Our Perspective

Are Young People Apathetic to the Political Process?


What role do young people play in the political process? We have seen a change in Government in the recent past, with the highlight being that a lot of activism and lobbying was done through social media. The real question is though, are young people truly actively involved and if so, what has changed?

When we look at data based on the National Human Development Report 2014 (NHDR) 72% of respondents indicated that their primary choice of engagement was through voting. Only a smaller percentage of 5% appeared to be involved in direct activism.

Apart from exercising their right to vote, very few youth take part in political decision-making or voice their opinions at community, district or national levels. When you question young people, the overreaching perception is that the only form of political participation is either running for an election or voting for a candidate whose manifesto is closest to what you believe in.

What are the sources of apathy?

Political participation in conventional electoral politics is guaranteed for all citizens in Sri Lanka’s Constitution. Each political party has a youth quota of 30%. Yet, the 2013 survey found that 89% of respondents expressed low trust in political parties; a much higher number in comparison to the 47% of youth stated the same in the 1999 - 2000 survey.

When we look at why there is general apathy of youth, it came down to there not being a point in resisting or challenging existing systems and practices. In addition, economic grievances, family obligations, fear of engagement and belief that change is impossible were also contributing factors.

42% of respondents were not interested in discussing politics with family and friends, 81% were disinterested in participating in campaigns, 40% did not read or follow political news and 90% did not engage in internet discussions on civic and political matters. However 88% of youth said that they were interested in what was happening around them.

Role of social media and activism

While social media is a powerful tool in bringing attention to issues that would normally get overlooked as well as mobilizing the masses, the connection between greater awareness and actual policy change and government action is negligible. We may write statuses and debate the rights and wrongs of policy on social media, but actual change always starts at the grass root level.

Personal perspective

Personally, I have been involved in political activism on varying levels. This is because I come from a political family and my grandfather was a career politician. Growing up in that environment meant that my interest in politics was always geared toward understanding the system we have and working toward changing that. It has been a learning experience and I feel that more young people should embrace being part of the process in the ways that they can. Intern on the political campaigns during elections, lobby for policy changes, work with activists and right movements and most importantly volunteer! What we forget is that each of us has civic duties and we all have our part to play in the make-up of how society runs. If youth, across the broad, are to experience social and economic justice, our collective contribution to society should be more than mere political affiliations or end at the ballot box.

Blog post blog series Asia & the Pacific Sri Lanka Youth

UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Sri Lanka 
Go to UNDP Global