Postponing Elections will motivate opposition Lessons from history, proves its negative effects
K K S Perera (Daily Mirror)
The official SLFP faction of the incumbent regime thinks it will face an inimitable loss in the hands of the faction led by former strong man Rajapaksa. The opposition’s strategy of exploiting over rising prices, escalation of corrupt activities, and the widespread public discontent will add to the fear psychosis of facing polls. It is unfortunate that the yahapalana regime does not realize the fact that by postponement of the local government polls giving flimsy excuses, will only prove negative.
Avirodha – The last of the ten principles of good governance [Dasaraja Dharma] is ‘absence of obstruction’ -The will of the people should be respected at all times. The opposition should not be suppressed. Confrontational attitudes and policies are to be done away with. They must always strive for amity, unity and concord. The best way to respect the will of the people is to go before them to check their pulses. This can be done only by holding elections as and when they fall due.
Proof from History
There had been quite few instances in the history of Sri Lankan Parliamentary and Local government elections, where the natural tendency had been either to put off or switch to some other alternative action to prevent a costly defeat for the ruling party. In 1975, the United Front government’s five year term ended, but under Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, they sought the help of the republican constitution to get the parliamentary election date deferred by two years under the pretext of serving a five-year period commencing the establishment of Republic of Sri Lanka in 1972. The postponed election was held in July 1977, at which the UF government minus main ally, the LSSP now reduced to a mere SLFP rule suffering a humiliating loss to the UNP under JRJ, who used the extra two years as a bonus or a blessing in disguise in re-organizing his campaign to topple Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s fragile government.
However, in the case of MR the election was held two years in advance based on an astrologer’s advice that it could be the appropriate time to hold an election and win. MR was clueless about the plans by his own men and the main opposition UNP. Winning the war against the most powerful terrorists did not help him. This enabled Sirisena, the common candidate, win and set up a coalition which had guaranteed good governance in Sri Lanka. The current unity government of SLFP-UNP too seems to depend on its own estimates, when elections were to be held, choose either to hold or delay elections. The recommendations of the Commissioner of Elections, an authority established under the crucial 19th Amendment to carry out elections had been ignored too.
Postponement under CBK’s PA
There are many dark spots on our election system for not holding elections at the correct time.
Sri Lanka’s People’s Alliance government of CBK imposed emergency rule on August 4, 1998; a move widely professed to be a lead up to postponing the provincial council elections that are due to be held in five of eight provinces on August 28, 1998. Opposition spokesmen for several weeks predicted that the PA government would declare an islandwide emergency, so as to provide itself with an excuse to postpone the elections and evade an electoral disaster. Popularity of the four year-old PA regime had dived as a result of its massive cuts in social benefits and an unending fifteen year-long war in the North. Even if the government allows the elections to proceed, the democratic rights of the population are threatened, for the emergency will facilitate vote rigging and political hooliganism by government supporters, while putting off the elections would serve the desires of the struggling PA regime.
Losing Attanagalla PS by SLFP in 2002
In 2001, the PA government has postponed elections for local governments, extending the life of existing administrations for one year through a gazette notification on February 3. As an outcome of this arbitrary act, elections were not held for 311 local bodies, including 31 urban councils and 12 municipalities.
The then Local Government Minister Nandimithra Ekanayake playing the role played today by Faizer Mustapha gave no valid reason for the lengthy postponement in the notification. He told the media the decision was taken ‘in view of the demand for electoral reforms’. Facing growing dissatisfaction over its policies, the government has determined that it cannot afford to lose an election. Later when elections were held a year later in February 2002, the SLFP led PA suffered a humiliating defeat; even the Bandaranaike stronghold of Attanagalle PS, in spite of President Chandrika [who swept the island albeit Mahiyangana eight years before] appearing in person on polls day could not save it from the UNP. Ranil led a landslide creating history.
Deepening social and political crisis
In the course of a deepening social and political crisis, the yahapalana unity government has repeatedly postponed the calling of Local government elections over the past two years. Election pledges by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe rule included abolishing the “dictatorial” executive presidency and providing “relief measures,” including increased wages, pensions, welfare allowances and subsidies. But, none implemented. President’s calculations have been traumatized by hostile fighting between the UNP and SLFP and also in-fighting within his own party.
Sirisena, the nominal leader of the SLFP and UPFA, as it appears has virtually lost control of them. While Prime Minister’s UNP says they are ready for any election the majority of the SLFP is demanding that elections be postponed until electoral changes are made. The UNP prefers early election because it fears that any delay would further bring into disrepute the government, ending the UNP’s hopes of winning a majority of LG bodies. The government has by now broken promises to provide concessions, increased wages, and failed to reduce the cost of living.
The SLFP faction’s insistence on electoral changes are far from being democratic, these proposals are used as a delaying tactic. Rajapakse is seeking to make a comeback with massive support base as exhibited by him on Mayday with the help of his big business cronies and corrupt henchmen. Rajapakse supporters as usual are seeking to regain their lost power by diverting the rising discontent among the poor in a Sinhala chauvinist direction. They openly criticize the UNP-SLFP government of allowing the crushed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to raise its head.
The manifestation of one corrupt set hypocritically probing another, in order to restrain political challengers has opened up a can of worms. Ordinary people, left to exist on just a meagre income, are gaining a sight of the staggering riches that is being amassed by criminal means.
One corrupt set deceitfully probing another?
The infighting has worried sections of the ruling elite the Sri Lankan state of affairs looks ungovernable, with parties taking up antagonistic, adversarial places, it has no sympathy from the people. This is exposing the bankrupt and backward-looking nature of the entire institution. Deepening monetary uncertainties and social dissatisfaction are compounding the political calamity. The floating votes of educated and youth for Sirisena was not a sign of optimistic support, but was to convey their opposition to Rajapakse rule. There have been growing signs of social unrest during the past months. Delay of elections is detrimental to good governance and Democracy. Elections at some local government bodies had been postponed for four years and in some over two years.
Hold-up in order to buy time – History – The referendum under JR
In 1982, The Liberal Party an ally broke with the senior partner UNP over JR Jayewardene’s referendum which postponed parliamentary elections for six years which they described as an attack on basic democratic rights of the people. Its leader Dr. Chanaka Amaratunga and deputy Dr Rajeeva Wijesinghe formed a new alliance to fight for liberal democracy.
People are aware that there is an undercurrent in the deep sea which could carry people away, while its surface appears to be calm and serene. Those who live close to the coast are fully conscious of this current. It’s obvious that the government is causing this holdup in order to buy time. Some say that the PC Elections would be postponed too. There are many Supreme Court rulings on this matter. Postponing could be done only with a two thirds majority in Parliament and a referendum. This needs to be decided by the legal experts. There is a Supreme Court judgment that Universal Franchise is a human right. By rescheduling the poll to allow for electoral restructuring, the government is hoping to fortify its position. If local government territories are broken up into wards, the losers will be the minor parties that may have to increase positions through PR but would certainly lose if required to contest on a ward-by-ward basis.
An embarrassing defeat at the local government elections would certainly affect chances of the yahapalana regime winning any future polls. LG elections will be followed by a series of Provincial Council polls, three already falling vacant by the year-end and the trend will continue; chances of turning tables are remote. The Presidential and General Elections that are due to be held in the year 2020 would face the same fate unless the leaders of the unity government take immediate action to prevent escalating cost of living and control unprecedented corruption.
The show of power can only produce fear, and not peace. It is impossible to achieve genuine and lasting peace through fear. Fear can develop hatred: suppression works for the time being only, will erupt and become violent later on. This fear psychosis in politicians leads to psychological maladjustment, developing a tendency toward authoritarianism, according to medical researchers.