The Sunday Leader

No Election News Today

Election laws of this country prevent publication of news, comments or any editorial or advertising material – considered to be biased or partial – pertaining to candidates or political parties, 48 hours before the election. There are laws banning many other activities today, such as demonstrations and political meetings.

It takes off much of the momentum that has been gathering in the past weeks and is obviously meant to be a wet blanket thrown on the proceedings. ‘Non-biased’ or ‘impartial’ means not being critical or supportive of any candidate. It limits the description of any candidate to his curriculum vitae.

Nonetheless that’s the law of the country and even before precepts of Yahapalanaya – good governance – came into fashion the law was enforced and observed.

There are many such restrictive laws that smacks of colonial times. One is to close down all outlets of liquor sales, taverns, bars, clubs serving liquor and in fact anything to do with liquor by order of the Excise Commissioner on: days of religious significance, big public rallies and of course on days of elections.

The colonial thinking would have been: Damn the loss of revenue. These bloody natives don’t know how to hold their drinks and would spark unrest against His Majesty’s Government. Close the bloody bars.

Of course this thinking did not extend to the ‘pukka sahib’ bars that they patronized. Our Khaki uniformed fraternity, like their white bosses, stood and still stand for discipline with a capital D. No thinking is required. But any person on the street knows that imbibers are sozzled to a much greater degree on days of bans than on days when liquor is legally available.

Elections in a real sense were held in this country when colonialism was on its last legs. And departing traditions of the White Sahibs were lapped up by the succeeding bureaucratic Brown Sahibs. Demeaning Sri Lankan journalists was one such tradition. The dashed native journalists could not be trusted to serve the ruling class that succeeded the departing colonials and could wreck a democratic election, wittingly or unwittingly. Many local journalists were Commies at the time of Independence! Giving a free rein could mean the freedom of the Wild Ass. So tighten all press laws and regulations particularly before elections. And this practice continues seven decades after Independence.

In contrast, in the world’s most powerful democracy, there are no restraints placed on the media on the day of election or any day before or after. The legendary New York Times as a matter of policy publishes articles and editorials on the day of elections declaring why they are supporting a particular candidate. So does the Washington Post and many leading American newspapers. Imagine American TV being brought under bureaucratic regulations on the day before elections.

Foreign election observers appear to be another neocolonial manifestation in our electoral process.

Nelson Mandela himself, after he became the leader of South Africa, pointed out the contrasting facts of the democratic process in the Third World and developed countries. There are no foreign election observers when developed countries conduct elections but Third World countries invite such observers for their elections, Mandela pointed out. Whether presence of foreign observers helps improve the process of electioneering is indeed doubtful.

If a strong political party wants to rig an election, it will do so even if foreign election observers are present or not. The declarations made by observers matter little to desperate leaders who want to win. Winning or losing is a matter of life and death and opinion of foreigners do not matter. This has been evident in some African countries where leaders have not cared two hoots on the observations of officially approved foreign watchers.

On the other hand when the electoral process is more sophisticated, rigging can take place under the noses of foreign observers who may be hamstrung by their international obligations to declare that the election was rigged or they are blissfully unaware of that rigging took place.

There are some Sri Lankan contestants with bitter experiences who could advise some foreign observers now here.

The most dangerous thing about foreign observers is that they could unwittingly give legitimacy to a rigged election. For instance when the result is close and the election is rigged through means unheard of in developed countries, foreign observers, through their blissful ignorance, may declare that ‘the election result was by and large fair!’

In Sri Lanka at past elections, there have been instances of genuine ballot papers in sizeable quantities being found dumped at unlikely places. There have been reports of key officials who had gone missing for hours while polling was on. Satisfactory explanations had not been made publicly.

Even in the world’s biggest democracy there is widespread belief that a presidential election was rigged. Al Gore polled more national votes than George W Bush, the winner, but lost on an electoral vote count in Florida with the US Supreme Court adjudging Bush as the winner. Not all believed the Supreme Court decision.

Results of past Sri Lankan elections have been considered to be fair and conducted commendably.

The Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya won encomiums all around for his performance at the January 8th Presidential election. We hope that he will repeat his performance tomorrow despite so many candidates being in the fray!

1 Comment for “No Election News Today”

  1. NAK

    Today’s Sunday Island has violated this law by publishing an article by Thesaranee Gunasekars,a well known Mahinda Rajapakse hater, promoting the UNP and Ranil Wickremeasinghe.

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