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On International Youth Day: 18-year-olds demand right to vote

On August 12 each year, International Youth Day is commemorated globally to encourage youth to organize activities to raise awareness on youth issues. In this context, a local group of youth launched a peaceful demonstration in front of the Election Commission office in Rajagiriya, on Monday. Their key demand was obtaining their right to vote.

The registration of voters taking place annually adds new voters who completed 18 years before June 1 in the respective year. In this context, the rest who completes their 18th birthday after June 1, have to wait till next year to register their names in the voters’ registry. In this situation, if there is an election at the end of a year, ‘the rest’ will not be eligible to cast their vote, even though they have a right to do so. However, the magnitude of the issue is great as the young population between 18 to19-years- old in our country is about 700,000 according to the statistics published by the Election Commission.

The young adults who have just completed 18 years of age had launched their protest bagging attention as there will be a Presidential Election in the latter part of this year.

Chairman of the Election Commission (EC) Mahinda Deshapriya told the Sunday Observer that the protest was launched with the Commission’s blessings. “In fact, this demonstration was our suggestion.

We suggested they raise their voice on their right to vote parallel to International Youth Day. However, they should have demanded so from the Attorney General’s Department instead of the EC.

We have already sent proposed amendments to the Election Act to the AG’s Department,” he said.

Among the amendments proposed to the Registration of Electors Act No 44 of 1980, the EC has suggested introducing ‘Supplementary Lists’ to record voters. This will facilitate youth to use their franchise as soon as they attain the age of 18. Accordingly, the main list of voters will be prepared making February 1, the qualifying date instead of June 1. Additionally, there will be three supplementary lists to absorb the rest.

If the amendments were enacted the EC will be able to record names of the voters who have attained minimum age for voting during the following periods

a) 1st of Feb. - 31st of May

b) 1st of June - 30th September

c) 1st October -31st January

“In Sri Lanka, the time we have to spend to pass a law is enormous. For instance, the EC proposed to make the National Identity Card (NIC) mandatory for elections in1959. But it only became law in 2006,” said Deshapriya.

Nevertheless, the major advantage of the proposed supplementary lists is that within two weeks after attaining the age of 18 a person can apply to the supplementary voters register by producing a copy of the Birth Certificate or the NIC. Also, these supplementary voters’ lists are to be considered as a part of the main voters’ registry.

Executive Director of ‘Peoples Action for Free and Fair Election’ (PAFFREL), Rohana Hettiarachchi told the Sunday Observer that even if the supplementary lists got approval from Parliament eventually, 18-year-old’s will only be able to cast their votes at the next Parliamentary Election and not in the Presidential Election 2019, as the time is not adequate for proceedings.

“We have been engaged in this issue over the years. If the registration process starts at the age of 17 and a half we can avoid this kind of situation. But the best way to accommodate the 18-year-olds, is granting the franchise based on their information at Birth,” Hettiarachchi said.

He added, “It should be a proper system, where people automatically get their franchise at the completion of the minimum age. That is our demand.”

(Sunday Observer)

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