3rd September 2000

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  • Elections in the dark
  • Law breakers

    Elections in the dark

    United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, addressing a meeting of speakers of national parliaments, prior to the millennium summit in New York blasted countries where fig leaf democracy was being practised while some five-star stuff and nonsense is preached.

    Mr. Annan's powerful and prophetic outburst was aimed mainly at countries which go on record or boast of holding regular elections without the lifeblood that comes through the freedom of expression and dynamic diversity of a free media.

    The UN chief was probably not referring directly to Sri Lanka, but the timing and the cap fits and if we do not acknowledge or become aware of the truth about ourselves we may look as ridiculous or scandalous as a preacher wearing only a fig leaf.

    With a little more than a fig leaf left in what was once a paradise like Eden, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar has flown to New York for the millennium summit. We probably might hear a repeat of what he said some two months ago at the Warsaw summit on democracy, eloquently projecting Sri Lanka as a senior citizen in the world of democracy with essential faculties like the free media working at full steam.

    If the Foreign Minister was reflecting the official policy of the Kumaratunga Government, then it would be obvious that what Sri Lanka says abroad does not project the proper picture of what most of his colleagues are practising back at home.

    Despite a chorus of appeals from local and international civic rights groups the Government has decided to continue with the censorship not just on military-related news but even on political news. If widespread ballot-stuffing, impersonation, intimidation and horrors like Wayamba 1999 were not enough to project the fig leaf image, now we are going to have the first general election where the ruling party has the power to stop, doctor or distort news relating to other parties

    While the state media are given a free hand to propagandise the Government's message and lampoon its opponents the independent media are facing the sword of the Competent Authority.

    Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera had in a letter to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) assured that the media censorship would be lifted before the launching of the General Election campaign. But that promise also now seems to be just like the Government's other promises on Media Freedom. The CPJ has again appealed to President Kumaratunga to ensure that independent journalists are allowed to report and comment freely without fear of reprisals if the General Election is to be free and fair.

    The world is watching this facade while Sri Lanka slips from having been one of the finest democracies in the world, and certainly one of the few in Asia to just another Banana Republic.

    On the opposite page our Defence Correspondent reports on how the ongoing censorship and a ban on media visits to Jaffna have denied the public a true picture of what's happening up there.

    Readers will know that the election results in the North can play a vital part in the statistics of the national vote count.

    Law breakers

    As the campaign for the General Election 2000 begins from tomorrow we are about to see the blatant violations of election laws once again.

    This is happening not only in the wheeler-dealer back rooms where political alignments are being changed like pawns on a chessboard but also openly on public highways. Not only that, the poster-pasting offences show the faces of Cabinet Ministers themselves. Along with that we again see the pathetic picture of police officers watching helplessly as in Wayamba where ballot-stuffing gangs reportedly stuffed some ballots into a police officer's hat.

    Those who want to be our law makers first must become law-keepers not law-breakers.

    If our law makers cannot be law keepers, then it is not only a question of posters but also that of an alarming writing on the wall.

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