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Vows wow none

All UPFA candidates in the parliamentary election fray, led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, congregated near the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura on Saturday and, after religious observances, took a vow to conduct a clean election campaign.

President Rajapaksa has said the UPFA candidates who flout election laws cannot aspire to ministerial posts. That we reckon is too lenient a punishment. Anyone who wins by committing such offences deserves to be unseated unceremoniously. It would have been far better if the President had given the Elections Commissioner and the Police Chief a free hand to deal with errant UPFA candidates.

Most politicians who seek election or re-election are beyond redemption if their track records are any indication. Religious leaders cannot reform them. Even during the Buddha's time, there were incorrigible characters like Devadatta, who never benefited from either the teachings of or the access to the Enlightened One, who lived in the same temple as he. So, the Sangha cannot wean the modern-day Devadattas from their sinful way of life.

A group of Buddhist monks with lofty ideals, it may be recalled, sought to cleanse Parliament by entering it. Their presence made no difference. The place continued to be like a fish market. Worse, a thug of a parliamentarian went so far as to beat a monk in the lobby during a brawl.

While the ruling party politicians are using temples to flaunt their religiosity or, more appropriately, to gain mileage by paying homage, their rivals rush there over matters that are best left to the judiciary and other mundane institutions. In the aftermath of the Jan. 26 presidential election, a group of Opposition parliamentarians made a beeline for the Asgiriya and Malwatte temples in Kandy with, among other things, a bundle of discarded ballot papers which, they claimed, had been found in a drain in Ratnapura. What could the prelates do about such allegations? They only find themselves in an embarrassing position. They have come under severe criticism for entertaining politicians––from the sublime to the ridiculous––who run all the way to the hills at the drop of a hat to have a private audience with the Mahanayake Theras. It is not to see them that so many politicians go there but to be seen with them.

President Rajapaksa may acquire a great deal of merit by making UPFA politicians perform some religious rites once in a way but we think the vow at issue should have been taken, if at all, elsewhere. The ideal place would have been the Election Secretariat responsible for conducting elections; the Police Headquarters may have been considered an alternative venue.

Blatant violations of election laws occur because of the prevailing culture of impunity. The ruling party politicians are above the law. Their errant Opposition counterparts also get away by crying foul and claiming witch hunts when the police move against them. Only the average citizens without the means of perverting the course of justice are equal before the law. Therefore, the problem of politicians violating the election laws to retain or gain power cannot be tackled with the help of religions. Vows are no substitute for the proper implementation of the law, which is conspicuous by its absence.

So, the only remedy for the flagrant violations of election laws is the restoration of the rule of law. If President Rajapaksa is really desirous of holding a clean election, all he should do is to use his executive powers to create an environment where the Polls Chief and the IGP can carry out their duties without fear or favour.

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