The Guest Column by Victor Ivon

10th September 2000

Banding together against polls violence

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A system of administration by peoples representatives elected by popular vote may be considered an inherent feature of a democratic political system. But if this system is not free and fair such an administration cannot be called democratic.

It was the English who introduced a system of administration by peoples representatives elected through popular vote to our country. Till then we had a feudal monarchy where the ruler was selected in accordance to hereditary right. Since the people were not familiar with the newly introduced democratic system from its inception itself, election candidates obtained the peoples votes with money and other undue means. However, election malpractice was not an institutionalised process at that time and it did not change the fundamental trend in election results.

The situation today is different. Now election malpractices have been virtually institutionalised and the scale so great that it can change the trend of results.

Usually such a state of affairs takes root when the parliamentary system of government is abolished and a system of executive presidency, which concentrates a large amount of power in the hands of one individual, is established.

Under the system, which prevailed before that, it was not difficult for the people, to effect a change. The administration could be overturned through collective effort. But under the system of executive presidency the administration can not be dislodged easily.

When there was a system of parliamentary government, almost every election saw the ruling party losing to the opposition. Therefore the police and other institutions connected with the election functioned impartially and independently.

But under the executive presidential system, administrative power became something that could not be changed easily. As a result the independence of those institutions ceased to exist and they became puppets under an executive system. Before the 1978 constitution only the parliament had absolute political authority. When parliament was dissolved the public service and the security services functioned with commendable independence.

Under that constitution there were three kinds of institutions - the executive president, the parliament, and the provincial council. When one of these institutions was subjected to an election all the other institutions got involved in electoral functions. Under these conditions the public service, the armed services and security services came to function as puppets of the political authority.

An organised system of robbing votes was implemented for the first time at the Jaffna development council election in 1981. The same system was repeated at the referendum of 1982. We saw a repeat performance at the provincial council election of 1988, the presidential election of 1988 and the parliamentary election of 1989, where armed groups forced themselves into polling booths and seized ballot papers. Due to international pressure against this state of affairs the provincial council elections of 1991 was held in a free and fair manner.

The subsequent provincial council election as well as the parliamentary election of 1994 was held under free and fair conditions. The PA was able to win a close parliamentary election in 1994 because it was held in a free and fair manner.

During the PA regime the first instance of vote robbing took place in 1994, in the Kandy District. Thereafter, at the provincial council election of 1997 many such incidents took place throughout the country

The Wayamba provincial council election held in January 1999 may be considered the most despicable and biggest vote robbery in the entire history of elections in Sri Lanka. At the presidential election held subsequently in an atmosphere charged with emotion -due to the bomb attack directed against the president-a vote robbery took place, not in the rough manner of the Wayamba election, but in a subtle manner. If this trend continues, elections will turn into a violent war for power

The elections held from time to time to elect peoples representatives to political institutions are the life vein of a democratic political system.

If impure blood passes through this vein, the entire system will inevitably end in disaster. A change in this situation can be brought about not through sermons but through massive social action against this system of vote robbery.

The Alliance for Democracy intends to launch such a social action. This Alliance that consists of 60 major trade unions and organisations is an independent organisation which has no party politics. The aim of this organisation is to reform the system of political institutions and revive democracy. As an initial step it hopes to implement a programme to get a million people to wear yellow bands on their arms.

This yellow ribbon movement called "Swarna Bandana is somewhat similar to the "Sooriya Mal" movement.

It requests the people to wear on their arms a yellow ribbon or a yellow cord beginning from tomorrow to the election day, as a means of expressing the society's resolve to see a free and fair election.

The movement will approach employees in all hospitals in Colombo (from doctors to minor employees), bank employees, post and telecommunication employees, railway employees, university teachers and students, places of worship.

If a million people express their solidarity, it will not only minimize election malpractices at the upcoming election, but will also effect a renaissance in the system of political institutions which is in a state of collapse today.

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