Vote war?

Monday, 1 September 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Postal voting will be held this week as the Uva Provincial Elections trundle forward with the aura of a possible presidential election next year. As the days count down to 20 September, reports from the area are becoming worse with little hope of redress. Badulla District JVP candidate Krishnan Selvarajah was on Thursday allegedly assaulted by supporters of UPFA candidate Anura Vidanagamage. He and two supporters were admitted to the Diyatalawa Base Hospital, becoming the latest in a string of violations. The Network for Election Monitoring of the Intellectuals for Human Rights (NEM-IHR) said it has received 191 complaints related to election violence since nomination day. In a weekly situation report, it alleged that the Ministry of Economic Development is preparing to deploy 50 Samurdhi Officers each to all Divisional Secretariats in the Province, next Sunday and Monday. NEM-IHR Director, Chaminda Gunasekara said, according to information received, these Samurdhi Officers are to be used while on duty, in the UPFA’s election campaign to distribute various items to Samurdhi recipients. He added that complaints have also been received of the Economic Development Ministry’s intention to send recently recruited graduates to all houses in the Province, to carry out the UPFA’s election campaign, on the pretext of conducting an economic survey. In another instance, 10,000 Divi Neguma officers in the province have been instructed to attend office from 5-8 September, to engage in the UPFA’s main campaign preparations, it alleged. Seventy three complaints of election related violence have been lodged with the election monitoring office at the Moneragala District Secretariat. Other election monitor groups have also received high numbers of complaints but little is usually done about these other than to add up the numbers for subsequent reports. An incensed JVP is to file a petition at the Human Rights Commission today citing the Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya as a respondent. Opposition parties have already slammed the Elections Commissioner and Police Chief over impunity enjoyed by candidates contesting under the betel leaf, charging the officials’ apathy is responsible for the deteriorating situation. Puffing in the face of the growing inferno Deshapriya has urged police chief N.K. Illangakoon to assist in dismantling illegal offices and put the Province in order before lives are lost. Yet both officials are far from convincing opposition candidates or the public of the efficacy of their actions. Top ruling party politicians have been merely content to respond to allegations with more accusations. Any meaningful action has been sidelined in the tit for tat word war. In the aftermath of the northern polls, the Commonwealth Mission pointed out the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in 2010, has undermined the constitutional and legal framework for a credible and competitive election, particularly the provision for an independent Electoral Commission has been negated. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) echoed these sentiments with former Indian Chief Commissioner of Elections N. Gopalswami, who headed the monitoring group, calling for the Elections Commissioner to be empowered, insisting that such overarching authority is the best hope for genuinely free and fair elections. With no changes in such crucial areas, the Uva elections are likely to get attention for all the wrong reasons. It is clear the absence of an independent election commission is made worse by the similar lack of a police commission as independent officials are key to running free and fair elections. As the ruling party continues to morph all institutions into their power structure, the hope for a genuine people’s verdict becomes even fainter.