Digression or Progression ? Youth voters might decide Sri Lanka’s future

Its elections season once again. And just like the last one its surely going to be nerve wracking for everyone. The reasons for the dissolving of the Parliament have evolved into almost conspiracy theories. Out in the open the reason seems the lack of a sovereign mandate of the people. In political back dealings it seems to be affected by the contents of the COPE committee report on the Central Bank bond fiasco. I have no want to go into an investigation of who is right and wrong because at the end I do not wish to be wrong for nothing. My concern is whether the voice of the youth and their rights and demands will be heard and heeded at the upcoming General Elections.

But then do we really have a voice? There are close to a million youth voters. Those million voters have a diversity of voices. They are more divided today than they were on the eve of January 8th. The constant rhetoric about the 2009 triumph over terrorism and the ongoing dialogue with the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora has confused them; many are bipolar in a sense, stuck between their patriotism and liberalism. Many voted for change on the 8th to end corruption. But the whole Central Bank bond sales fiasco has frustrated many as to whether change will ever happen. The government coffers seem to be drying up and amount of borrowing has risen sharply. Some say the previous regime managed the coffers better, but then is the current one simply paying the sins of the predecessor? These points only raise more reasons for fracturing of voices rather than unity. At every point we are being asked to pick a side. But is there any legitimate side to pick?

The last six months have been dominated by a discourse over wooing UNP voters and SLFP voters to stick to their guns as loyal members of their respective parties. Since 1956 Sri Lankan politics have been dictated by the dichotomy between SLFP and UNP led coalitions. But are today’s youth part of the dichotomy? Some of us would love to say no, but sadly or otherwise a majority have just followed the footsteps of the previous generation into that clash of green and blue. I would confess that I was engulfed by it in the past, but now I would like to believe I have stepped away from it. What side our families have voted for through the ages from grandfather to elder sister cannot make our decision for us. Instead we must become objective about our voice(s).

Reforms were part of the mandate of the 100 day program. It did some reforms but much less than its mandate has prescribed. It wasn’t a success nor a failure. The bottom asked the top to reform, but then the top says the bottom might not really have any consensus about what needs to be reformed. The chicken or egg conundrum all over again. This is very true when it comes to the topic of electoral and political reforms. What do we really want, a MP for our electorate or the freedom to choose from a dozen or more candidates for our district ? Those of us who don’t have to worry much about survival and a bright future, will want the latter to ensure freedom and democracy. Those of us who have worry about how to get a government job to survive and prosper will want the former. And we cannot have one or the other because the politicians seem to have come to the compromise among themselves that a mixed system is best suited. Since they wield the political power and will to achieve any reforms, we have to find ways to compromise. Yet the Green, Blue and other colors’ clash has meant that compromise seems like a place from Alice in Wonderland.

Yet without compromises Sri Lanka will not move forward. Sri Lankans cannot afford to clash over every little detail. We have had enough clashes brewing into full blown conflicts in the past decades. If we continue to use being too Green or too Blue in our veins as an excuse to leave everything in a mess, Sri Lanka will regress, not progress. Today at least we can look to Singapore as a model to develop. If we miss this opportunity, we might have to one day look to Uganda to be a role model. And without compromises there won’t be any change or reform for the better. The result would be threefold; some of us will leave for greener pastures, some of us left behind might take to the streets, some of us will simply go on a ‘high’.

So don’t decide your vote for the 17th of August today. Look at party policies for the future and look at candidate policies for the future. Vote to elect the best candidates to the Parliament; not simply the party who owns your vote by inheritance.

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