We have read much about what potential election candidates and Pohottuwa party’s Gotabaya Rajapaksa have had to say these days. Now its the turn for these presidential hopefuls to read the minds of voters and check out their needs.
Given that Sri Lanka is debt-ridden, the country’s citizens are concerned about lawmakers spending lavishly on elections propaganda.
Right now we see many posters bearing the picture of Gotabaya Rajapaksa decorating the walls of Colombo and the suburbs after the Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) announced its election candidate. Be it posters, cutouts or lighting crackers these funds shouldn’t be wasted given that there is a sizable percentage of people whose living conditions are below the poverty line.
The People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) has conveyed its caution by stating that the Government should bring in laws to put a ceiling on the amount a candidate can spend during a pre-election period. Its Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi was quoted in recent newspapers stating that one candidate had spent a massive Rs 40 million on campaigning at the last LG Polls. Sometimes we see poster wars especially in the business capital of Colombo. Very soon we’ll see some of these posters being damaged or black paint splashed on them by rivals. We’ve already seen one such ugly attempt just near the bridge at Rajagiriya on the Kotte Road where a billboard carrying the image of presidential hopeful Sajith Premadasa from the United National Party (UNP) being sprayed with black paint. Ethical ways of countering a poster campaign must be lauded, but acts like these send the message to the next generation, awaiting to enter politics, that unethical ways of countering propaganda are also an option!
Sometimes these election posters and banners are put up near sensitive places like schools and religious places of worship. What’s worse is when unprintable words are painted on these posters using spray paint cans. Children have minds like blotting paper and when they pick up negative messages from such happenings one can’t expect them to know what’s fair when they step into society. It must be mentioned that the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) has called for the government to accelerate laws to regulate the displaying of posters and banners at unusual places which cause visual pollusion. The CEJ moved the Court of Appeal by filing a case in 2009, but the centre claims that no worthwhile decision has been taken in this regard to date.
It’s common knowledge that there are occasions when government funds and assets such as vehicles have been used by ministry officials for election propaganda. The Government also has the edge over the others when it comes to using the state arm for media which comprises television, radio and newspapers. But this time around despite there being a Wickremesinghe loyalist in the likes of Mangala Samaraweera as the Media Minister, the presence of President Maithripala Sirisena in a different camp might force the state media to play a balanced role during the elections. Political parties also spend much money on election propaganda and a healthy election environment would be possible only if media institutes give each political party equal attention.
Given that at least two elections would be held in the near future lets hope that no schoolchildren are roped into party propaganda work. The Government boasted of providing 175000 A/L students and 28000 teachers with tablet PCs, but the project never came to light despite announcements made on public platforms by lawmakers with much pomp and pageantry. For the record, as much as 45% of the schools in the island don’t have computer facilities.
The provincial council elections or the presidential elections would be held within the coming months. The latter would shape the future of this nation unlike ever before. The manner in which people are deceived during elections, especially with promises to raise state workers’ salaries, is an indicator that the system supports unethical election propaganda over fair play. Do the elections this time provide an opportunity to change all this?