In a matter of days Sri Lankans will be headed to the polls, casting a ballot for the most imperial of Presidencies. In the face of slumping approval, the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has called the election a whole two years early. He now faces a field of candidates topped by Maithripala Sirisena, a defector from his own party. The Opposition have coalesced behind Sirisena, sensing their first real chance in a decade. Polling might be suspect in a country where statistical sampling is all but impossible, but everything else tells of a real contest.
Despite the hegemony of the Rajapaksas in recent times, Sri Lankans talk proudly of their democracy and their vote. I know of people who will spend more than four hours next Thursday travelling to the polls. And in a race as tight as this is, expect all the stops to be pulled out. But data from the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance doesn’t paint a great picture. The last six Sri Lankan Presidential elections have seen a voting age population turnout dawdling around seventy percent, far below the level of the late 90s.
To be fair, the numbers trounce that of the World’s longest and most obnoxious democracy; The United States. In fact, Sri Lanka’s last election saw a Voting Age participation rate almost twenty percent higher than America’s. This is especially staggering considering many of the barriers faced by voting Sri Lankan’s; a thirty year civil war, poor infrastructure and public transport, and, unfortunately, campaigns of voter suppression and violence (etc.).
But is a seventy percent turnout really acceptable? To turn this baby around the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence has launched an amazing campaign. It’s called #IVotedSL, and it’s a non-partisan drive to get people involved. The folks at the CMEV want to remind Sri Lankan citizens of the importance of their vote, the power of their vote. It’s more than “if you don’t vote you can’t complain”, the Sri Lankan Presidency has unbelievable power. The kind of power that haunts the sleep of Libertarians worldwide. Check out this spectacular/horrifying infographic created to kick off the campaign:
Alarmed by the powers afforded to the Sri Lankan President and aware of the trending apathy of the generation this campaign is aimed at, I wanted to know more. So I called up Sanjana Hattotuwa, Editor of the fantastic blog Groundviews and leader of the campaign. Here is our discussion:
I can’t vote in the Sri Lankan election but I implore all those who can not to squander this opportunity. This will shape the future of your country.
Can’t see the audio player? You can take a listen at Soundcloud.