Refugee fulfills life dream
A 48-year-old former Sri Lankan refugee will vote for the first time this weekend.
On Saturday Sasikala Niyamathullah, who is a project manager at Auckland Regional Migrant Services, will vote in the New Zealand general election.
After fleeing Sri Lanka with her family when she was eight years old Niyamathullah lived in India - the world’s largest democracy - for more than 25 years.
But she was unable to vote there because of her refugee status.
When she arrived in Auckland with her family in late 2013 she missed the cut for the 2014 general election, because to be eligible to vote she needed to have lived in New Zealand for at least a year.
Since Niyamathullah was old enough to vote she wanted to, and it baffled her watching others in India ignore their right to vote, she said.
‘‘Those people were wasting their votes, while I had no choice. Voting for me is a basic right, one of the most important,’’ she said.
She felt empowered to be able to vote in the country where the first woman ever voted, she said.
Tuesday marked the 124th anniversary since New Zealand became the first nation in the world to grant women the right to vote.
It was refreshing that everyone chose who they wanted to vote for, compared to India where the women were often expected to vote for whatever party their husband’s family supported, she said.
Victoria University political lecturer Kate McMillan worked on a study of immigrant electoral participation in New Zealand.
The biggest barriers to voting for immigrants, including refugees, was getting enough information about parties and policies in their own languages and feeling sufficiently informed about the political system, she said.
Also, having enough time to focus on politics rather than just getting a job, a house and sorting out kids’ schooling was an issue, McMillan said.
‘‘There’s also a lot of evidence that voting is tied to a sense of belonging in a country, so those who don’t feel a sense of belonging often don’t vote,’’ she said.
But Niyamathullah said the policy focus of New Zealand politics was refreshing and she was invested in voting for the party which would provide the best Prime Minister.
On Saturday Sasikala Niyamathullah will cast her first ever vote, after 30 years of being unable to.