This digital edition of The Parliamentarian examines the theme of parliamentary learning from networks across the Commonwealth featuring case studies and expertise from a number of different networks and organisations as well as from within the CPA membership.
Meet the Commonwealth's youngest Speakers
6 June 2023
At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2022, Commonwealth leaders declared 2023 as a year dedicated to youth-led action for sustainable and inclusive development. The ‘Commonwealth Year of Youth’ was officially launched in January 2023.
The Commonwealth’s 56 member countries have a combined population of 2.5 billion people, of which more than 60% are under 30 years of age. Youth engagement is central to the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which includes the Commonwealth Youth Parliament (CYP), the development of educational resources and outreach programmes.
These programmes aim to increase awareness of the important work done by the CPA in promoting democratic governance across the Commonwealth and to connect Parliamentarians with young people in schools, colleges and universities to inspire the next generation of young leaders.
To mark the Commonwealth Year of Youth, we are highlighting seven of the young leaders who are currently the youngest Speakers and Presiding Officers in the Commonwealth’s Parliaments and Legislatures.
Hon. Daylin Mitchell, MPP was elected as the Speaker of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament, a Provincial Parliament in South Africa, on 12 December 2022. At the age of 36, this makes him the youngest current male Speaker in the Commonwealth. This, however, comes as no surprise, considering that, when he was first sworn in as a Member of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament in 2015, he was a very youthful 29-year-old. In 2021, he was sworn in as the youngest member of the provincial Cabinet.
Having been brought up in a strict but loving and supportive family, Hon. Daylin Mitchell learnt from an early age, that ethics and values are as important as love and loyalty. In his early teens, he started to become aware of social matters and injustices. Growing up as a non-white person in South Africa and being an avid history buff, it was inevitable that he gravitated towards the social challenges that very often have their roots in the history of South Africa. More than just understanding the underlying issues, he wanted to be part of addressing the challenges and changing the lives and realities of people in order to restore hope, especially in the youth.
As part of youth leadership at school, Hon. Daylin Mitchell chaired the Interact club and outreach committees and served as head prefect of his high school. These activities were focused on building civil activism. This social awareness gradually morphed into a political awareness, prompting him to apply for a position at a political party. This first career step started a journey that has led him, over many years, to the position that he now holds. He first entered the doors of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament in 2015, when he was appointed Chief of Staff for the Democratic Alliance (DA) when he was also the Deputy Chairperson of the Cape Metro Region for the party. His talent and passion were noticed by the leadership of the party, and he was encouraged to enroll in the DA Young Leaders Programme, from which he graduated in 2009.
In Parliament and Government, he has held several positions including the Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Transport and Public Works, Deputy Chief Whip, Minister for Transport and Public Works, later to be renamed the Minister for Mobility.
As Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Daylin Mitchell has focused on several key priority areas that reflect his personal beliefs and passions very clearly. These include building a credible Parliament, expanding citizen service, strengthening support to legislators, supporting Parliament’s employees and strengthening democracy. He is determined to lead with integrity and inspire hope across society, but especially among the youth.
The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga is Lord Fatafehi Fakafanua, who was first elected as Speaker in 2012. At the age of 38, he is one of the youngest current Speakers in the Commonwealth.
Educated at King’s College in Auckland, New Zealand, he went onto study in New Zealand and India gaining Degrees and Master’s in Diplomacy, Law and Business. Prior to entering Parliament, he worked as a manager of a company that administered commercial and residential properties in Tonga.
During a 2008 by-election, he was first elected as a representative for Ha'apai, the youngest member ever of the Tongan Parliament. Between 2012 and 2014, he was re-elected into Parliament as a Noble Representative and also elected as the youngest Speaker in the Parliament’s history. He was re-elected in 2017 when he also began his second term as Speaker.
Lord Fakafanua is a member of the Tongan royal family, through his mother, and he is the 8th holder of a noble title in the country. In 2008, he was the recipient of Knight Commander (KCQS) awarded by His Majesty King George Tupou V.
Hon. Michelle Slack is the President of the Nevis Island Assembly. She was appointed as the President during the first sitting of this year’s parliamentary term held on 19 January 2023, making her one of the youngest Presiding Officers in the Commonwealth.
Hon. Michelle Slack is an Associate Attorney-at-Law at the Law Firm of Daniel Brantley on Nevis Island. She was educated at Norman Manley Law School in Jamaica where she gained a Bachelor of Law (LL.B.) with first class honours. She was named a 2021 Chevening Scholar with the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office representing the Barbados and Eastern Caribbean Region. She also represented the island in the 9th Commonwealth Youth Parliament (CYP9), orgnaised by the CPA, in 2018 when it was held on the island of Jersey.
Hon. Annita Demetriou is the President of the House of Representatives at the Parliament of Cyprus since 2021 and is the first woman to hold the role. She is also the first female President of the Democratic Rally (DISY), and at the age of 37 makes her the youngest person to have served in either role.
Educated at the University of Cyprus and the University of Kent, she worked as a Public Relations Officer and then a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Cyprus. She also presented a news bulletin at Capital TV as well as becoming a local councilor. She was first elected as a Member of the House of Representatives in June 2016 to represent the constituency of Larnaca District. In Parliament, she has held several roles including Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Equal Opportunities and the Parliamentary Committee on Education and Culture.
On her election as Speaker, the President of Cyprus said that her election sent
"a strong message ... to all women of Cyprus, to all citizens of Cyprus, that women can and must strive for such positions because they deserve them."
Hon. Katherine Ebanks-Wilks, MP is the Speaker of the Cayman Islands Parliament. In November 2022, she was elected as the youngest Speaker of the Parliament in its history at the age of 42.
She was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 2021 and was previously the Deputy Speaker, Parliamentary Secretary to the Education and Finance Ministries. She has over 15 years of experience in the legal profession, first working as a Financial Services Paralegal in the private sector and, more recently, as Research Paralegal at the Cayman Islands Law Reform Commission.
She is also deeply passionate about her community, as well as representing the Constituency of West Bay Central, she is a founding director of the United Against Bullying Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on the prevention and education of bullying behaviour. She is also a director of the Cayman Islands Youth Development Consortium, a non-profit organisation that focuses on supporting at-risk youth.
By virtue of her Speakership role, she is the Chairperson of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Youth Parliament Organising Committee for the Cayman Islands, an annual event held to mark Commonwealth Day.
St Kitts and Nevis
Hon. Lanein Blanchette is the Speaker of the National Assembly of St Kitts and Nevis since October 2022 and is one of the youngest Speakers in the Commonwealth at the age of 37.
She is an Attorney-At-Law who gained her Bachelor’s Degree with Honours in Criminal Justice from Monroe College in New York in 2008. Subsequent roles with the national government introduced her to public service and the justice system. A further Law degree at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus (Barbados) followed, and she was called to the Bar in 2017. She worked as a Crown Counsel in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions where she prosecuted criminal matters federally in the Magistrates and High Courts until June 2022. She is now the founder and Lead Counsel at Blanchette Law Chambers.
She continues to actively volunteer in community sporting activities in netball and football and serves as the President of the Aces Netball Club and is a member of the St Kitts and Nevis Sports Council.
Hon. Latoya Jones is the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of St Kitts and Nevis since October 2022 and is one of the youngest people to hold the role. She was also appointed as a Senator for the Opposition Party. She describes herself as a “Nevisian at heart; a dynamic young lady who is determined to empower the people of her nation.”
She recently served as the Special Advisor to the Premier of Nevis at the Nevis Island Administration, and she also worked as the Assistant Regulator at the Nevis Financial Services Department, as a Senior Tax Officer at the Inland Revenue Department, and as a Senior Auditor at the Department of Audit.
At the time of their appointments as the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of St Kitts and Nevis, it was noted that the appointment of female leaders was a pledge made by the Prime Minister, Dr Terrance Drew, to place more young people and women in positions of power.
This article first appeared in The Parliamentarian, the Journal of Commonwealth Parliaments (2023 Issue Two). To read the digital issue with further articles and reports from across the Commonwealth please click here or view below.
Image credits: CPA Branches/CPA Headquarters.