Sri Lankan youth’s expectations of the Future President
- “Ability to develop the country for the betterment of the people”- Cyber (26), Colombo
- “A person who is able to make and sustain excellent foreign relations.” – Manul Perera (32), Galle
- “Someone who will also uplift the labourers and the estate workers lives.” Darshani (32), Badulla
- “Someone who can provide support to those below the poverty line and uplift their lives.”- N.K Murali (22), Jaffna
Out of 15, 992, 096 eligible and registered voters, 30.8% are youth voters and 1.55% are first time voters. This year’s Presidential Election is coming months after the gruesome Easter Sunday attacks and a year after the constitutional coup, the first ever in Sri Lankan history. Due to these issues, political activism in youth and youth apathy are both prevalent regarding the Presidential Elections. Daily Mirror spoke to some youth across Sri Lanka, Co- Founder and Director of Hashtag Generation- Senel Wanniarachchi, Outgoing Speaker of the 4th Sri Lankan Youth Parliament- Sachinda Dulanjana, Member of the Elections Commission (EC) – Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole and Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) Executive Director-
Mr. Asoka Obeyesekere.
- 2019 Presidential Election
- 2018 Electoral Register will be used
- Those who turned 18 by 1st June 2018 are eligible to vote
- 150 000- 200 000 18+ individuals aren’t eligible to vote
What Does the Youth Say?
“There’s a tangible sense of disenfranchisement with the political establishment of our country, it was made evident with the Easter Sunday incident. A non politician being considered as a front runner and the unprecedented number of candidates also signals the same thing,” stated Nevanka (23), an International Relations graduate. Nevanka believes that elections require the fullest participation of every citizen in the country. When asked about what he expects from the future President, Nevanka said “Stability, and a sense of continuation. I don’t want the progress of a previous government to be repudiated just because it’s politically viable. I also want a culture of accountability to the citizenry, where politicians can’t be bigger than the law of the land.”
Shabnam Hilal (20) stated that she expects the future President to be competent, honest, trustworthy, have organizational leadership skills and have respect for the constitution. Hilal noted that she doesn’t find any candidate wholly suitable for the role, but believes that some candidates could have the potential to develop. “I will be voting for the least objectionable candidate,” she said.
A physics teacher by profession, Erendra Chrysanthus (35) votes because it is his civic right to vote. He expects the future President to improve the lifestyle of Sri Lankans, reduce the amount of tax imposed due to mismanagement and for the President to make sure that policies are firmly implemented. However, he observed that politicians behave differently before and after elections. These sentiments were echoed by 22 year old Divya from Trincomalee who stated that if candidates continue to not fulfil the pre-election promises, voter apathy would increase. “It is frustrating to see presidential candidates and parliamentarians just coming up with false promises and getting people’s hopes up before elections. After elections, they hardly care. People are honestly suffering and politicians only use it to their benefit to gain votes,” she noted.
Dimuth Fernando (23), an LLB graduate, changed his mind about not voting when he realised certain candidates could work in uplifting social conditions and bettering the quality of life for the most oppressed. He also brought out the issue that the weeks leading to the elections inconvenience the public, “I went to this government office to request for a document that wasn’t in print as I wanted it for academic purposes. All of their resources are currently being used for election purposes and I will be getting that document after elections.”
I changed my mind about not voting when i realised that certain candidates could work to uplift social conditions
Youth Voter Apathy
Matthew Fernando (18), an IT student from Colombo stated that he doesn’t want to vote because he doesn’t see any suitable candidate and feels all of them are just after the perks of being President or politician. “Sri Lanka has so much potential. We are lagging behind because the leaders in our country are more worried about their lavish lives to care about the direction in which the country is going in,” he opined. He added that he feels like his vote won’t make a difference. Dinu (21) from Rathnapura also expressed similar sentiments adding that the candidates and parliamentarians aren’t giving enough importance to the youth. “Many youth find it difficult to vote for a candidate, because none of them are up to our expectations and we can’t relate to any of them,” she stated.
Haala Marikkar (19), a writer, from Kandy has a different opinion, “I wish to vote to at least comfort myself with the knowledge that whatever happens in the future, I played my part in bringing it about, or trying to prevent it.” She also added “While it may be true that people believe that all politicians are same, and there’s no point in voting. But it doesn’t mean I will abandon all hope and allow my country to regress. Voting is my way of trying and it’s better than doing nothing at all.”
Addressing the issue of youth voter apathy, Senel Wanniarachchi stated “Some are politically active and some are indifferent to the elections, they come from all walks of life. But, most politically active youth are politically literate, able to think critically and understand things. So, I think our education system has to change and inculcate these characteristics to prevent voter apathy.” He also added that the EC and other state institutions have a responsibility to conduct programmes on voter education and voter awareness.
Sachinda Dulanjana stated that the Presidential Election can be the starting point for the youth to make the changes they wish to see. “Whatever we do today will have an impact on that change making process even though we may not see the end results of our efforts during our life time. Our future generations can build on from where we are going to stop. But if we don’t act assuming that our efforts and voices may not count, the process doesn’t have its start,” he explained.
Prof. Hoole opined that the youth voter apathy is due to the political nature of the country and also certain issues like result discrepancies. “When issues like this happen, the integrity of the process is questioned and youth lose faith in the system,” he claimed.
Why is it important for the youth to vote?
However, Mr. Hoole added that since youth make 30.8% of the votes this year, their votes do make a significant change. “Vote for the change you want to see,” he stated. Echoing his sentiments, Dulanjana stated that since youth in Sri Lanka make up one fourth of the total population and need to take collective action for a better future. “Hence I strongly believe as young people we should start from exercising our own voting rights because the blame game which accuses politicians and systems, may not take us anywhere if we cannot even use our voting right,” stated Dulanjana.
Speaking about the right to vote, Wanniarachchi said that youth have to understand that the franchise is the voice one has within the democratic system and the youth should use it wisely.
It is frustrating to see presidential candidates and parliamentarians just coming up with false promises
How to encourage youth to vote?
“Sri Lanka has an ageing population, therefore it is crucial that young people vote and make their voices heard because youth are the future leaders of the country,” stated Mr. Obeyesekere.
Dulanjana and Wanniarachchi were both of the opinion that candidates and the civil society have a huge role to play in encouraging youth to vote. “Candidates need to put forward their manifestoes in a youth friendly manner where they could attract more youth towards their campaigns. The only way to do this is to address the needs of youth,” commented Dulanjana.
“To encourage young people to vote, candidates have to conduct meetings and give opportunities for young people to approach them and talk to them. The candidates should listen to the youth and consult them whilst creating their manifesto. This practice should be carried out after the election as well, throughout their rule,” suggested Wanniarachchi.
Social media and its impact on youth
Sri Lanka’s frequent social media users are the youth and during the election season, there is a rise in misinformation and fake news being shared on social media.
Hashtag Generation is collaborating with the EC and People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) to monitor social media and filter out fake news and misinformation. “There’s a rise in misinformation going around. Most of the people who share these around are the youth. I request people not to share content if they cannot trust the source,” urged Wanniarachchi.
Other than being a source for misinformation and fake news, social media is also used as a platform to increase voter awareness and voter education as seen in the programmes conducted by the EC ‘My First Vote’ and the Hashtag Generation’s voter education initiative.
To encourage young people to vote, candidates have to conduct meetings and give opportunities to them
Choosing the right candidate
Understanding that most youth find it difficult to find a candidate who resonates with them, Wanniarachchi suggested studying candidates carefully. “Understand what the candidates stand for and figure out who is the most appealing to you in terms of their future plans, values and their track record. Do not base your choices on a superficial understanding like parents and relatives’ recommendations or party loyalty,” he enunciated.
“The candidate should be a good diplomat, should be able to lead the country while focusing on investing more on local resources without merely selling the resources of our motherland to foreign countries. The candidate should also have the ability to take effective measures to counter corruption and bribery. Also has to be someone who would invest more on youth while opening up the platforms for young people to get involved in decision making process at all levels without being mere beneficiaries,” added Dulanjana.