Testing our electoral system | Daily News


Testing our electoral system

Campaigning for the ninth Presidential election will kick off today after nominations are handed over at the Elections Secretariat by the largest contingent of contesting candidates at a Presidential Election so far in this country. The election has been fixed for November 16 by Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya by Gazette Notification. The front runners in the contest, no doubt, will be UNP’s Sajith Premadasa and former Defence Ministry Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa from the Pohottuwa, with the rest of the line up relegated to also-rans, even if Anura Kumara Dissanayaka may have some impact on vote patterns.

This Presidential Election will be different to all other national elections of the past, in that it will be held under an independent Elections Commission set up under the 19th Amendment. With the Police too functioning under an autonomous body, the political heat apart, by and large, a free and fair election could be expected with no room for manipulation or abuse of power by the governing party as in the past.

The Elections Chief has already read the riot act. Strict instructions have been issued to all candidates that they have to abide by the elections laws. That he means business has been demonstrated by even some Government Ministers being taken to task for allegedly grating job appointments or distributing goodies and other handouts to the voters. He has also warned against the continuation of all current trade union action including the railway strike, after nomination day. This is as it should be. We say this because under elections laws if overt promotion of candidates is not permitted it also follows that covert promotion of candidates should not be allowed since, for all intents and purposes, the current wave of strikes is politically motivated to promote a single candidate currently in the fray. The President, no less, has made this revelation.

The Elections Commission has also banned all posters and cutouts of candidates in public places and restricted the setting up election offices in the electorates. This, no doubt, is with a view to ensuring a level playing field since all candidates cannot afford to carry out elaborate campaigns. Besides, the rash of posters which otherwise would have sprung up in every nook and corner would not only have become an eyesore but also cause damage to the environment. In the past a machine called the ‘poster buster’ was used to blow away these election posters from the city walls. It is not known if such still exist.

The proliferation of the candidates in such numbers, no doubt, is going to bring with it its own problems. To begin with, equal time has to be reserved for all candidates (including Independents) over the state owned television and radio stations which is going be problemetic and is bound to encroach on the normal programmes of these television and radio stations cutting into revenue. Commendably, the Elections Commission Chairman, has, beforehand, warned all candidates not to use their airtime to promote other candidates in the fray. In the past this was more the rule than the exception with a particular candidate receiving an undue advantage as a result. There is also the problem faced when announcing the election results with the vote tally of each candidate required to be announced. With some forty candidates already in the fray (there could be last minute additions) announcing results may take the best part of two days before they are finally added up. Still it is a sign of democracy at full play to observe so many candidates in the line-up.

To many observers, the campaign had already hit the streets, with the leading contenders actively mobilizing support. Sajith Premadasa’s nomination has certainly galvanized the party’s rank and file with grassroots support that appeared demoralized, seeing a marked resurgence. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa too received a boost the other day with the Court of Appeal ruling in his favour in a case calling into question his citizenship.

So it will be all systems go from now on for the next 40 days until D-day. The Government received wide praise for conducting a free and fair Local Government election in February last year, so much so that it was the first time that an incumbent regime lost a LG poll in this country. It is also a measure by which the public came to a judgement on the virtues of the Independent Commissions that were established by the Yahapalanaya Government that facilitated the process. Interestingly, our neighbour states may send some of their election administrators to study the success of our system. It is hoped that the upcoming Presidential Election too would live up to similar expectations.

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