With nominations being accepted on Monday from 19 candidates for the January 8 presidential election, we hope all candidates and parties will co-operate with the Elections Commissioner’s pledge that the normal laws of the country and special election laws would be strictly implemented to ensure a free, fair and peaceful poll.
Most independent political analysts believe the crucial election which will be a turning point in Sri Lanka’s history is likely to be a close and intense battle between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Opposition’s common candidate Maithripala Sirisena. Most of the others in the fray are known to be dummy candidates whose aim is obviously not to win, but they would be able to provide more agents at polling booths or counting centres and election offices for the two main contenders.
On the eve of the nominations, President Rajapaksa’s campaign strategists played a masterstroke when they carried full front-page advertisements in major national newspapers, reproducing the 2009 May 19 front page with banner headlines of the war victory and huge pictures of Mr. Rajapaksa worshipping Mother Earth. Mr. Rajapaksa told cheering crowds outside the Elections Secretariat that the main Opposition United National Party’s General Secretary Tissa Attanayake had crossed over to his Government, though there were questions as to whether this was another masterstroke. Independent analysts said Mr. Attanayake’s position in the UNP had been undermined after the formation of the common front, and in any event he did not have much of a voter base with the loss of even his own electorate at the last general elections.
Mr. Sirisena, emerging as the man of the moment and contesting under the swan symbol of the National Democratic Front, pledged again that the all-powerful executive presidential system would be scrapped within 100 days of his election and he would usher in a democratic society where tough action would be taken to curb and check rampant corruption.
As a first step, we hope Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya would use his powers to order the removal of thousands of huge cutouts, portraits, posters and banners all over the country. Independent polls observers say they hope the Commissioner will also take tough action to stop the abuse of public money, resources and public servants for the election propaganda work of the Rajapaksa Government.
For the past few weeks, large groups of public servants have been invited to Temple Trees for meals and a talk by the President. Mr. Rajapaksa justifies this by saying it is a village custom to offer a meal to visitors, but former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva says Mr. Rajapaksa has no right to do this at public expense. The former CJ also says that offering meals and other incentives to public servants in the run-up to elections is a violation of election laws and could even tantamount to bribery.
The January 8 election is not a matter of personalities or personality cults. The focus needs to be on key issues. For instance, it is clear that the executive presidential system introduced under the 1978 Constitution has led to the breakdown of democracy and the Rule of Law, especially after the enforcement of the notorious 18th Amendment. Therefore it is clear that the all-powerful executive presidential system and the 18th Amendment need to be scrapped.
Instead, we need to immediately revive the 17th Amendment which was approved unanimously by Parliament in 2001 and is considered to be one of the most progressive pieces of legislation in Sri Lanka’s history.
Also needed urgently are the revival of an independent judicial service, an independent Police service, an independent public service and an independent Elections Commission. On the socio-economic front, we see a monstrosity where about 1% of the people, comprising mainly the ruling elite, have control over about 60% of the country’s wealth. This structure also needs to be changed to bring about a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources. We need to remember that the answer to poverty is not more wealth but justice. So let justice be done on January 8.