The following article is based on an open letter to Mr. Kamalesh Sharma, the Commonwealth Secretary-General on the forthcoming presidential election in Sri Lanka

| by Lionel Bopage

( December 30, 2014, Sidney, Sri Lanka Guardian) I am writing as President of Australian Advocacy for Good Governance in Sri Lanka (AAGGSL), an organisation committed to positively subscribing to the establishment of practicing democracy and rule of law in Sri Lanka while respecting the rights and will of all its peoples.

A deep-rooted fear psychosis has been induced in the society as a whole through physical violence, intimidation and destruction of property. Supporters and officials of the ‘common opposition candidate’ are subjected to harassment, arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment by the authorities.
The erosion of democratic and human rights of the people in Sri Lanka accelerated since the introduction of a new constitution in 1978 that led to the establishment of an executive presidency with executive and legislative power concentrated in the hands of a President, who is immune from prosecution and accountability. This has led to the current pervasive culture of impunity in the island and the overarching presence of nepotism, graft, corruption, dynastic rule and the endless amassing of state assets by members of, and cronies loyal to, the first family.

The end of the civil war in May 2009 provided the opportunity for Sri Lanka to address the issues that led to such a cataclysmic situation by implementing much needed political, constitutional, administrative and socio-economic reforms. Five years on, the country is still reeling under an authoritarian autocratic governance.

The Presidential Election in Sri Lanka is to be held on 8 January 2015. Matters relating to democracy, independence of judiciary and good governance have gained prominence in the current campaign discourse, and Constitutional reforms including abolition of executive presidency and establishment of independent Commissions have become priority issues. We believe that this presidential election could pave the way for carrying out the required reforms for the restoration of democracy, the rule of law and good governance.

However, the current election campaign is closely contested with serious and well-founded concerns about its legitimacy, calling into question whether it will ever be a free, fair and an inclusive election.

The emergence of a viable ‘common opposition’ has led to an increase in major election-related violence and other malpractices. The incumbent President, Mr Mahinda Rajapakse has deployed the full resources of the state: large sums of money; material benefits, state-owned vehicles and media networks; public services and the security and intelligence apparatus for his campaign.

So far, the local election monitors such as Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) and People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) and The Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) have received reports of about 50 violent incidents, and 600 breaches of election laws including the offer of inducements of money and employment.

Further, on 26 December 2014, supporters of the government had attacked former President Ms Chandrika Bandaranaike and Provincial Councilor Ms. Hirunika Premachandra. Opposition supporters are subjected to violent acts, including burning down of and attacks on party offices; destroying property of the opposition supporters, whilst no action is taken by the law enforcement agencies etc. Furthermore, local election monitors have warned the Elections Commissioner of covert moves to impersonate Sri Lankans working overseas.

A deep-rooted fear psychosis has been induced in the society as a whole through physical violence, intimidation and destruction of property. Supporters and officials of the ‘common opposition candidate’ are subjected to harassment, arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment by the authorities.

Therefore, we consider it appropriate that the Commonwealth of Nations send a strong and clear signal to President Rajapaksa, who is also its Chairperson-in-Office, to take all necessary steps to ensure that the Sri Lankan authorities live up to their responsibilities in accordance with the core principles and values set out in the Harare Commonwealth Declaration.

We, AAGGSL, respectfully appeal to the leaders of the Commonwealth of Nations to urgently call upon the Sri Lankan authorities to put an immediate end to the violations of election laws in the lead up to and during the presidential election and ensure a free and fair election without intimidation, violence, electoral malpractices or manipulations.

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