Tuesday, 21 January 2014 00:01
It is election time again. As relatives of top Government officials ready their party bandwagons, brush up their mudslinging skills and broaden their links to the President, election monitors are trolling out their usual requests for a free and fair election to, mostly, deaf ears. It seems that the public’s entertainment has begun.
One of the strongest appeals has been for candidates to declare their assets. Access to election-related information is widely considered to be essential to the integrity of electoral processes in the democratic world.
A comprehensive survey of relevant laws and regulations, carried out by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), found that, out of the 111 established and emerging democracies surveyed, 60 countries required political parties and/or their donors to disclose campaign contributions and other sources of income.
Fifty-three of the surveyed countries required disclosure of political party expenditure. With a few exceptions, the information disclosed by the parties, usually to a specialised government agency, can be freely accessed by the general public. In some of these countries, the Right to Information law can be used to access this information; in other countries, election laws regulate these issues.
Disclosure of party finances, including campaign spending and contributions serves the important goals of protecting the integrity of the electoral process and enabling voters to make informed choices on election day on the basis of the broadest possible information, including as to the parties and candidates’ sources of funding.
In short elections are a time for the public to evaluate the state of their democracy. Sri Lanka by contrast fails to upgrade its status usually and early indications are that this round of voting will not be an exception to the rule. With no efforts made to strengthen the independent commissions or overhaul the Judiciary to provide an effective balance of power, the process will be allowed to muddle along as best it can.
High-level election monitors from India including a previous Elections Commissioner during the last round of polls insisted the ruling party stop covert campaigning via development projects. Yet new reports have already indicated the opening of the Galle-Godagama extension of the Southern Highway, which was earmarked for later this month, has been postponed to the first week of March to provide a positive tamasha to the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) election push.
Rival candidates, such as Democratic Party Leader Sarath Fonseka, have alleged intimidation during campaigning, providing early hints of the tightly contested and possibly violent election in the days ahead. Internal clashes are also in the offing with a fed up set of Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabha members begging the President to appoint any other member of the 20 million Sri Lankan population other than Public Relations Minister Mervyn Silva as chief organiser.
Undeterred by his ghastly behaviour, Silva has been returned to his previous duties and the election campaign will likely be peppered by his unique sense of humour. Other confusions that have popped up of late include the appointment of two organisers for Central Colombo with MP A.H.M Fowzie having to contend with the dynamic if not necessarily principled Hirunika Premachandra, who seems to have set on a career path similar to MP Duminda Silva. All the while the public watches on as the election circus trundles into town.