25th November 2001

The Sunday Times on the Web















Clinically 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 politic. 

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 date. 

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 the future. 

As far as the immediately forthcoming poll is concerned however, we have nothing to do but to give ourselves up to despair.

More News/Comment
Return to News/Comment
News/Comment Archives


Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to
The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.