the polls chief
The Elections Commissioner and, to some extent, the Supreme Court
recently gave the twin concepts of the separation of powers, and
of independence, a shot in the arm by rejecting a plea by the powerful
Presidency and holding that the presidential election was due this
year, and not in 2006 as was argued by the President's advocates.
country's independent institutions, the bulwark of the nation's
foundations for good governance - the public service, the police,
the judiciary, the press, and the Elections Commission - have to
be disengaged from the grip politicians have got on them. And the
Elections Commissioner's courageous stance has enhanced the credibility
of the office he holds.
there's miles to go before Sri Lanka can truly boast that these
elections are conducted in a democratic fashion as is done in the
more exemplary democracies around the world.
Friday, the Commissioner - among the many things he told a news
conference - said he would annul the forthcoming elections if there
were malpractices. He was critical of those who drafted the 17th
Amendment and the thinking behind the Independent Elections Commission.
He rightly asked whether this Commission which says that three Commissioners
shall have to agree on each and every decision taken, will lead
to chaos - especially on voting day. He lamented the nomination
of five lawyers to the Commission (which the President has blocked
anyway for over two years because she does not like the nominated
Chairman). He complained that he did not have the necessary powers
to deal with the media, both State and private; and he pondered
about his own fate as a public servant not allowed to retire despite
what he called was his bad health.
the handsome tribute he deserves for his independence, questions
need to be raised about the role of the Commissioner in particular
and that of successive legislators in recent years in general over
the conduct of elections in this country.
for instance, the fact that the last Presidential Election Report
tabled in Parliament has been of the 1988 elections. And, that the
last Parliamentary Election report was that of 1994.
issue of the role of the state and private media at a time of election
was discussed at last year's General Election, but nothing came
of it. Even the current Opposition went to sleep on it even though
the flagrant misuse of the government-controlled media was a major
cause for their defeat. Now, the Commissioner says that we should
take a serious look at the Indian model.
India, for starters there is a model code of conduct for electioneering.
This code has been formulated by the political parties themselves.
The Indian Election Commission is also empowered to ensure inner-party
democracy - imagine such a provision in Sri Lanka! The Indian Election
Commission can go into the polls performance of political parties
when it comes to registration and recognition. Three-fourths of
Sri Lankan political parties - known as letter-head parties or 'three-wheel
parties' because their entire working committee's can be put into
one three-wheeler - will lose recognition.
Indian Election Commission has quasi-judicial jurisdiction to settle
disputes between splinter groups - imagine the workload here! In
India, even when a petition is filed in their Supreme Court or High
Court on charges of corrupt practices, the Commission is asked for
an opinion. In India, the Election Commission can disqualify someone
who has failed to lodge his or her accounts relating to his or her
expenses - that would surely open a Pandora's box here considering
the slush funds that go into campaigns from the big boys of the
sleazy business world.
Indian Election Commission is there to ensure a 'level playing field'
when it comes to campaigning. The state media is used by the Commission
- and not by the party in power - and that is used for educating
the voter - not for mud-slinging of the opposition. So, no wonder
any independent Commissioner would love to have such powers.
question, however, is "are we the five-star democracy that
we think we are or are we just living in a world of our own, not
knowing that the democratic world has gone places; while we are
just engaged in 'kaivaru politics' or 'verbose politics' with nothing
else to be proud of.
Lanka has been having periodic elections since 1931 - nearly 75
years - and long before India. The women of Sri Lanka had a vote
even before the women of France. But like many other things in Sri
Lanka, the conduct of elections, it seems, has also fallen by the
wayside. Another sad reflection of what has become of this country
in contemporary times.