Polls sans polythene | Daily News

Polls sans polythene

In a country where elections are fairly frequent, election propaganda is a fact of life. Smiling candidates adorn our walls while multi-coloured banners extol their virtues. Our eyes and ears are inundated with television and radio advertisements singing the praises of political parties and candidates.

These candidates usually do not think about the damage caused to the environment in advertising their suitability for whatever public body. With the Local Government election only three months away, the time has come to take stock of this issue.

Although a ban on polythene decorations, banners and buntings had been in effect for all elections in previous years, this was observed more in the breach by candidates of all parties. Polythene is relatively cheap, easy to procure, easy to handle and durable. Hence its appeal to politicians who want to get the maximum exposure and publicity at polls time. After all, polythene is generally regarded as the easiest way to decorate public rallies of politicians.

Now President Maithripala Sirisena has intervened to put a full stop to this practice that is not only an eyesore but also causes harm to the environment. The President, who has taken many initiatives to safeguard the environment during the last three years, has instructed the Central Environment Authority (CEA) to ban the use of polythene for election decorations. The President has also told the CEA to take strict action in accordance with the law against those who violate the ban regardless of stature or political affiliation.

The President has also ordered the CEA to hold a meeting with all stakeholders and make them aware about the regulation. The President gave these instructions during a meeting at the Presidential Secretariat held to discuss matters related to improving efficiency in waste management at local authorities.

We hope that all political parties, independent groups and individual candidates will take heed of the Presidential Directive. There are alternative methods such as paper-based posters (which should be pasted only at designated boards and hoardings) as well as TV/radio newspaper advertisements to get the message across.

Besides, the election is being held under a different electoral system sans the infamous district-wide preferential vote. This alone will cut down drastically on the need for mass-scale propaganda materials as candidates will be vying only for a particular ward or electoral division. Electioneering costs will come down as a result. This will also give a better chance to the women candidates who generally shy away from the propaganda blitzes and intimidatory tactics of some of the wealthy male candidates.

In any case, laws are now being contemplated to enact a funding and spending ceiling for candidates, after reports emerged that some individual candidates had spent more than Rs.500 million for propaganda activities covering the entire district during the last General Election. This is a staggering amount by any means. There is a general belief in society that candidates are given generous donations by businessmen, who in turn seek favours and contracts once they are elected. This is a vicious cycle that needs to be stopped. Most countries already have laws that compel candidates to declare their funding sources and Sri Lanka should follow suit soon.

Candidates should be encouraged to advertise more on electronic and print media, instead of pasting posters and putting up banners, polythene, plastic or otherwise. With 8,000 candidates in the fray at the LG elections, giving free airtime to all candidates is out of the question, but the major political parties and independent groups should be given an opportunity to present their case before the public via radio and TV. Moreover, to keep local organising costs down, pocket meetings and door-to-door visits can be a more viable alternative to big rallies which are much more costly. The candidates’ own vehicle can also be used legally to advertise his or her credentials.

All candidates must also take care not to disturb children who are sitting the GCE Ordinary Level examination and students at schools during school hours, after the schools start for the first term on January 2, 2018. Indeed, the election activities should cause minimum disruption to the day-to-day lives to the people. This is also the reason why LG and Provincial Councils elections are now usually held on Saturdays, which is more or less a holiday for most people, even though overall costs could be a bit more as expenses such as overtime for elections staff have to be factored in.

Voters should look for candidates who pledge to protect the environment and natural resources including wildlife in their own areas. They should walk the talk, by not having any polythene or plastic decorations at their rallies. With garbage disposal having become a major issue recently, voters especially in urban areas should look out for candidates who have other plans for garbage, such as recycling and power generation. Above all, the onus is on the voters to select candidates who obey elections laws and normal laws, are non-violent and determined to serve the public at grassroots level - which is the very purpose of Local Government. 


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