The country is not in a mood for an election, despite the Election Commission (EC) having announced the General Election to elect 225 members to Parliament, to be held in another 35 days.
The country is normally a hive of activity during elections with rival political parties holding public rallies bringing in large crowds, hundreds of people engaging in the house-to-house canvassing, and supporters of political parties even literally even engaging in fisticuffs, but this time, no such hullabaloos are evident. There is a bad side as well as a good side in this situation.
It is good that political parties are not wasting much of their party funds by spending them on buses to transport people to rallies, on liquor to serve those people who are so transported and to those involved in the house-to-house canvassing.On the other hand, people have been deprived of the opportunities to be properly informed of the candidates due to the dreary election atmosphere.
The candidates who are contesting the August 5 Parliamentary Election seems to be in a quandary this time as to how to put their message across the constituency and inform them of their preferential numbers under the current election laws. Likewise, voters might be aware of some candidates contesting, but not all, due to those laws.
The Election Commission (EC) this time has taken steps to prevent the candidates from displaying their preferential numbers and their pictures in any place - their houses, vehicles or at least even in election offices.
They are allowed to display only the name of their party and its symbol. Chairman of the EC Mahinda Deshapriya recently warned the political parties and the independent groups that those candidates who display their pictures and preferential numbers would be arrested without a warrant.
He was not referring to any new law. He told the media that the current law was in force during the earlier elections as well, but the EC had not implemented it. Responding to the argument by political parties as to why the law should be implemented this time if it was not implemented in the past, he stated that it was wrong not to implement the law earlier and he could not allow it to be overlooked any further, just because it was not implemented in the past.
He also questioned as to why the politicians did not change the law for so long if it hindered their election campaigns.
Logically and legally he is correct. But the implications of the law seem to go against what he always refers to be the level playing field. The message of former parliamentarians or well-known persons contesting would reach the constituency easily but, even the candidacy of new candidates would sometimes never reach them due to the ban on displaying pictures and preferential numbers.
Even the former MPs would not be able to inform their preferential numbers to voters unless they are allowed to display their numbers in offices, vehicles and houses.
The EC Chairman replying to these questions said that the commission would send the list of candidates of each district with their preferential numbers to the voters along with their polling cards. Yet, the question remains as to whether this would suffice for a voter to be acquainted with new candidates and change his mind.
Under the First-Past-the-Post (FPP) electoral system used earlier, voters have to choose among two or three or sometimes four, candidates and they would soon be informed who the contenders were.
However, under the Proportional Representative (PR) system, they have to choose among so many candidates contesting under so many parties and independent groups.
Similarly, under the PR system, each candidate has to be identified to the constituency of a whole district and this would be difficult for the new candidates. Therefore, it demands a repeated thrust in their campaigns, rather than merely a one-off notice by the EC. The ban on the display of faces and the preferential numbers of candidates hence would be more favourable to the former MPs over the new candidates. People may literally be aware of the policies of the political parties, but sadly do not realize that most policies are mere rhetoric or a list of promises, rather than well thought out action plans.
Due to the fact that the activities of political parties on the ground after their assumption of power have been a far cry from their professed policies for a long time, people have not understood the nexus between politics and their own lives and that of their children.
Therefore, most of them do not realize their duty towards their next-generation at elections. On top of all these, if they knew only a section of candidates seeking to represent them in the legislature, they would not make a well-informed decision, anyway.