Barring shadow candidates at presidential elections


The Island of 3rd January reported that the Elections Commissioner had expressed his displeasure at the multiplicity of nominations submitted at a Presidential election with ulterior motives and strategies. The Commissioner has given the following reasons for his displeasure.

1.      Taxpayers’ money was squandered due to major political parties fielding contestants to sling mud at their rivals.

2.      Such a candidate received undue privileges for services thus rendered.

3.      Expenditure could be curbed by ensuring that only major candidates joined the fray.

4.      Those who had quit the contest and pledged their support to another candidate after having joined the presidential fray harmed the reputation of the Office of the President.

While accepting that these distortions, caused to the electoral process were bad enough, it is my belief that the greatest damage done by the make-believe nominations lie elsewhere. They can confuse voters beyond measure. A ballot paper containing a long list of names, some of which are deceptively similar to each other and a plethora of symbols, thus reduced to a pissige palaamalla (a mad woman’s shopping bag), may easily confuse an average voter in the stress and tension inherent in a polling booth. The confusion thus created can mislead an uninitiated voter to cast her vote to an unintended candidate unwittingly. That would be an illusory diversion of the will of the people.

True it is that most of the contestants lose their deposit of Rs. 75,000. But the loss would be a pittance compared to the vast amount of public funds wasted in the effort to cater to the disappointed candidates. The Elections Commissioner has requested both print and electronic media to deny coverage to those backing the candidature of any other in the presidential race and told the media that they shouldn’t contribute in any way to strategies of those exploiting some candidates in the presidential race. Pious as they are, these appeals are bound to be mostly ignored in the melee created by the battle for power. They will be as effective as tightening the loincloth to stop diarrhoea, as the traditional saying goes. What is really needed is an effective amendment of the relevant article of the Constitution. Article 31 of the Constitution reads,

"31. (1) Any citizen who is qualified to be elected to the office of President may be nominated as a candidate for such office -

(a) by a recognized political party, or

(b) if he is or has been an elected member of the legislature, by any other political party or by an elector whose name has been entered in any register of electors."

The amendment faces a dichotomy. It has to provide for an undistorted expression of the will of the people while protecting the democratic right of a citizen to seek election. Of course the former takes precedence with a reasonable sacrifice made by the latter. That objective could be achieved by making a reasonable elevation of the parameters of the current provisions. As it is, these provisions are minimal. They allow any voter to be nominated by any registered political party or by a registered voter if the nominee had been an elected member of the legislature. It is imperative that these minimal conditions are raised to a level that the minority rights are not effectively shut out and an outsider who has proved himself in public is given a chance.

This objective may be achieved by prescribing that the nominating political party ought to have had at least 10 of its members sitting together at any time and that a party nominating an outsider had been in the legislature for at least a total of 10 years. It is earnestly hoped that whoever comes to power this weekend, would be responsible enough to make these essential amendments or their better alternatives, in the shortest possible time and save the Election Commissioner from the embarrassment of having to beg and plead for what he should be empowered to do under the law of the land.

Somapapla Gunadheera 

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