let there be a level playing field for campaigning

10 October 2019 01:27 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Almost every significant breakthrough is a courageous break from the traditional ways of thinking, says Stephen R. Covey On Monday, the 7th of October 2019, 35 candidates -- some representing recognised political parties, some from newly formed political alliances and some others as independents -- vying for the presidency handed over their nominations for the election of Sri Lanka’s 7th executive president on November 16, 2019.   

Although 41 prospective candidates had paid their deposits to the Election Commission, six of them including Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) member Kumara Welgama and former president’s brother Chamal Rajapaksa, opted out leaving behind 35 candidates including two Buddhist monks and four from the Muslim and two from the Tamil communities and one female candidate. Their names will appear in probably the longest ballot paper in Sri Lanka’s electoral history, with almost twice the number of candidates in the fray when compared with the 19, who contested the January 8, 2015 presidential election.   

The two main contenders are undoubtedly Minister Sajith Premadasa from the United National Party–led Democratic National Front (DNF) contesting under the ‘Swan’ symbol and former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) contesting under the ‘Lotus bud’ symbol. The two other contenders, who are bound to make an impact, are JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, from the National People’s Power Movement (NPPM) contesting under the ‘compass’ symbol and former army commander, General Mahesh Senanayake representing the National People’s Movement (NPP), which is backed by a group of non-political civil society organisations and intellectuals.   

Another factor that needs to be highlighted at this point is that for the first time since the executive presidency was introduced to Sri Lanka in the late 1970s, neither the SLFP nor an alliance led by it, had fielded a presidential candidate with some of its members reportedly rooting for Mr. Premadasa and some of the others for Mr. Rajapaksa.   

Now that the handing over of nominations has been concluded and the list of candidates confirmed, the electoral process will move to another level with the various contestants launching their election campaigns with either house to house visits or at propaganda rallies, where they will do their utmost to project their mission and vision for a better Sri Lanka, a prosperous Sri Lanka and a Sri Lanka where all Sri Lankans will be equal before the law and be able to live in peace and harmony without fear, intolerance or discrimination.   

As election fever gets hotter closer to voting time, we the voters or electors can expect to be showered or bombarded with reams of rhetoric laced with promises and pledges to garner our votes for the final reckoning and only time will tell how it will all pan out and the direction in which the wind blows on election day.   

Meanwhile, addressing the 35 candidates soon after the close of nominations Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya underpinned the manner in which candidates, political parties and the print and electronic media should behave and how election campaigning should be conducted without violating election laws, without being a party to election-related violence and without violating mediaguidelines and regulations.   

He made a fervent appeal to all political parties to strictly adhere to election laws and to refrain from displaying posters, cutouts, banners, floats or any other propaganda material to promote a person’s candidacy at any other place other than where an election meeting was being held.   

Mr. Deshapriya pointed out that public servants including department heads and ministry secretaries should not engage in political activities while Local Government authorities should act impartially when processing applications which are received for the reservation of sites and conference halls for political rallies or discussions.   

Be that as it may, it was with a deep sigh of relief that we welcomed the news of the 12-day work stoppage launched by railway trade unions being called off with the rail services gradually returning to normal. There is no gainsaying the fact that whatever grievances that the service providers – whether railway employees, academic or non-academic university staff, doctors, nurses, school principals or teachers -- may have should be solved through dialogue instead of holding innocent people to ransom for no fault of theirs.   

We conclude this column with a refrain the voters may continue to hear times without number but because of its importance we mention it once more; be an informed voter and use your sovereign franchise wisely because the choice we make today may determine the future of this country and its people for years to come.     

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