Sri Lanka’s elections provide much fodder for conversation and the upcoming elections, which had their date announced on Thursday, are no exception. Already there are indications that this will be an interesting poll, despite it being classified as a provincial council election, with parties taking a crack at running alone and early allegations of repression.
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) has been on the front page of late as analysts opine that the party is divided on the path that it should take. After first saying that it was contesting with the ruling party the SLMC did a 180 degree turn and stated that it would be taking its chances solo. Now there is a slight controversy over whether this came with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s “blessing” or not.
Given that Sri Lanka is a democracy, the concept that a party needs the approval of the President to decide whether or not to contest independently seems a sad state of affairs. The inadequacy of politicians to take a step without a back pat from the Executive does not bode well for the pluralistic composition of Sri Lanka’s society.
Adding to conflicted statements is the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which initially said that it would refuse to give candidature to relatives of member politicians but according to news reports has rescinded this decision. At least it has decided to remove provincial councillors who have been accused of child abuse though this may seem a “too little, too late” measure.
In an interesting move, the United National Party’s Working Committee has banned members from attending former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka’s meetings, increasing rifts between the two parties. As the election race progresses, it will be well to keep track of how opposition parties treat each other as this could end up giving the UPFA an edge.
Losing no time, a Government-backed recruitment drive is reported to have begun in the Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provinces. It was reported that Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya had acknowledged he was helpless over the matter, except to direct the complaints to the Public Service Commission. Besides recruitment, since the dissolution of the three provincial councils on 27 June, staff transfers have also recorded a new high.
Among recruitments that have taken place after the dissolution of the councils are 1,395 graduate trainee appointments in Batticaloa and 200 disaster management assistants in the same district. Recruitments to hospitals and State sector banks are also underway in the district.
In Sabaragamuwa, consisting of the Kegalle and Ratnapura Districts, 78 appointments of minor employees and 70 transfers have been granted since nominations were called for the elections. In the North Central Province, a number of Development Assistants have also have been appointed, but figures were not available. In such an instance, the possibility of free and fair elections grows bleaker by the day. Such wrongdoing is only likely to increase in these provinces and retaliation will grow stronger as the months go by. Election monitors have already warned that unethical practices would be high in the upcoming elections. They also have warned that candidates guilty of crimes are being nominated by various parties and that the stage is being set for an unfair standoff.
All these instances, together with two candidates from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) being threatened resulting in their withdrawal from the elections, bode ill for a free and fair election. A sad reality that fails to change for the better.