Bowing to the inevitable | Daily News


Bowing to the inevitable

As widely anticipated, the General Election scheduled for April 25 was postponed yesterday in the face of the Coronarvirus threat. The announcement was made by Elections Commission (EC) Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya at a hurriedly summoned media conference at the Election Secretariat in Rajagiriya, shortly after nominations closed. The new date of the poll will be announced on March 26.

The move comes in the wake of COVID-19 infected victims in the country reaching the half century mark. The postponement of the election came as no surprise with more voices being added to the growing calls for the polls to be rescheduled. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had placed the ball firmly in the court of the Elections Commission. The EC, in terms of the Parliamentary Elections Act No 01 of 1981 is empowered to put off the Elections under special circumstances. At least two Government ministers and a number of Opposition politicians have spoken in favour of postponing the General Election on the basis that priority should be assigned to contain the fast spreading Coronavirus.

The Puttalam district and several other areas were placed under a police curfew in a bid to round up those returnees from Italy who had slipped through the dragnet. These individuals have acted in a very irresponsible manner in failing to abide by the health guidelines of the authorities. Our front page picture yesterday where a group of pilgrims were shown climbing the Sri Pada summit says it all.

Others have even taken advantage of the extended holidays to organise cricket matches when it is being constantly dinned into the public over the media to avoid gathering in numbers and physical contact between individuals, a callousness which even drove the President to anger. This while all precautions have been put in place and preparations finalized to deal with all eventualities by the authorities.

In this context it is vital that the focus must be shifted to areas that are not in the most vulnerable category. There were news reports that several estate youth employed in the tourism industry had returned home and could be susceptible to the virus given the cramped conditions in estate line rooms and other infrastructure deficiencies. The North and the East too should come under the microscope, given the population density in these areas.

Still there is no necessity for undue panic, since, as already mentioned, all that needs to be done has been undertaken, though it is regrettable that the Government has been compelled to fight the virus on several fronts, the latest being to counter the disinformation campaign floated by certain Opposition politicians to undermine the efforts of the Government. In this context it is unfortunate that an ex-military officer of the calibre of Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka should choose this moment to spread unfounded rumours based on a Facebook post. He, more than anybody else, should know how damaging and dangerous such falsehoods can affect the populace.

It is time that all citizens act responsibly in seeing through the immediate danger in our midst. This is not the time to play cheap politics when the country is going through an unprecedented health crisis. Unity in times of adversity should be the watchword. At a time like this it would also be ideal if all religious leaders enjoin their followers to act in unison to overcome the situation.

The Government, for its part, should take the people into its confidence and state the situation exactly as it is. This way, the public will be better informed and be in a position to appreciate the crisis and respond accordingly. The President has ordered that all information pertaining to the Coronavirus should be disseminated only through the National Operations Centre headed by Army Commander Lt General Shavendra De Silva. This is a prudent move because it is the Army that has taken the lead in measures to combat the virus and is in the best position to portray the true picture. Rumour mongers should be firmly dealt with.

If need be a lockdown should be imposed on social media which has been spreading misinformation and falsehoods since the outbreak of the virus. Perhaps the success of China in combating the virus, so far, may well be attributed to its policy of non tolerance of social media. Here too, if things get out of hand, the country may have to be put literally on a war footing.

Be that as it may, the crisis wrought by a deadly invasive virus should not be made an obsession with the public. Normal life should go on to that degree as is feasible. This includes administrative functions. President Rajapaksa has authorized the release of Rs.1.25 billion from the Consolidated Fund for the uninterrupted continuation of Government services and development activities. Nothing should keep the wheels of State from moving for the uplift of the citizenry.

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