| by Upul Joseph Fernando

(January 7, 2015, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The hectic presidential election campaign ended at midnight Monday. Now it's the turn of the election monitors to assess the conduct the of tomorrow's poll. Many foreign polls observers are here from different bodies in the world. The Commonwealth has sent former Guyanese President Bharvat Jagdeo who limited the passage of the presidency in that country to two terms and signed that Constitutional Decree.

Sri Lanka is not only a member of the Commonwealth. The Sri Lankan President heads the Commonwealth. He should set an example. If Thursday's poll is proved corrupt, Sri Lanka will not only lose her membership but also the Post of Commonwealth Chairman. Such has never happened in the history of the Commonwealth.
Having completed his second term in office as President, he gracefully retired and went home. In contrast, President Mahinda Rajapaksa cut short his second term, to seek a mandate for a third term through the constitutional amendment he got passed in Parliament where the President office could contest any number of times. The arrival of Jagdeo as a commonwealth polls monitor to monitor Mahinda's third presidential poll looks extraordinary in nature as he comes as a man who had limited the tenure of the office of a President two terms coming to monitor the election of a president who seeks a third term by virtue of an amendment passed in his favour.

Mahinda is not only Sri Lanka's President. He is also the Chairman of the Commonwealth. Hence, the Commonwealth focuses its eyes without moving an eye lid. Jagdeo who arrived here releazed a statement expressing certain concerns over events leading to tomorrow's poll. "Foreign election monitors in Sri Lanka for the Presidential elections, today said that concerns had been raised by those they met so far with regards to several issues, including the use of State resources and the potential use of the military on or before Election Day. Commonwealth election observers said that they will assess the information they have received and determine if the conditions are suitable for a credible and free election.

Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo, the Chair of the Commonwealth observers currently in Sri Lanka, said that concerns were also raised on election fraud. On the concerns of the potential use of the military on or before Election Day, Jagdeo said that the Commonwealth observers will seek a meeting with the Army to discuss the concerns if they feel such a meeting is required. "Issues raised by those we met so far included on the abuse of State resources, violence and concerns on the potential role of the military," he said. Jagdeo meanwhile said that all those who they met so far with regards to the January 8 election had said they have confidence in the independence of the Elections Commissioner. He said that their nine member team will be deployed to the Northern, Western, North Western, North Central, Eastern and Southern Provinces for the election. Over the next few days the Commonwealth observers will be meeting Commonwealth High Commissioners, representatives of the police as well as civil society groups. Meanwhile Asian election observers also raised concerns about the abuse of State resources and police inaction before Election Day. "The Elections Commissioner of Sri Lanka exuded confidence, and after our discussions we felt his confidence was well placed," former Chief Elections Commissioner of India, S.Y. Quraishi who is leading the Asian Association of Election Authorities (AAEA) said.

Quraishi said the main concerns expressed during their discussions so far were the abuse of State resources, the control of the State and private Media by the ruling party and alleged discrimination by the police force. (Colombo Gazette)".

The Daily Mail reported that development in the following manner; "Zimbabwe was tonight suspended from the Commonwealth for a year after election observers found that the elections which returned President Robert Mugabe to power were seriously flawed.

A troika of Commonwealth leaders - South African President Thabo Mbeki, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Australian Prime Minister John Howard - announced the suspension following several hours of talks at Marlborough House in London.

Howard, Chairman of the troika, said the observers had concluded that the elections were "marred by a high level of politically motivated violence", and conditions did not allow adequately for a free expression of will by the electorate. The troika decided to suspend Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth, which effectively bars the country from any of its meetings. It could have gone a step and suspended Zimbabwe's membership completely although the effect would have been virtually identical.

Announcing the decision after the three-hour meeting, Howard said: "The committee decided to suspend Zimbabwe from the Councils of the Commonwealth for one year with immediate effect. "This issue will be revisited in 12 months' time, having regard to progress in Zimbabwe and report from the Commonwealth's Secretary General (Don McKinnon). "The committee mandated the Commonwealth Secretary General to engage with the Government of Zimbabwe to ensure that the specific recommendations from the Commonwealth (elections) observer group report, notably on the management of future elections in Zimbabwe, are implemented." Today's meeting had lasted about three hours and Howard told reporters it had taken note of the observer group report, which "had concluded that the presidential election was marred by a high level of politically motivated violence and that 'the conditions in Zimbabwe did not adequately allowed for a free expression of will by the electors'.

"They deemed these conclusions, together with other aspects of the report, to be an adverse reflection on the electoral process, requiring an appropriate Commonwealth response." But the Australian premier stressed: "The committee expressed its determination to promote reconciliation in Zimbabwe between the main political parties." He said there was strong support for the initiatives of the Nigerian and South African Presidents "in encouraging a climate of reconciliation between the main political parties in Zimbabwe which they considered essential to address the issues of food shortages, economic recovery, and the restoration of political stability, the rule of law and the conduct of future elections". Howard added: "I have noted in the lead-up to this meeting that people have said repeatedly that this is a test for the Commonwealth as to whether it's going to be consistent in its treatment. I believe we have been consistent in our treatment."

He added that the action taken was "at the more severe end of the options available to us if I can put it that way".

Those options had ranged from a statement of condemnation to full suspension from the Commonwealth. The Australian Prime Minister added: "The most important thing about Zimbabwe is the future of its people. "I believe that the series of measures have announced today are an appropriate and balanced response." The suspension will please Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had a 10-minute phone conversation with the South African President.

Blair is also expected to have talks with Prime Minister Howard in Downing Street tomorrow evening. The decision was welcomed by Blair, who kept in touch with developments during the day, speaking twice by telephone to Mbeki.

"He clearly welcomes the decision by the Commonwealth troika and believes that it is absolutely the right thing to do," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said.

On a conciliatory note, Howard said the Commonwealth leaders wanted to promote reconciliation between the main political parties in Zimbabwe, and were conscious of the "parlous" State of the southern African state's economy. "The committee calls upon the international community to respond to the desperate situation currently in Zimbabwe, especially the food shortages," Howard said. But he went on: "The committee has decided to suspend Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth for a period of one year with immediate effect. "This issue will be revisited in 12 months time having regard to progress in Zimbabwe based on the Commonwealth Harare Principles and reports from the Commonwealth Secretary General." The Commonwealth's main value is to uphold the principles of free and fair elections. It describes it in the following manner; ""Genuine democratic elections are an expression of sovereignty, which belongs to the people of a country, the free expression of whose will provides the basis for the authority and legitimacy of government. The rights of citizens to vote and to be elected at periodic, genuine democratic elections are internationally recognized human rights.

Genuine democratic elections serve to resolve peacefully the competition for political power within a country and thus, are central to the maintenance of peace and stability. Where governments are legitimized through genuine democratic elections, the scope for non-democratic challenges to power is reduced..."

Sri Lanka is not only a member of the Commonwealth. The Sri Lankan President heads the Commonwealth. He should set an example. If Thursday's poll is proved corrupt, Sri Lanka will not only lose her membership but also the Post of Commonwealth Chairman. Such has never happened in the history of the Commonwealth.

There's no doubt that Mahinda is aware of those facts.


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