More on the election

Unfortunately nobody in authority has taken up our suggestion that the principle of ``Polluter Pays’’ must be enforced regarding the political propaganda that continues to be on illegal display despite some ineffectual noises made by the Elections Commissioner. We made the point that the taxpayer should not be made to carry the tab for clearing other people’s dirt when it was announced that the police was to get about Rs. 12 million to hire labour gangs to get rid of this material that hits you between the eyes wherever you turn in these pre-election days. But nothing, or very little, has happened in this regard. The job of the police is not that of clearing the mess but getting those responsible for those displays to take them off.

But the task becomes more difficult when the law enforcers have to take on the high and the mighty. We recall an incident during the campaign preceding President J.R. Jayewardene’s infamous referendum to extend the 1977 parliament and `pot’ and `lamp’ symbols that were freely displayed then. A duty conscious policeman tried get these removed in the south and a chieftain of the day ordered ``don’t touch my `lamps’ until they are all removed from Colombo Central also.’’ As we all know, Colombo Central then was Prime Minister Premadasa’s turf. In the context of the ever-worsening sycophancy that is all too evident today, correct, even handed official action is too much to expect in this free, sovereign and independent republic of ours. If Mr. Dayananda Dissanyake publicly and strongly reprimanded the IGP for transferring a senior police officer in the run-up to the election instead of merely ordering that the transfer be stopped, he would have given the right message not only to the incumbent police chief but also to his successors and also set a good precedent for future Elections Commissioners to follow.

When the presidential election is over and the parliamentary election comes round by April, we are going to have many more posters, hoardings and other propaganda displays countrywide. An expensive clean-up operation will have to follow with local authorities probably made to do the job. While there will be some salvage value in hoardings - metal struts etc. don’t come cheap – posters that are difficult to remove and will be pasted on roadside walls all over the place are another kettle of fish. Those who will be beaming broadly at the voters from defaced walls must be made to take their posters off at their own expense. The polluter must pay, we repeat.

There aren’t very many days to go before January 26 and various unfair and questionable practices relating not only to propaganda displays are visible. The big question is not who is clean but who is worse. Since the presidential election is the major race, standards enforced here can be better effected at the parliamentary election despite there being many more candidates and, no doubt, unruly elements in the running. If neither of the two main contenders clears the 50 percent barrier and a second preference count becomes necessary, we make bold to say that it would be good for democracy in Sri Lanka. A close finish should shake up any establishment and cut powerful people down to size. While some analysts have speculated on this possibility, such claims have been laughed off by the president’s campaign managers who do not expect the race to be that close. General Sarath Fonseka has boasted that he will better JRJ’s 1977 record but that is a very tall order even his most fanatical supporters must admit. More realistic assessments favouring Fonseka look towards the majority of the minorities and a minority of the majority winning the day for their candidate. But the president has many strong countervailing factors going for him including the handicaps of incumbency, massive resources and the admiration of many who credit him with not caving into international demands that that the war be stopped in its final phase.

Unfortunately, we in Sri Lanka have very few reliable polls to tell us which way the wind is blowing. Newspapers have traditionally had `result and majority’ predicting competitions eliciting data that is believed to offer some indications though the margins or error could be wide. No doubt other polling techniques will also be employed by various bodies and organizations, many with their own agendas. When such polls are publicized, they are not without their own spin and like ordinary people predicting election results in everyday conversations, elements of wishful thinking will be very much a factor or whatever is predicted.

Both the government and the opposition have their committed vote banks with most supporters unlikely to change their views however persuasive an opponent’s case may be. But getting all your supporters to the polling station is a difficult task, political activists know too well. Making a pitch for the undecided vote that can swing the result is very much a part of electioneering which we will see more of as D-Day approaches. Whether allegations that have been flung and will be flung in the run up will make a difference is hard to say. Many believe not – that voters have made up their minds one way or another and are not likely to be swayed by loose cannons from either direction.

Sri Lanka’s elections have never been perfect. Our tragedy is that they have deteriorated rather than improved with succeeding polls. Prabhakaran prevented the people in the Vanni from voting in 2005 and UNPers claim this cost Ranil Wickremesinghe the election. The army prevented many Tamils from voting at a previous election saying that Tiger infiltration, under the guise of voters, to cleared areas could not be permitted. Many of those elected to Parliament from Tamil areas particularly in the north polled ridiculously few votes as a result of LTTE terror. Malfeasance on that scale is hardly possible in the post-war environment. So let us hope that this election, whatever its imperfections, breaks the trend of each election being worse than the one before.

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