Put Election Commission before elections!

The question of when the next presidential election is due has taken precedence over all other crucial issues, especially the predicament of the tsunami victims who have almost become a forgotten lot and the soaring cost of living. As we reported yesterday President Kumaratunga and UNP Chairman Malik Samarawickrama are having talks on the issue of the presidential poll. They may go on talking till the cows come home but will not be able to reach a consensus for the simple reason that she cannot accede to the UNP demand, which amounts to political suicide, and, having crossed the point of no return in its campaign for a presidential election, the UNP has no way of dropping the demand.

The President has made it very clear that there won’t be any election this year. The UNP is determined to resort to mass protests in that eventuality. It has already launched the first Jana Bala Meheyuma aimed at that and more such protests are said to be lined up. With the two parties sticking to their extreme positions like limpets, it is wishful thinking that talks will help avert the calamitous outcome the country is heading for.

The issue has even been internationalised. The International Democratic Union (IDU) has adopted a resolution calling for the Sri Lanka presidential election to be held in 2005. There is hardly anything in this country that is not internationalized. A wag says even the garbage problem in the Dehiwala-Mt. Lavinia municipal limits is likely to end up in Washington, Oslo or Tokyo, as nothing gets done here without the involvement of the international community. Remember that foreigners had to rush in here to clear even the debris left by the tsunami. Fifty seven years after Independence, we cannot still manage our garbage and/or solid waste disposal without foreign help! (Where have all the Prime Ministers and Presidents taken us?) So, it is little wonder that the white man still considers us his burden and wants to solve for us the question of the presidential election as well.

Nay, we are not making an attempt to decry the UNP’s effort to get a presidential election before the end of this year through international pressure. That is what politics is all about. After all, wooing the international community to facilitate capturing state power was part of the PA’s strategy in 1994, though it has fallen out of grace at present. It however has not given up crawling and cringing before foreign powers.

However hard the UPFA and the UNP may try to cut the Gordian knot—the former through evasion and the latter by force—he who has the real answer is the Commissioner of Elections. And in due course he will make his decision known. He is in an unenviable situation, being kept in that post against his wish; he cannot retire until the Election Commission (EC) is appointed. He should be allowed to do his job without being brought under undue pressure either by the government or the Opposition.

The UNP and the PA in a rare moment of unanimity years ago agreed to set up the EC by ratifying the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. The attempt of the first Constitutional Council (CC) to appoint the EC ran into a political snag as the President objected to the nominees for the chairmanship. The CC stood its ground and so did the President. The EC could not be appointed as a result.

Strangely, there were no widespread protests against the President’s decision and the matter was relegated to the political limbo. Even today, we see no serious attempt on the part of the Opposition to have the EC appointed, though that is widely considered the only way to eliminate election malpractices. The aversion of ruling politicians to an independent election commission with wide powers is understandable, given their predilection for retaining power by hook or by crook. But what is puzzling is why the Opposition politicians are not so well disposed towards it as to campaign for it. It looks as if the antipathy for the EC transcended party politics!


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