Its all systems go | Daily News

Its all systems go

Its election time once again, with Chairman of the Elections Commission Mahinda Deshapriya announcing that the Local Government Elections will be held on February 10, next year. The gazette setting out the date will be issued on December 26, he told a media briefing. A total of 15.7 million voters, in all the nine provinces, will go to the polls, on this day, to elect 8293 members for 23 Municipal Councils, 41 Urban Councils and 271 Pradeshiya Sabhas, in what is billed as the biggest election to be held in the country, so far. Deshapriya, also, as is his wont, has read the riot act warning elections law violators of tough and drastic action. There is little doubt that he would live up to his word, and, reputation, in this regard, if his actions at both, the presidential and general elections, is anything to go by.

There, of course, has been criticism on the long delay in holding the election. However it has to be accepted that there were genuine reasons for this, chief of which was the delimitation of electoral boundaries to favour one political party, that was carried out by the Rajapaksa regime, as was witnessed in the shift of a large chunk of territory from the Badulla District to Moneragala to buttress the regime's chances, at the last Uva Provincial Council election.

The Feb. 10 mini poll is to cost the taxpayer a massive Rs. 3000 million and it is hoped that this spending will be justified by the results shown on the ground. This is because Local Government bodies have so far only been a collective burden on the tax payer, and, which benefited only those elected, with voters getting a raw deal.

It is well and good that the LG elections are held even after an inordinate delay. Elections, after all, are the lifeblood of democracy and is also an ideal barometer not only to test the popularity of the rulers, but, also if the policies pursued by the government have succeeded or failed. However, it has also to be said that Local Government elections so far held in this country were always won by the party, or, alliance in power, indicating that larger national issues failed to have an impact, at these mini polls, with the voter. For one thing, the voters are aware who holds the purse strings, and, who is capable of ladling the gravy. Those in the position to shower largess always won. There is no indication that this poll is going to be any different.

True, living costs have soared and certain ruling party politicians have not exactly stood the test of public probity. There have also been failings in other areas such as the slow pace of development and the inability to implement election promises, such as roping in the swindlers and crooks of the former regime.

The positives, though, have far outweighed the negatives. The public today are free from fear and oppression. They have the freedom to criticize the government, as seen ad nauseam on television. The media is enjoying unbridled liberty, so much so some private TV channels are on a relentless mission to bring down the regime. No journalist is abducted, tortured or killed, after being ‘white vanned'. Minority communities are not harassed or their businesses set on fire. The salaries of public servants have been raised by a whopping Rs. 10,000, the prices of essential drugs have been drastically slashed and meaningful steps have been taken by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to offer essential goods at reduced prices, to the public, with the cooperation of the private sector, including the Super Market chains.

What is more, activists of the Joint Opposition are pledging their loyalty to President Maithripala Sirisena in their droves, with two JO parliamentarians already in the government fold, indicating which way the wind is blowing. Panic buttons are being pressed, with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa urging voters to use the LG poll as a referendum to protest the government's move to bring in a new constitution, dispose of national assets, and, the witch-hunt carried out against the war heroes, failing to realize that the simple village folk are far removed from issues of constitution making, bond scams or macroeconomic strategies.

All they are interested in is the here and now- to repair their roads, culverts, bridges, ensure drinking water facilities and the proper disposal of the garbage and the resolution of other mundane problems. No larger stakes come into the equation at mini elections.

Besides, those contesting these elections will be grassroots leaders from the political parties, who are known, and, are, close to the locals, and, unscathed from any scandal that may have rubbed off on some of the top echelons in the Unity Government. Corruption allegations against the JRJ/Premadasa led UNP failed to sway the voters, nor did they against CBK, when their governments were in power, and all mini elections were won handsomely. There is no reason to doubt history repeating itself, this time around too.


 

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