Calls for a peaceful poll


(January 25, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) As the case has been in recent years when elections are held, business chambers in Sri Lanka this week issued a plea for a free and fair Presidential election saying violence was continuing to dominate this election too.

“Violence and confrontation between, particularly, supporters of the two main candidates are progressively and alarmingly increasing and the flouting of elections laws is increasingly being reported,” the joint statement by the major chambers said, adding that it’s the responsibility of the political leaders to bring this situation to an immediate halt, “so as to ensure a peaceful environment throughout the country, preventing further hostility and bloodshed.”

It stressed the importance of avoiding post-election violence and acts of vengeance, whatever the outcome of the results may be, at all costs. “The winner should be magnanimous in victory and the loser gracious in defeat. This would facilitate the convergence of rivals and a path to economic recovery in the restoration of the country’s image in the eyes of the world,” the statement said adding that officials involved in the conduct of the election and law enforcement authorities must be allowed to carry out their functions without influence and intimidation.

However are statements like this taken seriously? Repeatedly the business community through the chambers have pleaded for calm and sanity at polls but such calls have gone unheeded or simply ignored. The same applies to a plethora of appeals from different civil society groups that are not taken seriously particularly by the groups that resort to violence, intimidation and thuggery – those acting on behalf of the political parties and their candidates.

A desperate Elections Commissioner, who has been trying to retire for many years now but cannot until an independent Elections Commission and the Constitutional Council is established, last week said he was just ‘tired’ of non-compliance of his directions to the police and state media among other agencies that he wants to quit after the polls. Blocked by the constitution, the only way he could do it now is declare himself medically unfit!

While the flow of public statements calling for the conduct of a free and fair poll is no different from what has happened in the past, what is however more significant this time is the blatant abuse of state resources and the violations that have gone uchecked. Clearly the police is either over-stretched (like the CID was quoted as saying when police postponed an inquiry against the son-in-law of candidate Retd. Gen. Sarath Fonseka) or some officials are politicised to the extent that there is no justice and even the Commissioner’s orders are taken with a pinch of salt.

The level of mud-slinging by the candidates and other politicians is at a never-before level, probably the worst on record showing a desperation-to-win at any costs. What lessons are we teaching the younger generation of this country!

Some worrying scenarios are emerging on election day and the immediate aftermath and too shocking to even report. For years, we at the Business Times have campaigned the need for civil society and the business community to play a larger-than-life role in society to a point where the views and pleas of these groups are taken seriously by the politicians and society at large, respected and acted upon!

We re-iterate this position that even after this round of elections and just before the parliamentary polls, due before April, civil society together with the business community (essentially chambers) must come together and find ways of making certain that their pleas and calls are ‘complied’ with. Simply issuing statements as we have repeatedly said in the past, is useless. Time is running out!