|Tuesday, 2 March 2004|
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Ensuring a fair poll in North-East
With the 'Northern vote' coming into unprecedented focus and election campaigns getting into top gear, the issue of ensuring a free and fair polling process in the Northern Province assumes tremendous significance.
This is particularly in view of the fact that complaints and criticisms have been pouring in to the authorities over the conduct of the LTTE. The general allegation is that the LTTE is displaying intolerance and engaging in dictatorial conduct in relation to other Tamil political parties in particular, which are enjoying democratic representation in Parliament. For instance, the LTTE allegedly brutally gunned down a UNP Tamil candidate in Batticaloa on Monday.
The EPDP, has reportedly complained that the LTTE is preventing it from campaigning in full in the Jaffna peninsula, in an effort to stifle its voice among the Tamil people. If this is true, it would be most unfortunate because any attempts to prevent the Northern people from exercising their franchise freely, would put a huge question mark on the fairness and reliability of the Northern vote at the forthcoming poll.
We wish to state right away that the people of the North-East must be allowed to exercise their franchise in accordance with their wishes, freely and untrammelled. The Lankan authorities, including the Elections Commissioner, are obliged to ensure that the people of the region are in a position to do this, unhindered by any political force, organisation or institution. Ensuring a free and fair election in the North-East, therefore, is of paramount importance.
It has been the boast of the LTTE that it, and it alone, represents the Tamil people.
This is, of course, a very divisive issue and over the past two years in particular this questionable refrain has been allowed to go unchallenged. We, however, would like to differ.
The truth or otherwise of this claim to sole representatorship should be proved at a free and fair poll and it goes without saying that this claim by the LTTE has never been put to the test at an election. The April 2 poll would provide an opportunity to check the veracity of this claim, if the LTTE in particular ensures that a free and fair poll is conducted in the North-East. For, a significant vote for LTTE rivals would prove that a significant anti-LTTE vote exists.
Thus far, the LTTE has been unashamedly using its military muscle to exercise its diktat in the North-East vis-a-vis the people. The SLMM has, however, done a good job in preventing the LTTE from running roughshod in the region and from going completely out of control. Since the legitimacy of the election would prove a major issue in the future, the LTTE would do well to fall in line with the law and ensure a fair poll.
Towards greater GM safety
Gnetically modified (GM) foods have become a controversial issue in recent times. Genetic modification can involve the introduction of genes from one plant to another or the switching of genes between plants and animals to change the way they develop, usually to protect them from disease, increase their yield or enhance their commercial value.
There have been calls for a total ban on GM foods or at least for tighter regulations covering their handling, export, packaging and labelling. The latter demand has now been granted, with over 100 countries agreeing in Kuala Lumpur last week on a "rigorous system" for handling GM foods, which are formally known as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or Living Modified Organisms (LMOs). Environmental groups have hailed this accord as a victory over the stance adopted by the US, the world's biggest exporter of GM foods, and a few other rich countries.
Under the new system defined by the Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety, the common, scientific and commercial names of the GMOs along with the "transformation event code" must be documented. Handling and storage instructions must be clearly given. Documentation must also include contact details of traders and identify the GMO's risk class.
These steps will enable countries around the world to enjoy the benefits of biotechnology with greater confidence while safeguarding against any risks. It will no longer be possible to 'hide' the genetic status of a given food product.
On the other hand, we must also look at the positive side of biotechnology. For example, genetic manipulation has given us new varieties of rice, which are more disease resistant. That is a major gain for Third World countries dependent on agriculture.
Although some have labelled GM foods as "Frankenfoods" after the fictional man-made monster Frankenstein, there is little evidence that all GMOs are intrinsically harmful to human health and to the environment. More research is needed in this area to reach a firm conclusion on GMOs' effects.
As consumers, we should be looking at that label in the pack. Right now, it contains only nutritional information, ingredients and the expiry date. In a few months, GM information should also appear. Making an informed decision on selecting or shunning GM foods should be left to individuals, not necessarily to regulatory authorities.
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