Let the ballot express our wishes

Tuesday, January 26, will be a crucial day in the history of this country, when it elects its sixth Executive President. Much has already been said of this election, perhaps the most divisive and acrimonious presidential poll that has been staged in this country.

We shall not comment on the merits and demerits of the respective candidates. These issues have been analysed elsewhere in this newspaper. However, we would wish to focus on two issues: The conduct of the election and the challenges facing the President who will be elected on Tuesday.

Most would agree that, ever since this election was called in November, election laws have been observed in the breach. There has been a blatant disregard for the rules and regulations governing the polls. Ethics, morals and conventions have been cast aside, as the major parties embarked on their respective campaigns.
We witnessed how an exasperated Commissioner of Elections attempted to deal with the issue, first with appeals, then with warnings and strictures. Finally, in desperation, the Commissioner was to say that he would not visit his office, after the conclusion of the election!

We must also express our strong concern about the culture of violence that appears to be enveloping our electoral process. At the time of writing, four deaths have been reported, and the victims have been innocent party supporters who did nothing more than engage in their democratic right of supporting a candidate of their choice.

If the Commissioner of Elections was powerless to stop the malpractices that were being perpetrated during the campaign, then the Police stands accused of being silent spectators. It is no exaggeration to say that the public, whatever their party affiliations, has lost all respect for this Law enforcement authority, which is expected to uphold the Law, instead of breaking it themselves.

A rare positive note in this regard was observed last week, when the two general secretaries of the two main alliances contesting the poll, Susil Premajayantha of the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance and Tissa Attanayake of the United National Alliance emerged together at the Elections Commissioner’s office, to jointly appeal to party workers and voters to refrain from election violence.

Indeed, it is a fact that, after all the vitriolic rhetoric at the election, the political leaders will shake hands, forget the past and think of what would be their next step. It is the innocent party worker at the grassroots level who will lose his property, limb or life, all for the sake of an election in which he is only a minute stakeholder.
But, during the campaign, fuelled by rhetoric and rumour, passions are inflamed and tempers are frayed. There is violence and more violence to counter it. The trail of destruction leaves a sense of hatred, that only begets more disastrous consequences for all concerned. It is time that the average citizen understands this and does not become a dispensable pawn in the larger game of politics.

Already, fears have been expressed that the elections will be marred by more violence and irregularities, and we sincerely hope that this does not become a reality. We, as a nation, defeated the most ruthless terrorist organisation in the world. Surely, we should have enough discipline amongst ourselves to reign in our emotions and let the ballot - and not the bullet - express our wishes. 

We must also address the issue of what awaits the winner in Tuesday’s election. It is time to realise that this is the first presidential election in this country which is being conducted without the shadow of terrorism looming over it. Whoever wins the poll will, for the first time, inherit a country free of terrorism.
As we see it, two major hurdles lie in wait: the challenge of restoring economic prosperity to a nation ravaged by 30 years of war and the task of redressing the grievance of ‘minority’ communities, to ensure that the spectre of terrorism will never haunt this country ever again. These challenges, by themselves, are formidable. Therefore, the presidency, in a sense, will be a crown of thorns.

The economic reforms unleashed in the late ’70s, never reached their potential, because terrorism enveloped the nation in the early ’80s. Some development has taken place, but little Lanka can take a great leap forwards, if only they can be led towards that goal of economic prosperity. That will be a foremost task for the new President.

But that must be accomplished hand in hand with an understanding of the root causes of terrorism, and a commitment, vision and mission to resolve the issues facing the so-called ‘minority’ communities. Or else, we, as a nation, run the risk of getting caught in the vicious cycle of terrorism yet again.
These obstacles must be the first tasks for the newly elected President. Nevertheless, we hope that Tuesday will see a peaceful, free and fair poll, and that the man most suited to see Sri Lanka through to a new era of peace and prosperity, will win.