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Analysing Youth Voters in the Mauritius

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Published: Wed, 28 Feb 2018

Introduction

STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

The absence of youth in the Mauritian political system is quite alarming but still no statement is being made about it. The total number of electors registered for the year 2009 is 879,897 and among them 222, 060, i.e. 25.2% are aged from 18-29 years old (estimates from the Electoral Commission Office). However, at present our National Assembly does not have a single member in the above age group (p.10 ). There is no available data about the voting frequency of the different age groups of the registered electors nor are there disaggregated statistics about the voting behaviour of males and females. Data on neither the formal nor informal political engagement of youth could be obtained at the Ministry of Youth and Sports. It becomes hence clear that there is a lack of research on this issue either because of an unrealised phenomenon or a taken for granted phenomenon or most probably the issue is considered to be an unimportant one. However, as highlighted by the Secretary-General of the UN 1997-2007 – Kofi Annan, World Youth Report 2003, p. 271):

“No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its lifetime; it is condemned to bleed to death.”

The only hint that could be obtained about the topic in the Mauritian Context is a mini research which appeared as an article on one page (p.9) in L’ Express Newspaper 04th August 2009 entitled: “Jeune et Politique: L’Impossible Alliance”. The mini-research was carried out by Dr. Catherine Boudet from Reunion Island. “En l’absence d’études sur la culture politique des jeunes mauriciens”, she has conducted a mini-research using a focus group of 10 youth at UoM and she has distributed 30 questionnaires among youngsters (15- 27 years old). However, she adds that “cette étude empirique ne fait pas office de sondage, mais elle a le mérite de constituer un petit barometre de l’état d’esprit de la jeunesse.”

At this stage, following the ontological assumptions are made: Why are these young people absent from politics? Is it because of a change in lifecycle? Have they become disengaged? If, so to what extent are they disengaged? Why have they become disengaged? Have they found other forms of political participation with social change? Are they not being given adequate political space? On taking the epistemological dimension, suggested answers which form the hypotheses of the research are given to these questions.

(Source: G. M. du Ploy, 2001, p.20)

HYPOTHESES OF THE RESEARCH

  • Young people do not have time for politics because of a change in lifecycle.
  • Young people have found some other forms of political participation.
  • Young people have negative attitudes towards politics and politicians.
  • Young people are disengaged because politicians do not care about their needs and demands.
  • Politicians/elders are not giving political space to young people.

At this point, the aims and objectives become clearer.

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE RESEARCH

The double objectives of the research are to:

  • To know young people’s desires and needs concerning society.
  • Identify measures to introduce some changes in youth towards politics and vice versa.

In order to reach these main objectives, the research aims to:

  • Explore the level of formal political participation among young people.
  • Explore the level of informal political participation among young people.
  • Find out if today’s youth will or will not reach the levels of political participation currently displayed by the elderly.
  • Find out and verify the reasons/explanations of the disengagement of the young people about politics and try to find convenient actions to apply.

ORGANISATION OF CHAPTERS

The next step which follows as can be seen in the diagram is the theoretical assumptions which help in verifying the hypotheses and achieve the aims and objectives of the research. The theoretical framework is also the base of the research which establishes working definitions for fieldwork. All these are dealt in Chapter 2. Hints of the methodology can be found throughout the whole dissertation while Chapter 3 has been devoted mainly to the methods used to extract information. Chapter 4 analyses and discusses the discoveries of the fieldwork and the dissertation concludes with the Chapter 5 where I also come up with some recommendations.

A CONTEMPORARY GLOBAL OVERVIEW OF YOUTH AND POLITICS IN DEMOCRATIC COUNTRIES

The vast majority of reading on youth participation in politics shows that there has been a steady decline in youth political participation in many democratic (Pammett and Leduc 2003; O’Neill 2007). In almost every election young people are the least likely to vote and these participation rates are continuously declining(Putnam 2000; Kimberlee 2002; Gauthier 2003; Pammett and Leduc 2003). Youth membership of political parties is also dropping (Hooghes et al. 2004). Although mostAfrican countries have a majority of youth population, African parliaments have less than 1% youth participation as MP’s (Sigudhla 2004). In fact, research such as Putnam (2000), Kimberlee (2002), Blais et al. (2002), Blais et al. (2004), Clarke et al. (2004), Zukin et al. (2006) and Dalton (2007)provide clear indication that the more recent generations are less likely to engage in politics than were previous generations of the same age. The ‘generational effects’ suggests that today’s young people are less active in politics, and they will never reach the levels of political participation currently displayed by the elderly (Martikainen et al. 2005). Studies indicate that the present younger generations will retain these differences as they grow older, and that consequently the present electorate will be replaced by a more passive generation of political participants (Quintelier 2007). As for youth in democratic Mauritius, all these have to be tested. Hence, most important is to identify working definitions of terms on which the project is based. Obviously, the parameters of the terms ‘Youth’ and ‘Politics’ have to be established.

PARAMETER OF THE TERM ‘YOUTH’ USED

Both the first and second Mauritian National Youth Policy (2000 – 2004) and (2010 – 2014) define youth as persons aged “between 14 and 29 living in the Republic of Mauritius”. Thus for the purpose of this dissertation, the age of youth considered does not exceed 29 years old.

ESTABLISHING THE WORKING DEFINITION OF POLITICS

The definition of politics is confined to what Randall (1987) identified as forms of political participation which are as follows:

→ Voting

Voting is sometimes understood as the first step in a succession of increasing demanding political acts. Marsh and Kaase (1979) (cited in Randall 1987) find it as a unique type of political participation in the sense that it does not occur very often and is very much biased. Randall (1987) notes that in most countries women are more inclined to cast their vote than men.

→ Other Conventional Forms Of Participation

According to Welch (1977) (cited in Randall 1987), this form of participation include campaigning for political parties or their candidates, membership of a political party or organization or attendance at a political meeting. Dowse and Hughes (1972) (cited in Randall 1987) find that women participate less men when it comes to this form of participation.

→ Less Conventional Politics

Randall (1987) refers to this form of participation as ad hoc politics which means participation in political campaigns that are relatively short-lived, throwing up makeshift organizations and tending to rely on direct tactics such as pickets, squats and self-help projects. In this form of participation, Randall (1987) notes that women ‘come into their own’ and their participation is as significant as that of men.

These 3 forms of political participation have been used as indicators to serve the exploratory purpose of the research. While Levine (2007), O’Neill (2007), Braud (2004) and many others have spoken about the forms of political engagement, the theory of Randall (1987) was purposely chosen since it also deals about women’s participation for each form. Hence with the ‘gender’ variable, the research also tests the relevance of the theory among young Mauritian. To explain the identified disengagement of youth from politics, it is important to find out what other research say and what are their theories. Hence the following theories which I have classified under 3 headings served the explanatory purpose of the research: Social change; Adults’ attitudes and actions and the Attitudes and lifecycle of young people.

EXPLANATORY THEORIES ABOUT THE DISENGAGEMENT OF YOUTH FROM POLITICS

A. Social Change

O’Neill (2007) notes that cell phones have been identified as a new form of political activism especially for young people. She also stresses the use on new Internet-based sites such as MySpace and Facebook which provide forums for communicating, organising and socialising and they are unlike traditional social networks that require face-to-face contact. Quintelier (2007), Hoskins et al. (2003) and O’ Toole et al. (2003) notice the attractiveness of these new forms of participation has caused younger people to divert from traditional forms of political participation as practiced by the older generation. Moreover, according to findings of Levine (2007), Dalton (2007) and Zukin et al. although members of this generation are less engaged in traditional political activities, many are willing to provide direct voluntary services.

However in a study conducted by Blais (n.d)among young people on the island of Montreal, he finds out that non-conventional participation has not replaced conventional participation. In fact, most of the respondents either do both or do neither. As for the case of young Mauritians, this has to be tested.

B. Adults’ attitudes and actions

Conventional ‘wisdom’ dictates that young people are ‘less knowledgeable’, ‘ignorant’, ‘apathetic’, ‘indifferent’, ‘alienated’, ‘disaffected’ and ‘disinterested’ when it comes to politics (Eden et al. 2002; O’Toole et al. 2003; Henn et al. 2003). O’Neill (2001) add to the view that youth are also more likely to find politics uninteresting and even boring. Moreover, in a case study carried out by Golumbek (2002), adults explain the political disengagement of youth by the fact that youth only want to have fun and politics appear dull to them.

Moreover,Bessant (2004) and Eden et al. (2002) notice some restrictions, namely, in the patronizing of youth by parents and educators. This is displayed in that politicians, parents and teachers frequently deny their children or students the right to participate in protest marches when such activities take place during class hours.

C. The Attitudes And Lifecycle Of Young People

Pammett and LeDuc’s (2003) study clearly indicate that young people have negative attitudes towards political parties. Young people perceive politicians as ‘out of touch’, ‘untrustworthy’, ‘self-interested’, ‘irrelevant’ and ‘power-hungry’ (O’ Toole et al. 2003; Quintelier 2007). Young people do not trust politicians believing they are corrupt and self-serving (Bennett, 1997). They are very critical and quickly recognize when politicians lie or when they try to speak on their behalf (Henn et al. 2002). More so, youth find that conventional politics carries an image problem (Edwards, 2001).

Many young people feel that they are not heard by politicians and that they ultimately cannot influence politics (Henn et al. 2002; Kimberlee 2002). Henn et al. 2002; O’ Toole et al. 2003; Keeter 2003; Quintelier 2007 find that the non-participation of young people is due to the failure of the politicians to address the issues that concern them, or to make the issues relevant to their daily lives. Youth have the impression that politicians do not truly care about their needs and large percentage of young people believe that the government is unresponsive to people like them (Bennett, 1997).

Youth have fewer resources for political participation because of ‘lifecycle effects’ (Quintelier 2007 and Verba et al. 1995). According to these authors, political participation requires time and money and young people do not yet have a stable basis for concern with politics. Hence, they are more preoccupied with short-term projects (Verba et al. 1974; Iyengar and Jackman 2004). According to Kimberlee (1998), the decline in political interest and behaviour of young people should be attributed to the changing of social and economic environment in which young people now live.

After having established the body of theories, it is important to have an idea of the variables of the research which could at the same time be presented as some ‘unique’ traits of the Mauritian Politics.

TRAITS OF THE MAURITIAN POLITICS/ VARIABLES OF THE RESEARCH

A. Gender Imbalance

From Appendices 2 and 3, it can be observed that before 2005, the number of female MPs had never exceeded six. One would find that in many constituencies in Mauritius, women have never been elected while in most constituencies the number of nominated women is very low or women are not fielded at all. In 2005, 61 of the 645 candidates who stood for the General Elections were women (9.5%). The two major parties (MLP and MMM) which were capable of electing candidates, together fielded only 16 women. Of those 16, 11 were elected as constituency seat MPs and 1 as best-loser seat MP. The number of women in the legislature from the year 2000 to 2005 has increased from 4 to 12 (5.7% – 17%). Nonetheless, this number is nowhere near the 30% goal set in the SADC declaration on Gender and Development of which Mauritius is a signatory. Phillips’s (1991, 1995) arguments for democracy are based on mirror representation, group representation and interest representation and Chiroro (2005) highlighted that Mauritius totally fails in terms of mirror representation. What awaits us for this year’s 2010 General Elections is yet to be known.

B. Ethinicised Politics

In Mauritius, the 70 member National Assembly consists of 62 elected representatives of constituencies and 8 additional seats allocated to the Best Losers among the non-elected. The latter seats are allocated on the basis of ethnic membership (the first four) and a combination of ethnicity and party membership (the remaining four) (Lau Thai Keng 1999, Eriksen 1998). The main purpose of this system is to ensure an adequate representation of the minority groups (Addison et al 1993).

Eriksen (1998) notes that most political parties in Mauritius have overtly or covertly represented ethnic / communal interests. Dinan, Nababsing and Mathur (cited in Crawford Young, 1999) add that political parties in Mauritius field their candidates in constituencies not only according to ethnic configurations of the constituency but sub groups (caste, cultural and linguistic) of the voters are also considered. This might be because communalism is an important variable for voting behaviour of the population (Mathur 1991). Thus, considering the ethnic group of respondents as a variable when one does a research on politics becomes significant.

C. Youth Political Engagement/Disengagement

TABLE 1: CALCULATED AVERAGE AGE OF MPs IN MAURITIUS

 

ELECTION 11TH SEPTEMBER 2000

ELECTION 03RD JULY 2005

MPs 2005 BY 28th FEBRUARY 2010

MEAN AGE

47

49

Logically, the mean, mode and median at 28th February 2010 would be that of the year 2005 + 5 since the MPs are the same apart from few modifications (see appendix 5).

MODAL AGE

39

51

MEDIAN AGE

47

51

% OF YOUTH AS DEFINED AS PER THE NATIONAL YOUTH POLICY

(2 ÷ 66) Χ 100

= 3.03% (2 d.p)

0%

To be able to acquire this data, I have gathered and compiled the date of birth and calculated the age of MPs for the year 2000 and 2005 (SEE APPENDICES 4 AND 5). From these, the average age of MPs and the percentage of MPs which fall into the youth category for the last 2 General Elections could be obtained. While the age at which a candidate can stand for Elections is 18 and the maximum age a person is considered to be young in Mauritius is 29, the data in the above table brings us back to the ontological assumptions made in Chapter 1 where it becomes necessary to gather primary data. Before presenting to you, the procedures and methods adopted for the collection of primary data, I wish to recapitulate what the basic research which has an exploratory and explanatory purpose aims to. The research tries to:

  • → Explore the extent of engagement/disengagement of youth in/from politics in Mauritius.
  • → Determine which explanation classified under 3 headings best explains the absence of youth from formal politics.
  • → Find out if today’s youth will or will not reach the levels of political participation currently displayed by the elderly.
  • → Explore and organize primary data so as to create a picture of the current situation of the topic in the Mauritian context.
  • → Develop new hypotheses which will be matter of further testing in future research.
  • → To fill in the gap of unavailable data in Mauritius and thus contribute to epistemology.

A MODEL OF THE RESEARCH PROCESS

STAGE 1: OBSERVATION

It is well known that in Mauritius the SU is much linked to political parties. Hence, observation was carried out during the campaign of the Students’ Union (SU) Elections at the UoM. Both the campaign and the observation lasted for 2 weeks (started on 19th October 2009 and ended on the 30th October 2009). The observation was an opportunity to have an overview of the relationship between youth and politics.

PLANNING THE OBSERVATION

A. Type of Observation

TYPE OF OBSERVATION

WHAT WERE UNDER OBSERVATION

REASON

Non participant

Everything that could be seen, heard and felt.

Not being a candidate for the SU Elections myself, some information was not easily disclosed to me. Thus everything that could be seen, heard and felt was noted down. Moreover, 2 interviews were carried out with people involved in the campaign.

B. Instruments Used For Observation

INSTRUMENTS USED

PURPOSE/S

Diary

To write fresh, valid, reliable and vivid data on the spot.

Camera

Photographs were taken in case particular aspects of the campaign went unnoticed during the observation. Hence they could be re-analysed in the photographs. However, for ethical reasons the photographs were taken from quite afar so that the people are not totally visible.

Myself – Human Intrument

Since the senses have to be used in observation and the researcher exerts some sort of power over the other instruments he/she is using, the latter becomes the main instrument in the observation process.

STAGE 2: INTERVIEWS AND ITS OBJECTIVES

For the purpose of this dissertation, 4 interviews were carried out in all.

It is to be noted that interviewees did not find the need to remain anonymous.

 

INTERVIEWEES

OBJECTIVES

1

Soobeersingh Dhunoo alias Kenny (male) – ex student at the UoM and ex president of the SU (present during the SU Election Campaign and thus was interviewed).

In order, not to be gender biased, a boy and a girl were determinedly selected and at the same time a gender comparison of youth’s political engagement could be made since gender is the only relevant variable between them in this particular setting. Unstructured interview was used for both respondents so as to grasp maximum information about how youth conduct their political activities.

2

Khirtee Ruchpaul (female) -candidate at the SU Elections (interviewed during the SU Election campaign).

3

Naveena Ramyad (female) – former member in the MMM Youth Wing[5] and potential candidate of the MMM party for General Elections 2010.

Since the MMM party does not have any archival information, Naveena acted like a ‘key informant’. It was also an opportunity to ask her about her transition from the Youth Wing to the Party itself. A semi-structured interview was found to be most convenient.

4

Devanand Ritoo – the current Minister of Youth and Sports.

Structured questions were prepared and he was interviewed in his capacity as:

1. An senior politician,

2. The current president of the Youth Wing of Mauritian Labour Party,

3. The current Minister of Youth and Sports.

PLANNING THE INTERVIEWS

The interviewees were the ones to decide about the place, time and day on which the interview would take place. Face-to-face interviews were carried out and a tape recorder was used to record everything with the permission of the interviewee. The use of tape recorder enabled me to maintain the eye contact with my interviewees and much attention could be given to their expressions, body languages and tones. Hence face validity could be checked out on the spot.

Although all the interviewees could speak English, interviews were conducted in Creole which is the mother tongue of mostly all Mauritians. This was done with the purpose of allowing interviewees to be more at ease so that they could provide more information. Once questions were asked, interviewees were given the opportunity to talk as much as they wished without being interrupted by me. My role as an interviewer was only to ask questions. It was not like a sort of conversation. In this way, value-free information could be gathered.

However, no research is without lacuna, mine being no exception. The lacunas are:

It was quite difficult to carry out such an observation (where the researcher is the main instrument) during 2 weeks on a large scale. Many things should have gone unnoticed, unheard and unfelt not only in my absence but in my presence as well. Moreover, many of the research questions have remained unanswered. I could picture the extent of engagement and disengagement of youth but I did not get the many explanations what is/ are causing this political disengagement through the observation method. Interviewees were those engaged in politics in some way or another but why the other youngsters are disengaged from politics remains a research question among so many. This led me to the stage 3 where the questionnaire came into use.

STAGE 3: QUESTIONNAIRE METHOD AND ITS OBJECTIVES

Concepts / hypotheses were developed into indicators through questions and statements in the form of questionnaire to mainly test why there is this ‘disengagement’ of youth from politics. At the same time, some questions related to the qualitative part of the research conducted were set to translate the information from subjective to objective, cross check the findings and make it generalisable. As according to Bryman (2004), the main advantage of triangulation is that it increases confidence in research findings.

For some concepts, multiple indicators were used (multiple measure of a concept) – A better explanation of this is given in the next chapter. A copy of the questionnaire distributed to respondents can be scrutinized in APPENDIX 6.

THE TYPES OF QUESTION USED

Since each question/ statement set serves a purpose, the type of question found to be most suitable was attributed to each. Finally, I end up with the use of the following types of questions:

OPEN-ENDED QUESTION

CLOSED-ENDED QUESTION

 

Likert-type

Dichotomous

Partially closed question

Multiple choice

Ranking

THE VARIABLES OF THE RESEARCH

Only concepts which are relevant to the topic are used as variables. Thus ‘gender’ was used as variable for all questions while the ‘ethnic origin’ was used as variable only for question 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 (g), 7 (h).These variables are independent and discrete in nature. The extent of youth’s engagement/disengagement in/from politics is the dependent variable considered and this variable is also continuous in nature.

The survey does not intend to compare younger and mature youth’s political engagement or disengagement since youth (as from 18 years old) as one body is absent in the Mauritian parliament. Hence youth is used as a constant as per the definition of National Youth Policy which has already been established in the previous chapter.

DECIDING ABOUT SAMPLE AND SAMPLING METHODS:

A. What does this Sample Frame represent?

Only students of the University of Mauritius were chosen to be included in the sample. The reasons for this were that:

→ All the students are above 18 years old and hence have the voting right as well as the right to stand as candidates for the General Elections.

→ The students also come from all over the island and thus the sample englobes the subgroups as per the National Youth Policy “residence, religion, community, socio-cultural and educational backgrounds” but this should not be confused with the variable being used.

→ Since the students of UoM were observed during the campaign of the SU Elections, it was found most convenient to make them the sample, test the hypotheses on them and make generalizations.

The sampling frame was defined in terms of the 5 faculties of the UoM. To strike the balance of students in the 5 faculties, equal number of boys and equal number of girls were asked to fill in questionnaires in each faculty.

B. Sample Size

The sample size set for the survey was as follows:

 

MALE

FEMALE

 

FOE

35

35

 

FOA

35

35

 

FSSH

35

35

 

FLM

35

35

 

FOS

35

35

 

TOTAL

175

175

350

Since some questionnaires were rejected due to inadequate filling by respondents, the sample size is reduced to the following:

 

MALE

FEMALE

 

FOE

31

34

 

FOA

35

33

 

FSSH

33

35

 

FLM

35

34

 

FOS

34

35

 

TOTAL

168

171

339

Hence the sample size considered for the purpose of analysis is 339. This sample size was decided for the purpose of accuracy and representativeness which are the aims of quantitative research. It also creates representativeness of all students in different fields of study and this enables generalization of findings.

C. Sampling Methods

A combination of probability sampling (cluster sampling) and non-probability sampling (quota sampling) was used for particular reasons.

1) Quota Sampling

Quota sampling was the main sampling method used. 213 questionnaires were filled through this sampling method. The criteria for choosing respondents through quota sampling were as follows:

  • → Whether they seemed to be in the youth category,
  • → The faculty to which they belong,
  • → Sex,
  • → Whether they have already filled in the questionnaires,
  • → If no, whether they were free and would accept to fill in the questionnaire adequately.

Questionnaires were filled by respondents on the spot and collected by myself. This exercise was done with several objectives:

  • → It avoids the loss of questionnaires by respondents.
  • → Data collected are more reliable and questionnaires are filled adequately.
  • → A rapport could be established with respondents and if they had any difficulty, clarity could be made (This exercise was done by maintaining value-free research).
  • → Feelings and attitudes about the topic could be observed on the site of research.
  • → It brings originality to the research method being used as well as the research since it seems like doing a qualitative research through a quantitative one.

2) Cluster/ Area Sampling:

With a large representative sample size, doing quota sampling by waiting for respondents to fill in questionnaires on the spot was predicted to be tiresome and time-consuming. This is why cluster sampling was used before I started undertaking the quota sampling

Cluster sampling could be used since the population of each faculty at the UoM consisted of units rather than individuals according to the type sample frame I set. 137 questionnaires were filled through cluster sampling in 3 classes of different faculties. Permission was obtained from lecturers to carry out this exercise in their class and the questionnaires were returned by respondents on the spot.

PILOT TESTING OF THE QUESTIONNAI


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