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 present Commissioner.

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 produces them.

 Lessons from Mahela

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 responsibility involved.

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.