The Election Commission of Sri Lanka (ECSL) has proposed amendments to the laws to expand the electoral register by way of a supplementary register and to bring in legislation to penalize those who intentionally fail to register as voters and fail to exercise their universal franchise.
The ECSL is presently in talks with the Ministry of Education and the National Institute of Education and have had several rounds of discussions to introduce politics, in relation to the meaning of the universal suffrage, how and why it came about, its purpose and the rights and duties of those to whom it is granted, into the school curricular and syllabus from grade (Year) 10 onwards.
Secretary – ECSL, H.M.T.D. Herath said that some do not fill the forms and in certain cases have not given the filled forms to the government agent or that they have not been able to collect the forms.
He said that in cities and towns and in big apartment complexes which houses between 200 to 300 individuals, the enumerators are not allowed access to the residents nor do its occupants given them (enumerators) a date to visit so they could collect the forms from the enumerators.
Herath said there were still others, a minority who deliberately do not register while adding that at an election thousands of individuals cancel their votes, some in an outright rejection of the vote or even scribble obscene language on the ballot paper.
“The problem of whether one can elect whom one wants by exercising his or her franchise is an issue faced by the experienced and the inexperienced voter, both old and young,” he observed. “Social websites reveal that political parties do not target the youth vote”.
He lamented the fact that 80% of schoolchildren, who are caught up in the rat race involving competitive examinations, lacked political literacy (history of the United National Party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and the Leftist Movement) thanks to the current education system as they prefer not to read newspapers.
“The franchise is a right or benefit afforded to all. Every year, from June 1 onwards we revise the electoral register, a process which concludes by the end of October following certification,” Herath said.
He added that disqualifications on the eligibility to register include not reaching 18 years of age before June 1 of any year, not being a citizen, having been convicted or having his or her civic rights revoked.
“By May 31 we must receive the registrations. Thus, those who turn 18 on June 1 or afterwards are missed out on. They cannot vote if a local election is held in May the following year,” he explained.
“There must be awareness. The numbers who do not vote are more at the local government elections than at national elections such as the general/parliamentary election and the presidential election.
“Schoolchildren are blind to politics and do not care much or have a feel for it. We will conduct a students’ Parliament in September in the districts of Kandy and Ampara with over 20 schools. One can introduce politics even from Grade 8 or 9. To register as an elector it must be made compulsory along with the exercising of the franchise. Parliament will have to see whether this should be brought in by way of an amendment to the Constitution or a reform of the election system,” Herath said.