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Stop the Mob-O-Cracy from spreading

Opposition candidates can help the Commissioner by making public, violations of the election laws but this too has not happened in the past.

By Gamini Weerakoon

(November 30, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The bearded prophet Karl Marx is not popular these days even among Sri Lankan Marxists of yore now gone long in the tooth but his definition of elections is relevant in the context of events that are taking place on the eve of the impending presidential election.

Marx wrote: ‘The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent them and repress them.’

Oppression by thugs

Whether presidential candidates who would present themselves for election could be classified in Marx’s definition of ‘representatives of the oppressing class’ is debatable but a gang/gangs of goons has surfaced that have taken upon themselves the task of oppressing people, even before elections, by wrecking meetings of opposition parties. These events have been recorded on camera and shown on TV.

A UNP meeting at Kurunegala, some weeks ago, was invaded by thugs who hooted, jeered and hurled stones and chairs at speakers and the meeting had to be abandoned. Last week UNPer Ravi Karunanayake was addressing a meeting at Colombo North which was disrupted in like manner. The JVP too had been accorded similar treatment and surprisingly took it without retaliation. General Sarath Fonseka who is now the bogey man — even before he has thrown his hat into the ring — is causing nightmares to the mighty and was hooted, jeered and insulted by a crowd in hysterics when he was leaving the Kelaniya temple.

So far, the oppressors have got away despite during some incidents a few policemen were present. If the people retaliate — it would be inevitable — and violence breaks out then our democratic presidential election would get off to a flaming start.

Action stations, IGP

The people seem to have got an impression about the man directing thuggery. Is he only a misguided maniac who may be assuming he is doing his boss favours by spreading political vermin? Whoever it is, the brand new IGP Mahinda Balasuriya has to move into action. Meeting the public one day of the week is good — like good old King Elara who had a bell hung outside the palace gates for the public to ring in case a complaint was to be registered but in this age of emerging royalty, it is not enough.

He has to act, unlike his departed predecessor, Jayantha Wickremaratne, who had our Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge’s murder on the highway in broad daylight investigated for nine months and has been successful in arresting Lasantha’s mobile telephone!

Muscle-flexing, stone and bomb throwing, wielding clubs and knives are not new to Sri Lankan democracy. It has happened before but in fits and starts. If it has happened with regular frequency Sri Lankan democracy would not have lasted for 60 years. Now we have this phenomenon even before the day of the election is announced. The IGP, Elections Commissioner and President Rajapaksa who will remain as head of the police and armed forces even during the elections, carry the burden of avoiding a ‘mob-o-cracy’ replacing Sri Lankan democracy.

Impotence of the Commissioner

The Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake has long wanted to leave his job but can’t, due to a quirk in interpretation of the constitution. The first promise he extracted from President Rajapaksa on declaring him the winner of the 2005 Presidential Election was to let him retire from his post. President Rajapaksa pledged to do so but Dissanayake still remains after conducting many elections during the last four years. Dissanayake’s official problems should not deter him from conducting a free and fair election.

At the last presidential election when thousands of UNP supporters wanted to cast their ballots they were told that their names were not on the voting list — voters who had been long registered in the same houses for years. Some one had done the trick of making voters’ names disappear from the lists. It may have cost Ranil Wickremesinghe who lost by a narrow margin, the presidency. The voters lists should be made freely available to the public immediately and prevent electoral frauds like in the last presidential election occurring again.

Votes of migrant workers and IDPs

What of votes of the hundreds of thousands of voters now abroad? These would be grist to the mill of the impersonating machines now being setup. What of IDPs who were forced out of homes and the voting lists of the Northern and Eastern Provinces? If a free and fair election is to be held, the voting rights of these people should be made known to the public.

Dissanayake should seek the cooperation of the police much earlier to implement the election laws. He should not order the police to pull down posters and cut-outs only a few days before elections like what happened at the last Southern Provincial Council elections. More important will be the prevention of the abuse of state property by the ruling party. The abuse of the state print and electronic media by ruling parties down the years has been too well known. It will be a difficult task for the Elections Commissioner to prevent this abuse taking place in institutions under government ministers and backed by government stooges. If he can’t prevent it he must make his protests known to the public and if he is unable to do so, refuse to hold the election. That would indeed be a very tall order for Dissanayake.

Daunting task

It will also be a daunting task for this official to order the police to pull down posters and cut-outs of our smiling President. His supporters will no doubt be of the opinion that Mahinda Rajapaksa with his bristling Stalin-like moustache is one of the loveliest sights on Earth. His opponents and many others may hold contrary views. The talk of billboards and beauty brought to our mind the lines of that delightful American humorist Ogden Nash:
Think I shall never see
A billboard as lovely as a tree
Indeed unless the billboards fall
I shall never see a tree at all

The impotence of all Election Commissioners to impose such laws has been well demonstrated in previous elections. Calling in foreign observers at great cost to tax payers will be of no avail. In previous elections they have merely served as rubber stamps because they are simply not capable of monitoring and detecting well planned frauds by some of the most powerful people in the land.

Besides, these ladies and gentlemen don’t want to antagonise their hosts after being treated so well during their stay here. So the verdict has been usually a compromise: ‘By and large the elections appeared to be fair.’ Nelson Mandela too has pointed out to this absurdity of foreign observers. He had said: ‘If America or Britain is having elections they don’t ask for observers from Africa or Asia. But when we have elections they want observers.’

17th Amendment

The Elections Commissioner is in this pathetic plight because of the non implementation of the 17th Amendment under which a Constitutional Council is required to appoint four independent commissions for the Elections Department as well as the police, public service and judiciary. A powerful independent Elections Commission could have stood up to the ruling political party and the executive president. But the plight of the Elections Commissioner is such that he can’t even retire! Little wonder that presidents are reluctant to hurry up with the implementation of this amendment.

Opposition candidates can help the Commissioner by making public, violations of the election laws but this too has not happened in the past.

Meanwhile it has to be said that we Sri Lankans have borrowed voting practices in the West quite intensively. Al Capone’s advice on voting was: Vote early, vote often. A former presidential candidate, Hector Kobbekaduwa learned this the hard way while attempting to cast his ballot at his convenience. He found that his vote had already been cast. Our Capones had followed the Capone from Chicago.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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