Transparency for elections

Friday, 25 February 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

THERE is confusion over the pending local government elections with politicians and voters uncertain as to how to proceed since the Courts and the Elections Commissioner are unclear as to what areas will have polls.

The people are ill-informed due to the postponements and resumption of elections. Many are unaware as to whether or not local government elections will be held for their respective local bodies. This results in a massive transgression of democracy for the simple reason that the people are not informed of when and where they should vote.

Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella admitted that there was confusion even within the ranks of candidates with the cancellation of elections due to petitions being filed. However, he pointed out that since the organisation of the elections was with two independent establishments, namely the Elections Department and the Supreme Court, there was no room for Parliamentary interference. On Thursday, 19 local government elections were postponed in Jaffna, adding to an already complicated situation with no clear understanding as to how voters and candidates should proceed.

Election observers are also puzzled by these confusing developments and point out that previously after handing over of nominations, there was only a two week window for interested parties to file petitions. They stress that this gave a chance for the democratic system to function without causing hardship to the voters or candidates. Tables have turned this time around, resulting in the whole process degenerating into a logistical nightmare.

Expenses are also escalating as a result and candidates for local bodies where elections have been postponed have to figure out how to continue their campaigns without further losing the already flagging public interest. The masses do not have the time or the curiosity to continuously follow the changing election landscape, prompting many to disregard it altogether. Election monitors are expecting low levels of voter turnout, which the legal quagmire will undoubtedly promote.

This situation also brings the question of transparency sharply into focus. The Elections Commissioner is an extremely busy man who is well-known for not being available to the media. This means that journalists are forced to gather scraps of information from party officials, which are not adequately comprehensive. Given the muddled state of affairs, the Elections Commissioner must take urgent steps to inform the media of the current situation and give a comprehensive analysis as possible so that they in turn can create awareness among the people.

A series of press conferences and regular updates in terms of press releases would be extremely beneficial in this scenario. While there are regular web updates on the Election Department’s official website, it must be remembered that internet penetration in Sri Lanka is still minimal and many people do not have access to this mode of information dissemination. In addition, the website does not give the opportunity for people to voice their questions and obtain clarifications, which is essential to promote more transparent interaction between the different stakeholders.

Holding elections is a long and arduous process, but each problem that comes up must have a solution. Otherwise the entire democratic institution will be undermined and that will be a failure for the entire nation.