Every person who had attained the age of 18 is qualified to be an elector (voter) if he/she is a citizen of Sri Lanka. The exceptions are the situations where a citizen “is under any law in force in Sri Lanka found or declared to be of unsound mind” or “is serving or has during the period of seven years immediately preceding completed serving of a sentence of imprisonment for a term not less than six months imposed … for a term not less than two years,” according to the Constitution.
Yet, there are hundreds of thousands of young people who had attained the age of 18 more than a year ago who are deprived of their franchise at the forthcoming Presidential election. While the International Youth Day was commemorated globally to encourage youth to organize activities to raise awareness on youth issues on August 12, a group of young men and women of “youth for Democracy” launched a demonstration in front of the Elections Commission office in Rajagiriya against this injustice meted out to them.
Chairman of the National Elections Commission Mahinda Deshapriya who met the demonstrators had told them that though he endorsed their struggle for the right to vote, they should demonstrate in front of the Attorney General’s Department and not in front of his office. He had stated that his Secretariat had already presented the necessary amendments to the law to the Attorney General’s Department in order to give the voting right to the youth immediately after they attained the age of 18, but the Parliament had not passed the amendments yet.
The registration of voters takes place in May and June every year when new voters who completed 18 years before June 1 in the respective year are included in the voters list. Those who complete 18 years of age after June 1, have to wait till next year to register their names in the voters’ registry. They will lose the opportunity to be registered as voters until June next year. Even if their names are included in the voters’ lists in June next year those lists would be certified in October 31 in the same year. According to the media, Elections Chief had told them that only persons who are 19 years and 6 months old will be eligible to vote in the oncoming Presidential Election, because of this process.
The Elections Commission, to resolve this issue has suggested through the amendments to the law to register new voters in three stages within a year and to compile three ‘Supplementary” lists in addition to the main list. The main list would absorb the “Supplementary lists” in three stages within the year.
According to the proposed supplementary lists, within two weeks after attaining the age of 18 a person can apply to be a voter by producing a copy of the Birth Certificate or the NIC and the supplementary voters’ lists are to be considered as a part of the main voters’ registry. However, the law has not changed accordingly, despite the amendments that had been presented long before.
The EC Chairman had lamented while talking to a newspaper that In Sri Lanka, the time spent to pass a law was enormous. Citing an example he had told that despite the Elections Department having proposed to make the National Identity Card (NIC) mandatory for elections in1959, it only became law in 2006.
However, the People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) is of the opinion that even the supplementary lists proposed by the Elections Commission would not make a person eligible to vote soon after he attains the age of 18, as he has to apply after he completes the relevant age and preparation of the relevant supplementary list too would take time. PAFFREL, the oldest local election monitoring body has suggested starting the registration process at the age of 17, and a half which would make a person a voter on the very day he attains the age of 18.
This issue cannot be controversial as this is a very genuine demand by young men and women of our country. And it has to be taken seriously as the number of people deprived of voting rights in a particular year even after attaining the age of 18 due to the current registration process is said to be more than half-a-million.