Exclusion of youth from politics | Daily News

Exclusion of youth from politics

Youth Parliament Speaker Sachinda Dulanjana Witharana  handing over the request letter to the Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya.
Youth Parliament Speaker Sachinda Dulanjana Witharana handing over the request letter to the Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya.

The youth insurgencies in Sri Lanka were not spontaneous, but as a result of continuous issues related to youth marginalization. Sri Lanka today has nearly 23.2 percent of the total population, around 4.64 million individuals, comprised of the youth (those between 15 – 29 years of age) group and yet over three decades later, they are still being frequently left behind and excluded from political process and activities in the island nation.

Youth involvement in the political process has being debated for decades, but consecutive governments have failed to address the issues concerned. This was very evident when the recent Local Governments Elections Amendment Act was passed in Parliament; even though this assured a 25 percent quota to female representatives, the mandatory 40 percent youth quota in nomination lists was removed.

Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya

The youth quota was introduced in 1990 by an amendment to the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Act no. 25 of 1990, to provide 40 percent of youth candidates between 18 – 35 age, places in the nomination lists.The government decided to introduce a youth quota following a recommendation made by the 1990 Youth Commission which was set by late President Ranasinghe Premadasa. It was set up in the aftermath of the JVP insurrection to examine the underlying causes for the insurrection.

The Commission found that young people felt alienated and marginalized. The Commission suggested several remedies to address the basic issues and it suggested measures aimed at bringing about accountability and transparency in political institutions. It also recommended that a quota system should be provided for youth by law to increase youth representation in local level institutions. The Youth Commission explained the rationale behind the youth quota as follows:

“The Commission is convinced that at this particular period of our history, the generation gap has so widened that youth are in fact a distinct category who require separate representation. Although they may share different political ideologies, they are substantially united in the belief that the system does not give them the opportunity to represent and act upon the views.”

Elections at this time were being held under the proportional representation system, and the legal provisions that were introduced required each political party or independent group to allocate 40 percent of the places on their nomination list to youth candidates.

However, the youth quota that was recommended to get youth involved in the political process by law does not exist anymore leaving another void in the journey of politics for the youth.

Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Mustapha said that it was high time that the political parties also take responsibility to get the youth involved in the political process.

The Minister also pointed out that they cannot just have the law do all the work.

“It’s not possible to do everything by law. We have already given 25 percent quota to female representatives and we cannot give another 25 percent for youth again. The political parties too have social responsibilities, therefore, they should allocate a quota for youth from the party level,” he said. Musthapha added that his party (SLFP) ensures youth participation in their political process.

What do political parties and civil society organizations have got to say?

Former SLFP MP and Chairman of the SLFP youth wing Shantha Bandara claimed that this decision would be a big blow to the youth who are willing to get into politics.

He said that it was very hard for any youth without a political background to contest for either local government, Provincial council or parliamentary elections.

“Not a single party spoke of this issue, only the election commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya highlighted the negative aspects of the decision. All the independent commissions appointed after the youth insurrection in 1981 and 1989 recommended that we include youth in the political process and their voices need to be heard. Youth participation in Politics should be vital for the development of the country. The amendment was discriminatory and unfair,” he said.

Bandara meanwhile assured that under the SLFP, the youth would never be marginalized.

He said President Maithripala Sirisena had informed the party to allocate 30 percent quota for youth in the coming Local government elections.

“We will not let anything unfair happen to youth within our party. We value them and their ideas,” he said.

Bandara said that when the 40 percent quota was mandatory, all parties were forced to get youth involved but now the ratio might vary from one political party to another.

“It would reduce the youth involvement in politics; the political journey for a young person without a political background is going to be very tough,” he said.

Former MP Bandara said that he entered politics through the same quota and added that if it had not been mandatory, it would have been very hard for him enter the political arena. Before the party leaders were legally bound, but now they have been released from some responsibility.

“Youth show a greater interest in politics today and their insights are equally valuable for the development of the country. The SLFP youth wing has started a political academy to make youth more involved in politics. During the SLFP May Day rally and 66th Anniversary a huge number of youth participated,” he added.

History repeating itself

The JVP which has always had a strong youth base said quota or no quota, they will continue to have youth involved in their politics.

JVP MP Bimal Ratnayake said believed that though the youth quota has been removed from the Local Government Amendment Bill, they would have a chance under the new electoral system.

MP Ratnayake further said that the country desperately needed more youth without a political background to get engaged in politics.

The Daily News made several attempts to contact UNP National Youth Front Chairman MP Kavinga Jayawardena but he was not available for comment.

The quota though not perfect, according Executive Director of Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) Rajith Keerthi Tennakkoon, it has helped many youth who entered political area through it get to high ministerial positions in government.

Tennakkoon further said that the decision to provide a quota was taken as the youth were in the belief that the system does not give them the opportunity to represent and act upon their views.

“It was considered as one of the important decisions taken after the country faced tragic incidents in the hands of unsatisfied youth.There is no retirement for politics. Therefore, the old will remain until they are dead and the youth will forever remain as a marginalized group,” he said.

Tennakkoon emphasized that this decision would discourage the youth from entering politics. The famous Spanish philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The country is now left with the question whether it will once again marginalize its youth and make the same mistakes that will lead to history repeating itself once again.

The 14 youth Parliamentarians

1. D.V Chanaka (UFPA – Hambantota)

2. HirunikaPremachandra ( UNP – Colombo)

3. KavindaJayawardana ( UNP – Gampaha)

4. Namal Rajapaksa (UPFA – Hambantota)

5. Anurudha Jayaratne ( UPFA – Kandy)

6. SarathieDushmantha (UPFA – Kegalle)

7. M. Imran (UNP – Trincomalee)

8. Ramanathan (UPFA – National List)

9. K. V Wijesekara (UPFA – Matara)

10. N. H.C.S Senaratne (UNP – Gampaha)

11. S. Premarathna (UPFA – Matara)

12. L.W.C Wiijesiri (UNP – Badulla)

13. Dilum Amunugama (UPFA – Kandy)

14. TharanathBasnayake ( UPFA – Kurunagala)

Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya:

Deshapriya said that the Commission was going to write to all political parties to ask that they give atleast 30 percent quota to youth.

The 40 percent quota was mandatory in 1991, 1997, 2002, 2006 and 2011. The candidates elected through this quota became members, deputy chairmen, chairmen, deputy mayors and mayors. After those provincial councilors, provincial council ministers and the chief ministers, there are many parliamentarians, deputy ministers, ministers and cabinet ministers who were benefitted through this quota,” he said.

He further said that Act no. 22 of 2012 of the Local Government Act was amended. It reduced 40 percent to 25 percent and used the changed the word from shall to may, making it not mandatory to have a youth quota.

Deshapriya said that youth organizations, National Youth Council(NYC), youth coordinators and together with the Election Commission made representation in the political party activities and emphasized the need to have a mandatory quota for youth.

“In June 2017, the draft of the recently amended act was presented to the parliament and it included 30 percent compulsory youth quota. But unfortunately, when the act was passed in Parliament on August 25, this section was removed. It was removed due to the negative ideas expressed by the members of the Parliament. They had pointed out that the nomination papers get rejected due to the compulsory quota,” he said.

He added that youth educated as well as non-educated are not interested in political parties.

“To have the youth get involve in the political process, we need some activities to attract the youth. If we do not have the compulsory quota, they think that the elders ignored them. Ideas and issues of the youth will never be discussed in Parliament,” he said.

He said that out of 225 members of the Parliament, only 14 members fall under the category of youth. But 40 percent of the total voter population is comprised of youth. The most negligible section is not only women, but also youth. Parliament should have 90 youth MP’s according to the ratio.

“According to our law, a person below the age of 35 cannot be appointed as the President. So why not give them opportunities at the local level? We have put restrictions for the youth to become a President and even the lowest level of the political process does not have a compulsory quota,” he said.

He said that no one knows whether the ward system was going to help the youth.

“In Sri Lanka, the secretary and the hierarchy of the party will choose the candidates. Youth are less likely to be involved in governance and decision-making processes, as a result of economic, political, and procedural barriers that prevent their participation. However, the problem is most of the political parties do not have youth cadre,” he said.

Youth Parliament Speaker Sachinda Dulanjana (UNP):

I believe that it is high time for young people to get themselves engaged in the democratic process in any capacity in order ensure that their voices are heard in decision making while having an adequate representation in all formal political institutions and processes starting from local governments.

However now we find it a challenging task with the removal of the mandatory youth quota from Local Governments Elections Amendment Act which was approved by the Parliament on August 25. Therefore we have already initiated a public awareness campaign and a social media campaign called ‘Youth To Lead’ with the objective of pressurizing all political parties to allocate a considerable percentage for young candidates in their parties when they prepare the nomination lists for the upcoming local governments elections. I also believe that we must take serious policy action on this issue. Otherwise, in few decades, the interest of young people to get involved in politics will be gradually faded away while allowing the political system to normalize it.

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