As the countdown begins for the provincial polls to be held in Uva, doubts mount whether the alleged rising toll of violence will incline the election commissioner to make good his threat and order the postponement of the entire election or hold it in stages. This time next Sunday, whether the nation will be able [...]


Cry wolf and raise Uva polls alarm


As the countdown begins for the provincial polls to be held in Uva, doubts mount whether the alleged rising toll of violence will incline the election commissioner to make good his threat and order the postponement of the entire election or hold it in stages.

This time next Sunday, whether the nation will be able to have a fair idea as to how the weathercock of public opinion has turned or whether the people’s right to exercise their franchise has been put on ice, none can say today. Perhaps, not even Mahinda Deshapriya, the polls chief, or Mahinda Rajapaksa, the country’s president.

Though Mr. Deshapriya seems to be doing a valiant job in trying to hold an election in difficult circumstances and displays all the signs of a man fraught with worry, his televised talk that he might postpone the elections reveals that he maybe one whose heart is not in his job. Evidently he hasn’t heard the saying, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough gets going’; and cries that the Uva election is not going to be the cakewalk he thought it would be. His readiness to throw in the towel at the first whiff of trouble is somewhat perturbing.

The holding of elections is a serious affair and must be taken seriously by the man in charge of holding it. It is the sacred expression of a people’s fundamental right to elect their representatives. It is the exercise of a people’s sovereign right. It is not a private party hosted by Mr. Deshapriya with him reserving a right to postpone it in case it suddenly rains.

On September 5, he holds a news conference where he announces his dismay over the violence prevailing in the province and, quoting section and sub section of the Provincial Councils Act, he declares he has the legal power to postpone the election for a period of fourteen days and that he would do if the situation did not improve.

He says he had held talks with the senior DIGs and all OICs in the area and all were 100 per cent in agreement that the situation can be controlled; and he expresses his hope that IGP N. K. Illangakoon would give strict instructions to his subordinates to take immediate steps to curb the violence in the Uva province, especially the Moneragala district. He also says opposition activists who spoke with him had also indicated their expectation that the situation will be brought under control.

But despite the show of optimism expressed by all around him, Mr. Deshapriya suffers from a sense of despondency and warns: “But I will not discard this action. If there is an incident or a situation, I will take action. Once the nominations are received it is the Elections Commissioner and no one else that decides when the elections will be held. Under section 26 of the Provincial Council Elections Act No. 2 of 1988, the Elections Commissioner has the power to postpone the election by fourteen days if the situation in a district gets out of control.” By last Sunday, about 56 complaints had been received by the Election Commissioner’s office.

Then on Wednesday morning he holds a press conference and tells the media that he may call for a postponement of the elections if the violence should increase. That same Wednesday afternoon, however, he holds another press conference and then tells media personnel that the police had assured him that the situation will be contained. Therefore, he says he will not postpone the elections. For a man who changes his mind twice within the course of the day, what guarantee do we have that he will not falter in his resolve as he has hitherto demonstrated in the days to come?

What is this violence that the Commissioner had been talking of on September 5 and why, if there was violence of such a serious nature as to drive the situation out of control as required by the Provincial Act to justify a postponement, was it not in his power to order — not merely request or hope — the law enforcing authorities to contain it? Did Parliament intend to merely have a straw dust stuffed scarecrow in charge of the polling field to shoo away the rogue birds, without first arming him with legal provisions to enforce his writ? Isn’t there a duty on the part of the police to act on the directions of the polls chief?

But let’s consider the number of complaints lodged at the Election Commission and their nature and see whether it justifies the Commissioner to have yelled ‘wolf, wolf,’ in the first instance on September 5?

According to the latest official figures issued by the Elections Commissioners office on Friday evening, there have been 212 complaints of violence. Only 7 of these complaints are regarded by the officials as serious and those too involve mainly attacks on opposition party offices. The balance 205 complaints are minor election law violations such as misuse of state property etc.

Hardly the sort of figures to give the Election Chief the jitters and make him quake in his shoes like a quivering mass of jelly, now is it?
Does the actual state of affairs justify even the talk of postponing elections or holding it on a staggered basis which gave the opposition the shakes and led them to a frantic state of panic which even moved the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to make a special statement in parliament on the issue? And what would postponement or a staggered poll have achieved? If the law enforcing authorities are unable to create a peaceful environment now, what guarantee is there that they will be able to do so within two weeks? The mind boggles, does it not, when one considers the crabwise train of the Polls Chief’s thoughts?

When the complaints were 56 seven days ago Mr. Deshapriya, despite assurances by the DIGs threatens to take action if there is an incident or a situation. When the number of complaints has topped the 200 mark, he declares the police have assured him all is well and thus he will not be postponing the elections.

Perhaps the Elections Commissioner, suddenly faced with a more than usual bouts of attacks, feels a sense of dire impotency to handle the crisis without the powers and independent legal status the office he holds once commanded until they were robbed by the 18th Amendment, an enactment which plundered the people’s rights whilst the nation was on a ecstatic high in a never ending celebration of winning the terrorist war.
But then Mr. Deshapriya would never have known of the immense responsibilities the post held and the respect it commanded. For he was appointed as Elections Commissioner only in March 2011, just three months after the 18th Amendment was enacted in 2010 November and would never have experienced life as an independent commissioner as did his predecessors before 2010.

As a result, neither can he imagine what strife and duties, what challenges and troubles others before him would have had to face in holding general elections and a presidential election in 1987 and 1988 respectively when the JVP unleashed a terror wave and ordered the deaths of anyone who dared to vote or campaign, who killed people for pasting posters, who threatened journalists who reported to work, who brought the life of the nation to a standstill by the issue of a single, simple writ.

On the contrary Mr. Deshapriya has had it easy, far too easy maybe to do the job in tiring situations when the best steel is called for, to endure the strongest heat. Life on a rose bed seems to have made him go soft.

All the elections held after 2009 were a cakewalk for the UPFA. There was no need to flay the comatose opposition which was rendered paralysed the day Prabhakaran lay dead on the banks of the Nathankudi lagoon. With the masses in a stupor of chauvinistic pride, the UPFA Government could not only do as it desired with the Constitution but do so as it pleased when it came to a slavishly grateful electorate. Elections were held with the result known beforehand, not because there was any fraud — there was no need to — but merely for the purpose of record and for the glee it afforded the UPFA ego to gild refined gold, to paint another blue on the rainbow.

But the Uva elections is different from the rest. Time has dulled the 2009 triumph, the martial music is fading in the distance and a people groggy are gingerly beginning to rise. Before the holding of the all important general and presidential elections next year or so, the UPFA has arrived at its last post, at its last barometer to check on the pulse of the people. And suddenly Uva has become important to determine whether it spells out the first omens of things to come.

An Uva win for UPFA next Sunday will ring the death knell of the opposition UNP. An Uva defeat for the UPFA will be the beginning of the end. Uva cannot be kept waiting to deliver its verdict. Neither can the rest of Lanka.

Rambuk’s ‘right to info’ poppycock


According to the chief government spokesman Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, the Lankan people do not require a Right to Information Act.
In a recent interview with a Sunday newspaper, he says: “There is more than enough access to information. In Sri Lanka, democracy is such that the government has only two TV channels whereas there are over twenty TV channels owned by the private sector. In print media, the government has only one Sinhala, one Tamil and one English newspaper — the rest is owned by the private sector. I do not know what the urgency is to bring an act. An act is needed only in a country where public has no access to such rights.”

But hasn’t the minister lost the point completely? That the need to have a right to information law is not dependent upon the number of newspapers or TV channels privately owned. The degree of private ownership of the media cannot act as the barometer of democracy.
For example, a country may have over a hundred newspapers privately owned but with a government censorship, either official or unofficial, in operation. Secondly even without censorship, access to vital information may be barred.

Nay, the purpose of a Right to Information Act is to empower every citizen with a right in law to obtain relevant information from government institutions and to impose upon those institutions a legal duty to provide it. Only then can this country boast of a true democracy where freedom of the press is not determined by the number of newspapers in private hands but on the quality, relevancy and ambit of information they have access to as of right. Only a legal right to information will enable the obtaining of the information required to serve as the basis upon which there can be meaningful discussion and debate. Without such a legal right, any talk of there being transparency in government is pure bosh.

As the 19th century British pioneering newspaper baron Lord Northcliff said: News is what someone, somewhere is trying to suppress. Everything else is advertising.” By the Right To Information Act what the Lankan people are demanding is legal access to real news, news as defined by Lord Northcliff,. Not access to nauseous rivers of free advertising hype.

Dare the ice kiss challenge

The ten million buck lip lock


Forget the ice bucket challenge. That’s for kids. Take the ice kiss challenge instead and literally put your money where your mouth is. It’s all for a good cause.

Money kisses: Liz Hurley with Indian playboy

Money kisses: Liz Hurley with Indian playboy

This week an Indian millionaire’s 27-year-old son Julian Bharti, took it and planted a smacker on Hollywood film actress Liz Hurley’s luscious lips. It cost him 50,000 British pounds or in Lankan money 10 million bucks. He shelled out some serious dough to have this lip-lock so that Liz Hurley could donate it all to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

In recent times other stars, too, have been paid big money to be donated to their favourite charities. Julia Roberts was paid 40,000 US dollars to have an intimate lunch with an admirer; Harrison Ford was paid 28,000 US dollars by a fan to have dinner with him but Hurley’s kiss was the first time things turned publicly physical.

But those of you, loaded with daddy’s hard earned grafts, who wish to splash it out on a smoocher with the girl you admire or with someone you just happen to run into at the Wariyapola bus terminal, be warned. However noble the cause, how so much honourable your intentions, and how sweet your breath may seem to you, Lankan culture makes kissing a strictly under the bed sheets affair, with the lights off. Saying it’s to raise money for orphaned kids or stray dogs will not be an adequate defence that will convince any judge to any charge of obscene behaviour or assault.
This kissing to raise money challenge is being touted around as one of the newest crazes to hit the US of A. Funny, they should think so. Always thought it was one of the oldest tricks in history’s trunk.

Reminds me of a Bernard Shaw anecdote which has Shaw travelling in a train compartment with a single unknown lady. He suddenly turns to her and asks, “Madam, if I gave you a million pounds will you sleep with me?” She demurely smiles and says.” I shall think about it.” Then Shaw asks, “But what if I offered you ten pounds? Will you then sleep with me?” The woman’s face lights with anger and she says in a harsh tone, “What impudence? What kind of a woman do you think I am?” to which Bernard Shaw replies:” I have already established that, I am now merely trying to determine the degree.”

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