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Polls: Free and fair or free for all?

world Updated: Apr 07, 2010 00:06 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
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Many polls were fought in Sri Lanka in the last couple of years; local, provincial, and municipal. In January the Presidential election drama attracted worldwide media attention. Now, it’s time to elect a new Parliament. A 225-member national legislature where 196 are elected and the rest nominated for six years.

Thursday’s election could yield a new PM. A ceremonial head in country where Presidency has the power to do everything other then — as famously said by President JR Jayawardene after United National Party won a brute majority and introduced executive presidency in 1978 — change a woman to a man and vice-versa. Even if the ordinary Sri Lankan is weary of elections, politicians seem to revel in them like rowdy children at a birthday bash.

More than 7,600 of them from 36 political groups have led a hard, often unscrupulous, campaign against their political opponents both within and outside their parties.

Sri Lanka follows the preferential system of voting, which means each constituency will have a number of candidates from each party. The one who gets the highest number of votes — in preference over all other candidates — will be elected as MP.

It’s like the Congress and the BJP putting up 15 candidates each for the South Delhi constituency; a Congress candidate has to fight against his own party’s 14 other aspirants as well as BJP’s 15.

Whatever else it does for democracy, the system ensures no-holds-barred political wrestling bouts on the streets, at rallies and through whichever means available at hand.

Candidates have spent millions of Sri Lankan rupees for campaigning — most of it violating the helpless norms of the Election Department.

Colombo, for one, looks covered in a patch-work of illegal cut-outs and posters.

The local Sunday Times newspaper quoted RK Tennakoon, Campaign for Free and Fair Elections, as saying that compared to the Presidential elections, there had been a marked increase in the abuse of state property.

It added: “…Commissioner of Elections has become the laughing stock… He is unable to ensure directives to the police chief…the latter in turn appear helpless against political pressure.’’