LAST week the most bizarre news was the Elections Department rejecting a staggering 450 nominations for the upcoming local government polls. The rejections included 302 from independent groups and 148 from political parties. They were out of 2,047 total nominations received (1,282 from political parties and 765 by independent groups) for the 17 March elections to 301 local bodies.
As per Elections Department officials, some of the reasons for rejections included nominations not being attested by a Justice of Peace (JP) or Commissioner of Oath or not being duly signed by the General Secretary of the political party concerned or the secretaries of independent groups. Some nominations were rejected due to the lack of birth certificates.
All leading parties suffered rejections with the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) dubiously credited for most.
Soon after the rejections, those affected as well as President Mahinda Rajapaksa were quick to decry as well as express concern. Legal action is the next recourse for some of these prospective candidates whose nominations were rejected. Senior party officials were rapped for their negligence or failure in attention to detail. Some blamed officials for misleading contestants with regard to supporting documents for their nominations. In the next few weeks there will be more of the “blame game,” allegations and so on.
The rejections account for a high 22% of the total nominations presented. To us, this boils down to sheer lack of common sense and basic general knowledge or intelligence on the part of political office aspirants who must be feeling humiliated over the rejection. The unprecedented number of rejections are an indictment firstly on the relevant candidates and secondly on the parties or independent groups.
Rejection means that candidates haven’t familiarised themselves with the nomination requirements. This is unforgivable. Local governments being the first benchmark for new politicians, the failure to be fully aware of the election nomination process shows the lack of respect for the electoral system in general, through which these candidates were aspiring for public office. Post rejection, people have been asking whether they are fit even on paper to contest.
It is certain that among those whose nominations rejected were amateurs handpicked by senior politicians out of favouritism rather than merit. They are most likely to have not read the nomination guidelines, whilst even if they did endeavour to do so, the guidelines probably wouldn’t make any sense to them. Given the fact that Parliamentary elections drew nominations from village thugs and unscrupulous elements, it would not be presumptuous to believe the same with regard to nominations for local polls.
The level to which current politics has fallen is perhaps a key reason for the lack of respect for election rules and laws. Due to poverty or fear, people are forced to vote for many questionable candidates from both sides of the political divide.
The rejections, if they are on valid grounds as per election laws, are certainly a blessing in disguise for civil society, which yearns for decent politics. In that sense, the Elections Department must be commended for not falling prey to political influence or succumbing to fear of political intimidation by weeding out nominations which have failed to comply with basic requirements. The move by the Elections Department is certainly a wakeup call for the masses.
The verdict on those whose nominations have been accepted is at large and would be known by people’s vote on 17 March. The voting public can take a cue from the Elections Department and evaluate candidates in a more intelligent way before casting their ballot. This way the nation could ensure the upcoming polls will produce the most deserving and competent to lead their local councils for the betterment of the communities and not individuals seeking political office. Aspiring politicians can fail in common sense, not the masses.