October 10, 2015
HIKKADUWA, SRI LANKA — It is the first time in modern political history that Sri Lankan voters can know whether the candidates they elect for their Parliament have criminal records or other illegal activities in their pasts, but many citizens in this island nation don’t know about the change.
To educate people, the March 12 Movement is taking information about the change across the country. The organization convinced all of Sri Lanka’s major political parties to sign a pledge ensuring their candidates are fit to govern. The pledge stated that the candidates would adhere to eight core values, including that they would not engage in corruption or bribery, and other activities common among politicians in this island nation.
The March 12 Movement sent its supporters far and wide to make sure voters know about the pledge.
A week before the Aug. 17 elections, A. G. Ranjani, Amila Thiloshini Pinnaduwage and Greeta Dias Nagahawatte set out to visit families in Hikkaduwa, a coastal town in southern Sri Lanka’s Galle District. The women have been visiting about ten families a day since Aug. 1, taking along with them a scorecard of the March 12 Movement’s eight values.
“This is not just about distribution,” Ranjani says. “We spend time with every person, explaining what the scorecard is, and going into details about each of the eight values.”
The women are members of the Hikkaduwa District Committee of Sarvodaya, a community development organisation that is one of the 12 organizations which form the March 12 Movement. Ranjani, the committee chairperson, and Pinnaduwage, the secretary of an offshoot program on governance, are leading a team of 20 women in the distribution effort. Each of the 20 women have been given 25 scorecards to distribute, while Ranjani and Pinnaduwage have been given 200 each because of their wide network of contacts in Hikkaduwa.
The distributors from the Hikkaduwa committee, together with other members of Sarvodaya district committees, underwent a special training in May which helped them understand the March 12 Movement’s values and prepare for the house to house visits and discussions, Ranjani says.
March 12 Movement members are careful to avoid promoting any one political party, Ranjani says.
“We are always careful to communicate that the March 12 Movement is about choosing corruption-free, honorable and capable men and women into our parliament,” she says. “They can be from any political party.”
Pinnaduwage is certain their awareness work will prove successful.
“I believe that with this kind of awareness, we can expect a fair election this time,” she says.
The feedback they have received is positive, Pinnaduwage says. Sometimes people argue and debate with them about individual candidates, but she and her team try not to get into detailed discussions about candidates or political parties.
“I think when you start giving points to individual candidates using the scorecard, you realize for yourself who is the most suitable candidate based on these good values,” she says. “People are now beginning to think, to evaluate, to take the measure of individuals they have been blindly voting for, for many years.”