Colombo, Elections, IDPs and Refugees, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, Youth

Concerns of first time voters in the 2010 presidential elections

In the upcoming presidential election a new voter base will be in play. A generation of first time voters whose futures will depend on the winner of next month’s election, are faced with deciding which candidate has the right vision to take this country forward and more importantly the credibility that would ensure the implementation of that vision. Even with all the lofty rhetoric being spewed by the front runners, their past actions have left many unconvinced that either of them will set and abide by the necessary measures to bring about stability in the country.

In a list of concerns that young voters feel need to be addressed, freedom of expression is front and center. This demographic, who were born into the age of the internet where ideas can be easily disseminated over a wide ranging audience, sees freedom of expression as a necessary tool to bring about unity and prosperity in the country. For Ameen Hashim (name changed) the reluctance that politicians seem to have in hearing any dissenting view is ridiculous and unfair. “They want people to think that what they are doing is perfect, when in reality, it is rather obvious that it is not,” he said, “Being the ones to vote them in, I feel that we as citizens, should at least be able to express ourselves without having to fear for our lives when we disagree with something that is being done.”

Another issue that many young voters feel should be a priority for the candidates is that of ensuring the rights of minorities. For Ruth Adams (name changed), who identifies herself as a minority in terms of both race and religion, both candidates’ track records indicate that their current interest in the rights of minorities is more politically motivated than sincere. Ruth stated that while nothing much was done for IDPs for over six months after the war ended, the sudden release of IDPs on a large scale suggested the incumbent was only doing it for political gain. She also expressed little optimism that the other front runner was any better if his declaration (before seeking office) that this country belonged to the ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ nation was to be considered, although he has gone on to clarify this.

The militarisation of the state is another pressing concern in the minds of young voters, many of whom have never experienced roads devoid of checkpoints or soldiers wielding guns. In Tharindu Perera’s (name changed) opinion, whichever candidate comes to power, a near complete militarisation of Sri Lanka is inevitable, and this, he says, is partly due to the mindset prevalent in the country right now. “Because the war has been won, most people are willing to accept anything involving the army without a second thought,” he said, “Whoever the next president may be, he is sure to exploit this.”

Other areas of consideration for these voters are issues such as education and healthcare, both of which are free and, for the most part, accessible to all. Concern was expressed about the fact that after the establishment of these systems many years ago, little has been done to improve them in terms of better facilities and more accommodation for the growing population. In the area of education particularly, many feel that if the language barrier that exists between Sinhalese and Tamils is appropriately dealt with in schools, reconciliation and unity would be easier to look forward to and more likely to last as the fact that both languages are not equally well known by everyone and the fact that no single language such as English dominates in the country could result in unnecessary tension and disharmony. Development of the country is another important aspect that many say needs to be addressed, along with issues such as corruption, bribery and wasteful spending.

As the election nears, insults, accusations and defamatory personal attacks against each other are sure to be carried out on an elevated scale by both the front runners. However, obviously, proposals regarding governing the country should take precedence over anything else. While consideration of a candidate’s past is obviously of the utmost importance in deciding what his future may indicate, if the choice is between the lesser of two evils (considering the front runners only), it would perhaps be helpful to also consider in depth the way forward that they are proposing. On pressing issues like democracy, human rights, rule of law and media freedom, there is little to pick between the promises of both front runners, which, if they are to be believed, will ensure a free and pluralistic society in this country, regardless of who comes into power. However, proposals and more importantly specifics regarding issues like the economy, education, poverty alleviation, healthcare and a host of other concerns must be given their due consideration and this election will hopefully be one that is contested on issues and policies rather than on emotions and nostalgia, and before casting their ballot next month, young voters in particular should seriously consider which candidate seems best able to represent their ideas and dreams for the future.

By Nishika Fonseka, Groundviews Staff Writer