The voters’ duty | Sunday Observer

The voters’ duty

2 August, 2020

The Wednesday General Election will be a watershed event in the country’s political history for several reasons, chief among which is the fact that it is being held amid a global pandemic.

This is indeed the first time that Sri Lanka will be going to the polls under such conditions, though Sri Lankans have kept faith in the ballot even when the bullets were trying to destroy their lives during the 30-year battle against terrorism and also during the JVP-led insurgencies in the South. This time, however, we are battling an unseen enemy that cannot be defeated by guns and weapons.

The credit for an enabling and conducive climate to hold an election at this stage goes to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Government, Health personnel, Security Forces/Police/CDS personnel and other essential services personnel. It is due to their untiring efforts that the pandemic was controlled to a great extent in the country. Although the election was postponed twice due to pandemic uncertainties, August 5 now looks set in stone.

This is just as well, because delaying the franchise any longer would have made a mockery of our great democratic traditions and ideals. Besides, President Rajapaksa cannot govern alone as a strong Parliament is needed to take many other decisions as per the separation of powers envisaged by the Constitution and other laws.

But as the Elections Chief Mahinda Deshapriya said, democracy can be a costly affair, which is especially true this time around as the election is slated to cost a whopping Rs.10 billion. The extra funds have gone for the health precautions and arrangements such as PPEs for election officials, temperature scanners and payments for health staff. But these arrangements are absolutely necessary to conduct a safe, free and fair poll countrywide since the Coronavirus has not been 100 percent eliminated yet.

The Government and the elections authorities have emphasised that it is absolutely safe to cast the vote at any polling station. That is indeed why all these extra precautions are being taken. The voters must make use of this opportunity to exercise their franchise and select their own representatives to Parliament.

While voter turnout has exceeded 75 percent in most major elections held in recent times, voter apathy is also becoming a problem. Democracy works only if all the voters participate enthusiastically in electing people’s representatives.

This election has also become a rallying cry for electing more professional, educated men and women to Parliament and it is up to the voters to make it happen.

This will hopefully enliven Parliamentary debates and infuse a sense of professionalism to the work of consultative committees, which is where the bulk of the work of Parliament is actually performed. But this does not mean that people should not support experienced and matured politicians from all parties, because their combined political acumen is also needed by the nation.

Hence what is needed is a blend of youth and experience to see the country through the challenging times ahead.

Indeed, the next few years will prove to be crucial as we recover slowly from the pandemic. A vaccine is not yet in sight so we will have to continue most of the present health precautions such as wearing masks and social distancing for a couple more years. It is a question of managing the pandemic at its present levels while taking steps to develop the economy that has been battered. This is not an easy task by any means as most sectors of the economy will have to be started almost from scratch.

There is no doubt that most voters will opt for continuity under the present circumstances, because this is no time for experimentation. The voters have access to the manifestos of all the parties and can make an informed decision.

It is vital to have a strong Government as well as a strong Opposition. They complement and counter balance each other.

Quite apart from the health factor, the political landscape is also completely different this time. Two new entrants are in the fray for the first time at a General Election – the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB).

This has completely changed the political dynamics. The SLPP has already eclipsed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (which is contesting on its own in a few districts), while many political analysts predict a similar trend vis-à-vis the United National Party (UNP) and the SJB.

If that happens, it would be the first time since 1956 that the traditional two party (UNP-SLFP) domination of the political landscape would end. But this is the dynamic nature of politics, where nothing stands still. It is up to the voters to decide on the fortunes of all these political parties.

They will reward those parties and candidates who have delivered or who are capable of delivering and reject those who have failed or cannot deliver. That is the hallmark of a democracy.

Your responsibility as a voter is to go as early as possible to your polling station on August 5 (taking all health precautions) and cast your valuable vote to the party/independent group of your choice and up to three of its candidates.

Then you would have done your duty for protecting democracy. You have to make your voice heard through the vote – only then will the lawmakers heed your call. It is up to you to make it happen.