i­festo. “I did not pre­pare a man­i­festo be­cause I have never seen a toshao or a vil­lage coun­cil com­plete their prom­ises or worked ac­cord­ing to the man­i­festo.

He said he met with peo­ple and lis­tened to what they had to say. One of the main con­cerns raised dur­ing their in­ter­ac­tions, he found, was food se­cu­rity and youth par­tic­i­pa­tion in the de­vel­op­ment of the com­mu­nity.

“So food se­cu­rity will be one of the main items on the list. Farm­ers want to im­prove their stan­dard of cul­ti­va­tion,” he said, Michael Thomas

while not­ing that while cam­paign­ing he as­sured vil­lagers that he would re­turn to them to work out a work pro­gramme.

As a young per­son, he said he un­der­stands when young peo­ple say that they feel left out of vil­lage af­fairs and are forced to leave the com­mu­nity to de­velop them­selves and find em­ploy­ment. “I was, I am one of them. Their voices have to be heard,” he said.

Thomas said he will also con­tinue the job started by the pre­vi­ous coun­cil, in­clud­ing the

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Wapichan lan­guage re­vival pro­gramme and a cat­tle rear­ing project.

Mean­while, elec­tions for toshaos in Re­gion Two (Pomeroon/Su­pe­naam) took place at Akaw­ini and Waka­pao. The in­cum­bent David Wil­son was re­turned to of­fice as Akaw­ini’s toshao, while Wakapoa elected Howard Cor­nelius as its new toshao. Akaw­ini had 900 el­i­gi­ble vot­ers but only 300 voted.

Un­like other com­mu­ni­ties out­side of Re­gion Two, where can­di­dates are nom­i­nated as much as a month in ad­vance of the elec­tions, As­sis­tant Re­gional Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Yvette Hast­ings told this news­pa­per that nom­i­na­tions for the lead­ers are done on the same day as elec­tions.

Un­like Akaw­ini where all the can­di­dates nom­i­nated were males, she said, in Wakapoa, three women were nom­i­nated for the po­si­tion of toshao but they all de­clined.

Hast­ings urged women and young peo­ple to run for the lead­er­ship po­si­tion in their com­mu­ni­ties.

Elec­tions are slated for St Mon­ica and Kabak­aburi, both on the Pomeroon River, on Tues­day and Wed­nes­day, re­spec­tively.

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