Provincial Council Elections – Victors or Vanquished? September 14, 2012, 8:09 pm NOTEBOOK OF A NOBODY by Shanie "Do you love yourself like this’ former warrior bursting with luxury in your narrow parliamentary seat? Does your body enjoy being this big?..... Some people say what you are doing now simply confirms what your politics were all along. I am not one of them - I think, Stalinism and the sneering shadow flitting across your eyes notwithstanding, that you had something to fight for, something greater than clothes and a car." - Karen Press The Provincial Council Elections to the three Provinces of East, North Central and Sabaragamuwa have been held and the results announced. President Mahinda Rajapakse lost no time in boasting that the the results ‘will be written in the annals of Sri Lankan election history as the tenth election won by the UPFA government under my leadership.’ He also stated that this election was a national referendum that clarified the standpoint of the Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil communities. He was implying that by being the party winning the largest number of votes in all three provinces his party enjoyed the confidence of all three communities. The reality however is that this was clearly not so. The election campaign in all three provinces was marred by violence, intimidation and malpractices. Even on the day of the election itself, despite all safeguards taken by the Commissioner of Election, there were several incidents reported by the independent monitors. As one of the monitors candidly reported, the elections could not be deemed to have been free and fair. Most political observers would agree that the only winner in this election was the Commissioner of Elections, Mahinda Deshapriya. The eighteenth amendment had tied his hands by taking away many of the powers he had enjoyed under the seventeenth amendment. Yet, with the restricted powers he had, he tried his best to ensure a level playing field for all candidates. The nation is fortunate to have a person of such professional integrity as our Election Commissioner. Under the 17th Amendment, for instance, the Election Commission could prohibit the use of state resources by any political party. The 18th Amendment restricts this power only to matters directly connected to the holding of the election. This becomes vague and is open to various interpretations. While the Commissioner did exercise his right and prohibited the use of state bungalows as election offices, the government was able to get away with using state vehicles on the premise that they were not directly connected to the election. Another feature of the 17th Amendment was that Commissioner could issue guidelines to the media on the coverage of the election campaign. If an electronic media persisted in ignoring these guidelines, the Commissioner could appoint a Competent Authority to manage the TV or radio station. This has happened before. But the 18th Amendment has removed this power of the Commission. Now the media is only required to take all necessary steps to comply with the guidelines. Violence in the East All elections in recent years have had gross violations of the laws and guidelines for the conduct of a free and fair poll. In that sense, it could probably be said that the level of violence and malpractices in the four districts of the Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provinces, both inter-party and intra-party, was not more than in previous years. This was also largely true of the Trincomalee district. But the thuggery, intimidation and violence against candidates who were not contesting under the banner of the ruling government coalition in the Ampara and Batticaloa districts reached unprecedented and unacceptable levels. That this was led by persons who hold ministerial positions in the government is a cause for additional concern. This, of course, is a part of the trend towards lawlessness in the country where the perpetrators who enjoy political patronage are able get away with their crimes. The Police have to take a large share of the blame for this. They turned a blind eye to violence perpetrated by government supporters. This was particularly bad in the eastern Ampara district and in the northern Batticaloa district. On the eve of polling day, at the request of the Election Commissioner, the IGP sent another SSP to take over election duties but it was too late. the violence against and intimidation of SLMC supporters particularly in the Sammanturai and Pottuvil polling division and against TNA supporters in the Kalkudah polling division was horrendous. But it is to the credit of the voter that majority of them withstood the intimidation and came to the polling booth. They seem to have had the strength of character not to cast their votes for the perpetrators of violence. Yes, a significant number were intimidated into staying at home and not casting their vote. This would have made a difference in polling areas where the margin between the two leading parties was small. But apart from that, the conduct of the election on polling day seems to have gone well. The election monitors have not reported any misconduct within the polling booths and in the counting of votes at the different locations. For this again, the credit should go the Election Commissioner and his staff for their attention to detail and for ensuring that at least this part of the election was free and fair. In the Sabaragamuwa and North central Provinces, the voting pattern was roughly on the 60-40 lines as in previous elections. This means that, despite the unpopularity of the governing coalition on their handling of various social, economic and political issues, the choice of the voters has not changed. Why is this so? To all intents and purposes, at present the UNP remains the only party capable of forming an alternative government. But the voter is obviously of the opinion that the UNP as presently constituted is incapable of providing that alternate leadership. It is not for outsiders to tell the UNP why and how they should re-constituted. But the leadership must have the vision and the humility to understand that the party as now is at a dead-end. There is no way they can move forward; they have to take some steps back and change strategy. The current leadership of both factions of the Party seem incapable of pulling the party out of the present rut. This may have been possible a few years ago but now the party requires new blood – a new leadership that can unite the party and have the dynamism, a vision and a strategy to chart a new course that can build on the traditional UNP voter base. It is a tragedy that a national party (multi-ethnic and multi-religious) which undoubtedly is the only party capable of forming an alternative government should not be able to gain even 12% of the votes in the multi-ethnic and multi-religious Eastern province. The UNP of the past always had candidates of all three major communities contesting and getting elected to Parliament on the party ticket from 1947 onwards, unlike its rival the SLFP which has yet to boast of an elected Tamil Member of Parliament. The present UNP is in the same position as the SLFP. Both parties cannot field a winning Tamil candidate to Parliament either in the North or East. Ethnic Polarisation President Mahinda Rajapaksa has tried to make out that by getting the most number of seats in the Eastern Province his government has the support of all three major communities. In fact, the results show that under his leadership the three communities are more polarized than ever before. In all the predominantly Tamil polling divisions, the TNA has won a sweeping victory. According to the 2007 census estimates, the eastern Province had a Tamil population of 40.39%. In this election, the TNA has secured 30.59% of the vote. The Muslims had an estimated population of 37.64% and the SLMC secured 20.98% of the votes. And these two parties secured these votes despite the violence and intimidation directed against these parties, despite the lack of a level playing field. Intra-party conflicts seem to have also played some part, perhaps more than in previous elections. In the Anuradhapura District, this has led to extreme violence, including deaths. When the Chief Minister is selected, we can expect more of it and back-stabbing as well. In the Trincomalee District, the principal candidate of the National Freedom Front did sufficiently well to earn for himself a seat in the Council, despite the dirty tricks allegedly employed by the UPFA. The SLMC was affected by some internal rivalries, yet they triumphed , even in areas where their candidates were subject to violence. Internal rivalries however did affect their performance in the Batticaloa district. Former Chief Minister Chandrakanthan (aka Pillayan) also did well to secure re-election, the only Tamil elected on the UPFA list. The TNA did well to secure perhaps over 80% of the Tamil votes. In the Batticaloa district, it appears that many villages with a traditional TNA voter base were prevented by intimidation/thuggery from going to the polls. Karen Press, the South African poet, whose poem appears above has spoken about a former anti-apartheid activist in her own country. But the poem can clearly apply to former war lords in Sri Lanka who now masquerade as respectable democrats. The poem is part of a longer one. In another part, the poet writes: You once had to try and survive death by wet bag torture….. Does your car compensate for that? Is that what makes you feel you deserve the bespoke suit and shirt and tie stretched round your swollen neck? I worry that you’ll think this question snide or cynical. It isn’t – I want to know if that’s the reasoning that works for your integrity. One such war lord campaigned hard for his sister to be elected and then for her to be made Chief Minister. He ridiculed and insulted the incumbent Chief Minister from his own party. Through his sister, he perhaps wanted to be Commander of the Eastern Province as he once was when the law of the jungle prevailed. In the end, his sister could not even get herself elected to the Council. Such people can, employing their old ways, prevent voters from going to the polling booth but they cannot prevent people once inside the polling both from rejecting them outright. One supposes that the Mahinda Rajapaksa government has to clutch at any straw and rely on such war lords to show that they have minorities within their government, But it does not make for reconciliation with the minorities, nor does it make for good governance and the country’s stability as one nation. We can end with another three lines from Karen Press’ poem: "I hope all this has meaning for you, this ugly life you’ve chosen after so much struggle." UPALI NEWSPAPERS (PVT) LTD Copyright © Upali Newspapers (Pvt) Ltd.
lørdag 15. september 2012
The election campaign in all three provinces was marred by violence, intimidation and malpractices. Even on the day of the election itself, despite all safeguards taken by the Commissioner of Election, there were several incidents reported by the independent monitors. As one of the monitors candidly reported, the elections could not be deemed to have been free and fair. !!!
Posted by Shan Nalliah / GANDHIYIST at lørdag, september 15, 2012