Polls phobia
Posted on October 13th, 2016

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole’s article on the opposite page today sheds light on the predicament of the National Election Commission (NEC), which has become a whipping boy for the incumbent government afflicted with what may be called polls phobia. The outspoken don calls the independence of the NEC, of which he is a member, into question. He deserves praise for having the courage to turn the searchlight inwards and also exposing the conceited politicians pretending to be great democrats.

Going by the manner in which the ruling party leaders trifle with the NEC members one may wonder whether a sinister attempt is being made to reduce the NEC, too, to an appendage of the government.

Elections are the lifeblood of democracy and no government has a right to postpone them for political reasons. The SLFP-led United Front government extended the life of Parliament by two years arbitrarily without elections until 1977 and, thereby, created a situation where the UNP obtained a steamroller majority which it abused in every conceivable manner. The replacement of the general election with a referendum in 1982 under the JRJ regime paved the way for the second uprising of the JVP, which tapped the public resentment to fuel its anarchical political project and plunge the country into a bloodbath. It is always counterproductive for a government to postpone elections as we have seen in the past and the present dispensation will have to pay a huge price for not respecting the people’s franchise.

The practice of politicians, especially those who are still wet behind the ears but full of themselves, summoning the NEC members according to their whims and fancies must stop forthwith. If they want to boost their burgeoning egos let them try some other method without inviting NEC members to meetings and keeping them waiting. Members of the so-called independent commissions should be treated with respect which they deserve. Strangely, numerous civil society outfits which took on the Rajapaksa regime with might and main to protect democracy—and rightly so—have chosen to ignore the blatant violation of people’s right to vote at present. It looks as though they thought ‘right or wrong it is our government’. They should be ashamed of themselves and stop pretending to be champions of democracy.

Since the much-vaunted electoral reforms are not likely to see the light of day in the foreseeable future, arrangements ought to be made to conduct the LG polls under the previous electoral system without further delay. The government must not be allowed to go on putting off polls indefinitely on the pretext of effecting electoral reforms. It is a pity that the self-castrated official Opposition and the Joint Opposition are not cranking up pressure on the government to respect the people’s franchise the way they should.

Prof. Hoole argues that in the present scenario the NEC deciding to go for LG polls can be considered an option. He, however, says in the same breath: “Commission going for elections could lead to an embarrassing reversal by courts but trying for the right thing is what leadership is about. Indeed, decisive action by the Commission would give pause to those who think they can play with the people’s right to representation and make threats to a Commission.” The NEC member is to be commended for his lateral thinking, which we believe, is the way forward. His cogent argument will help silence the critics of the NEC, who are barking up the wrong tree.

Anyone who expects a government which fears elections to protect democratic rights of the people only hopes against hope. It is said that when a government fears the people there is liberty and when the people fear a government there is tyranny. A government that arbitrarily postpones elections does not fear the people!

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