Another chance at LG polls

Friday, 5 August 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

THE Department of Elections will gazette the notification to hold Local Government (LG) polls to the remaining 23 bodies before end October. The nominations will be accepted between 18 and 25 August, according to reports by the Elections Department. The 23 LG bodies include 17 Municipal Councils, one Urban Council and five Pradeshiya Sabhas.

In the meantime, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is reported to be engaged in crisis discussions with his party members. The public is waiting to see what the result of this power struggle will be and whether Wickremesinghe will be able to stave off yet another attempt to dethrone him. If Co-Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya does manage to take over the reins, then the next round of elections will make for very interesting watching.

In the previously-concluded round, election officials said the estimated turnout was between 60% and 70% with the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts recording 65% each and Jaffna 47%. This shows the disinterest of the people in what has become a common sentiment shared with their counterparts in the south. Even though traditionally mini-polls do not draw the same numbers as presidential or general elections, the low numbers, particularly in Jaffna, show that genuine trust and faith in the election system is absent.

Independent polls monitors said that there were blatant violations of election laws, with offences ranging from open bribery and the transporting of party supporters to the wide abuse of State machinery and other resources in favour of ruling party candidates. Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) had even reported unidentified groups attired in military-style uniforms that had stormed several villages in the Kilinochchi District on the day before the elections and grabbed polling cards from the residents.

Election rigging and campaigning are divided by a fine line in Sri Lanka. Some can argue that the Government has every right to promote its numerous development programmes to score brownie points, yet most would point out that since these are made with public money, they are therefore not the property of one political party exclusively. Moreover, the abuse of State media, transport, election officials, Police and other resources usually give the ruling party an overwhelming advantage, which is shamelessly exploited.

With every election, the very foundations of democracy are eroded. There is little or no accountability and transparency; nor are ethics of good governance respected. Gaining the accurate views of the people and their wishes is all but impossible in this skewed system and while this would thrill the politicians, it would sadden those who believe in honourable public servants.

It is highly unlikely that the upcoming round of elections will see a different sequence of events being played out. The whole point of dividing the LG elections is to give the ruling party a massive advantage in campaigning. Moreover, even though many months have passed since the 18th Amendment, the promised independent commissions have not been set up, providing even more loopholes within an already leaky system.

An attempt at good governance and the proper principles of democracy at this election would lift it far above the most important polls in the land. It would be hailed as a victory by all fair-minded people and provide the chance for a new start. The time has come for candidates, party organisers and leaders as well as the public to make a constructive change.