A dismal comparison

Tuesday, 10 September 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Elections are a time for retrospection. Candidates will vie to show the work they have done while for the people it is more a time to soul search into larger issues such as the fairness and credibility of the democratic process in their respective countries and who deserves to get posts based on their adherence to the law. Over the weekend there were two elections in Australia and the Maldives. While the former will have strong implications for thousands of boat people from Sri Lanka, the latter is a good opportunity to evaluate how Sri Lanka’s much-bragged-about democratic values are being implemented or have even lasted. Australia’s PM-elect Tony Abbott has said his top priorities are to abolish a tax on carbon emissions and to stop asylum-seekers arriving by boat. Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition ended the Labour Party’s six-year rule in a landslide victory on Saturday. His Government would “swiftly implement Operation Sovereign Borders” aimed at “intercepting vessels and turning them around”. The transfers to Papua New Guinea that was put in place by former PM Rudd is likely to be fast-tracked with more and more people returned swiftly. Cooperation with Sri Lanka under these circumstances is likely to grow, especially since Colombo supports the boat people policy implemented by Australia and is receiving assistance not only on logistical expertise to hold the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) but also help it face international scrutiny. Australian officials who were in Sri Lanka previously had stated that they are even willing to engage with highly critical countries such as Canada on Sri Lanka’s behalf and encourage them to attend the Commonwealth extravaganza. Sri Lanka’s neighbouring group of Indian Ocean islands is also facing a difficult political change. Ousted former President Mohamed Nasheed, who remains the country’s first democratically-elected president after being controversially removed from power in an alleged coup in February 2012, made a strong show during the first round securing a strong lead of 45%. Yet by the early hours of Sunday morning Nasheed was still short of some 10,000 votes to gain an outright win. If a recount still fails to get him the magical 50%, Nasheed will sit with his senior party stalwarts to decide if and who to form a coalition with to face the second round of voting on 28 September. A peaceful transition of power will be crucial for the Maldives, which is under the shadow of increased human rights abuses, political issues, religious extremism and decreasing investor confidence. It is clear that whoever wins the second round run-off will have a tough job ahead. Yet what is heartening about Maldives is the enthusiasm with which they have embraced democratic elections. Malé was festooned with a carnival atmosphere in the run-up to the polls with the four candidates peacefully campaigning on the tiny islands. Multi-coloured flags flapped over streets as supporters put up decorations in unity, set up party offices next to each other and held vehicle parades in tandem. Media were given full access including polling stations, even able to record the counting and release of votes, interview officials and comment freely on the process. Even prisoners were given the chance to vote along with inhabitants across 200 islands. Over 90% used their franchise. The transparency of the polls was impressive given the country’s limited resources and relative newness to the democratic process. Yet in Sri Lanka campaigning is tumbling merrily ahead violating election laws, adding up clashes and subtracting good governance. The difference is nothing to be proud of.