The two main political parties, the UNP and the SLFP at 70 and 65 respectively, celebrated their anniversaries over the past two weeks. In the meantime, however, the National Elections Commission (NEC) has re-launched a campaign to get eligible voters to register for next year because the level of interest has seemingly, waned. That disinterest [...]


Are People losing faith in elections?


The two main political parties, the UNP and the SLFP at 70 and 65 respectively, celebrated their anniversaries over the past two weeks. In the meantime, however, the National Elections Commission (NEC) has re-launched a campaign to get eligible voters to register for next year because the level of interest has seemingly, waned.

That disinterest among the public is alarming given the fact that voting at elections was one of the high points of Sri Lanka’s democracy. The NEC Chairman didn’t give reasons for the drop in enthusiasm, but the inference can only be attributed to the general apathy creeping in with the political environment in the country. Are people getting tired of elections, and the outcome of such elections? Do they feel their mandate means little or nothing when post-elections see even defeated candidates get ministerial posts?

The Minister of Local Government is like a President’s Counsel seeking dates (postponements) when he has a bad brief. He has now said the long overdue local government elections will be held in February next year, about the third time he has given a date. The time period of 335 local councils around the country lapsed this year, and many last year.

The delay in holding fresh elections has been put on the doorstep of the National Delimitation Commission tasked in 2012 with carving up new wards and relate d matters, and a committee that was to go into complaints on what the Commission has recommended. Yet, the report of the committee has been ready from June this year and it is the Government that is asking it to delay its handing over.

The reasons are clear; the SLFP’s internal strife has to be settled first. There is a real danger that the mainstream SLFP could come a poor third to the UNP and those within the party challenging its agenda – much like what happened to the German Chancellor’s party recently, though for different reasons. In the process, Special Commissioners have been appointed under the Local Authority Act by the Minister. They have been vested with all the powers enjoyed by the elected councillors except to pass resolutions. Sometimes they do a better job than all the elected representatives put together sans political interference; but sometimes they can be disasters.

The Colombo Municipality is currently in bad shape. The capital city’s roads are in shambles. Our INSIGHT story last week pointed out how the mere paving of sidewalks around the proposed Theatre District in Colombo 7 has so far taken nine months and workmen are present for just two hours a day. The report brought a flood of letters this week to the newspaper from irate rate payers from around the country complaining about the roads dug up and little or no work being done in and around where they live, particularly in the densely populated Colombo and the Dehiwela-Mount Lavinia areas. Garbage clearance is at a standstill in some towns and the people are voiceless.

As the people have to grin and bear until the SLFP gets its house in order for the local council polls, the Minister who invoked these Special Commissioners on the orders of the high command will have to take a more pro-active role in seeing they work. No wonder, there is apathy among voters to register.
Lessons from Malaysia
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made waves during his official visit to Sri Lanka last week with some remarks that saw his detractors slamming him – and the UN, for double standards. His local protectors were more loyal than the King himself, or holier than the Pope in defending him. (Ref. page 1 story by our Diplomatic Editor).

After all, with the UN Human Rights Council sessions set to begin next week in Geneva it is understandable that the Government is keen on being in the UN’s good books. While the country was still digesting the UNSG’s flippant remarks in Colombo, not too far away at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, we saw a serious breach of personal and diplomatic security and a gross violation of the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations, Consular Relations and the protection of Diplomatic Conventions. As the media widely reported, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Malaysia was set upon by a group of thugs and mercilessly assaulted. That it happened in a secured area of the airport only compounded the matter.

While the Malaysian Government continues to investigate the incident, the issue of Sri Lanka’s diaspora, especially the pro-Eelam lobby, comes up for investigation as well. The new Government is straining every sinew to win them over. The Foreign Minister has led the crusade, literally going the extra mile to countries like Britain, the United States and Norway, where they are present in their numbers to tell them that, today in Sri Lanka, there is a new and sympathetic Government in power and place. Unfortunately, most ‘Tigers’, don’t lose their stripes.

The fault lies very much with Colombo. Vigilance is the best guarantee of liberty and though the ‘war’ is over with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the bitter after-taste of defeat on the battlefield lingers in some quarters. That is why the Security Forces keep saying to the politicians that mass scale troop withdrawals from the North ought not to be a natural process to defeating the LTTE, and that the UN chief is talking through his cap when he echoes the sentiments of the diaspora asking the Forces to pull out of the North of Sri Lanka. The recent “incident” at the Jaffna University is not to be taken lightly as an isolated “incident”.

Why is there a degree of blame with Colombo? It is because, unlike in the past, no instructions are sent nowadays to Sri Lanka’s missions overseas on how to handle the hostile LTTE-leaning diaspora. In years gone by, Sri Lankan missions received at least two circulars annually on account of ‘Black July” and in November for ‘Mahaveerer Day’ when there are events to commemorate the July 1983 anti-Tamil riots in Sri Lanka, and the late LTTE leader’s birthday, respectively. Missions were asked to monitor what was happening in their countries and be in close touch with the local law enforcement agencies. Post-2009, after the defeat of the LTTE, the month of May was added to this ‘watch list’ as it was marked as a ‘Genocide Month’.

Since January 2015, all this monitoring has fallen by the wayside and there has been the single-minded pursuit of cultivating the diaspora, but that too, limited to the Global Tamil Forum in the false assumption that it is ‘the sole representative of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora’. This is far from reality, and a large number of mushroom groups, spread over many countries, wanting to make their mark by dramatic events – like what happened in Malaysia last week, are active. Some are dismayed that the Sri Lanka Government is reaching out only to the GTF, which is anyway somewhat like singing to the choir.

The Foreign Ministry’s Counter Terrorism Unit is now defunct and fringe elements peddling the LTTE ideology are having a field day overseas uploading on the web all their anti-Sri Lanka Government events. This is how the ISIS indoctrinates the next generation of radical elements and spurs them on to violent agitation. The Kuala Lumpur incident is therefore an eye-opener for the Government and someone had better take note.


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