Polls monitors fear quasi dictatorship with present rulers postponing polls

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Sri Lanka is fast becoming a semi-fascist state, Executive Director of the Institute for Democratic Reforms and Electoral Studies (IRES) Manjula Gajanayake says. Commenting on the government’s attempts to postpone elections, Gajanayake said the 2023 local council election would be known as the one where a few state officials backed by the government managed to postpone an election, and undermine representative democracy.

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe recently said he would handle the economy while the Supreme Court determined whether elections should be held. This is not what the Constitution says. Article 4 (b) of the Constitution, on the exercise of Sovereignty, says ‘the executive power of the People including the defence of Sri Lanka shall be exercised by the President of the Republic elected by the People.’ Therefore, the President must hold the elections so that we can exercise our sovereignty,” Gajanayake said.

“If elections are not held by March 19, the local councils will be administered by the Governors, who are appointed by the President. Provincial Councils are already run by Governors.

“Parliament has become a rubber stamp of the President. Now, if elections are not held, local and provincial councils as well as the Parliament will be under Ranil’s thumb. Ranil will soon hold more power than the elected Presidents. We are next door to a semi-fascist state now.”

Sri Lankan independent commissions have become nursing homes for senior government officials who want a comfortable life after retirement, Gajanayake said, commenting on the role played by some Election Commissioners.

“Why can’t we appoint younger people with energy and drive? For example, those who retired from the Department of Elections are trying to get into the Elections Commission,” he said.

A member of the elections commission, P. S. M Charles had resigned from the commission, he said. Charles earlier held the post of Governor.

There is chaos in interdependent commissions when those who do not have the capacity to handle pressure are appointed as their members.

“This is why some people question if the concept of independent commissions is suitable for Sri Lanka,” he said.

Gajanayake said that according to the law state officials who obstructed elections could be fined Rs 100,000 and/or sentenced to jail for three years. “The Election Commission has done nothing about those who obstruct elections. I would warn that soon even some of the politically-motivated lowest government servants will start challenging the EC,” he said.

Commissioner General of Elections, Saman Sri Ratnayake said that the Government Printer had not said that there was inadequate security at the Department of Government Printing until 14 February.

“We received nominations from various political parties and independent groups. 87, 720 candidates are contesting elections. Each returning officer sent the political parties that contest for each area and after checking the list, we sent the model ballot papers to the government printer. The Government Printer sent us a draft of the ballot paper, we proofread it and asked the government printer to print the ballot papers,” he said.

The EC had sent the proofread model ballot papers for all local council areas to the Government Printer by 23 January, he said.

“The Government Printer promised us to give ballot papers needed for postal voting by 10 February. Things went on routinely and there was continuous communication with all involved. Since we were told that ballot papers needed for postal voting will be given by 10 February, we had planned to send ballot papers to returning officers by 15 February. There are 676,000 postal voters. We were ready and the government printer kept on telling us that the printing process was going on smoothly,” he said.

Ratnayake said the Government Printer had asked for an extension till 13 February and then another one until 15 February.

“We were ready to dispatch the ballot paper by 15th and therefore we asked the Government Printer to finish printing by 14 noon. Then, we were suddenly told the printing had not been completed and then we had to tell the Postal Department that we would not be able to dispatch the ballot papers on the 15th,” he said.

Ratnayake said because of the delay by the Government Printer, postal voting could not be held as scheduled on 22 to 24 February.

“Holding elections is not a responsibility that we bear alone. There are many institutions involved and everyone must do their duty. Printing ballot papers is in the mission statement of the government printer. The Government Printer must print ballot papers, as per their own mission statement and the constitution of the country. We are in this mess because they have not done their duty,” he said.

Executive Director of People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), Rohana Hettiarachchi said postponing an election allegedly due to a shortage of funds set a bad precedent and that every Sri Lankan must work together to pressure the government to hold local council elections.

“If you look at our electoral history, some governments have delayed elections. Some have held them earlier or have held elections on a staggered basis. They have played around with election dates to get an advantage. However, all this was done within the legal framework. For example, the line minister can delay an election. The president can call an early election. This time the government has used illegal ways to postpone elections. It has manipulated various actors to ensure that the local council election can’t be held,” he said.

Hettiarachchi said that if the government succeeded in delaying the election, it would set a bad precedent. The main argument against an election by the government was that there was no money in the Treasury to hold an election, he said.

“However, it is obvious that the government has money for other things. Yes, we agree that there is a crisis and that the Minister of Finance should carefully manage the economy. But elections should be a priority for him because people’s sovereignty is above all. A government gets a mandate to carry out their economic, social, or other programs through elections,” he said.

Hettiarachchi said if the government succeeded in postponing the election, future rulers will use any pretext to postpone elections. “Someone can deliberately destroy our economy and claim that elections can’t be held because there is no money. What will we do then? We have to stop this attempt at postponing the election now,” he said.

Courtesy The Island

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Disclaimer: Polls monitors fear quasi dictatorship with present rulers postponing polls - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view

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