The bill presented to parliament to make 18 the eligibility age for voting must be viewed with some caution. To begin with Sri Lanka is a country where its citizens are not rated very high on the ‘global’ list of people who are responsible. The manner in which people moved about and travelled extensively during the festive April New Year season proves this!
Casting your vote is a responsible job. Questions are raised as to whether an 18 year-old adult would be mature enough to exercise his franchise for the betterment of the country?
The youth must engage more in social activities and attempts made to grant them voting rights as early as 18 would make them thinking citizens.
However, this is a ‘me’ era and most youth engaging in any activity, even when casting a vote, would ask themselves the simple question ‘what’s in it for me?’. This is unfortunately an era where the individual promotes him or herself above anything else; leave alone the country. Some youth might not even bother visiting the polling station if they have to sacrifice something they consider is more important to them!
Most youth are self-centered and might not be well informed about who is seeking an opportunity to enter parliament or serve the local government.
According to the constitution any individual who has reached age 19 is eligible to vote. The Bill if passed intends to amend the ‘Registration of Elections Act No 44 of 1980.
There is promising literature available from the last parliamentary elections where 31.95% voters out of 16,263885 voters were youth. If 18 year olds are given the greenlight to vote in the future that would bring in sufficient numbers to cause a ‘tremor’ if not an upset at elections.
But voter taste which is influenced by differences in culture, issues concerning race, poverty and religion can blind the young voter. Just for the record in the early 1990s a group comprising youth (the writer was witness to the incident) were playing badminton on the road and a lawmaker passing by stopped and inquired what these youth wish to have. They asked for a badminton court in the area and there was a positive response from the politician, but as a short-term measure they were supplied with enough shuttlecocks that evening itself. To whom they cast their votes was soon a foregone conclusion.
Impressions too count. However this information doesn’t relate to youth, but to the elderly. When the results were rolling in after the 2005 presidential elections the national television did a ‘city round’ to hear the ‘voice of the people. One charming old lady standing near a bus stop was asked for her opinion about the elections and her response was ‘there was just one candidate with a mustache so I voted for him”. Forget the old. Even the youth are attracted to personality.
If we go down memory lane some countries in the world started considering making 18 the age for voting back in 1970. There are some countries in the world which reduced the age for voting to 16; examples being Brazil and Iceland. Those who supported making the age for voting 18 years backed their opinion with the argument that if an individual can be drafted into the army to go to war they should also enjoy voting rights. In the world at large the age for voting for the young ranges between 16 and 25.
The voice of youth wanting to be part of elections in Sri Lanka was once heard loud and clear in 2019. A group representing the ‘Youth for Democracy Organization’ protested in front of the Elections Commission demanding the official age for voting be made 18. Nothing transpired however.
This bill is likely to be passed and more youth would enjoy their franchise. Though Sri Lanka started conducting elections from 1947 there is one that stands tall in a long list of polls which shaped the face of this country. It would augur well for the future of our youth to study the 2015 presidential elections because that was one that the majority voters (the winners) did away with extremist Sinhala and Tamil views!