TamilWeek, Oct 30 - Nov 5, 2005
Electoral process: Some favourable trends, and concerns

By Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

One notable feature of the presidential election campaign is the low incidence of
violence. Figures released by the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV)
since the close of nominations identify some 171 cases of which 57 are classified as
‘major incidents.’ Of these the highest number of incidents (22) have been
categorised as those of assault. The most serious incident of violence has been the
murder of the EPDP Organiser in Pottuvil, in the Digamadulla District.

Low incidence of violence

The low incidence of violence could turn out to be the continuation of a trend initially
identified in the April 2004 general election. This was attributed to the impact of the
independent commissions that came into being following the passage of the 17th
Amendment and to the situation of ‘cohabitation’ that existed between the President
and the Prime Minister from different parties.

Whatever the impact of the latter, it is clear that the commissions have had a salutary
effect, even though there have been problems with their operation and even though
the key commission pertaining to elections, the Elections Commission, is yet to be
established.

The commissioner however can exercise the powers of the commission until it is
established. This underscores the importance of constituting all commissions and of
ensuring that commissioners are appointed as a matter of priority in the cases where
the term of office of their predecessors is about to expire. Most importantly, the
seriousness of the commitment of the politicians to best practices in governance can
best be demonstrated by them taking time off from their electioneering to ensure that
the Constitutional Council, the nominating body under the 17th Amendment is
reconstituted without delay.

Constructive trend

One hopes that those responsible for the conduct of elections and the civil society
groups monitoring it will be able to ensure that the beneficial and constructive trend
evinced with regard to violence continues and is strengthened in the last weeks of the
campaign and on election day.

Perceptions with respect to the closeness of the race, the possibility of a general
election and the desire of politicians to demonstrate their strength locally can all
combine to test the strength of this trend.

The police has taken a decision not to release cumulative figures of incidents of
violence and details of such incidents on the grounds that a focus on violence could
result in an increase of violence.

The logic of this argument seems to be that parties will compete with each other in
making allegations of violence and thereby boost the number of incidents and thereby
distort the reality.

CMEV, of which this columnist is a co-convenor, believes that the public has a right to
know as to how political parties engage in electioneering. It is necessary information
for them in making informed choices. Therefore, CMEV will endeavour with the
cooperation of the police in the polling divisions to responsibly report on the incidence
of violence and malpractice.

Special concerns pertain to the conduct of the election in the north and east and
particularly in respect of the voters in the LTTE controlled areas. There has already
been a fundamental rights petition on this score filed by a presidential candidate and
in response to a letter from the Supreme Court, the Elections Commissioner and the
parties have agreed to the deployment of additional AROs.

Polling booths

A concern in the petition relating to the location of the clustered polling booths has
been met by the location of these booths in government controlled areas.

This was what happened in the last election — the general election of 2004. Polling
booths have never been placed nor has there been any intention to place them in
areas outside of the control of the government of Sri Lanka.

There is also concern regarding the identity of voters — all monitoring bodies noted
that large scale impersonation took place in the cluster polling booths in April 2004,
with CMEV calling on the Commissioner to seriously consider annulling the poll there.

The law regarding the mandatory use of National Identity Cards (NICs) comes into
force after the election — a year having been agreed upon from the passage of the
legislation to ensure that all those entitled to NICs received them.

Whilst it is important to ensure that there be as free and fair a poll in the north and
east as possible under the circumstances of the ‘No War / No Peace’ situation, it is
also of paramount importance that the citizens there be allowed the fullest exercise of
their fundamental right of the franchise.

Therefore whatever measures are taken to achieve the former should not be at the
expense of the latter. No hindrances, obstacles or deterrents should be placed in the
way of the fullest exercise of the franchise in the north and east.

Decisive election

Those living there are citizens of Sri Lanka and have the right to cast their vote for the
president of the republic of their choice.

Election officials, the police and the security forces have a responsibility in ensuring
this. So does the LTTE in respect of the inhabitants of the areas under their direct
control.

This presidential election could well turn out to be one of the most decisive in our
history. It is imperative that the mandate of whoever is elected is not impugned by
allegations of violence and malpractice and that the trend identified in the April 2004
election relating to violence, is strengthened and extended to the entire country.
[Courtesy: The Morning Leader]
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