Polls Chief: ‘Scarecrow held a clean election’

I am not the man of the match; I am only the curator


by Shamindra Ferdinando

Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya yesterday called for a comprehensive examination of both 17th and 18th Amendments to the Constitution to pave the way for necessary constitutional reforms, including independent commissions.

In a brief interview with The Island, Deshapriya said that the polls machinery in place for the January 8, 2015 presidential poll had proved beyond any doubt that a level playing field could be created even in the absence of independent commissions, including Election and Police Commissions.

The entire Opposition repeatedly alleged that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government couldn’t be overwhelmed at a national level election until the setting up of independent commissions.

Political parties couldn’t ignore the urgent need to study those amendments as both came into being without adequate study, the polls chief said. An amendment should be brought in to address genuine concerns raised by the civil society.

Asked whether he had been disturbed when one-time army chief and defeated presidential candidate Gen. Sarath Fonseka called him a scarecrow for not being able to ensure what he called an environment conducive for a free election, outspoken polls chief said: "I have no quarrel with anyone. In the wake of Democratic Party leader Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s statement, there was a spate of cartoons, depicting me as a scarecrow or straw man.

But, the Election Secretariat earned the respect of all for courageously conducting the presidential poll. Even our strongest critics cannot deny us the credit for ensuring a free and fair poll."

Acknowledging that the recently concluded poll had been his first national level election, Deshapriya pointed out that Opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena’s triumph meant that the former government did not conspire to electronically manipulate the final outcome. The then Opposition propagated such allegations in the wake of the January, 2010 presidential poll comfortably won by UPFA candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Responding to a query, Deshapriya expressed his delight that the Election Secretariat with the backing of IGP N.K. Illangakoon, Senior DIG (Elections) Gamini Navaratne had been able to accomplish a challenging task, though many questioned their resolve to ensure a free and fair poll. "We have proved in no uncertain terms that challenges can be met, though available laws aren’t perfect," Deshapriya said,

The Elections Chief said that he had been called the man of the match by those satisfied with the peaceful conduct of the presidential poll. The polls chief said that he preferred to be called a curator.

Asked whether he had felt threatened at any stage of the electoral process, Deshapriya emphasised that he wasn’t a person to succumb to pressure. The swift deployment of the elite Special Task Force (STF) following consultations with relevant authorities, including Police Chief Illangakoon and Senior DIG Navaratne. Police headquarters deployed an STF contingent at the Election Secretariat, Rajagiriya and additional commandos for the protection of Deshapriya.

Deshapriya declined to comment on a simmering dispute between police top brass and retired IGP Mahinda Balasuriya, who in his capacity as Secretary to the Law and Order Ministry allegedly interfered with police operations to prevent untoward incidents. Deshapriya recalled him challenging the media as well as political parties to state publicly what he in his capacity as the Elections Commissioner couldn’t do for want of an Independent Elections Commission. There couldn’t be a better example than the outcome of January 8, 2015 poll to show that a level playing field could be created even though the much sought Independent Election Commission was never established.

The police chief Illangakoon, too, had shown in no uncertain terms that he had the resolve to overcome daunting challenge, though a Police Commission would have made things easier, the polls chief said, adding that they were both appointed by the former President.

animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...