This is Sri Lanka
The curtain comes down on the October 2000 General Election campaign today with the tally of incidents of political violence recorded by the police reaching 1115 and the number of persons killed rising to 50 by noon yesterday. The number killed includes the victims of the suicide bomb attacks at Muttur and Medawachchiya. We hope that political leaders would have taken the warning issued by the police about LTTE suicide bombers roaming the country to kill notable politicians whom the LTTE has targeted.
It was a gory and bloody election campaign despite the pleas and hopes of all decent Sri Lankans and leaders of the community for a free and fair election. The senseless and bizarre feature of the campaign has been the battles for the Manape (preferential votes) between contestants of the same party. According to police records, of the 392 complaints made by the People Alliance, more than 15 per cent have been made by fellow candidates against one another.
Despite the yellow ribbon campaign for a free and fair election and appeals by religious and community leaders, desperate politicians who want to win at any cost used politician goons to scare their rivals and intimidate voters. The paradox of contemporary Sri Lankan politics is that the people who abhor this thuggery will still cast their ballots for the political thugs because of their party loyalties. In this context we repeat an observation that has been made consistently in this column: The people get the governments and MPs they deserve. This kind of blind loyalty to political parties that fail to nominate candidates worthy of representing the people, got to cease, if democracy is to survive in this country.
Free and fair elections have been the manthram chanted much before nominations day. But during the entire campaign it has been a free-for-all throughout the country with no holds barred. There was the widespread abuse of state resources as it has happened since the mid-eighties. It will be of much relevance if election observers and monitors can investigate the use of state owned vehicles for electioneering. The PA can say it happened in UNP times. Certainly, yes but is it justifiable today by an alliance that pledged to wipe out the ugly features of UNP politics? Yesterday, The Island reported that the Special Investigating Unit of the police deployed in the anti-poster campaign had taken seven vehicles belonging to the National Housing Development Authority. Police had said that 3000 posters were detected in these vehicles belonging to the state housing authority and during the raid conducted by the police about 50 suspects, who are supporters of the a powerful politician had fled the area threatening the police with guns.
The abuse of the state media is apparent to one and all. The PA alleges that some of the privately owned media too are partisan towards the UNP. While there is some substance in this charge, the PA, during its 6-years in office, could have avoided the situation by not continuing to abuse the state media as the UNP did. It could have also framed rules for election propaganda to be implemented under and independent elections commissioner. The state media has not only been used for the personal political gains of PA politicians but even to condemn and run down a respected war hero of the country.
The election campaign itself has been a dialogue of the deaf. The main issue is the allegations made by the UNP and the PA on their connections with the LTTE. The PA finally accused the UNP of having a secret memorandum of understanding with the LTTE which has been denied while the UNP too is making counter allegations of PA-LTTE connections. The main issue of constitutional amendments, particularly with regard to devoltuon of power to the North and East, has been not in focus. The PA wants to avoid a Sinhala backlash. On Wednesday Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake announced that the Norwegian governments peace initiatives were off and the country was committed to eliminate terrorism from this country by war. This is a complete reversal from the stand, which the PA took when it assumed office. The UNP which finally decided not to back the draft constitution too is avoiding this issue probably because it fears it will not get the backing of the Tamils, which they expect this time.
The Tamil vote, particularly in the North and East, could decide who would form the next government because of the close finish expected between the PA and UNP. This is an issue that has to be watched very closely. All parties contesting the elections, particularly in the Jaffna peninsula, should be disarmed or the unarmed groups too be permitted to carry arms. It is reported that while some pro-government groups are carrying arms, the TULF is not and is calling for disarming of all armed groups. There should be much vigilance particularly by election observers on polling in Jaffna where polling stations will be within armed camps.
Foreign observers will find it hard to comprehend all this. But this is Sri Lanka where the only person to win an Olympic medal for the country in 52 years is denigrated because she dared wear a yellow ribbon - the symbolic appeal for a free and fair election and a war hero of the people, who saved the country from a terrible predicament a few months ago, too is insulted on state-run TV.
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