A broad youth coalition should be established in Sri Lanka’s parliament to help address the issues of young people and the wider society, says the Young Political Leaders Forum of Sri Lanka (YPLFSL), a group supported by International Alert.
YPLFSL made the comments at the World Conference on Youth 2014, hosted earlier this month by the Ministry of Youth Affairs in Sri Lanka. The conference aimed to strengthen the involvement of young people in developing and implementing the UN's post-2015 development agenda, and provided a platform for various youth organisations, activists and others to engage in the debate.
Ensuring inclusive youth participation at the policy-making level has been mooted as a critical challenge globally for a long time, particularly in governance. There have been various attempts in Sri Lanka to bring together young people involved in legislature under a single platform, irrespective of their political party differences, and supported by state and non-state youth initiatives at all levels. YPLFSL, which was established with the support of Alert, is such an attempt.
YPLFSL is a cross-party group of young MPs and other young political leaders who have come together to ensure inclusive youth participation in politics, and positively impact reconciliation and sustainable development in Sri Lanka. The group consists of a committed group of young politicians, including Vasantha Senanayake MP (SLFP), Shehan Semasinghe MP (SLFP), Niroshan Perera MP (UNP), Harin Fernando MP (UNP), Hunais Farook MP (ACMC) and Raghu Balachandran (TNA), who represent multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-constituency interests across the island beyond individual party ideologies.
The group hosted a side event at the conference. They used the opportunity to highlight some of the forum’s key initiatives over the last three years, including their proposal for a National Day of Remembrance and Unity, engagement with diaspora groups, the development of collective policy measures for addressing key issues faced by internally displaced Muslims from the north, and efforts to strengthen the effective participation of women in politics at the national level.
Harin Fernando MP stressed the importance of a broad coalition of civil society actors, senior and young MPs in helping to prevent further violence in Sri Lanka. Shehan Semasinghe MP explained YPLFSL’s engagement with ‘Achieve Real Change’, a second-generation group of British Sri Lankan professionals who have utilised their professional skills to contribute to the betterment of lives in Sri Lanka, and pointed out the importance of young people engaging with the diaspora to ensure sustainable peace in the country.
The discussion also focused on the challenges of engaging youth leaders in politics in Sri Lanka. Raghu Balachandran, a young political activist in the group, spoke about the difficulty of getting into politics if you do not have links to a political family, the limited support and power vested in youth in politics today, the financial cost of politics and the lack of engagement with senior political role models.
The event stressed the importance of involving young people not only in addressing issues that affect them directly, but in influencing and shaping broad public policy debates that affect the communities they live in. YPLFSL's attempts to strengthen post-war reconciliation were highlighted as one such example.
Alert supports YPLFSL as part of our project, 'Supporting post-war reconciliation in Sri Lanka through constructive diaspora engagement'.