Democracy in peril
Posted on June 22nd, 2016

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Franchise is the linchpin of democracy as is common knowledge. It helps give expression to the popular will and install administrations people deem fit to govern them. Elections are to franchise what water is to fish. Deprived of the medium of electoral contest, franchise suffers disuse atrophy and anarchy sets in. We saw this happen in the 1980s, when the JRJ government, intoxicated with power, substituted a heavily rigged referendum for a general election. Its predecessor, the SLFP-led United Front government, had postponed parliamentary polls by two years from 1975 to 77, thus setting a very bad precedent.

The sea rolls back prior to the devastating landfall of killer waves caused by seaquakes. The so-called rolling back of the electoral map triggers political tsunamis as is our experience. But for the scrapping of the 1982 general election, conditions for the JVP’s second uprising would not have been created. For, the UNP would not have been able to retain and abuse its five-sixths majority to bulldoze its way through and the democratic Opposition would have emerged stronger with more seats in hand. The JRJ government proscribed the JVP by falsely accusing it of having a hand in the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom because the latter had moved the judiciary against the outcome of the 1982 referendum. The country was plunged into a bloodbath as a result. Democracy suffered a paralysing blow with the JRJ and Premadasa government taking the institutionalisation of political violence to the next level. The rest is history.

Those who do not learn from history are said to be doomed to repeat it.

The local government polls have been put on hold indefinitely. The government claims the Rajapaksa administration botched up the delimitation process and, therefore, some more time is required to rectify the errors. If it thinks it can pull the wool over the eyes of the public it is mistaken. That it is wary of facing an election at this juncture is only too well known. The public is miffed about the waste of public funds, unfulfilled election pledges, the skyrocketing cost of living, the arrogance of power on the part of the ruling party politicians, rampant corruption, bond scams etc. Hence, the government’s decision to keep postponing the mini polls in the hope that the political situation will improve with the passage of time!

Even if the government’s claim that some delimitation issues are the reason for the postponement of the LG polls is true, elections can be held to the LG bodies which are free from such problems. This is what a section of the media, some Opposition politicians who are not beholden to the government, civil society outfits et al are demanding.

National Elections Commission (NEC) Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya revealed at a media briefing on Monday that the EC had asked the Asoka Peiris Committee tasked with sorting out the alleged delimitation issues to inform it of the LG institutions not affected by such problems. But, he had not received a response, he said. Curiouser, curiouser! The committee ought to have such information at their fingertips.

Deshapriya has proved his mettle as a public servant. He once descended on a state-owned media institution which was telecasting a blatant lie to mislead the public on the day of the last presidential election. He succeeded in nailing the canard. He did not buckle under political pressure. It is hoped that he will put his foot down again. The onus is on him to find out the LG institutions which can go to the polls so that the public will know the truth and hold elections thereto without further delay. The NEC must defeat the sinister efforts being made in some quarters to throttle democracy.

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