After the abrogation of the 17th Amendment with its provisions for the setting up of an Independent Elections Commission and the enactment of the 18th Amendment, there has been much criticism regarding the manner in which elections are conducted.
The campaign for the March 29 elections to the Western and Southern Provincial Councils has already recorded several instances of violence and violation of election laws. However, this may seem trivial when compared with many previous elections during the past three decades where there was rampant violence and abuse of state resources with the infamous Wayamba election under President Chandrika Kumaratunga and several by-elections under President J.R. Jayewardene taking the cake.
But that does not justify the implementation of the 18th Amendment which gives the Executive President and the ruling party politicians a field day during elections. We have also seen the trend of criminalisation of politics in the country over the years. Again, as in many issues regarding corruption, abuse of power and malpractices seen in politics, in this instance too both main parties have been equally responsible for bringing in criminal elements to politics. If one party is accused of one such instance, it would cite many more similar incidents involving the rival party.
In this backdrop the case involving actor Roger Seneviratne, one of the candidates of the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) for the elections to the Western Provincial Council is of much interest and has raised many a question.
Mr. Seneviratne was sentenced by the Avissawella High Court on February 24 to a suspended five-year term of imprisonment for assaulting a businessman with an iron rod. In the wake of this sentence, when Elections Commissioner General Mahinda Deshapriya was asked for his comments on this issue he said actor Seneviratne’s suspended jail term was not a problem for his candidature.
But a Pepiliyana voter in a letter published in the Daily Mirror yesterday says that under article XIV-89 of the Constitution, “No person shall be qualified to be an elector at an election of the President or of a Member of Parliament or to vote at any Referendum, if he is subject to the following disqualifications -- namely if he is serving or has during the period of seven years immediately preceding completed serving of sentence” .
The reader has asked whether this law does not apply to PC elections and sought an answer from the Elections Chief and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.
Maybe the fact that it was a suspended sentence in the case of Roger Seneviratane would have been the difference since he would not be serving a jail term as such.
Be that as it may, once again we see the same widespread abuse of state resources for election purposes. The Elections Commissioner as usual had said he can do little or nothing to prevent such abuses because the election law does not have enough teeth. State offices and State officers are being openly used for propaganda as are state vehicles. The independent election monitoring bodies have reported many such violations of election laws.
Therefore elections are mostly turning into political circuses and a waste of millions of rupees as there is hardly an opportunity for the people to be properly informed and make an informed choice.