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.
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.