24th September 2000
The future of democracy in Sri Lanka appears to hang on the fundamental question whether the Commissioner of Elections will be able to hold the coming Parliamentary Election in a free and fair manner to a substantial extent if not entirely.
The Commissioner of Elections is responsible only to Parliament and thereby to the people. If a group of disorganised persons indulge in electoral malpractices at an election, the Elections Commissioner has the ability to stop it. However, if a ruling party in power does it in a most organised manner, the Elections Commissioner does not have the power to face such a challenge. This is why the country needs an Election Commission with wide powers. Although the People's Alliance in its election manifesto of 1994 promised that the Elections Commissioner would be given all the necessary powers without delay, that promise remains unfulfilled to date. The PA government failed to make a positive response even to the request made by the European Union that an Election Commission be set up in view of the Presidential Election of '99. Reportedly, it was during the UNP administration that organised election malpractices became institutionalised. It was then a process that occurred in some election centres chosen in an extremely haphazard manner. Allegedly, the favourite method used was to get an armed group to force themselves into polling centres, seize the ballot papers and stuff the ballot boxes. However, due to criticism the UNP government was able to hold the Local Government Election of '91 and the subsequent elections in a free and fair manner.
It is reported that the Wayamba Provincial Council Election held in January '99 was the highest peak of election malpractice. The number of polling centres where it was officially reported that armed groups forced themselves into polling booths and used the ballot papers, was as large as 215. The government was however compelled to conduct the subsequent Provincial Council Elections in a free and fair manner to some extent. The Presidential Election of '99 allegedly became an electoral plunder conducted in an extremely subtle manner.
It is alleged that bogus ballot papers similar to those printed in the Government Press have been used. The ballot papers used at the Presidential Election of '99 could not have been destroyed. It is the responsibility of the Elections Commissioner to find out whether there are bogus ballot papers among them etc. If the bogus ballot papers that have been used have been passed for the PA, and if the number was substantial enough to have an effect on the PA's victory then, that election result too should be made null and void. However, the opposition parties have not paid adequate attention to this question.
Due to a complaint received by the Elections Commissioner that bogus polling cards have been made elsewhere, he had to think of a way by which bogus polling cards could be identified. The view of the Government Printer is that the bogus polling cards handed over to the Elections Commissioner by the complainant are not those printed at the Government Press.
It was as a means of meeting the challenge that had arisen that the Elections Commissioner was compelled to use a special sticker for polling cards. This did not please the government. The government tried through the CID to sabotage that action of the Elections Commissioner by taking into custody a part of the stickers that were being made. The government is reported to have even prepared to arrest the Elections Commissioner under "The Prevention of Terrorism Act". If not for strong advice by the Attorney General, the plan to arrest the Elections Commissioner might have been carried out.
An important theatrical episode was to get a PA National List candidate to make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission against the Elections Commissioner. Surprisingly, the Human Rights Commission started an inquiry into the matter with immediate effect.
The petitioner is not a candidate of the PA but functions as a Director of the Broadcasting Corporation under Minister Samaraweera. Ms. Manori Muttettuwegama who functions as a member of the Commission is not only a candidate of the PA, but is also a Director of the Lake House which is under Minister Samaraweera. Mr. Sarath Cooray too who is another member of the Commission is an Advisor of the Lake House under Mr. Samaraweera. The Chairman of the Commission is a Legal Advisor to Minister Samaraweera. It is as if a complaint made for Minister Samaraweera's political necessity is to be inquired into by a Board of Judges appointed by himself.
By Anura Bandaranaike
My father was perhaps the country's greatest democrat. He felt for democracy from the bottom of his heart. He died for it.
He was the first leader of this country to lay down his life, for what he believed in. He was a total and genuine democrat. He felt that from the bottom of his heart, with his background, his commitment his British education and all that.
I recall there was a cartoonist called Collette in the Lake House. He used to lampoon my father everyday. They were really derogatory cartoons and it was most annoying and most insulting. But my father used to love them. In a sense that he used to kind of feel left out if he did not figure in a cartoon.
He never felt any resentment or anger when he was attacked. I still remember one day when there was no cartoon about him, he laughingly remarked that Collette has forgotten him. He was inviting that kind of invective attack on him because he did not mind it at all. I wish Chandrika also learned from that.
Our education abroad, though it was done by my mother, was initiated by my father. He felt that all three of us would benefit by some kind of international exposure to another culture, to another kind of system. And I think we have benefited by it. I hope that Chandrika's education in France has filtered down to members of the Cabinet and their positions at least on the political front.
The Sri Lanka Freedom party, which my father founded has now ceased to exist. All the objectives he worked for and died for have been lost. Particularly the Pancha Maha Bala Vegaya, the better part of the Govikamkaru concept, has been lost and the Maha Sangha, for the first time has turned completely against the SLFP.
Furthermore, even the die-hard SLFPers like Lakshman Jayakody and K.B. Ratnayake have been left out and total traitors like Varatharaja Perumal who can't get even five votes in this country, who are considered to be the outrageous traitors, are to be brought into Parliament. In that context, the hand symbol has been sacrificed, the party identity has been sacrificed and the die-hards also have been sacrificed, there is no future for the SLFP.
I want to add that in the election of a General Secretary of the SLFP, for the first time there was a contest. My sister's choice, S.B. Dissanayake was challenged by her own Cabinet ministers. And he only won by a majority of four.
Sixteen for, twelve against. The President openly canvassed for him. With all that he only won by a tiny majority. It is a clear indication that the SLFP resents her stature in the party. All these examples culminate in the fact that her over-riding authority over the party is challenged by the party itself.
They first sidelined my mother and brought in Ratnasiri Wickremanayake by the back door. Then, S.B. Dissanayake won by the skin of his teeth as General Secretary. All the old traditional SLFPers are being sidelined. So there is really no SLFP left today. Chandrika is totally responsible for that.
It is also highlighted by the fact that in her absence, not being able to campaign, she has found that the only person who can campaign for her is Prime Minister Wickremanayake, who is one of the worst campaigners you can find. He has an abrasive, annoying personality. He doesn't please anybody. That shows that she has no second rank at all. No second liners at all. Even if there are second liners, she has sidelined them, like Mahinda Rajapakse, Lakshman Jayakody and so on.
Today, his daughter, who is also my sister, is the President of the country. I appeal to her to observe the norms of democracy, to hold a fair and free election and accept the verdict of the people, which may be against her. That in my mind is the greatest tribute she can pay to her father on his 41st death anniversary.
(September 26 (Tuesday) is the Late Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike's 41st death anniversary)
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