Yours - By Dr. Who
Words of our leaders
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth- now it's official and form no less a person than President Chandrika Kumaratunga herself. "Meruwoth Meruwata kamak ne, mithrawaruni; me paara api nikan inne ne" she declared without so much as batting an eyelid at an election rally last week and the message is loud and clear: law and order, justice and fairplay, dignity and decorum will all take a back seat within the next few weeks as the People's Alliance struggles to hold on to power and the United National Front tries to topple the PA from its pedestal.
So, those who make a living out of monitoring elections, others who spend their time counting election offences and categorizing them according to political parties and the few remaining political idiots who are hoping for the stillborn Seventeenth Amendment to put things right, can all pack up and leave. Sorry folks, this election will be one hell of a nightmare and the sooner you realise it the better it is - now that the President herself has given a piece of her mind about what the proceedings would be like, come December 5. Of course, had the Opposition Leader said something like this, he would have been crucified in the state media before he could even say "Eelam denawaa".
Why, they would produce cassettes of the speech and play them before the Mahanayakes and maybe even charge him with aiding and abetting murder. But now, this is the President who is saying it - so there must be a difference. Therefore, let us not bemoan the passing away of the culture of political decency. Instead, let us come to terms with the culture of political thuggery, a culture where the slogan "giya paarath dunna batey; me paarath denawa betey" assumes a literal rather than a metaphorical meaning.
It is a sign of our times that our leaders are best remembered for something they said.
JRJ said the only thing he couldn't do was to change a man into a woman-complete with the characteristic 'koranna' which his opponents delightfully mimicked.
President Premadasa may well be remembered for the 'assassinate me but don't assassinate my character' remark and D. B. Wijetunge did his bit by saying the Sinhalese were the tree and everyone else was a creeper living off it. May be, "meruwoth maranawa" could be what Chandrika Kumaratunga will be remembered for. But wait, there's weeks of campaigning left before the election-who knows, she might say something better!
Focus on Rights - By Kishali Pinto Jayawardene
Priorities for post December
One and a half weeks away from the December polls, it is clear that only
a miracle will save the credibility of the 17th Amendment, as far as its
guaranteeing a tolerable election is concerned.
Up to this point of time, what it has proved to be is a magnificent
failure and an outstanding example of how paper provisions can be defeated
by weak structures of accountability and a irredeemably corrupted body
In this respect, two expressions of regret carrying particularly important
implications for the upcoming December polls were articulated this week.
On Thursday, the Commission for the Monitoring of State Resources during
the Elections, headed by former Supreme Court Judge Ranjith Dheeraratne
bemoaned the fact that the law is being violated with impunity by those
who should know better and expressed extreme concern at the increasing
violence associated with the elections. Particular developments in the
recent times were singled out for notice; the new recruitment into the
Public Service, the salary increases, the promotions with retrospective
effect and the strategic transfers of public officers and police officers.
All of these were seen by the Commission to vitiate the environment
necessary for the conduct of free and fair election and to make a mockery
of the election itself. The continuing horrendous use of public property
for electioneering purposes was also identified as a key concern.
It was pointed out that key public officers and the Commissioner of
Elections seemed to be ineffective and incapable of stopping these illegal
practices. The Commission noted, in fact, that letters which it had written
to the Elections Commissioner on these matters, had gone unanswered to
Two days prior to the statement of the Commission for the Monitoring
of State Resources during the Elections, the head of the European Union
Election Observation Mission, John Cushnahan, back in Sri Lanka for what
has now become a ritual (though hopefully not farcical) monitoring of the
polls, regretted that many of last year's recommendations of the EU Mission
had not "been acted upon." The EU Mission's recommendations, 18 in all,
had included the suggestion that the Commissioner of Elections devise a
code of conduct for candidates and supporters. Suffice to say however that
the possibilities of an exhortatory code of conduct restraining our politicians
gone berserk with power and/or anticipated power is extremely slim, to
say the least. Meanwhile, provisions of the 17th Amendment vesting powers
and functions in the Elections Commissioner were welcomed by the EU Mission,
which however expressed concern about the lack of specific enforcement
powers given to the Commissioner.
In that context and regardless of whichever political party that comes
to power in December, a substantial overhauling of the law enforcing and
restraining the committing of offences and illegal and corrupt practices
during an election period with immediate effect, in other words, before
the actual conducting of the election has become vital. If therefore, the
farce that constitutes elections in Sri Lanka is to be set right at whatever
point of time, serious thought should be given to bringing about not only
appropriate constitutional amendments to the 17th Amendment but changes
to the Parliamentary Elections Act No 1 of 1981 as well.
Interestingly, particular thinking in this regard by present Defence
Secretary Chandrananda de Silva, when he was wearing the far more acceptable
hat of an outspoken Elections Commissioner in 1997, is contained in a study
that he had engaged in for the Colombo based International Centre for Ethnic
Studies (ICES) at that time.
In a thoughtful analysis of Sri Lanka's electoral system vis-a- vis
both Parliamentary and Presidential elections, Mr. de Silva accurately
pinpoints the tensions between the kind of deterrent laws needed to stem
election violations in a first past the post system which prevailed in
Sri Lanka prior to 1978 and the proportional representation (PR) system
which is the current electoral system.
The growing impunity of election laws violators traced by him to the
fact that the laws in force do not have a sufficient deterrent impact on
the party itself as opposed to an individual candidate contesting an election.
In a system which is based on proportional representation, the main contestant
in a parliamentary election for example is the political party or the independent
group for whom a vote is cast and less the candidate himself. He points
out therefore that the election laws need amendment whereby the actions
of commission and omission covered by offences, corrupt and illegal practices
of individuals acting as agents of parties should reverberate to the discredit
of such parties and parties themselves should be made to suffer severe
penalties. The law as it stood in 1997 and indeed, as it stands now, is
wholly deficient in this respect.
In a post December 5 scenario, these are concerns that merit serious
attention. We need sustained legal analysis on the existing lacuna in the
statutory and constitutional law relating to the conducting of elections.
We need public debate on the proposed laws and the normal process of
parliamentary scrutiny resulting in well planned legislation and not some
hasty constitutional amendment brought about by political forces and paraded
as a triumph for democracy when it is anything but. This is however, for
As far as the immediately forthcoming poll is concerned however, we
have nothing to do but to give ourselves up to despair.