Election Phobia? Only one Cure; Face it PC poll will set the trend

7 February 2019 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Politicians’ fear of facing the constituents in an election held on the due date is not listed, explained, or discussed under common phobias by psychologists. Probably, it is so rare in the democratic world that psychologists are yet to invent a term to denote the phenomenon. A few dictionary definitions blended together, ‘phobia’, is an extreme and illogical fear reaction. It makes one experience a deep sense of anxiety or dread when thinking of the foundation of fear. The fear can be of a place, object or situation. Unlike general nervous disorders, a phobia is generally connected to something in particular. The impact of a phobia can range from annoying to severely disabling. People with phobias often realize their fear is irrational, but they’re unable to do anything about it. Such fears can interfere with work, studies, and personal relationships.  

‘Election Phobia’

One of the worst phobias, they say is the social phobia which is also referred to as SAD [Social Anxiety Disorder]. It’s tremendous worry about social states and it can direct to self-isolation. People with social phobia frequently go out of their way to keep away from public situations. This fear is a reflection of their own insecurities. They tend to judge other people based on what they think is suitable or embarrassing – and they judge themselves by the same criteria.  

At the moment, six Provincial Councils have ceased to function. It is now more than fifteen months since the Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provinces ceased to function without elections being held. Until such time the psychologists discover a suitable term to classify the phenomenon, let’s call it ‘Election phobia.’  

Back in 1998, CBK’s government suffered from Election phobia and attempted to shun polls this way. It is worth examining the issue although it was not as bad as the present scenario where we have already dragged it on for over a year. In June 1998, the terms of the Sabaragamuwa, North-Central, Central, Uva and Western Provincial Councils expired and automatically these Councils became dissolved. Elections Commissioner, if I remember correct it was Dayananda Dissanayake who announced fresh elections by calling for nominations, which task he completed by mid July, 1998 and the date of the poll was fixed for August 28 with casting of postal voting on 4th --surprisingly President CBK imposed a state of emergency and publicized a statement cancelling the poll.  

People with social phobia frequently go out of their way to keep away from public situations. This fear is a reflection of their own insecurities

In fact the Kumaranatunga government suffered from a fear psychosis or Election phobia and wanted the election postponed. FR petitions were filed in the Supreme Court by several political activists. They alleged that the declaration of emergency was a scrupulous act by her to block the due process that protected the people’s right to franchise by the Commissioner who announced Provincial elections. The SC judgement on FR Petitions were delivered end January 1999. 

In his judgement, Justice Mark Fernando, with G. P. S. De Silva CJ and Justice Gunasekera agreeing, described the reasons for the declaration of emergency by the President and her intentions in cancellation of the poll, it also observed that the Commissioner had not acted as per rules by not fixing a new date for the election. He also stated that the suspension of the issue of postal ballot papers in which the then Elections Commissioner complied was unlawful, arbitrary and not bona fide; it was done with knowledge that the proclamation of emergency and the regulation cancelling the date of the poll would be made the next day. Justice Mark Fernando held that the Commissioner had the power to fix a fresh date for the poll in terms of the PC Elections Act, but the Commissioner failed in performing his sacred duty. This he should have carried out irrespective of the validity of emergency regulations.   

Justice Mark Fernando’s judgement

Justice Mark Fernando held that the provisions of the Provincial Councils Elections Act intended speedy election, within three months or so of the dissolution of councils, and the regulation cancelling the election was not valid under the powers of the Public Security Ordinance. There was no threat to national security and the Commissioner had an all party meeting prior to calling for nominations, where the IGP was present and he had not referred to any difficulty in providing security. He also observed that the Commissioner has been assigned with powers, and guarantees of independence by Articles 103/ 104 of the constitution in order that the commissioner conduct elections as per law and prevent elections being inappropriately held back or suspended.   

Dasa Raja Dharma—‘Avirodha’

The government thinks it will face an unmistakable loss in the hands of the Rajapaksa led alliance. The opposition will exploit to the maximum the escalating prices; rise in corrupt activities; public discontent that the government is unable to counter successfully, all adding to the fear psychosis of facing polls. However, they should realize the fact that by postponing PC elections by unscrupulous methods, deceitful practices and tricks, they only convey a negative message to the constituents— history has proved that this sort of attitudes make things worse for them. In the ten principals of Buddhist Dasaraja Dharma, the last is Avirodha or ‘absence of obstruction’ –it advocates the importance of respecting the will of the people at all times. The opposition should not be censored; giving up of confrontational approach and policies; and endeavour for amity, concord and unity.  The will of the people could be tested only through holding elections as and when they fall due and by not postponing them. 

The Referendum under JRJ in 1982   

It’s apparent that the UNP government is causing this delay in order to buy time. Some say that the PC Elections would never be held before the Presidential election which falls due between November 9th and December 9th, 2019. In 1982, President JR Jayewardene feared a loss of his parliamentary 2/3 if the electorates vote at a General election held under the new PR system, [which majority he needed to tinker the constitution at his whim and fancy.] hence the idea of holding a controversial referendum was adopted with the help of 5/6 majority the party enjoyed at the time; there was initial opposition by a group within but they who surrendered the ‘undated letters of resignation’ had little say. The Liberal Party (LP) led by Dr Chanaka Amaratunga and deputy Dr Rajiva Wijesinghe broke its alliance with the UNP over JR Jayewardene’s undemocratic endeavour in postponing parliamentary elections for six years and replacing it with a referendum. The LP described it as an attack on basic democratic rights of the people.   

By deferment of the poll to allow for electoral restructuring, the government is hoping to strengthen its position. There are a few Supreme Court rulings on this matter. Parliamentary elections postponing could be done only with the approval of a two thirds majority in Parliament and at a referendum by the people. For PC polls there is no such rule or law. There is a Supreme Court judgement that acknowledged Universal Franchise as a human right.   

An embarrassing defeat at the Provincial Council elections would certainly affect or influence the constituents at future polls. PC elections are to be followed by Presidential and Parliamentary polls; chances of turning tables are remote. The General Election that is due to be held in the year 2020 would face a similar fate unless the government takes immediate action to prevent the escalating cost of living and control unprecedented corruption.   

1n 1975, Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s UF government used her 2/3 to postpone general elections for two years, extending its five year term to seven years. At the date fixed by them for facing the electorate in 1977, she and her government suffered the heaviest loss the SLFP ever faced.  

The display of power can only create fear, and not peace. It is not possible to achieve genuine and long-lasting peace through fear. Fear can develop detestation: suppression works temporarily, not successful in the long term. Subsequently it will erupt and become aggressive. This fear psychosis or Election phobia in politicians would lead to psychological maladjustment, an increase in tendency toward fascism and totalitarianism according to views of medical researchers.

Writer can be contacted at - kksperera1@gmail.com

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