No pol, but polls
The hallowed time-tested principle of democracy being the government of the people, for the people and by the people is largely a cliché or just cheap words in the constitutions of most countries including Sri Lanka. Most people are cynical or sarcastic when they hear their political party leaders talking of democratic norms such as the sovereignty of the people.

In real terms, the sovereignty or the supremacy of the people and the precept that power is in their hands while the government is only in office to act on their behalf have been reduced to a joke, political drama or mockery. To a large extent, the people are sovereign or have the right to exercise their supreme power only on election days. Even that little sovereignty or supremacy is further undermined because of the way in which elections are being rigged these days, wholesale ballot-stuffing and widespread impersonation while most polls also rocked by killings and other forms of violence such as threats and thuggery.

It is in such a crisis-ridden, if not, catastrophic situation that Sri Lanka is going in for two more elections in the North Central Province and the Sabaragamuwa Province. These elections, nominations for which will be called from tomorrow, come in the aftermath of the infamous Eastern Provincial Council election which was marred by allegations of widespread violence with one party being allowed to even carry arms. Ballot stuffing and impersonation were alleged to have taken place on an unprecedented scale, similar to the huge fraud that was enacted in the Wayamba Provincial Council elections, some ten years ago. This alleged wholesale rigging is now before the Appeal Court and we do not wish to comment except to cite the allegation by the petitioners who say that in some polling booths of the Ampara district the turnout was as ridiculously high as 95 percent. Such huge turnouts are generally claimed in bogus or fake democracies where party systems have been replaced by one-man shows or family rule.

The decision to dissolve the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils from midnight on Monday - more than one year before their terms expire - has been bitterly condemned and challenged by the two main opposition parties, the UNP and the JVP. The main opposition UNP has already gone to the Supreme Court with a fundamental rights petition challenging the validity of the dissolution. The opposition parties claimed that if the ruling UPFA administration in the two provinces did not have a majority in the council, then the governors should have consulted leaders of other parties before dissolving the councils.

The opposition parties are also accusing the government of dissolving the two councils and focusing attention on the upcoming polls in those provinces to divert the attention of the people from the difficult, if not impossible, issues such as the worst-ever cost-of-living crisis, the crumbling economy and other issues. As was widely seen in the Eastern Province, it is likely that almost the entire jumbo cabinet and their supporters or goon squads will be in the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces. This might create a situation where, like in the Eastern Province, we might see a possible outbreak of killing or violence, intimidation, threats, widespread impersonation or ballot-stuffing. If what opposition political parties claim or fear is coloured by party interests, then the statement made by an independent election monitoring group on Friday needs to set bells tolling about another death blow to democracy.

The monitoring group, the People's Action Front for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), was accused by the UNP of being biased, prejudiced or pro-government during last month's Eastern Province elections. PAFFREL chief Kingsley Rodrigo in a statement on Friday said the decision to dissolve the councils and hold fresh elections next month might be used by armed groups fighting against the state to rationalize their struggle.

"If the Provincial Councils could be so easily dissolved mid-term according to the whims of the ruling party instead of providing minority groups a wider participation in governance by devolving power to the PCs formed as a solution to the ethnic conflict, the projected message will not be all that positive," he warned, echoing the views of millions of people who are tired of such elections and sick of the regular rigging that turns the poll into a farce and fiasco at a hundreds of millions of rupees in dwindling public funds.

In any event, it is widely agreed that the provincial council system itself - virtually forced down our throats by big brother India in one of its most aggressive acts - is flawed by duplication of work through the notorious concurrent list and even duplicity with scores of provincial ministers doing little more than enjoying perks and privileges at public expense.
So for millions of people, it will be a case of telling them to stuff poll cards down their throats to ease their hunger when the prices of their pol and other items are beyond the reach of other food items.


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