From the pan into the fire?

Thursday, 4 September 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

ELECTION violations continue with unbridled impunity as the days count down for the Uva provincial polls. In the backdrop of postal voting, election monitors have raised the alarm at the escalating violence and have criticised the Elections Commissioner and Police for failing to take action. Highlighting an eye-opening statistic, Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) pointed out in its latest statement that 55 election offices of Opposition parties in the Uva Province have been attacked, but the Police have not made a single arrest. They have also queried as to why a single Policeman  was not found anywhere near these points of attack despite weeks of appeals made by political parties and monitors to provide security to these areas, especially Monaragala. According to the monitor, although there are over 200 legal and illegal election offices of ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in Moneragala, it is only the offices of UNP and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) that have been attacked. Opposition activists have claimed that gunmen travelling in unmarked vehicles and those with garage numbers carry out the night time attacks on the Opposition party offices. Out of the 164 complaints CaFFE has received, 120 were from Moneragala District while 35 were from Badulla District. Nine complaints were common to both districts. An incensed JVP filed a petition at the Human Rights Commission earlier this week, citing Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya as a respondent. The UNP is set to do the same today but faith in action is at an all-time low. 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.