TamilWeek, Oct 30 - Nov 5, 2005
Play up! play up! and play the game!”

By Keith Noyahr

The two main presidential candidates and their supporters must be congratulated for
desisting from violence during the three weeks of campaigning since the October 7
Nominations. There is exactly three more weeks to go for the crucial election and the
same restraint is expected from the two sides.

The CPA has noted 39 major incidents of violence including one death and 67 minor
ones, including 40 election offences, adding up to a total of 106.

The international community has unofficially acknowledged this feat at diplomatic level
and this augurs well for the country.

At the last April 2004 General Elections too Sri Lanka was a shining example with
limited pre and post election violence and generally a free and fair poll. Part of the
tribute must go to the JVP, which has graduated from a former militant party to a
democratic one. In the case of the North and East however the picture was not all that
rosy as there was mass-scale impersonation during the 2004 polls that was an
indictment on the LTTE. But, considering the fact that the LTTE, a militant group, went
flat out to support elections, it could be considered a victory for democracy. The LTTE
killings in the East last year must be condemned.

The Daily Mirror team in the East however has disturbing news that Karuna’s faction is
bent on disrupting the polls in the East that could materially affect the result of
elections.

There are reports that former militant groups known as paramilitaries are also bent on
wrecking the election and that does not augur well for the country.

It appears that there are forces bent on helping candidates win even by foul means.

This brings us to the latest Fundamental Rights application by two presidential
candidates- Peter Nelson of the Sri Lanka Progressive Front and Wimal Geeganage
of the Sri Lanka National Front urging the Supreme Court to restrain the
Commissioner from conducting polls in and near LTTE-controlled areas.

It is not my intention to comment on the facts of the case, neither the order. In the
public interest concerning the right to franchise by every citizen not disqualified as an
elector, I make the following observations.

A whole chapter (XIV) has been set aside in the Constitution to deal with “The
Franchise and Elections.” The opening lines of the chapter runs thus: “Every
person… shall be qualified to be an elector.”

Depriving the voters of the North and East from uncleared areas as sought by the
petitioners is a violation of this right guaranteed in the Constitution.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga got wind of the ulterior motives behind this petition
and fired calls to very important people and had made it clear that she would not
hesitate to dissolve parliament if there was any more hanky panky stuff.

A dissolution of Parliament at this stage would send all the individuals and constituent
parties of the UPFA to work on their respective campaigns leaving the presidential
candidate to look after himself.

The latest gimmick is absurd drama at its best in recent years. If Mahinda Rajapaksa
or Ranil Wickremesinghe had filed fundamental rights petitions it is understandable as
each of them has a fair chance of winning this election. But for these two presidential
candidates - Nelson and Geeganage - to come forward and ask the Court to restrain
the Elections Commissioner from conducting the poll near LTTE areas, saying their
fundamental rights were in danger of being violated is absurd to say the least.

The other absurdity is the suggestion by some UNP supporters (of course outside
court) to hold the poll in LTTE-held areas. This is analogous to sending a lamb to a
Tiger den and expecting it to return unscathed, in one piece. These supporters were
clearly trying to get maximum advantage for their candidate.

Surely, Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake in consultation with the
candidates could decide on what steps that need to be taken to minimize
impersonation. Just because there was the danger of impersonation, one could not
deprive a whole mass of voters by not having the booths in the closest areas to their
residence provided the State’s jurisdiction ran.

The Commissioner’s plan to have cluster polling stations 500 metres from the
boundary of the Army Control line for people in LTTE-controlled areas is very
reasonable.

But, the more dangerous clause in the petition concerns the use of the National
Identity Card to vote. The insistence on the use of the NICs in the backdrop of the
tsunami where many lost their NICs clearly suggests that moves are afoot to possibly
rig the election by driving eligible voters sans NICs away. The Supreme Court has left
it to the discretion of the Elections Commissioner in consultation with the presidential
candidates.

The Commissioner should be reminded that all those who lost their NICs have not got
them back and there is insufficient time for those who haven’t to try and get them
before the election, which is three weeks away.

In as much as the two main candidates have been able to restrain their supporters
from engaging in wide-scale violence, strict orders should be sent down to the grass
roots to refrain from any form of election rigging.

The UNP has accused the State Media of biased reporting and urged the Elections
Commissioner to appoint a Competent Authority as soon as possible to ensure that
the public is provided with balanced information and news.

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has kept tabs on the coverage in the print
media for the first week after Nominations. The State media newspapers covered are
Dinamina, Silumina, Daily News, Sunday Observer, Thinakaran and Sunday
Thinakaran. Rajapakse had got approximately 213 percentage points in his favour
and 14 percentage points of negative publicity. In contrast Ranil Wickremesinghe had
got only 57 percentage points of favourable coverage and 73 percent of unfavourable
coverage in the state print media.

But in the private media the story is different. Rajapakse has got 272 percentage
points of favourable items and 355 percentage of unfavourable items as against
Wickremesinghe securing 338 percentage points of favourable coverage and 116
percent unfavourable items.

So clearly the private print media has been pro Wickremesinghe and the State print
media pro- Rajapakse. The period under review is the first week after nominations.
We are yet to have the results of the second two weeks gone by and the three weeks
ahead of us. The Daily Mirror has had an almost equal share of favourable coverage
for both candidates (15 percentage) but had a slightly higher percentage of
unfavourable items on Rajapakse (6) as against Wickremesinghe (1). (All percentages
have been taken to the nearest whole number). Not only should the media call on the
candidates to play it clean, it has to be fair by the two main candidates to qualify to be
a balanced newspaper. And as Sir Henry Newbolt urged, “Play up! Play up! and play
the game!”

[Courtesy: Daily Mirror]
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