23 February, 2024


Emphasizing The Crucial Role Young People Have To Play In An Active Democracy

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

You youthful politicians are whom we are felicitating today. This is rightfully so because as cognitive failures progressively creep up upon us, we must pass the baton on to the next generation. The young have many things going for them. My hope, our hope, lies on your shoulders.

It was Robert F. Kennedy who succinctly expressed why the youth are aptly suited to carry the weight of government. He said in South Africa on 6 June 1966:

“Our answer is the world’s hope; it is to rely on youth. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. It cannot be moved by those who cling to a present which is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement of danger. It demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.”

Some key youth issues include;

* Age of candidature: We talk of the lower age limit but rarely, indeed never, of the older age limit. That is because despite people like Donald Trump, we have had stellar leaders of age. Prime Minister Winston Churchill is one. Discussions on the lower limit are limited because we know few youthful persons of high accomplishment for not having tried them out. Let not be forgotten the example of William Pitt, The Younger. He was British Prime Minister at the age of 24 years – yes 24 years – and was PM for 23 years from 19 Dec. 1783. He worked closely with William Wilberforce and did many things to free slaves. The repercussions were felt here when the slaves of Ceylon received their freedom in the 1840s.

* Age of majority: This is another major issue. When for example is a girl free to marry on her own? Can a younger girl be forced into marriage by her parents? A new bill is in parliament. The age for marriage is 18. But even after many years of marriage from a period prior to the bill, a person married as a child may ask for nullification, making the children illegitimate

* Child labor laws: These laws from the ILO are complex. Few of us know them. There is an age for work but different higher ages for dangerous work and no age limit for the family shop. 

* Corporal punishment: Is corporal punishment legitimate? Can a parent exercise corporal punishment? Are considerations different for a teacher?

* Education policy: There is much to be discussed. Close to my heart is the issue of mass education of no value against elite education of a high quality. Today I judge many graduates to be less educated than the Senior Certificate holders who taught me. Are these new degrees not a hoax on our youth?

* Student rights: Do school students having the right to vote have political rights?

* Voting age: An issue is whether an eighteen year old who can vote for president not be president? In contrast I have seen in my parish church the youth who rarely come to church saying they have tuition classes, coming to church on the day of our AGM while being unfamiliar with the candidates, and voting in totally unfit youthful members.

Democracy Burns in the Twentieth Amendment while the EC Fiddles with Relative Trivia (MPs Rajapaksa, Jayawardene, Thondaman and Rasamanickam flanked by the three EC Members)

The discussion these weighty issues deserve is not for today. But bear in mind that the present formula is not working. Older people have no monopoly on wisdom. It is under our older leadership that tens of thousands were massacred in Mullivaikal and those surrendering disappeared. It is our aging parliament that is giving our killers in uniform effective impunity for murder. Our President has pardoned a soldier who killed a young boy and was convicted and his appeal denied. We seem to lack the right to life. Our leaders are appointing accused murderers to high office. My generation has failed. And now, through the 20th amendment, independent commissions and a free judiciary seem to be on the way out. The 20th amendment is a vulgar assault on democracy. I have signed papers today challenging it in court. It must go for a referendum. I am surprised that we are discussing democracy in 2020 today, with relatively minor issues being discussed, but not one word on the 20th amendment. That makes this event a drama to show that all is well with our democracy when the situation is terrible.

In parliament last week, irresponsible statements were made by the older MPs who are presumed wise. For example Mr. Sagara Kariawasam moved an Adjournment Motion on the Progressive Report of the Election Commission pertaining to the time period between July 7, 2019 and September 30, 2019. He claimed that the Commission is being derailed by one member not coming for meetings. Indeed, all three of us on the Commission have excellent attendance records. It was claimed that I said not to vote for the SLPP whereas I said not to vote for those feeding you with false propaganda. Kariawasam was working with my Tamil speech translated into Sinalese and then translated back into Tamil with glaring discrepancies. Similar sentiments have been issued by our wise professor GL Peiris.Our grown up newspaper chairman in Parliament has issued untrue statements that my daughter violated COVID rules although she had a signed clearance from General Shavendra de Silva and Dr. Anil Jasinghe. Mr. Premanath Dolawatte too has gone to town in parliament with uneducated and ill-informed statements which the Commission is unable to respond to, except in a forum like this as I do. Whereas the Commission wrote several letters asking for LG and provincial elections, he claims he went to court and got no support from us. These men lack integrity and have neither political maturity nor wisdom despite their age. Our ignorance sustains our subservience as many of us mistakenly keep quiet thinking it is these MPs’ right under Parliamentary Privilege to speak anything slanderous of us. Nay! We may call a spade a spade, and enjoy the right to respond as I do now. I must thank Hon. Sivagnamam Shridharan, Hon. Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka, Hon. Mano Ganeshan, Hon. M.A. Sumanthiran and a few truly Hounrable MPs who gave balance to the debate on the Election Commission. 

The youth, I state pointedly, have been much better in not stating idiotic things like this. In parliament, as one of the organizers of this forum told me, “I do not know why I have to call these badly behaved MPs who have even murdered people Honourable so and so.” Dishonourable is the right Prefix. The youth by their clean image certainly do not disqualify being called Honourable. 

I close with some special words to two minority MPs at a time when the future of minorities in Sri Lanka is in question under seemingly high grandiose  ideals like “One Nation, One law” while hiding the intent to not let us minorities be who we are. Hon. Jeevan Thondaman, I knew your grandfather. We Ceylon Tamils refused to learn Sinhalese because it was an imposition. I ran to Jaffna whenever I could and still do. So I speak no Sinhalese and am worse off for it. Your grandfather encouraged cooperation while preserving identity. As a result, you have citizenship, jobs, increased wages and ministries. In the last 5 years I have travelled extensively and see that our lands are being taken over. Trinco is nearly gone as a Tamil area under colonization. We are now left with nothing. In contrast, as I travel to the hill-country, I see the benefits your people have. Estates are well-developed. I see numerous housing schemes like the beautiful one in Patana that I saw this week meeting the CWC’s Suresh Jayakanth, the youthful VP for Kotagala. 

Likewise, Muslims too have played their cards well and wherever English is required – university registrar service and the legal profession – they have earned a place. My lawyer in the 2018 case on dissolving parliament, Hejaaz Hizbullah has been locked under what I believe are cooked up charges. My lawyer now is Ameer M. Faaiz.

I identify SMM Musharraf from the Digamadulla District as a new youthful  MP with high potential from The All Ceylon Makkal Congresses. We Tamils of the North-East have a lot to learn from the CWC and the Muslim community. You the youth must lead. I have focused on these two minority leaders and acknowledge similar potential in MPs from the majority community. 

Grease to the elbows of our youthful leaders! And God Speed.

*A speech by S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole at the Election Commission’s Celebration of the International Day of Democracy “Emphasizing the Crucial Role young people have to play in an active democracy,” Centre for Banking Studies Auditorium, Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, 3:00 to 6:00 pm, 27 Sept. 2020.

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Latest comments

  • 16

    If you value “the Crucial Role young people have to play in an active democracy,” why on earth is Namal dressed up as a clone of feudal family dynasty. What is the matter with that regressive Sataka ? He should set an example to the younger generation by ‘dressing down’ – that’s the trend among progressive youth concerned about social justice today. Who does he think he is? Does he want people to salute him ? During his father’s previous despotic rule, I heard people had to stand up when he entered a room – no matter how old or senior or what office they were holding. I hope his uncle will discipline him this time around.

    • 14

      By the way, I notice the other three men paraded onstage as role models for the youth are also beneficiaries of the despicable family dynasty politics that is dominating and ruining Sri Lanka today. Kavinda is the son of former UNP minister and MP Jayalath Jayawardena. Shanakiyan is the grandson of S.M. Rasamanickam, former ITAK MP for Paddiruppu. Both the father and grandfather of Jeevan Thondaman were ministers and MPs. What a travesty. There are even more such cases in the current parliament. Family politics is prevalent in other countries too, but not on this wild scale as to make a mockery of democracy. Election commission should come up with better ideas to celebrate democracy and encourage the youth to participate in public life. This kind of sycophantic Boru shows will only make the youth’s sense of disillusionment and political cynicism worse.

  • 7

    Having read through this brave speech, I find it difficult to say much that will confirm to readers that I can relate to some of the things said here as factual.
    I saw a report in some newspaper of an MP named Sagara Kariyawasam accusing Prof. Hoole of asking people not to vote for the SLPP. I had seen elsewhere that this was misreporting, originating from mis-translation.
    I saw a video in which I heard Sarath Fonseka speaking in Parliament in defence of
    Professor Hoole. But how those who value accuracy are going to establish what is truth and what is distortion, I don’t know.
    My observation is that very few of those who cast ballots at elections seem to know what the issues are. When I say that, I know that I’ll be asked who I imagine that I am to make such an assessment. In the only comment that I see as I type this, “Ajay” seems to be asking rhetorical questions similar to mine. I don’t know how wise it is for Prof. Hoole to go to law courts again, but I wish him well.

  • 13

    Dr. Hoole,

    This does not take away from the thrust of your point on higher age limit, but Churchill in considered a great leader only in the UK-US centric view. If you ask India’s educated leaders like Sashi Tharoor, or the writer Pankaj Mishra, they will tell you Churchill was a war criminal in India, responsible for the second Bengal famine and many other atrocities.

    • 8

      I wonder why Germany has not designated him a war criminal for what he did in Dresden.

  • 2

    Is a girl free to marry on her own? Is all girl who chooses free to marry her own are success. Every one wants there children to be success.

  • 2

    Dear RH

    Thank you.

    – It would have been better if you quote the home grown fellow men who served the people accordingly fulfilling the definition of an elected and the job scope setting president historically to how to be a Social Worker/Member of Parliament/Major/Councillors from your own community the Tamils? you do not such people to refer to??

    – Yet you made reference to Kennedy and Churchill??????? rather strange way to aspire the youth in Sri Lanka??

    – Definition of Democracy is to have alternative views and respect the other whilst making your. case why one can serve them well as suppose to the other….even this has to be without undermining the other??

    – Your refusal to learn Sinhalese is an example to the youth???? whilst praising the CWC for their integration with a clause “cooperation while preserving identity”???? who ever challenged your identity in SL?? It is the only Country the ghetto makers can get their children to kill their opponents as lawyers and live to tell a story next day…..to be exact even after few hundred thousand Mother Lankan children died you want to aspire the children of SL by making evil reference to the soldiers and generalising them as someone the youth will look upto??

  • 1

    Please also refrain from referring the “minority” as your subjects in a democracy as we are not defined by you or your politics………..remember the way guns came about…….in a democracy..introduced by the FP/ITAK…..following the example of the JVP………is not a definition of a democracy………in any mans definition………..

    You have made a political speech misusing the opportunity when it should have been about democracy is my take. How Unfortunate.

  • 5

    All SriLankans, the old just as much as the youth, must pay attention to the work of Jayathma Wickramanayake, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth. Jayathma was appointed as the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth in June 2017 at the age of 26. Super impressive human being. Do search and view her work. I am inspired by her. She’s inspiring the youth across the planet.

    Jayathma’s tenure will soon come to an end. Hope she grounds herself locally to guide the youth movements at home and champions social progress in this country.

  • 2

    (9) Discourage the Tamil children to watch any c*** come out of Bollywood is a good start.
    (10) Set up a Task Force amongst the young to find out how countries like Malaysia is creating adverts/talks/discussions/forums to bring the people together through social media adverts & many more very constructive efforts all paying off…..you can spearhead this project..??…rather than spending time picking on the system forever. Connect all children from village to village from North to South and East to West??????? This the future for the youth under any democracy????who are you to say I like this person and I don not like the other?????????????

    I like Tamil speaking Muslims and Tamil speaking upcountry Tamils & Tamil speaking Tamils live all around the country amongst the Sinhalese. Did you ever noticed the Majority of the Tamils live amongst the Sinhalese?????????????????????????

    Do you know how many Tamils/Muslims/Upcountry Indian Tamils who do not like you or your politics?? why you telling the youth I like this and that on a speech about democracy????

    Was your speech vetted before you were allowed to do this??????? who given you the platform to do this??????

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