- Monday, 15 December 2014
The government is sparing no effort to ensure victory for itself at the forthcoming presidential election. The opposition alliance accuses it of offering their members large sums of money to cross over. This is rejected by those who have been accused of this practice, which leaves the electorate in a state of disquiet and uncertainty, not wishing to believe the worst in those who ought to be champions of the national interest. Those who join the government do not seem to be negotiating any policy changes. Similarly, the situation where it concerns the various groups who are being provided with tangible benefits would be calculated to make them feel grateful and obligated to cast their vote to their benefactors. So far at least the government appears to be focused only on providing short term material benefits to induce those who join it and the electorate in general.
The problem of ensuring free and fair elections in these circumstances has grown to be so challenging in these circumstances that election monitoring organisations, in an unprecedented manner, have issued a joint statement on this matter. They said that “As election observers, whose primary objective is to ensure a free and fair environment for elections, we are concerned about the prevailing conditions. The sovereignty of the people is foremost in a democracy and the legitimacy of the elected leadership arises from the free vote of a country’s constituency.” The main point that the Sri Lankan election monitors seem to be making is that elections should always yield in an outcome that truly reflects the will of the people.
- Monday, 15 December 2014
The run up to Pope Francis’s visit to Sri Lanka was notable for the controversy over the determination of the government to hold Presidential Elections at around the same time. The Vatican is known to have a policy whereby the Holy Father’s presence in a country is not used to purposes of partisan politics by politicians who put power before everything else. In particular, His Holiness will not visit a country for a specified period either before or after an election. This was said to be a month. But it is fortunate for us in Sri Lanka that the Vatican demonstrated flexibility on this issue. It was nevertheless unfortunate that the government’s determination to hold the Presidential Elections around the time of the Pope’s visit led to an escalation of speculation and doubt as to whether this visit would actually take place.
The general environment in the country due to the forthcoming elections is not a positive or reassuring one. Winning the presidency is the goal of both sides. The issues being canvassed at the elections, of corruption, nepotism and betrayal of the country to international interests are highly emotive ones. Violations of election law have occurred on a large scale with the misuse of state property and resources being highlighted by election monitors. There have also been acts of violence that have increased as the election approaches. There is apprehension that the forthcoming weeks will only see a rise in such incidents, which will restrict the space for a free and fair electoral process. There is serious concern that incidents resulting in physical harm to political campaign supporters and members of the general public will increase.
- Monday, 08 December 2014
The political campaign for the presidential elections will begin in earnest after nominations close on December 8. With a close contest expected the ethnic minority vote can be decisive. However, the main Tamil and Muslim parties have yet to make formal decisions regarding which candidate they will support. They have said that they await the respective political programmes of the rival candidates before making their choice. Those parties that have been in the government coalition would hesitate to make their choice in favour of the opposition. Not only would it lead to an immediate loss of their positions in the government. The sense of betrayal on the part of the government could lead to retaliation especially in the aftermath of a victory.
However, the position of the TNA which is the main Tamil party is more nuanced. They have been in the opposition and been totally sidelined by the government during the past ten years. There is little that they have been able to do for the people who voted for them and this is visible in the rural areas of the North and East. Some leaders of the TNA have explained their delay in taking a stance due to concern that the government will use any public support given by them to the opposition to discredit the Opposition Common Candidate amongst the Sinhalese voters. But there is another reason that may explain the delay in taking a stance. This is the concern amongst sections of Tamil opinion that a victory for the opposition will be a setback to the gains that the Tamil nationalist cause has been making internationally in recent times.
- Friday, 05 December 2014
TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTION TO REDUCE VIOLENCE AND POLARISATION
There is apprehension in civil society that the coming elections will become violent. The stakes are very high for the contesting political parties. The presidency is by far the most powerful institution in the country. Winning the presidency is the goal of both sides. The issues being canvassed at the elections, of corruption, nepotism and betrayal of the country to international interests are highly emotive ones. Violations of election law are occurring on a large scale with the misuse of state property and resources being highlighted by election monitors. There have also been acts of violence that can increase sharply as the election approaches.
The National Peace Council believes it is the duty of the State to maintain law and order and the Police and the Judicial authorities should be called upon by the government to enforce the law without any partisanship. That is the moral and legal duty of the State. Any failure to do so could mean that the people of the country and the International Community may not accept the result of the election. It could even lead to economic sanctions on the country which will affect adversely the people in the context of the ongoing stand-off between the government and UN regarding the UN investigation in human rights violations. Sanctions such as depriving access of local banks to the SWIFT inter-bank clearing and settlement system undermined the Iranian economy. They have compelled Iran to re-open nuclear talks.
Civil society groups with the participation of election monitoring organisations are in the process of setting up coordination mechanisms to report on acts of violence and violations of electoral laws. In addition it is important to educate citizens on electoral laws and help them understand and advocate against violations of these laws which are often flouted with impunity. The National Peace Council welcomes these initiatives and supports the formation of a civil society platform against election violence and violations of the election laws. In addition we would appeal to the political parties, and in particular to the ruling party which is vested with governmental authority to cooperate with civil society in ensuring a peaceful election.