Reject political party fielding ‘corrupt’ candidates - PAFFREL | Sunday Observer

Reject political party fielding ‘corrupt’ candidates - PAFFREL

Rohana Hettiarachchi
Rohana Hettiarachchi

People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) called upon the electors to use the upcoming February 10 local government elections as a platform to compel the political parties to field clean politicians to run for public office.

PAFFREL Executive Director, Rohana Hettiarachchi said, “The new electoral system is without preferential votes. Since the voters are unable to wean the corrupt candidates, they must reject the political party that has fielded the ‘corrupt’ or the ‘crooked’.” He added that the electors must make it clear that they would not hesitate to dump parties that still liaise with the world of criminals.

“If the voters fail to take this initiative, the parties will not hesitate to deceive the public at the provincial council elections and the parliamentary election as well,” he stressed.

One of the leading, independent election monitors in the country, and also a leading member of the March 12 movement which is campaigning for clean and corruption free politicians, PAFFREL is expected to deploy 7,000 static and mobile polls monitors for the upcoming elections.

Only PAFFREL and CMEV are permitted to deploy static observers in the polling stations on election day, while CaFFE and the Mothers and Daughters of Lanka are permitted by the Election Commission to deploy mobile observers.

Excerpts:

Q: Are you satisfied with the preparations so far to ensure a free and fair election, by the government and the Election Commission?

A: At the Election Commission, of course we are. Compared to past elections, we have seen a lot of improvement in the state apparatus also. The police are comparatively free to do their job at regional level. The posters and cut outs are being removed properly, the violators from the ruling parties too, are being arrested.

There was news that a batch of senior DIGs has been transferred recently. I heard, to implement these transfers, permission had been obtained from the Election Commission and the Police Commission, therefore it cannot be challenged.

However, the law says transfers cannot be effected when an election is declared.

The Department can come up with justifications citing official duties….yet, inevitably this will have a negative effect on people’s ‘Trust’. Despite a few cases, we are happy with the way the Election Commission is leading the election process up to now.

Q: This is the first time after years the local government election is being held together for all Councils, 341 in total? It is going to be the biggest election in Sri Lanka’s history. Do you think monitoring this election would be a challenge?

A: We don’t consider it a challenge. We are positive about it, holding the election on a single day is more important than having misgivings about deploying monitors.

We see it in an entirely different perspective. As polls observers, we appreciate the fact that the government has moved away from staggered elections. Staggered elections are bad because they can artificially tilt people’s free choice. The outcome of the first election can negatively interfere with the next election.

Moreover, in spite of the laws, government Ministers put their weight behind the local candidates in their respective electorates. When elections are held in a staggered manner, Ministers of the ruling party use their time and energy to promote their electorates. They don’t have time for ministerial duties, hence a lot of man-hours are wasted.

There are too many reasons why staggered elections can have a negative effect on the democratic process. So we appreciate the fact that elections are being held together. I must also mention, we are concerned the elections to LG bodies were delayed by two and a half years.

The previous governments are also to blame for the delay, but the present government cannot wash their hands off the responsibility. They had the greatest responsibility to hold the elections on time and uphold people’s franchise right.

Q: The elections are held under a brand new electoral system this year. What is your take on this new system?

A: Even though this is a local election, it is being regarded as a national election. One reason for that is the long delay of about two and a half years, in holding the LG elections. There was a huge public outcry against the delay, led by politicians and the civil society.

Moreover, this is going to be the first election after the 2015 Parliamentary election which brought this government to office.

And the first election after the Independent Election Commission is appointed. This is also the first election to be held under the new electoral system, a mix of First-Past- the Post (FPP) and Proportional Representation system.

This is the first time there is a women quota of 25%. There are many new features, it is the first instance the ballot papers will be counted at the polling station itself to minimize malpractices. In that sense, this election is very important. As polls observers we hope national politics will not interfere with this local election. People should have the opportunity to elect their local representative without any external interference. Unfortunately, under the new electoral system there are no preferential votes.

The previous Sri Lankan system was a very democratic system where you can select the party as well as the candidate you prefer. But, you don’t have that choice now.

Some countries, in the west have this mix system. It works for them because, like in Norway, the candidates for the election are nominated by the party members. We don’t have such a system in Sri Lanka. Here, the party hierarchy selects the candidate.

As a remedial action, PAFFREL and the March 12 movement, called upon the political parties to publicize their criteria to select candidates, but they did not respond positively.

The political parties keep harping on clean politics but when it comes to real action they are silent. We have received complaints against more than 50 candidates who are running for election this time.

It is alleged, they have been involved in illegal activities. Some are underworld characters, drug dealers and those engaging in illegal businesses.

In Sri Lanka, political parties have a blocked vote. Their party preferences are usually inherited. There is no concern to select the right person to serve them.

But under the present system, these traditions must change. The only option for the voter is to reject the political party that has fielded the ‘corrupt’ or the ‘crooked’. Theelectors must make it clear that they will not support the parties without ‘clean’ candidates in their lists.

If the voters fail to take this intiative, the parties will once again deceive the public at the provincial council election and later the parliamentary election.

Q: Going by the trend of reported violent incidents, do you believe the elections will be relatively peaceful this time. The preferential votes, apparently the main cause of violence, too have been done away with?

A: The violence is not on a larger scale, around 50,000 candidates are contesting. We are talking about 341 local authorities’ election. In comparison to the higher number of candidates, the reported incidents are not a big issue.

The police have made 135 arrests over illegal propaganda. We have reported around 36 cases of which 32 are confirmed incidents of violence. Hospitalization was reported in only four cases. So far we have noticed, distributing goods such as, household items and sewing machines, as the main offence.

It is a shame to think that the vote can be bought by offering goods. The voters should reject such petty minded candidates. They are violating election law. When such candidates are elected they would not hesitate to violate the country’s law.

Moreover, If they bribe people for their vote, there is no will to serve them. There is no democracy there, and the urge to become a public servant. Those who think they are above the law should never be elected to public office, from whatever party.

Q: PAFFREL submitted a report to the IGP on the complaints against criminals contesting the forthcoming election. Have you received any response from the IGP acknowledging the concerns raised in the report ?

A: What we urged him is, increase police protection in areas where such people are contesting so as to ensure free and fair elections.

We handed over a copy of that report to the Election Commission, appealing to the Commission to ensure a level playing ground in areas where alleged law breakers have entered the fray.

Especially, in the village, candidates are either known or related to the electors, after the election the supporters and the candidates have to live as one. The best thing is to keep this in mind always. Then we don’t need special measures to minimize violence. They should not engage in any act that would undermine their coexistence.

We have noted that consumption of liquor during campaigning is the main cause for violence, especially, when they engage in illegal propaganda during night time. If the party leaders give thought to this, a lot of violence can be minimized.

It is not possible to prohibit the use of liquor during electioneering but the voters can identify such politicians and use their vote wisely.

The candidates who facilitate boozing are not fit to become public representatives. Likewise, reject the polythene users.

Q: How do you rate the contribution of mainstream political parties in minimizing election violence?

In general, the situation is alright. In some areas even national level politicians, were involved in distributing goods and flouting election law. But generally, the misuse of state property has not been as acute as in the previous couple of elections.

Therefore, it is a big improvement on the part of politicians. But we can never know what’s in store. When the election heats up and there is a do or die situation, there can be more violence.

Q: How can the voter use their franchise wisely?

A: The person who is a ‘worker’ should have a way to rise to public office and serve the people in his area. My personal opinion is that we must do away with party politics at the local election.

This is the time for the voters to be alert on the behaviour of candidates. There need to be an internal discussion at village level as to who is the best person to serve them - under youth, women and religious societies level. Identify who is capable to deliver results, what their qualifications are, and their behaviour and past record.

Village level societies must evaluate their candidates and educate the voters. The voter too has an obligation to know the candidate, to ensure that the right person is chosen to develop the village or the town. 

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