5th December 1999

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Repugnant idea of foreign monitors

Foreign poll monitors are scheduled to be in Sri Lanka for the vital Presiden- tial poll on the 21st. International monitors may be welcome; but this shouldn't obscure the fact that there is yet something repugnant about having to invite international monitors 65 years after winning the right of universal adult franchise.

Since that time in the beginning of this century, Sri Lankans have enjoyed clean elections upto 1977. But, thereafter, except barring perhaps the year 1994, we have not been able to have a single clean election which has now necessitated in obtaining a foreign stamp of approval each time a poll is in the offing.

What foreign monitors can do to ensure free and fair elections anyway is questionable. Usually they end up being ferried to and fro in helicopters being virtually granted guided tours. One of the other points about foreign observers that is less than healthy, is the fact that their missions have to depend on government logistical support and facilities. This is quite different to local monitors.

The deployment of foreign observers has probably underscored the fact that the best alternative for avoiding poll rigging, the National ID, has never been hitherto properly considered. In the hoary days one used to shout out a name to stand up and be counted, but now every sophisticate and every country bumpkin carries the national identity card instead . It may be a piece of plastic, but at every checkpoint and public building the identity card is the potent password in these increasingly impersonal age of ours.

Since people are required to enter their identity card numbers when registering to vote it can be asked why they are then not required to produce the same when preparing to cast their ballot.

A very well respected public servant and Elections Commissioner of the past, Felix Dias Abeyasinghe making his report on one national election over which he presided proposed that the system of daubing every voter's finger with indelible ink be dropped. The ink factor may add to the mystery and the gravitas associated with elections, but does nothing by way of preventing fraud because a simple pineapple concoction is said to erase all traces of the so called "indelible mark.'' He said that it is a bad reflection on the national character to have people so inked at the polls; but having made people undergo this ignominy for decades after independence, we are yet fighting shy of asking them to produce their national identity cards at the polls. Wonder why?

Real enemy scores

The LTTE, flexing its unweakened muscles with just weeks to go be- fore the presidential election, has within seven days cut the ground from under the feet of a smug PA administration which painstakingly cultivated the Tamil vote banks. The PA first proposed a now fatherless devolution package to sidle upto the EPDP, PLOTE, SLMC and similar minority parties, also believing that the package will ultimately deliver to them the larger Tamil vote.

In this process the government alienated the larger majority including the powerful public and civic lobbies such as trade unions professionals, the media, the clergy of all faiths the judiciary to such an extent that in some quarters it is almost discernible that there is some vicarious pleasure when the government gets walloped by the LTTE in the North East.

This of course discounts the reality that the inefficient management of the war which has resulted in this situation has inflicted immense losses on the country, its people and the exchequer while the LTTE on the other hand has made tremendous military gains. The people of the North have undergone immense suffering in the last 15 years because successive Sinhala governments have not been able to grapple with the real problem, being too busy chasing bogeys and imaginary enemies in the South without concentrating on the real enemy. Inevitably they must pay for this omission. Unfortunately the Nation pays as well in the process.

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