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Global Knowledge Network On Voter Education - learning from each other

Strategies for Empowering Young and Future Voters”

NewsLetter Many young people were negative about politics and were frustrated as they felt that politicians ignored them. The overriding view was that politics was boring and complicated which did not act as an incentive to become involved.

Many felt that politics here focused more on religion and difference than ‘real’ issues such as health and education. Also the people associate government with government utilities. They think that they use private utilities so why should they waste their time and energy to go for voting as it doesn’t concern them. They must be informed that this is not the case and they must exercise their voting rights as in true sense they are the “Guardians of Democracy’. Another area which concerns the Commission is the inclusion of migrants.

The Election Commission of Sri Lanka also has taken measures to enlighten the schooling children on democracy and universal franchise in collaboration with the Ministry of Education in propagating the Student Parliament at school levels throughout the island. A pilot project was launched among 19 selected schools in Kandy district while 12 schools in the district of Ampara were selected for this purpose.

To celebrate the International Youth Day in Sri Lanka on the 12th of August 2016, by the beach of the historic Fort in Galle, the Election Commission (EC) together with the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) under the recommendations of a Youth Led Steering Committee carried out a program termed “Kites for Rights”. The primary objective of this campaign is to encourage all national youth led organizations, networks and societies to engage in creating public awareness through creative and innovative ways about the importance of youth civic engagement. The Election Commission of Sri Lanka believed that a significant weight must be directed at the national level up rise in youth civic engagement and the significant gap which still exists due to the need in strengthening engagement of youth in voter education in a systematic manner. #YouthVoteSL was a highly successful social media campaign.

The youth associations in the island have signed a petition which involved around two hundred and seventy five thousand youths demanding the revision of laws pertaining to Registration of Electors. According to the existing laws, only those who read the age of 18 years on the 1st of June are eligible to be registered in the electoral register. Yet by the time they exercise their franchise they are either 18 years and 6 months or sometimes exceed 19 years.

The Election Commission positively responded and assured the expedition of the revision of laws, a draft of the same has been forwarded to all the political parties in the island for their views and observations on the possibility of inclusion of all those who attain the age of 18 years at a time of an election thus allowing all to exercise their franchise. There is a drastic drop of youth representation in the Parliament where out of the 225 members, only 14 are below 35 years while only 3 individuals hail from families with no political backgrounds.

The Election Commission of Sri Lanka in its Participatory Strategic Plan, has emphasized the importance of engagement of youth and empowering future voters, as the Commission believes the ballot is more powerful than the bullet.

Mr. Mahinda Deshapriya,
Chairman, Election Commission of Sri Lanka