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Friday, July 19, 2024

Elections Commissioner : A Toothless Tiger?

An independent national daily quoting Elections Commissioner (EC) Mahinda Deshapriya said yesterday, that he had issued a directive to Heads of State institutions that, at no instance could stateresources, much less, public servants be utilized forelectioneering.

However, the exemption in using State resources, in particular State premises for polls work was, if those premises were hired. He made these remarks in the context that the presidential poll is to take place barely three weeks from now, that is on 8 January.

Nevertheless, the question is, whether the EC has the clout to implement his directives, or is he merely a proverbial toothless tiger?
The tragicomedy is that simultaneous to the EC’s request, published in a so called independent national daily, a State daily on the same day, published a statement made by the Chief Executive of a ministry, saying that the current ‘peace’ in the country, is because of the President.

The incumbent president is also seeking a 3rd term at the 8 January poll.

In a blatant disregard to his directive and openly canvassing for the incumbent President, this ministry CEO said that the incumbent’s first term was devoted to the eradication of terrorism, second term for the consolidation of peace, whilst implying that his third term would be for development.

Now, what power does the EC have, to prosecute such a state offender, paid for by State funds, to see that such an offender is prosecuted for abusing election law?

If he has the power, will he take on such an offender? These are the questions that the EC and the Government of Sri Lanka, who and which are maintained by state funds, should answer to the public.

It’s not only an independent EC that the country needs, it’s because he is ‘independent’ he makes such ‘vociferous’ public pronouncements, directing that State resources and officials shouldn’t be used for electioneering, but such ‘independence’ should be complimented with power, to rein in and prosecute such abuse and abusers.

This is where the importance of the now defunct 17th Amendment (17A), if it was still in force, would, or may have had come to play, to check such abuse.

17A, which, if it was to have had been effective, seemingly guaranteed the independence of the EC and the police, among a host of other key bodies, but the rub was that such appointments had to be made with the concurrence of the president, which paralysed the effective working of this amendment, due to the executive’s non cooperation.

The anticlimax was the abolishment of the 17A four years ago and vesting supreme power on the executive to make such appointments, by the substitution of 17A with 18A.

Such blatant abuse of State resources and State officials on the eve of the election is visible and is done openly.
Yesterday, this newspaper received at least one invitation for the coverage of an event, where, election goodies were being offered to the indigent, in blatant violation of polls law, but openly proclaimed in the invitation, though it didn’t spell it out that those were election goodies.

But anyone with even an iota of intelligence may guess the purpose for such offerings.
In this connection, yesterday the Cooperatives Ministry asked for a coverage of a carol service, interspersed with distributing school-requirements and equipment (polls goodies) to 250 indigent children at the Ministry premises.

The public being concerned, would like to know what action the EC would take against this Ministry for the breaking of this polls law?

Is the Ministry paying itself for the use of its Ministry premises for non ministry work on the eve of a key
National election? If it’s doing so, are such debits and credits within one and the same State institution permissible by law?

“Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.”

And whose money is being used to give goodies to these children? Is it private or State funds?

There was a practise that was in force, at least under the now defunct Westminster style of government, that is in Sri Lanka’s 1st constitution, post independence, where at least a few weeks before a general election (there was no executive presidency then), Parliament used or had to be dissolved by law.

It was only the Cabinet which was functional, till the end of that poll. Also, at that time, cabinets were small, comprising not more than 20 ministers. Currently, the Cabinet comprises three times that number! Such checks and balances minimized State abuse.
There, however, is no dissolution of governments, under the present, 2nd Republican Constitution, prior to a key election, such as a general election or a Presidential Poll.

It’s up to the masses, whether they are happy with the continuation of such abuse or not
Ceylon Today Editorial


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