Strong need for
revamping election laws
Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake is not a young
man in a hurry.
He is a man, several years past his retirement, lamenting the
delays and loopholes in the law that still keep him in office -
despite his age and ill-health.
His observations on Thursday therefore merit some thought, in
what is widely being perceived as an ‘election year,’ when we
have just concluded two provincial council polls in the Central
and North Western provinces - the outcomes of which are not
known at the time of writing - but will be known at the time
when these words are being read.
Commissioner Dissanayake, was not impressed with the 17th
Amendment to the Constitution that provides for the creation of
an independent Elections Commission. As he astutely pointed out,
the independent Elections Commission when it is constituted,
will have to function within the existing framework of election
laws in the country.
And these laws, Commissioner Dissanayake says, are the same laws
that are at his disposal right now. Therefore, if one were to
accept the Commissioner’s logic, the independent Elections
Commission will be as effective - or ineffective - as the
This must be food for, thought, indeed, for those who yearn for
the 17th Amendment to the Constitution to be implemented, hoping
that it would be the panacea for all ills. Commissioner
Dissanayake believes it won’t. And surely he must be right, for
he has been in thick of things as Commissioner of Elections, for
some time now.
His bone of contention is that the independent Elections
Commission has no ‘teeth’ to take any drastic measures that it
sees fit, if election malpractices are committed. Dissanayake
himself has been in that situation, where he has come before the
media on several occasions and lamented that his hands are tied
by loopholes in the law.
This is an issue that political parties who are now haggling
about appointments to the Constitutional Council, should give
serious thought to. And, there should be no party bias to it
because today’s Government, after all, could be tomorrow’s
Opposition. Any disadvantages in the system could therefore
affect all parties at some time or other.
Because of the flaws inherent to the system of appointing a
Constitutional Council, we now have a situation where the
appointments of the Elections Commissioner, the Attorney
General, and the Secretary General of Parliament, are being put
under scrutiny. This demonstrates what controversies can
originate because of lacunae in the law.
Therefore, if there are other deficiencies in the election laws
as they exist now, it would be prudent from all perspectives. It
is necessary to review these laws, and make the necessary
amendments now- rather than wait for the independent Elections
Commission to be appointed - and for it to function and fail -
before attempting to remedy any difficulties.
Sri Lanka, whatever its detractors may say, is a vibrant
democracy. It has never been subject to military rule and has
held elections even at the height of insurgencies - even if
those elections may not have been the most democratically
conducted. Therefore, the country owes much of its resilience to
its ever functioning system of elections.
The country can ill-afford to lose this luxury that it
possesses. It will become even more precious in the foreseeable
future, as we attempt to replace autocratic terrorist rule in
the North, with representatives elected from the popular vote in
those areas. It is important that those polls are free and fair,
or else that population will feel cheated twice over.
These are the many reasons why politicians, both those in the
government ranks and those now in the opposition, should take
the Elections Commissioner’s reservations and admonitions
seriously. After all, the leaders of our nation in the years to
come will be only as good as - or as bad as - the system that
The decision of Sri Lanka’s cricket captain Mahela
Jayewardene to announce his retirement last week took many -
even his team mates - by surprise. We do not propose to comment
on the cricketing merits or demerits of Jayewardene’s decision,
but we would still like to dwell on the issue of leadership and
Jayewardene says he felt he was not performing well with the
bat, and that was a primary reason to call it quits. He also
said he felt his successor should have sufficient time to mould
the national cricket team to his way of thinking, and therefore
this was the best time to go.
In the culture of brazenness and impunity that we live in, this
must come as a breath of fresh air. Our society is replete with
instances where people are asking of their leaders, and other
men and women in positions of responsibility, as to why they
aren’t leaving. With Jayewardene, the question is, why he is
leaving at this moment in time.
In recent months, we have had instances where persons who have
abused their positions of power and responsibility have
continued to cling on to their offices. So much so that the
courts of law have had to intervene and show them the door.
We have also witnessed the spectacle of leaders clinging onto
the mantle of leadership, despite repeated failures - even when
the clamour for them to leave has been strident. Such shouts
have fallen on deaf ears, or defeated through conspiracies and
palace coups, for the leaders to live to fight another day.
Mahela Jayawardene may be only thirty-one-years of age, but he
has acted with sagacity and maturity, that puts other leaders
and persons holding positions of power and responsibility in our
country to shame. Jayewardene may be out of form but surely,
this must be the best stroke he ever played.