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Let’s do it better this time

Will the country go along the familiar blood-spattered track, now that the stage is set for another general election? This is the poser on the lips of the civilized of this land. Their fears are compounded by the consideration that this time around, the usually demented scramble among candidates for the popular vote would be far more barbaric in view of the unboundedly coveted ‘preference votes’. Besides, there are thousands in the potentially bloody fray for just 225 seats in Parliament.

All eyes, naturally, will be on the law-enforcement agencies. How well and impartially will they carry out their jobs? This is the great imponderable. However, we wish there would have been no cause to raise this question, because as an arm of the state and not of the government, the Police and other law enforcers are expected to place the well being of the country and the country only, above all else. This has not always been the case in the past and from this fact stems the anxiety of the law-abiding citizenry.

Two decades or more ago, we had relatively peaceful polls in this country and there would not have been any excessive worry on whose ‘side’ the law enforcers would have been. Generally speaking, they would have been allied to the state and this is not synonymous with being on the side of the government, for, the state and the government are not identical entities. Broadly speaking, the state is the territorial unit which is identified as Sri Lanka and the people who reside in it, regardless of ethnic, religious and language markers. The government is only the entity that administers the state institutions of this geographical entity, which exist expressly to serve the people. The government, in fact, holds its positions as trustees of the people and should be prepared to vacate post no sooner they are voted out of office by the people.

These are the benchmarks of democratic practice and on their basis one could gauge the democratic health of a country. So, the urgent need now is to differentiate the wood from the trees. All organs of the state, such as the Police and the armed forces, exist to serve the state, and the government is obliged to ensure that this happens. If these issues are confused today, it is because governments have relentlessly brought everything in the state under their control and regressed into all-powerful Leviathan monsters who have become laws unto themselves. And governments have thus degenerated because there are insufficient or no constitutional checks and balances against their tendency to grab and to hold everything, from the granting of citizenship, school admissions, and welfare provisions to public sector and diplomatic postings and judicial appointments. In other words, the rot stems from that nauseating process referred to as politicization.

It is now some time since utmost priority was attached by very well-meaning sections, including some political parties, to the depoliticization of local society and it is most disheartening that this process has proved to be still-born. There is no doubt that the issue of whether we will have peaceful polls or not hinges on whether we could get depoliticization going in earnest and the local political community would need to get down to this hallowed enterprise if civilization is to survive and if Sri Lanka is to be rendered habitable for future generations. We dare link these thorny issues with the survival of civilization, for, what else is civilization, if not the peaceful co-existence of people, and if politics could turn a human into a ravenous beast, then the politics we practise need to be declared as barbaric and decidedly harmful to the survival of humanity.

Therefore, there is no room for complacency on this score. We need to think of depoliticization in the short, medium and long terms. The government cannot take the dangerously irresponsible view that the 17th amendment is now defunct and that there is no need to implement its provisions. This amendment is part of the supreme law of the land and must be implemented. As some sections have pointed out, the amendment’s ‘flaws’ could be eliminated as we go along. But there is no denying that the problems of governance could be substantially reduced by depoliticizing Sri Lanka and the now well spoken of Independent Commissions could help in this regard. Certainly, an Independent Election Commission, could help in establishing the integrity of the electoral process.

This is not to imply that the Elections Commissioner could play a passive role in the face of polls irregularities on the ground that his ‘hands are tied’. There is much in the criticism that the Commissioner did not explore all the options available to him in stemming the rot at the presidential poll of Jan. 26. In the face of intransigence from some public sector quarters to his directives, for instance, he could have sought legal remedies and proved that his office could not be bandied around with. His position was indeed belittled by the IGP at the last poll and this he should not have allowed. He would need to establish, once and for all, that his directives should be respected at election time.

The worst that could happen at this juncture is for political forces in the fray to be blinded by the lust for power and the vote and to consider the larger issue of a clean and peaceful poll a matter of no consequence. As we said earlier, civilization and humane living is in the balance and in the absence of the latter nothing could be of any significance.

It is of the utmost importance that the necessary safeguards are brought in by political parties to guard against lawlessness. They need to be guided by their brains and not their brawn because the perception of a flawed election would only breed increasing lawlessness and national chaos, which, of course, would be in no one’s interests. We urge the leadership of political parties to not only ensure internal discipline but to refrain from committing the terrible ignominy of fielding criminals, psychopaths, pimps and the like, who would only help to cruelly turn the knife of unhappiness in the country’s heart.

We call on the President to measure- up to the highest standards of statesmanship at this juncture and do what is useful and wholesome in the country’s interest. He would need to bear in mind that the mandate he has received obliges him to be non-partisan and magnanimous. We urge him to do everything within his power to ensure that the law of the land prevails and goes unchallenged. On the other hand, the Opposition is duty-bound to co-operate fully in bringing about what is beneficial for the country. There is no doubt that the head and heart should work in concert.

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