Brickbats change to bouquets: LG polls - weather the ‘Storm’ | Sunday Observer

Brickbats change to bouquets: LG polls - weather the ‘Storm’

In a democracy, elections are a necessary evil. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa made a virtue out of this necessity. He held elections to Provincial Councils on a staggered basis, in such a manner that there was always an election campaign going on. Of course, no one is saying that all those elections were conducted on a level playing field- but that is a discussion for another day. When there are no elections, it becomes a greater evil.

That is what has happened now. Local Government elections are long overdue. Provincial Council elections in several Provinces are also overdue. They haven’t been held because the system of elections is being reformed and that is not complete yet.

With each set of reforms, the polls get postponed yet another time. Sri Lankans are a politically intelligent and active group of people. When elections are postponed, they react. They go to courts.

They stage protests. They make it known that the powers that be are cheating them of their rights. When Sirima Bandaranaike arbitrarily decided to extend the term of the 1970 United Front government by two years, instead of dissolving Parliament in 1975, then Opposition Leader J. R. Jayewardene resigned from his seat, Colombo South, in Parliament.

That forced a by-election. Jayewardene contested the by-election and was returned to Parliament with an enhanced majority.

In limbo

That sent a powerful message to the government. Of course, power changes people. So, the same Jayewardene, as President, extended the term of the 1977 Parliament- in which he had a five-sixths majority- in 1982 without a general election, holding only a referendum! Postponing elections are therefore, nothing new to Sri Lankans. When Local Government elections keep getting delayed, almost ad infinitum, one smells a rat. When elections are finally called and individuals go to court taking action that would further postpone elections, one smells a bigger rat.

That is what has happened now. After much haggling over the issue of delimitation, elections were finally about to take place. Then, some individuals went to court, arguing that the demarcation of some of the new councils didn’t do them justice.

The Court of Appeal issued a stay order on the polls, as they are bound to do. The elections are now in limbo- yet again.

So, who is afraid of elections? The United National Party (UNP) says it wants elections. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) is clamouring for elections. The ‘pohottuwwa’ party, or Mahinda Rajapaksa’s latest political vehicle, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is screaming for elections. That leaves the mainstream Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). This is where the waters get muddied. Officially, the mainstream SLFP also says it wants elections. However, it has been alleged that some of the petitioners in the Court of Appeal who wanted the elections deferred had links to the SLFP.

Matters get even more suspicious when Faiszer Musthapha, the Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government tells us that, after a discussion with him, the petitioners agreed to withdraw their objections. Ah, what simple minded petitioners we have! For all this, Musthapha is in the firing line.

The JVP and the Joint Opposition (JO) have submitted motions of no-confidence against him in Parliament. UNP backbenchers have called for his resignation. At best, Minister Musthapha appears to be incompetent. At worst, he is a party to the moves to deliberately postpone elections.

Some bouquets

The latter is what the opposition parties claim. The last we heard this week, it should be ‘all’s well that ends well’ and Local Government elections could still be held in January. That is because the ‘petitioners’ agreed to withdraw their petitions in the Court of Appeal, returning the matter to its status quo, enabling the expedient conducting of elections. Although we are usually in the business of offering brickbats, let us take a moment here though to offer some bouquets, because they are richly deserved.

The Elections Commission (EC) and particularly, its charismatic head, Mahinda Deshapriya, deserves one. When everyone was getting their knickers in a twist and the JVP and the JO were yelling from their rooftops about the postponement of polls, Deshapriya didn’t panic.

He calmly stated the obvious: he said, the EC would take measures to conduct elections in the Local Government institutions unaffected by the delimitation process. That was a masterstroke. It called the bluff of those trying to postpone the elections.

They would have realized that if there was indeed a strategy to get the elections delayed, it was going nowhere. And hey, presto, a few days later, we have everyone agreeing to withdraw their petitions in court and agreeing to elections! Take a bow, Deshapriya.

There were rumours that even at the January 8 Presidential Election, you stood firm and prevented an injustice from occurring.

We cannot be sure about that- maybe you will tells us the whole story when you write your autobiography, but you have impressed us again with your integrity and commitment to democracy. Long may you live and prosper. Then, the Court of Appeal deserves a bouquet too.

Sections of the government were running around asking for early dates to dispose of the matter, almost assuming that the Court will decide in their favour.

No, said the Court, we won’t dance to your tune, we will hear the case as scheduled. The government may have thought that justice delayed was justice denied but the Court stood firm, believing that haste makes waste.

The government, or to be more precise, sections of it didn’t emerge from this fiasco smelling like roses. If there was an attempt to postpone elections, it was an amateurish one and in the end, it didn’t succeed. Yet, we must give the devil its due: the government has followed the decisions of the courts with hardly a whimper of protest.

Remember a few years ago, when the courts didn’t like the Divineguma Bill and wanted some alterations? A Chief Justice was sent packing, just for that.

It may only be a small consolation, but at least the government is not in that mode- not yet, anyway! 

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