Monday, January 4, 2010

No more votes for migrant workers and the sad story

- Island

by Shyamalee Mahibalan

Over 1.7 million registered migrant workers, whose remittance last year recorded 316,118 million rupees have lost their voting franchise this time too. According to 2005 figures, they are 12% of registered voters and 10% of the national workforce; they contribute to 17% national savings and more than 20% foreign exchange earnings and they constitute of over 47% women. One cannot also forget the hundreds of thousands of students and the diplomatic staff abroad, whose political participation is vital in a democratic society. No doubt, many would agree that this may have been a golden opportunity for Sri Lankan expatriates to participate in the development process of the country. Considering the large numbers of women voter base the most favorable action would be to allow them to vote and ascertaining their franchise, since it can be considered collective power and not individual power that counts.

It has been 10 years since the campaign for political rights of expatriate workers, who have been shunned and denied, was first initiated by the National workers Congress Migrants service centre. Since then, so many elections have come and gone the authorities seemed to have no political will. If the voting franchise of migrant workers cannot be incorporated in to the current electoral reforms, they could offer to purchase 1.7 million tickets and bring them over instead of destroying or rigging their votes.

Ironically both main candidates have promised to increase the women representation in parliament to 30% from its current position of 4%, seemingly interesting for a country that has produced two women leaders, quite mystifying in a country where women are leading the workforce. Sri lanka ’s women representation in parliament is said to be way behind all other South Asian countries. Since the granting of universal franchise in 1931 Sri Lanka encouraged men and women to enjoy voting rights for over 77 years. According to reports, political representation, political participation and women in decision-making remain at abysmal level. Women’s representation in Parliament stands at 4.05% and in Local Government 1.9 %. The percentage of women in Municipal Councils is 3.0% and the Urban Councils 3.4%. Afghanistan, a country with many tribes and tribal practices and warlords, where the United States is trying to force western style democracy through its criminal ally Karzai, where we are reminded daily in the mainstream media that the Burka is a form of repression and that the women are flogged on the streets, interstingly out of its 361 members in parliament 91 members are women. These independent candidates hold 57 seats in the lower house and 28% in the upper house, higher than even the United States . These are educated independent candidates, who were elected from provinces all across Afghanistan .Despite the western backed Warlords refusal to accept women’s rights and enforce discriminatory laws against women (the recent amendment to marital rape law) the rights of Afghan women are enshrined in the constitution. Malalai Joya (Activist, author-a woman among warlords) was a 26 year old parliamentarian when she raised her voice in Afghan parliament in 2003 against warlords and foreign occupation ,an interesting video of this moment can be viewed on you tube, she was however suspended two years later. Today she is the voice of Afghanistan across the world and she still fights for freedom and democracy in Afghanistan . Noam Chomsky called her "truly worthy choice for the Nobel Peace Prize" Out of the 91 members many reported to have received death threats from Karzai backed warlord, regardless they continue.

In contrast, Sri Lanka ’s 4% in the parliament seems like a few tokens to adorn the many seats in the parliament, in a male dominated political hierarchy, once elected they succumbed to cheap political campaigns of identity politics. Sad indeed that Sri Lankan women today are mere spectators behind microphones and cameras, despite the years of progress made. One wonders where are all the women activists and lawmakers, where is activism in politics? Sri Lanka ’s activists and activism is most certainly archaic and selfish, so are politics and politicians. Politics in Sri Lanka however, resembles an elitist private club with access to everything public. Anyone can be lured in to this club with the prospect of many perks including plundering and controlling the herd ".

We need to reignite the women power in politics and parliament, not the junk identity politics, but political activism. We need to reignite the fiery brand of Vivian Gunawardena politics.

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