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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Endless elections, a false sense of democracy and a vicious political system

By Upali Tennakoon | Lanka Independent Published on July 31, 2011 at 4:20 am
In Sri Lanka there is no dearth of elections.There are elections through out the year and the whole country is wrapped in

President Mahinda Rajapakse laden with garlands
election heat. The government is ready to go for elections, any day any time. No one knows about the cleanliness and transparency of these elections but everyone accepts the results without any kind of hesitation or questioning.
There are various kinds of elections such as presidential elections, general elections, provincial council elections and local government elections. Apart from these, even the elections of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) and Sri Lanka Bar Association are highly politicised.
Election mania
This has now turned out to be an ‘election mania’. How can these elections contribute towards the betterment of the country and its people? If there is even an iota of benefit, there is no harm in conducting such elections. but, as we all know, there’s no visible advantage but only an utter waste of money, time and energy.
These elections definitely create rifts and hullabaloos. Moreover, they create disruptions, destruction and trigger hooliganism. there are tens of thousands of news reports to substantiate these facts. Such events ultimately pull back the country’s development and unity. Even after the election, there are numerous reports with regard to post-election violence. Perhaps Sri Lanka is the only country in the world that is so afflicted with elections.
The same old song
But the rulers often chime that Sri Lanka is an independent, sovereign and democratic country. They say that everyone in this country can live freely without any fear. Is this acceptable? are we really free? Do we have to accept this just because our so called leaders shamelessly chant these words in front of the masses? We need to think more about these questions.
Presently we are in the aftermath of another election – The second phase of the local government elections. On 17th of March this year, the first phase of this election concluded with a resounding victory to the ruling coalition United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). This was due to the fact that earlier the elections of 65 Local Government bodies were postponed due to some complications related to nomination papers and the matter was resolved in courts.
Huge victory
However, in the recently concluded election, the government registered a huge victory. Almost all the media reported this victory as a “remarkable” one. Given the huge margin between the votes obtained by the government and the opposition, there was no other way of defining it.
Election law violated
But there are serious doubts as to whether the media covered all the election law violations which took place during the election season. Sometimes, the print and electronic media reported such incidents as foot notes and gave little prominence to them. Some incidents remained unreported. Sometimes even the Police did not accept certain complaints made by the opposition political parties. There were serious complaints about election law violations and malpractices in the North.
There were various missions and campaigns to instill fear among the supporters and activists of the TNA. Reportedly, no serious investigation was carried out into these incidents. This is of course a disappointing situation particularly to the people who still have faith in democracy.
during the recent election, the government secured power in 45 Local Government bodies out of 65 institutions.The ruling coalition obtained 943724 votes and 512 seats. The UNP did not win even a single Local Government institution. The party obtained 328981 votes and thus it received 137 seats.The Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) received 169519 votes and obtained 183 seats. The ITAK secured power in 18 LG bodies. The JVP obtained 42426 votes and obtained 13 seats without the power in any Local Government(LG) institution. The TULF obtained 5477 with 12 seats and secured power in 2 LG institutions.
The result of the second phase of local government election is pretty much parallel to the result of the first phase.
Party Votes obtained percentage seats LG bodies
UPFA 3352483 55.89% 1853 205
TNA 70171 1.17% 76 12
UNP 2032891 33.89% 892 9
SLMC 88592 1.48% 50 4
Independent Parties 162292 2.71 62 1
JVP 181270 3.02% 57 0
UPF 41022 0.68% 21 0
Valid votes – 5998813
Rejected votes – 282098
Total polled -6280911
Registered voters – 9399288
Turnout – 66.82%
Large section have not voted for govt
according to the chart 33.28 percent of the total voters have refrained from voting. As a number it stands at 3400475. Surprisingly, this number exceeds the number of total votes obtained by the UPFA with a margin of 47992 votes. If we add the number of un-polled votes to the number of opposition votes, there would be a total of 6027113 votes.

Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse seen here casting his vote at the D.A. Rajapakse Vidyalaya in Medamulana, Hambantota on March 17. His son parliamentarian Namal Rajapakse looks on waiting his turn. The polling was to elect representatives for 234 local government bodies. The recently concluded election was a re polling in 65 of those bodies. Photo by Sudath Silva
This, quite obviously, does not auger well for the government. Though the government chants that it has received a percentage of 55.89 and obtained a two thirds majority, a large section of voters have not voted in favour of the government. They have either refrained from voting or voted against the government.
Mud pool
Certainly it is a given fact that each and every one who did not cast their vote will not vote against the government. Sometimes, even the UNP voters must have refrained from voting due to various internal conflicts within the party. The UNP has turned out to be a mud pool where various people sling mud at each other. This can certainly disappoint supporters and voters of the party. But, the government on the other hand, can’t be ‘too overjoyed’ with this result. The top leaders of the government should understand the ominous message which lies underneath the election result.
Dormant voters will come alive
Naturally, when the people get frustrated about the regime, they become excited and enthusiastic about elections. Because it is the major way to effect a regime change. Sri Lanka’s past elections in 1970 and 1977 will prove this fact. When there is a decisive election, these ‘unpolled’ votes will surely become activated and play a crucial role to make a change. In a context such as this, the percentage of polled votes will increase by 25-30 percent. It will be a nightmarish experience for the government. All the other unaddressed socio-economic problems such as economic downturn, unemployment, cost of living, health issues will trigger this situation.
The election result in the North highlights some serious questions too. It is apparent that the government has failed to win the hearts of the Tamils in the North. It is an indication of another rift. The government should be concerned as to why it failed to win the trust of the people in the North. Had they given them their rights, the situation would have been different. The government obtained this result from the North, notwithstanding the support it received by some Tamil political parties such as the EPDP.
The grand coalition vs the single party
The United People Freedom Alliance is undoubtedly a grand coalition vis-a-vis its main opponent the UNP. Though the latter is a single political party, the UPFA is a coalition of 11 constituent parties that includes Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim nationalistic political movements. There are constituent parties such as Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Ceylon Workers Congress, Communist Party of Sri Lanka, Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party, Jathika Hela Urumaya, Lanka Samasamaaja Party, Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, National Congress, National Freedom Party and Sri Lanka Freedom Party. These parties represent all the races and ethnicities in Sri Lanka. It is in this backdrop that the government was not able to win the hearts of the people in the North.
The future and the economy
But, the ruling coalition does not seem to have understand this reality. Sometimes it appears that the government is deliberately trying to fool itself as well as the citizenry. Generally, the citizenry bears a huge responsibility when it comes to elections. That is to make necessary decisions towards the betterment of the future. They can have different political opinions and viewpoints. But, this particular responsibility does not change. The citizenry of the countries that have achieved development goals, takes all the necessary decisions by considering two major facts; the future and the economy. In elections, the economic plan will be the match-winning factor. But in countries like Sri Lanka, the situation is entirely different.
We can often hear the way people put the blame on certain uneducated, uncultured and uncivilized politicians. But all of these politicians get into politics with the blessing of the public. Those who blame such politicians today, are the ones who elected them to the parliament, yesterday. Voters have continuously made wrong decisions and as a result of that they suffer.
Tough period
The United National Party on the other hand is going through a very tough period. There are various internal conflicts within the party and numerous cat fights for the party leadership. This has intensified prevailing divisions and rifts. The more they fight, the more divisions will be created. This situation has spread frustration and disappointment among the supporters and the government has benefited from it. The party needs unity more than any thing. Then only the party can win the faith of the people. It will, as I believe, certainly give birth to a new leader.
Time to look to the next election
Let bygones be bygones. There will be another election in a few moths for 18 municipal councils. So now, it is high time to educate the public and make everyone aware of the socio-economic realities that we face in the present.
Sri Lanka should not have any divisions based on parties, ethnicities or provinces. The country should remain as one big unit and everyone should have equal opportunities. The democratic rights of the public should be ensured and established and moreover the prevailing ‘fear psychosis’ should be eliminated. Everyone should be free from fear and the government has to make immediate steps to fulfill this.
During the election period,politicians do come up with various promises, But at the end of the day, the vast majority of these promises remain day dreams. When there is another election, these politicians put forth the same promises again and the people get repeatedly deceived. This continued as a cycle throughout the past 50 odd years and it needs to be broken immediately. Only then can we rectify this vicious political system.

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