A sound decision | Daily News

A sound decision

Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya, it is reported, has banned political activity, at temples, and, other religious centres, during the duration of the LG election campaign. Accordingly no meeting, or, any activity of a political nature would be permitted, at religious centres, from the day of the commencement of nominations, that got underway on Tuesday, until the conclusion of the poll, our weekend publication, the Sunday Observer reported. A media campaign was also to be carried out to inform all political parties and Independent groups, in this connection, the chairman was quoted as saying.

It is part and parcel of the election law that no political party derives an undue advantage over others, at election time. This may come in the form of material benefits, cash handouts, and, other incentives that may oblige the voters to vote for a political party, dispensing such largess. In short, there should never be an advantage, or, ascendancy, gained by one political party over another, if the spirit of the election laws is to be followed to the letter. There is no knowing to what degree and extent Mahinda Rajapaksa derived an advantage through the distribution of sil redi among the Buddhist population countrywide during the Presidential election. But, there is no doubt, the gift, as it were, would have gone onto sway a mammoth chunk of the vote in his favour on January 8 , particularly the simple village folk, which comprise nearly 80 percent of the country's voting population.

Similarly, election activity or discussions held at a Buddhist centre, (no Christian religious centre, or, mosque, so far, have accommodate political parties within their sanctums) are bound to lend a distinct advantage to the political party, so engaged, due to the patronage extended by the chief custodians of these temples or, abodes, to the political party concerned, particularly if such prelates are popular with the masses.

It is this factor, which, no doubt, was exploited by Mahinda Rajapaksa, when he did the temple rounds, in the immediate aftermath of his defeat, bearing mal wattiyas, in order to cash in on the hold the temple has on the masses. But he took things further by using the Abhayaramaya as a veritable Head Quarters for his Mahinda samaga negitimu renaissance, turning that sanctified abode into a political market place.

Hence, the decision by the Elections Commission to ban places of religious worship, read temples, for political work, during elections, is to be commended. In fact this should have come from the Mahanayakes, given the desecration done to these abodes, with the help of political monks, who were, and, still are, in the payroll of the Rajapaksas.

Not just political activity, statements of a political nature, issued by monks, from their temple abodes, too, should be banned, by the chairman. This is taking into consideration the harm that is caused to the sanctity of such places, on the one hand, and, the influence this can have on the voter, on the other. There is also the case, where, politicians, under attack from political monks, usually are reluctant to counter such accusations out of regard for the saffron robe, which otherwise will be met head on ,in the case of a rival politician. Today, almost all these attacks from the monks are directed at government politicians, who may stand to lose public sympathy, if they challenge these monks, due to the respect for the cheewaraya. Hence, it will be one way traffic, to the advantage of the Joint Opposition.

Although the Commission cannot impose restrictions on monks expressing their view, politically, or, otherwise, openly, it behoves on the members of the Sangha to apply a degree of restraint, at least during the time of the current election campaign. Or, is it too much to expect, at a time when even the chief prelates, apparently, are divided on political lines?

John misunderstood

Much is being made of a speech made by Minister John Amaratunga, at a UNP rally in Ja-ela the other day, by private TV channels backing the Rajapaksas. The minister said UNP supporters need not fear anyone and that they were today in a position to stand up to any challenge, since the police and the government were ‘in their hands’ ape athey. The media went to town, giving a spin to this remark to suggest that the minister has threatened Opposition supporters, with one Joint Opposition stalwart even calling on the Election Commission to probe the minister's conduct.

In the melee, the context in which the minister made this statement was ignored. It is public knowledge that UNP supporters in Ja-ela, and, Wattala and, also, elsewhere, were at the receiving end of politically sponsored goon attacks, in the not too distant past, and, their political meetings broken up. What minister Amaratunga sought was to merely allay the fears of his supporters that times had changed and they were now free to carry out their political work in a climate free from fear, as a means of encouragement. 


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