A level playing field for all a must
Saturday will see a watershed in contemporary Sri Lankan
election history-the first provincial council elections for the
Eastern province. It is an event that has to be hailed no matter
what the drawbacks are and despite what the skeptics may say.
There has been many an analysis on the polls ranging from how
significant the elections are to predictions about the eventual
outcome. Nevertheless, a democratic process to elect peoples’
representatives is being enacted in a region hitherto under the
There is one school of thought that elections, no matter how
they are conducted, are welcome. But, recent history in this
country tells us that this is not necessarily so.
The 1982 referendum, the Kalawana by-election that resulted in
two sitting members in Parliament for the same constituency, the
Mahara by-election where the results changed after a power
failure in the counting centre and, more recently the Wayamba
provincial council election are other ‘landmark’ elections that
the country would rather forget.
That is not to say that we have prejudged the Eastern provincial
poll. But the curious alliance of convenience between the
Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) and the ruling United
Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) suggests that the government
wants to win the race-and the fear is that it will, at any cost.
The opposition has responded with an alliance of convenience of
its own between the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the
United National Party (UNP) which should theoretically at
least-going by past results in the region-sweep the poll.
But, just as much as the ground situation in the Eastern
province is in a state of flux, so is the political climate. The
government has unleashed a barrage of development programmes and
made a million more promises, all in the hope that it will sway
the Eastern voter.
That is an advantage any ruling party has and if it chooses to
use that to its advantage, so be it. It is up to the masses to
decipher the realities from the rhetoric, the practicalities
from the propaganda before they mark their cross on the ballot
Nevertheless, it is also incumbent upon the government in office
to ensure that free and fair elections are held. It is the
ultimate yardstick on which the sincerity of a regime will be
judged. To imagine that winning at all cost will solve the
crises that threaten an administration is simply wishful
The main bone of contention here is that the TMVP while
contesting the elections; continues to carry arms. Its power
therefore, flows from the barrel of a gun-and in that sense, it
is no different from its erstwhile brethren, the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
It is indeed laudable that the TMVP, a former terrorist outfit,
has now opted to be elected through democratic means. Theorists
and pragmatists may argue about its leader Pilliyan’s complicity
in the Arantalawa massacre and therefore whether he is more
suited for the gallows rather than for the chief ministerial
Even after casting such complexities aside, the bottom-line is
that for the Eastern provincial council elections to have any
meaningful impact on the political landscape, it needs to be
conducted in a manner that would convince even the government’s
detractors that the polls were free and fair.
Not to do so would not only irreparably erode the government’s
credibility; it would also cast doubts about its intentions in
forthcoming elections; after all, the general elections are now
less than two years away. And, that would also be a blessing in
disguise for insurgents-in-waiting in the south of the country
to cast the first stone, citing the government’s intimidating
tactics in the East.
Therefore, we must hope that saner counsel would prevail on
Saturday and that there will be a level playing field for all
contestants. If that can come to pass, it would be a moral
victory for the government-no matter what the outcome of the
poll and regardless of who the Chief Minister will be.
visit perfectly timed!
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is not a
stranger to controversy-nor is he shy to go off the beaten
Last week he visited Colombo to inaugurate two large scale
programmes, an oil refinery and the Uma Oya development
programme, both funded by Iran.
Some, of course, saw many political connotations in
Ahmedinejad’s visit to Colombo, what with the propaganda
overdrive dished out by the state media and with Eastern
provincial elections only days away.
Arguably, Colombo may have had its political agenda particularly
in the timing of the Iranian President’s visit, but that should
not detract from the fact that Ahmedinejad was willing to
include Colombo on his Asian tour.
Sri Lanka, we must not forget, could not get Indian Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Colombo in February for the
country’s diamond jubilee independence celebrations.
Such diplomatic snubs and the constant haranguing from regional
and global powers have been Sri Lanka’s lot in recent times for
which incompetent Foreign Office mandarins in Colombo also have
to take some blame.
The country has been at the butt end of criticism for alleged
human rights abuses and the world at large has chosen to ignore
the fact that Sri Lanka is battling probably the most ruthless
terrorist outfit in the world.
Its requests for military aid have been met only grudgingly and
often with many strings attached. Even countries which would
otherwise have helped Sri Lanka, have been muted in their
generosity in the face of Colombo’s isolation.
And in these circumstances, enter Ahmedinejad. The man may have
his faults and may not be the epitome of democracy but as far as
Sri Lanka is concerned, he has been a friend in need and a