The campaign rallies have ended, the trumpets have sounded. At judgment before the Court of the Sovereign People stand Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, the main contenders at the crucial Presidential Election, which could mark a historic turning point in politics in Sri Lanka.
Both contenders had repeatedly pledged they would instruct their party members and supporters to ensure a free, fair and peaceful election campaign. But during the past month supporters or goons have indulged in acts of violence and threats of violence while some authorities have repeatedly refused to give venues for rallies. In some instances, stages were burnt or broken while party offices were attacked.
Fortunately, Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya has been acting with a degree of independence, though he had earlier said that his hands were tied because of the withdrawal of the 17th Amendment and the imposition of the 18th Amendment. In addition to the presiding officers and others, the Commissioner will deploy about 3,000 officers to supervise the voting in about 12,300 polling booths countrywide. The local election monitoring groups, mainly People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) and the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) have been doing an excellent job recording and reporting hundreds of complaints of violence and violations of election laws. A majority of these complaints relate to the blatant abuse of State resources - public money, property and public servants - for crude party propaganda work.
Among the worst offenders were the State electronic and print media. They have now become Government media with stooging and servile flattery opening the doors for posts and promotions. Opposition leaders have pledged legal action would be taken against State media bosses who promoted the large-scale abuse of public funds for party propaganda. Jail terms or huge fines for them would be valid to ensure that such yellow journalism does not take place again. On Monday at least one private mobile phone operator broke election laws by giving two-minute calls from a candidate. The ringing abuse sounded like a noisy gong and most wise customers cut the calls. We wonder whether the Government-controlled Telecom Regulatory Authority had pulled any wires in this tele-phoney business.
Tomorrow will be the important day for the Elections Commissioner. Mr. Deshapriya may have done a fairly good job up to now. What he does or does not do tomorrow will change the course of Sri Lanka’s history. We hope Mr. Deshapriya will have the courage of his convictions to rise to the occasion and act for the common good of the sovereign people. If large-scale rigging or the infamous computer jilmart is allowed to take place, then the ballot box might turn out to be a garbage bin for the Commissioner.
For the party-politicised Police, the record so far has been like spit on the polish. The Police spokesman especially has been more or less putting a spoke in the wheel of law and order. We hope that at least on these vital two days, with a credible alternative appearing to be more likely, the Police will redeem their reputation by upholding the rule of law. The armed forces also have been given Police powers, but independent observers say they hope the military will not mar its reputation by diverting from its mission to provide security for the sovereign people of Sri Lanka, not just for the Government. Much is at stake and we hope a majority of the 15 million eligible voters will act wisely and with civic consciousness by going to their polling booths and casting their precious ballots, which is the only precious thing most people are left with.