|The attention of the entire country is now
focussed on the nation’s sixth presidential poll
that will be conducted in 37 days. The process
entered the final phases last Thursday (17), when
nominations were received.
Dayananda Dissanayake, presiding on the occasion,
made a few salient observations, and this would be
an opportune moment as any, to reflect on these
thoughts from the long-suffering Commissioner, who
is serving well past his retirement, despite serious
Commissioner Dissanayake observed that an
Elections Commission- modelled on the lines of the
Commission in India, could be a progressive step in
eliminating most of the problems associated with
elections in this country. Nothing went wrong in
India, so there is no reason why it should not
succeed in Sri Lanka, Dissanayake said.
In the run up to this election, there have been
disputes about the use of the State media and the
use of ‘cut-outs’ to promote candidates, the latter
being a clear violation of election laws.
Commissioner Dissanayake was quite clear about
what could be done when election laws are flouted.
The Police Department and the Inspector General of
Police should act in accordance with law, the
Commissioner argued, saying that the existing legal
framework was quite sufficient for the Police to act
without fear or favour.
Already, the President himself has ordered that
his ‘cut-outs’ be removed immediately, and that is
indeed commendable. However, whether the
presidential orders are carried out to the letter is
left to be seen, and we sincerely hope that the
Police would have the courage to do so, in the
interests of a free and fair election.
As for the alleged abuses in the State-run media,
we are aware that the matter is now before the
Supreme Court. The Commissioner has been met by
opposition parties who want him to intervene by
appointing a competent authority to regulate
election related material in the media, in the
campaigning period, but the Commissioner will no
doubt be guided by what the Supreme Court
The Commissioner also noted that there were 22
candidates in the fray for the January 26 election,
the highest number of candidates for a presidential
election in this country. He was also mindful that
this could be because some candidates could use the
air time allocated to them to promote other
candidates, which he said was a blatant violation of
Obviously, the Commissioner does not believe that
more is merrier in this instance, and he is probably
right. The amounts of money required from candidates
to pay as deposits have been determined many years
ago, and have not been revised for some time now.
As a result, Rs 50,000 and Rs 75,000 deposits
required from political party candidates and
independent candidates respectively, are
ridiculously low in these inflation ridden days.
Here, an overhaul of the law, as the Commissioner
pointed out, is urgently necessary, or we may see
the spectacle of over a hundred candidates at the
next presidential election!
The Commissioner did rule, using the powers at
his disposal, that only previously approved officers
such as grama niladharis, could issue temporary
identity cards that would establish a person’s
integrity at the time of voting.
This is a commendable step indeed, but obviously,
more needs to be done between now and January 26,
because there are hundreds of thousands of potential
voters without valid proof of identity- and they
need to be informed of this requirement, instead of
becoming aware of it on polling day.
The Commissioner’s comments, timely as they are,
are a reflection on the dire need for a significant
overhaul of our election laws. What we have seen in
the recent past is an indefatigable Commissioner who
has been working very hard at democratising the
process of electioneering- but he has been
handicapped because, although he is able to identify
potential threats to democracy, he has only a few
legal teeth to deal with them.
This is a glaring lapse in our system, and what
political parties will do well to remember is that,
what is to their advantage today, will work against
them tomorrow- if they are on the ‘other’ side, be
it the ruling party or the opposition.
This is also a time when the entire nation is
contemplating serious and significant Constitutional
reforms, in the aftermath of ending the separatist
war, as a means of establishing permanent peace in
this country. We are indeed at a critical crossroads
in post-independent Sri Lanka, and such a
Constitutional overhaul is the need of the hour.
If our leaders have the foresight that eluded
their predecessors for the past 60 years, they would
surely introduce a fairer election system backed by
the necessary legislation, without further ado. That
will be a small step for a government, but a giant
stride for democracy in Sri Lanka- and finally,
Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake could get to
enjoy his retirement too!