20 July, 2024


Electoral Success Calls For Greater Transparency Rather Than Less

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The deadline for presidential elections is fast approaching and the Election Commissioner will be empowered to declare the date of the election on July 17, just over a week from now. The election rallies are becoming larger and feistier. The two main opposition parties are showing their growing strength in the numbers attending their political rallies. The government too is unifying to meet the challenge. The most recent public meeting brought together the leading members of the ruling SLPP who have been thought to be at loggerheads. Many have resurfaced into the public domain, which they lost when the economy collapsed and they had to go into hiding.

The present indications are that President Ranil Wickremesinghe may contest the presidential election with the support of the ruling party as well as the support of other parties, groups and individuals, several of which have openly pledged their support to him. There is, however, a downside to this. The leaders of the ruling party, which also led the country down the economic precipice, are viewed with disfavor by many voters. This might cause them to withhold their vote from the president to whom they show no similar antipathy. The president retains the option of contesting as an independent candidate, which would release him from the obligation of campaigning under the banner of any one political party. He would thereby not limit his attraction to voters which has been registering a steady increase according to public opinion polls.

It is noteworthy, however, that unlike his main rivals who announced their candidacy several months ago, the president continues to shy away from making a similar announcement. This could have two reasons behind it. One is that the moment he announces his candidacy, the president becomes ineligible to utilize state resources to benefit the people and attract their support to him. The Elections Commission has already directed that candidates for the local government elections which remain postponed for over a year are ineligible to be members of decision making committees for the allocation of state resources for development purposes. A second reason for the president’s delay in announcing his candidacy could be that he is reserving the option not to contest the election if he believes he is unlikely to win it.

Sudden Petition 

The sudden filing of a petition in the Supreme Court regarding the presidential term of office is a warning that the unexpected is possible. The petition which was rejected by the Supreme Court called for elections to be postponed until a legal determination was made as to the duration of the president’s term of office. There are many who wish the president to continue in office, but fear that the general public may have a different opinion. It may be recalled that last year the government was successful in getting the local government election postponed on the grounds that the treasury had no money. Not even a Supreme Court decision to the contrary could move the government to hold those elections which remain postponed to this day, though billions of rupees are spent on many other things.

The petition in the Supreme Court stated that the president’s term of office was given as both five years and six years in different sections of the constitution. The spotlight was on the 19th Amendment which reduced presidential powers along with the duration of the presidency from six to five years. However, Palitha Range Bandara, the general secretary of the UNP which the president leads, has stated that the president had submitted a proposal to the cabinet regarding this issue. This has been done without publicity. It appears that no one other than the cabinet is in the know of what this proposal contains.

On the other hand, President Wickremesinghe has issued a public statement that he believes that the term of office of the president is five years and not six and that the presidential elections ought to be held this year and not in the next year. The president has said “I firmly believe that the President’s term is five years, and I support the Election Commission’s steps to hold the Presidential Election in 2024.” It is clear that the president would wish to clear the suspicion that he or his team was behind the filing of the petition in the Supreme Court. But this raises the question of what the president has actually submitted to the cabinet to resolve the contradiction in the constitution. Democracy does not mean governing in secret, which is contrary to basic democratic governance norms.

Trust Lost 

The disjuncture between words and deeds leads to a loss of trust in those who govern the country. If they say one thing in the light of day but another under cover of darkness there will be confusion and mistrust all around. It is in these circumstances that rules break down and a free for all ensures. Impunity and corruption will increase in these circumstances which harms society and makes meaningful economic and political development impossible. The non-transparency and secrecy that is practiced in one arena will be reflected in the other arena as well. An example would be the government’s success in reaching agreement on its international debt with its creditors. The irony is that all of them are in doubt as to what terms the government agreed to with the others.

The exclusion of the opposition from the negotiations on debt restructuring may have been due to the fact that the opposition refused to participate in them on the terms offered by the government. But it is not good practice that the agreements on debt restructuring reached with the international creditors should be kept secret from the opposition, which is the government-in-waiting. There needs to be truth, consistency and transparency in governance which is crucial to maintaining belief in the stability of society so that investments made today can yield positive outcomes in the future. The inability to have a debate in parliament on the issue of the debt restructuring, the terms obtained and implications for the future, bode ill for the country.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has repeatedly affirmed that the presidential election will occur as scheduled, a position also endorsed by the Elections Commission, which has stated that presidential elections are constitutionally mandated for this year. As an experienced politician, President Wickremesinghe is undoubtedly aware that actions lacking transparency aimed at delaying elections, regardless of the rationale, could lead to national unrest, potentially undoing the progress achieved under his leadership over the past two years. The uncertainty about so fundamental an issue as elections also serves to undermine both domestic and international trust in Sri Lanka’s stability. Historical precedents in Sri Lanka highlight the adverse consequences of election postponements and the importance of adhering to scheduled electoral processes.

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Latest comments

  • 1

    What on earth is he driving at?
    Nothing really, as very often?

  • 4

    “The disjuncture between words and deeds leads to a loss of trust in those who govern the country. “
    The fact is people have already lost the trust on the governments and the leaders of the governments over the seven decades. From “Bring the rice from the moon to Bring the Debt to Double through IMF”.

  • 6

    “There needs to be truth, consistency and transparency in governance which is crucial to maintaining belief in the stability of society so that investments made today can yield positive outcomes in the future.”
    Lies, inconsistency, opaque are the history of Sri Lanka governments.

  • 3

    “ Impunity and corruption will increase in these circumstances which harms society and makes meaningful economic and political development impossible.”
    As if Impunity & Corruption has not already BROUGHT harm to our country/People. Why is the author not including the SOCIAL development along with Economic and Political?
    Is it not the ECONOMIC downfall of the country is mainly due to the MINORITIES bashing? If only Sinhala Buddhist SUPREMACISTS practiced their religion SINCERELY since the INDEPENDENCE, the need to carry the BEGGING BOWL would have been AVOIDED???

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