The country’s biggest and most crucial election is only two days away. As things stand right now the race appears to be extremely close and the final outcome is becoming increasingly difficult to predict. If media reports both state and private are anything to go by, it has come to a stage where every single vote counts. Both sides are campaigning vigorously to win over the few remaining undecided voters and all sorts of promises are being made to garner their support. Among these undecided voters are a large number of young people, most of whom are voting for the first time.
It is no secret that young people haven’t had a decisive role to play in this country’s policy making process ever since we became an independent Nation State, barring, perhaps, a couple of unsuccessful youth uprisings in the ‘70s and late ‘80s. Reasons for this may depend on how you look at it, but the fact remains that there has been little to no youth participation in Sri Lanka’s democratic process over the past few decades.
Now, however, with the advent of the information age, more and more young people are politically aware and are in a position to make informed decisions when it comes to electing their representatives. And this year’s election will see over a million new, young voters marking their ballot at the polling booths.
Featured below are some of the views of these younger voters on the roles they they think they should play at this critical juncture and beyond.
Charith*, a 23 year old Science student from the University of Colombo, believes people from his age group should actively take part in elections and not just shrug them off as something just for the ‘grown ups’.
“Voting is important. It’s how we can make our voices, our decisions count in this country. I don’t know whether my vote will make a difference or not. But vote I will, if only for the sake of playing my part. Lots of people I know that are around my age are not even going to bother voting. They don’t believe their vote is going to make a difference and some of them just don’t care enough to vote. I think these people need to care more or at least make an effort to participate in the country’s proceedings,” he says.
Anudi Nanayakkara (24), a lawyer who just started her career has made a firm decision to go to the polling station on Tuesday and make her voice heard.
“For one thing, it is one of my fundamental rights to [cast my vote]. Also, it is the ultimate power awarded to a citizen in any state and to be able to use it for the betterment of your own state is not something you should ever put aside. Regardless of how highly anticipated or mediocre the election, I will always, always use my vote,” she says.
Another problem this country’s youth faces is the lack of a thorough knowledge on matters relating to law and governance. Dinu (23), a young professional from a leading telecom company, suggests that the education system should come forward to help them out in this regard.
“In my opinion, our youth need to be more aware of politics, systems and economics. The local O’ Level syllabus has a bit of this knowledge but comparing to other countries where you’re supposed to learn the constitution, it’s just not enough. Therefore, I feel the youth is primarily ignorant and more jaded about elections and politics,” she opines.
Voting aside, getting into active politics in order to really make a difference is something most of us would happily avoid given the not so rosy picture that has been painted of politics not just in this country, but pretty much everywhere else in the world. But as any country’s future belongs to its youth, that youth have got to play an active role in the shaping of their country’s politics and governance either directly or indirectly, whether they like it or not.
Chavie*, a 19 year old IT student, is of the opinion that in order to really take part in the political process you have to be well connected.
“Except for youth whose parents/close relatives are in politics, the rest hardly seem to bother with the electoral process. Sri Lanka is still basically feudal in that manner, as only people of ‘political families’ get involved in politics, and get elected to power. Another reason people shy away might be the negative image politics has what with mudslinging, etc.,” he says.
Hanim (23), a Junior Art Director at an advertising firm is of a different opinion.
“I think the youth play a huge role, or at least they should play a huge role. As cliché as it may sound, they are the future generation. But the thing is the youth is underestimated not just by the older lot but by themselves as well. Politics and governance is considered an “old people’s” thing to do, therefore they don’t pay much attention to it, not knowing that their choices could make a difference,” she says.
What with the end of the war, Sri Lanka is now in a position to become one of South Asia’s most developed countries. Gone are the days when becoming another ‘Singapore’ was a distant dream. Signs of massive development can already be seen all around us. With a bit of luck, and the right leadership, we could get there in no time. The next president of Sri Lanka, whoever it may be, has a formidable task ahead of him, and he is going to need his fellow citizens’ help, especially that of the youth.
Dili (24), yet another student from the University of Colombo, thinks the next president should give priority to the long term when formulating his policies.
“Sri Lanka has all the potential to become so much more if the lack of a stable socio-economic structure didn’t hinder it. I think a major reason for this is changing governments and changing policies. I would ask the president to focus on the long term policies that can sustain positive growth rather than immediate popular quick fixes,” he says.
Anudi wants the next president to take our country to the top of the world. Sri Lanka is brimming with potential, she says, but in order for that potential to be made use of, we all need to come together with the positive attitude of developing this country, and to truly enjoy the freedom that we have fought so hard for.
“I hope [the president] will, above all else, place Sri Lanka before everything else be it personal gain, recognition or reputation because an entire nation is waiting with hope in their hearts to see this small miracle become the best nation in the world,” she says.
*Some names have been changed.