The danger of postponing elections

(Daily Mirror Editorial)

When the then President J.R. Jayewardene held a referendum instead of general elections in 1982, most legal and political analysts said that while it may have been legal, it was illegitimate. Mr. Jayewardene’s Government obtained a 50.1% majority at the referendum. But it was immorally blown up into a 5/6th majority in Parliament. This illegitimate move had at least two other major repercussions. It provoked the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) to pull out of the political mainstream and led to the 1987 reign of terror. Worse still, many analysts believe it was one of the main causes for the 1983 riots and the devastating 26-year war that followed.   

These historical facts and realities come to mind amid media reports and opposition claims that local council elections may be further postponed.   

According to our sister paper the Sunday Times, Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya says he is helpless because the Commission cannot announce a nomination date until the Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faizer Musthapha issues a gazette notification. The minister said on Wednesday he would issue the gazette notification next week after successful all-party talks on issues relating to the number of Pradeshiya Sabahs in the Nuwara Eliya District. The latest reports say the local council elections will be held on January 20 or 27.

These developments came as some analysts and opposition critics said the Government was deliberately postponing elections largely because of a split in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) — with one faction loyal to President Maithripala Sirisena and the other to former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.   

Mr. Rajapaksa told The Sunday Times Political Editor that the Government was deliberately putting off the local polls and predicted that if they were held the pro-Sirisena faction would be defeated into third if not fourth place. The former president’s brother Basil Rajapaksa, defacto chief organiser of the budding Sri Lanka Podujana Pakshaya claimed this pro-Rajapaksa party would win about 200 of the municipal, unban councils and pradishiya sabbhas.   

While the National Unity Government has taken important steps to restore democracy and the rule of law, most people say that two years and 10 months after the January 8, 2015 rainbow revolution, the people have got little by way of practical benefits while effective action has not been taken to prosecute the former regime’s VIPs who allegedly plundered billions in public funds.   

Whatever political parties predict or project, major civic-action groups also believe the government should hold local council elections as soon as possible because the polls would be the best way of gauging the pulse of the people. The National Government’s main constituent partner, the United National Party (UNP) appears to be well set for the local council elections with effective organizational work going on at pradeshiya sabbha levels. Even if the pro-Sirisena SLFP faction falls into third place as predicted by the former president, the National Government will go on. It could also expedite the mission of building a peaceful, just and all-inclusive society.   

Last Friday, the President launched a countrywide village-empowerement-mission as a major step towards poverty alleviation. Within the next few years some 5,000 such villages will be set up with industries and factories providing hundreds of thousands of productive and well-paid jobs mainly for rural youth. High technology will also be widely used even in developing agricultural industry. Economic analysts believe that this is the best way of poverty alleviation.

Instead of just doling out Samurdi money. One or two well-paid jobs would restore the human dignity of the impoverished or poverty-trapped families and also give them a say in decision-making processes, first at village and then at national levels also. This could be the practical dimension of the peaceful, just and all-inclusive society and President Sirisena’s SLFP is likely to fair well at provincial council elections some time next year.   

Democracy has been restored. Indeed some analysts feel too much freedom has been given and some parties including trade unions are concerned mainly about their rights and not their responsibilities. They need to be shown in some way that we have rights only to the extent we carry out our responsibilities. If we fail in our responsibilities we forfeit our rights. That is the heart and spirit of democracy. Not the freedom of the wild or misled student or the business-minded doctor.