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You forgot something, Mr. Blake!

There is hardly any difference between an aid-dependent country and a house of ill fame. Both have to leave their doors ajar so that the rich and powerful could enter at will. They have to shut up and entertain the unspeakable moneybags so that they will be paid for the services rendered, whether they like it or not. Else, they run the risk of losing the easy dosh of shame and being branded sinners and stoned in public.

When States are reduced to the level of women of easy virtue, the first thing they lose is their sovereignty. They end up being, as a local saying goes, bananas without the skin pecked by every crow––ambassadorial or otherwise. They have no alternative but to grin and bear it.

It is reported that US Ambassador Robert Blake met the Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake on Wednesday. What they discussed has not been made public but it is said that the former stressed the importance of conducting free and fair elections in the North Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces. The Foreign Ministry tells us that their meeting has led to no breach of protocol. So be it! After all, this is not the first time such an unusual meeting has taken place.

In 2005, we had President Mahinda Rajapaksa visiting the then Indian High Commissioner Nirupama Rao at her residence for a meeting! Earlier, an Indian High Commissioner had kept the late President J. R. Jayewardene under his diplomatic thumb. J. N. Dixit was his name. A vice president of the World Bank once treated President Chandrika Kumaratunga to a long lecture on good governance at an aid meeting which the latter attended by throwing protocol to the wind.

There have been many instances of diplomatic nosy parkers having a finger in the pie of Sri Lanka's internal affairs. Recently, we reported how the Presidential Commission investigating human rights violations including the massacre of 17 aid workers in Muttur had adjourned to meet a group of foreign diplomats to discuss some matters outside their mandate.

So, it may be argued that the polls chief cannot be faulted for his meeting with the US envoy. But, the question is why such meetings should take place with only days to go for a crucial election. The Elections Commissioner has told this newspaper that no one can pressure him as regards tomorrow's polls. That may be so. However, there is little he can do to prevent that powwow from smacking of a foreign power's attempt to interfere in an internal affair of this country.

The run-up to tomorrow's polls has been marred by violence. The army has been deployed in the NCP to help the police maintain law and order. This country has earned notoriety for election violence, polls rigging and a plethora of election malpractices under successive governments. The police have become lackeys of the party in power.

Election violence in this country has a long history. The 1982 Presidential Election was a grand robbery of votes. The incidence of polls rigging was such that the SLFP presidential candidate Hector Kobbekaduwa went to the polling booth only to find that his vote had already been cast! The 1982 Referendum the J. R. Jayewardene government held to extend its parliamentary term by six more years with its five-sixths majority intact and the subsequent by-elections held in the electorates where the UNP had failed to secure a majority at the referendum, were marred by violence and rigging.

Voters literally had to jump over corpses to exercise their franchise at the elections in the late 1980s. The JVP and the UNP went on a killing spree, the former to sabotage elections and the latter to create conditions for stuffing ballot boxes on the pretext of counter terrorism. Under President D. B. Wijetunga, the situation improved to some extent.

Thereafter, the country resumed its journey down the slippery slope of political violence. We had the worst ever election under the SLFP-led PA government in 1999––the Waymaba PC polls. Perhaps the word, election, is a misnomer! The UNP was given no chance whatsoever to campaign. Its activists including women were stripped naked and paraded on streets. (This was done under the watch of a woman President!) The police were ordered to look the other way and the SLFP goons stuffed the ballot boxes to their heart's content.

Elections under the Rajapaksa government, too, have been far from free and fair. The Opposition has challenged the results of the PC polls in the Eastern Province. The government thugs have been unleashed on the Opposition in the NCP and Sabaragamuwa, where the UNP and the JVP have proved they are no saints either.

Why weren't Ambassador Blake's predecessors as keen as he is on Sri Lankan elections? The then US envoys in Colombo didn’t meet the Elections Commissioners, as far as we are aware, on the eve of the infamous Referendum etc. did they? (A former British High Commissioner suddenly got interested in elections here and overstepped his diplomatic limits to battle election malpractices under the Premadasa government only to be declared persona non grata and packed off.)

There is certainly a pressing need for us to put our house in order without giving foreign busybodies excuses to interfere in Sri Lanka's internal affairs under false pretexts. If we can hold free and fair elections, the question of polls monitoring and diplomatic intrusion does not arise.

However, the fact remains that a flawed election is a thousand times better than no election at all. It is intriguing why the good US ambassador is not so keen to help Sri Lanka create conditions for holding elections in those areas under the jackboot of terrorists. The US has taken upon itself the task of protecting global democracy by crushing terrorism. It has killed millions of people and spent billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan to hold elections.

So, doesn't Ambassador Blake think he should be more concerned about the absence of elections in the Wanni than the elections being conducted in the other parts of the country?

Did Mr. Blake forget to ask the Elections Commissioner at Wednesday's meeting why no elections had been held in the Wanni for so long? As for enabling people to exercise their franchise, Mr. Blake's services are more needed in that part of the country.

 


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