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Elections - for whose benefit or profit?

by Milinda Rajasekera

(January 20, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The people of this country are called upon once again to endure the ordeal of an election amid the confusion, crises and the misery created for hundreds of thousands of people by floods and price hikes in essential food items. Although the majority of people do not seem to welcome the event, the government is intent upon holding the Local Government elections and the opposition parties are also apparently sharpening their weapons to join in, despite their intra-party conflicts and objections to the manner in which the elections are to be held.

The government’s ostensible purpose in having these elections is to give the people the democratic right to elect new leaders to their local bodies. But its credentials are called into question. As to why the government is in a hurry to have these elections at a time when the package of local government election reforms is ready for implementation, is the question posed by many. It is surmised that it is the government’s desire to demonstrate its popularity and its confidence about winning the election, at this stage, that has prompted it to go ahead with these elections. The question whether the present exercise would promote national interests or would be detrimental to them seems to elude the authorities.

If the government’s objective is to feel the pulse of the people through this democratic process in the face of opposition parties’ accusations about various misdeeds and shortcomings, then the government’s attitude deserves commendation. The opposition parties today are condemning the government for, burdening the country with a huge administration that gobbles up a large fraction of the country’s revenue, suppression of fundamental rights of the people – including media freedom and right to dissent - , abuse of power and misuse of state property by those at the helm of affairs, failure to take steps to solve the national problem, inability to eliminate shortages of essential food items and their high prices, failure to establish independent commissions as designed by the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, ignoring norms of good governance, imprisonment of former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, failure to make headway regarding killings and abduction of politicians and journalists and for a host of various other misdemeanours.

Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe says that the government, after deceiving the country and failing to resolve the problems, is getting ready for a great suppression. General Secretary of the JVP Tilvin Silva says the Rajapakse government is a moronic, shortsighted administration that doesn’t have any programmes or policies but continues to deceive masses. These, no doubt, are comments that arise mainly from irrepressible political party prejudice. But there are vast numbers of people in this country who acquiesce in these statements.

For an election to be genuinely democratic, it has to be free and fair. There is increasing doubt whether the present political atmosphere is conducive to democratic elections. It is futile to imagine that the government would refrain from using the enormous administrative power it possesses now to ensure a clear victory for the ruling parties. The state institutions, organizations, media outfits - state media institutions have already accelerated their propaganda job for the government, thus throwing to the winds all pretentions at impartiality - and other organisations over which the government has control will be used for the government’s advantage. Temple Trees is once again becoming a hub of activity with all kinds of ceremonies being held there.

Awards are granted, appointments are made, promotions are given, and various public amenities are declared open by ruling party politicians at various places. Even the letters of appointment for various posts are issued at ceremonies held at much expense to state – instead of sending such letters by post as in the past. The provincial ruling party organizers who wield power will become active in mobilizing support from all those requiring political patronage for their various legal or illegal activities. The tough men in the area will come voluntarily or coerced into assisting the parties in various ways.

Above all, what is disconcerting is the government’s inscrutable indifference about having these elections under the new electoral system that has been designed to eliminate a method of elections that vitiated the precious right to free and fair elections. The contention of some government spokesmen that that it is unfair or illegal to postpone elections does not hold water in view of the governnment’s action to put off elections to Municipal Councils. The government owes a genuine explanation as to why all these elections cannot be postponed and held together. If it is not motivated by extraneous reasons, then it is possible to amend the impugned provisions in the draft legislation and adopt it. Such a move will undoubtedly receive the acclamation of opposition parties as well as of the general public. That would also provide the country with an opportunity to test the benefits of the new system. The government’s dichotomous approach in respect of this matter has provided the opposition parties with much ammunition for castigating the government.

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