Letters to the Editor

24th September 2000

Vote: Any takers?

I am a "suffering-citizen" one among the many who have no political affiliations and who have not benefited by even one cent from whoever sits on the "throne" and rules the country. 

On the contrary we have always fallen from the frying pan to the fire after every election. Meanwhile our self-styled "political saviours" have regularly increased their salaries, allowances and other perks ignoring their countrymen who have only one square meal a day and some none at all. 

I will not cast my vote for a candidate or party: 

(1) That has defaced my walls and the neighbourhood with their repulsive posters.

(2) That has accepted higher salaries, perks, "big" arrears and duty-free car permits during the last term of Parliament, having promised to make sacrifices for the people; 

(3) That did not have a clear conscience to refuse the subsidized meals they enjoyed at the expense of the suffering masses some of whom starve many days a month. 

(4) Who were a burden to the public by misusing their free electricity, free telephone, free postal, free petrol benefits. The common man had to pay for all these.

I will cast my vote to the candidate and party:

1) Who sincerely promises not to accept any increase in salary, allowances and other perks during their term of office. 

2) That compels its candidates to declare their assets before an election. They should also declare their liabilities like loans taken etc.

3) That promises to have just a few ministers.

4) That will abolish subsidized meals in Parliament and MPs' Hostels. They should also pay half of their electricity, telephone, postal and petrol bills. 

That appoints: 

(a) An Independent Election Commission;

(b) An Independent Judicial Commission;

(c) An Independent Public Service Commission; 

(d) An Independent Police Commission;

(e) An Independent Bribery Commission;

(f) An Independent Education Commission.

A candidate who would behave himself/herself in Parliament and outside so that we could be proud of him/her and who will not use present day Parliamentary language. 

All promises should be sincere and genuine. They should not be a pack of lies as is always the case with the "Hypocrite Politikkas".

Any takers ? 

M.V.N.de Silva

Check on them before you vote

A.S.M. Perera P.C. wrote in The Sunday Times, as follows:-

"Let us end the era of deception and deceit. Let us take the first step to save our motherland from the present state of destruction by sending to Parliament a set of trustworthy, educated and intelligent men who love their country and who will not lie to the people". 

Very wise words indeed. But how can we, voters keep the thugs and liars out of Parliament? One way is to make discreet inquires about the character of the candidates. More than education, character is important. If our inquiries reveal that all the candidates before us are unsuitable to be in Parliament we should write on the ballot paper "None Suitable" and put it in the ballot box. We are not compelled to vote for them if they are not suitable. 

In this way we will be able to send to Parliament only trustworthy and intelligent men who love their country and keep out the deceitful and untrustworthy from Parliament. 

M.Z. Rahaman

We are behind you, Mr. Commissioner

The indignant reaction by some of the Cabinet ministers and the government media to the printing of security stickers for the official poll-cards suggests that the action of the Commissioner of Elections (EC) has touched a sore point in the campaign strategy of the governing party.

There must have been some valid reason for the commissioner to introduce such a new safety precaution. My view is that it will not hurt the ordinary voter and he will probably welcome such safety devices. The only people who will get hurt are those bent on using other people's poll cards to conduct largescale vote rigging.

Let us see the arguments used against the EC's action.

(1) That the EC has not consulted the political parties concerned;

(2) That the EC has not got the stickers printed at the Government Press or any other government owned establishment; 

(3) That he should have followed the usual government tender procedures in selecting the printing contractor.

To reinforce the security argument the government media has shamelessly but indirectly brought in the ethnic factor repeatedly mentioning that both the contractor and the subcontractor are Tamil. So much for their commitment to ideals of ethnic harmony.

Argument 1: This is childish. It is common knowledge that most largescale malpractice is conducted by units headed by party stalwarts, often with the knowledge of the leaders. If the party leaders are told about the safety precaution beforehand, the purpose will be lost as their dirty-work gangs will be advised to adjust their strategy.

Argument 2: It is true that the Government Press is geared to print confidential documents. But we also know that its workforce is highly politicized. Nothing can prevent the message going out to the party headquarters through the politically aligned trade unions. This is also generally true of other public sector establishments. I am sure that the EC had this possibility in mind when he chose an innocuous little press specialized in printing security labels.

Furthermore, is it not true that many public sector agencies normally get their security documents printed by the private sector (Cheque Leaves, Identity Cards, Passports, Driving Licences, and even Currency notes). 

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with asking a private printer to do part of the printing provided sufficient guarantees are available to the EC. After all this is a government which has made policy statements placing its confidence in the private sector (the engine of growth etc.,). Are these sentiments confined to words only? Some of the ministers still seem to carry anti-private sector hang-ups and phobias from the controlled economy era.

Argument 3: There are sufficient instances where there were genuine reasons for not following normal tender procedures in awarding government contracts. 

For example the purchase of defence related equipment, smallscale rural works being given to village based groups including Samurdhi Balakayas. During the previous government, many Mahaweli Tenders were exempted, the whole of the Housing Ministry Projects were not falling within the tender discipline for a long time. Can any one of the ministers who have chosen to condemn the EC say with certainty that they did not go to cabinet even once, to ask for exemption from tender procedures or to overturn a recommendation made by a competent tender board? It is clear that the EC had a very sound reason for bypassing tender procedures and given the nature of the work it would not have been appropriate to consult the Executive the members of which are highly involved in electioneering. This brings us to the core principle here - the powers and responsibilities of the Elections Commissioner.

Once the Parliament is dissolved and elections are on, this official assumes considerable power and discretion. His powers flow from the Constitution and the various election statutes. They must not be underestimated. He is no ordinary public servant and therefore does not have to get approval of a minister, the Cabinet or even the president in matters relating to the conduct of the election. 

The Elections Commissioner in India is feared by all because of his extraordinary powers at the time of Elections including the power to postpone elections. Even though our EC may not have such powers, I hope he will have the strength to stand up to any adversity, looking back for inspiration to his illustrious predecessors. As far as we - the ordinary people can see, the integrity of the present incumbent is beyond question. It is in any case much superior to those of his present critics.

So my appeal is that the voters of this country should stand firmly behind the Commissioner. Various civil society organizations which struggle to re-establish a culture of free and fair elections should also raise their voices now and ask the politicians not to interfere in the work of the EC. 

The attempt by some of them to tame him must be thwarted decisively. Remember there was an earlier attempt to tame another organ of the state, which ended in some unpleasant experience to the tamer. Private media irrespective of party affiliations must express their support to the Commissioner. 

Being a person who feels that Sri Lanka deserves a better political culture, I express my thoughts, not prompted by anyone, and not guided by any political affiliation. I have no personal acquaintance with the present EC. But I think he is doing a great job. With such a big responsibility in his hands, should he not deserve more respect and peace of mind?

Concerned Citizen

Chandrananda de Silva didn't do it

In a statement to The Sunday Times which appeared on September 3, the Assistant Commissioner K. Senanayake, said that the practice of submitting a report after an election was begun by Chandrananda de Silva during his tenure as Commissioner of Elections. This is incorrect. 

To set the record straight, it must be stated that as far back as 1952, V.L. Wirasinghe, Commissioner of Parliamentary Elections, issued a report on the 1952 Parliamentary Election conducted by him. 

The present Department of Elections was established in 1955 for the purpose of conducting both Parliamentary and Local Elections. The first Commissioner, A. Arulpiragasam, C.C.S., conducted the 1956 Parliamentary Election and issued his report. In 1957, E.F. Dias Abeysinghe, Commissioner of Local Government, was appointed Commissioner of Elections. He conducted five Parliamentary Elections, e.g. two Parliamentary Elections in 1960 (March and July), one in 1965, 1970 and 1977. He issued reports on every one of these elections and even had them presented as Sessional Papers. 

There were no Parliamentary Elections during 1978-82 when M.A. Piyasekera functioned as Commissioner of Elections and after him, L.A.G. Jayasekera, as Acting Commissioner. 

Chandrananda de Silva, who assumed duties as Commissioner of Elections in 1982, was, therefore, only following the precedent set by his predecessors in office in issuing reports of elections he conducted. 

Although it is not mandatory for a report on the elections to be published, it must be mentioned that an Election Report is a useful document and is a record of the manner in which the election was conducted. The report contains its shortcomings and successes and will help in making the necessary changes in the law, etc., for better elections. 

The reports of past Commissioners of Elections were very much in demand and sought after by scholars and Professors of Social Science and Psephology, and by some foreign governments, which were highly appreciative of the value of such reports. 

A.J.R. Lucas

Poster pollution

There is a poster laying claims to offer clean politics, displayed in almost every conceivable space in the Western Province. The assorted garbage bins also carry a fair share of these posters, although they haven't done much to even improve the looks of these bins.

It is true that no one can be blamed for the face he is endowed with, but the blatant attempt to foist it on others is certainly not acceptable. In this case one can recall an old doggerel. 

As a beauty I'm not a star, 

There are others more handsome by far. 

My face, I care not a whit

For I am always behind it. 

It's the ones in front that get the jar. 

The people in this country are strained having to see miles and miles of contorted faces with tooth-paste grins, and confused whether these are laughing with them or at them. Generally one is tempted to take a second look only to confirm the first bad impression. 

It is obvious that the mercenary hoodlums generally, high on spirits, putting up various posters are not imbued with any party allegiances. 

They are quite often willing to daub the existing one with gobs of paste and to superimpose the poster of another member of the same party. There is certainly no positive correlation between the numbers of posters displayed and the votes that can be expected at the polls. It is about time the people showed their resentment and in fact ensure an inverse relation. 

As schoolchildren we were made conscious of the futility of trying to impress others with mere external show and the common refrain in vogue was:

"Only those with monkey faces

Displayed their mugs in public places." 

Are the people going to further tolerate this kind of political extravagance? 



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