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Restoring political systems


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By all accounts and expectations elections are around the corner. But politicians are likely to be faced with a new challenges, which is to attract voters to polling booths, especially if they are urban, as younger people have shown an aversion to the typical politics practised by candidates and have rejected the political system in play.    

Recent trends observed by the Elections Commission show that young adults, particularly those within the ages of 30-35, are refusing to register to vote, indicating a strong distaste for the prevailing political culture. Many urban youth in their 20s are also rejecting politics because they feel it does not cater to their needs or work on behalf of their interests.   

Successive governments are responsible for this apathy. Term after term politicians have come to power pledging to clean up the system, strengthen transparency and battle corruption but achieve few tangible results. After the previous government undermined democracy over nine long years, the new government was elected on a platform of good governance and reconciliation but is largely seen as having delivered a disappointing performance over the last three years.

The Elections Commission has observed the drop in voter registration centred on those in the age group of 30-35 and covered areas like Colombo, Kotte, Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, Moratuwa, Kolonnawa, Maharagama and Kaduwela. Urban voters typically are the most independent as they are usually more aware of issues and tend to have higher expectations of their representatives. They are also less likely to expect handouts or government jobs and therefore cannot be easily swayed as fringe voters might be.

This population, though small, has a significant impact on the evaluation of a government, often taking to social media and other platforms to showcase their views and demanding better performance from politicians. As a relatively younger component of the population they tend to be idealistic enough to focus on social issues and impact on professionals. As such they are stronger advocates of good governance and transparency as well as policies that affect the working class. The expansion of this stratum of society pushes political discourse and expectations to a different level and demands that institutional change is made, rather than ad hoc measures that are usually rolled out at the tail end of a term to get votes.

This is a new challenge for local politicians who have conducted themselves in their usual style for decades. For the first time politicians in Sri Lanka are being questioned and criticised over their actions and conflicts of interest in real time and action is demanded from leaders of political parties or top officials such as the President or the Prime Minister. No longer is it possible for them to hide behind party loyalties or excuses. They have to hold their party members accountable or face ridicule.

Overall, a higher political consciousness is good for Sri Lanka but people, especially well-educated and economically empowered young adults, are extremely important to drive forward accountability and demand better from their political representatives.

For this to become more effective, young adults need to be more engaged, not less, and need to foster a culture of ceaseless vigilance. Only such a commitment will ensure Sri Lanka finally achieves the good governance its youth so desperately desires. For political parties a radical change in the way they operate is necessary if they are to catch and keep youth votes.

 


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