12 July, 2020

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Equality Eroded In Our Democracy: A Trust Deficit

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Privacy in Democracy: Undeserved

We live in a world where the rich and powerful get more – but in a democracy it is just one vote for everyone. As a member of the Election Commission, it is my duty to secure the enforcement of all election laws – so says our constitution. But are we all equal before the law? 

 

Great personages violate the law with impunity. If you are socially, religiously, or politically powerful, no-one will come after you. The laws serve only to keep the plebeians in check. The whip is cracked when a boy is caught posting election notices. But when GMOA-President Padeniya, whose participation at an election rally was referred to the Police by the Commission, the big-rod is likely to be spared.

Leader of the Opposition and MPs

After just the first two days of postal voting, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Leader of the Opposition, announced at an election rally in Angoda, “We have got to know that 80% of the postal votes have been for us” (Nov. 1, 2019 news). We have not even begun counting. How did he know? Mr. Rajapaksa was in violation of Section 75(3) of the Presidential Elections Act (PEAct): “no person whosoever” shall obtain information from a polling station on how a voter voted or the candidate for whom he voted. The prescribed punishment is loss of voting rights. There was a further complaint that Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, MP and Chandima Weerakoddy, MP had made similar statements. All three were also in violation of Section 83(1) of PEA for publishing fake news. The Commission did not refer the complaints to the police; instead stern warnings were to be issued. I sarcastically commented “Don’t do it again” and said they would do it again. We will never refer big people to the police. It takes gumption send a former president to jail.

GMOA President Anurudda Padeniya attending an Election Meeting

Clergy-Police Nexus

It is well known that Gnanasara Thero rioted in court, was in jail for contempt, and released by our President as if to wreak havoc on minorities again. The unreformed monk rioted at Chemmalai (a Hindu Temple being Sinhalasized).  He violated a court order not to bury a monk on the Hindu temple premises. When orders were served, he reportedly said this is a Buddhist country, Buddhism has exemptions from the law. 

No one was charged for failure to implement the court order. A plaint had to be filed privately against Gananasara and two police officials. On 6.11.2019, a Judge at the Supreme Court will look into Gnanasara Thero violating a court order. It is a matter in which communalist forces are let loose for electoral gain.

Lawyer Rajika Kodithuwakku of the Sri Lanka Democratic Front has written to the Election Commission to ask the judge to postpone the hearing until after the election. A member of the New Sinhala Urumaya screamed at Sumanthiran today, 6.11.2019, for filing the private plaint and quietened only after the chairman asked him to leave. The IGP was on the podium with me. I had previously told him of the police watering down charges of election violations by the Tamil Congress and hiding evidence from Court. He promised to inquire but did nothing. I told him today that he is responsible for the Chemmalai problems and I have no confidence in the Police. I asked him why he did not sack the two police officials, making private citizens do his job.

Another serious matter involves the Anglican Church of Ceylon. On 22 October, the Ven. Perry Brohier, Dean of the Anglican Cathedral and Commissary, organized a seminar at St. Luke’s Borella where various statements, such as “Do not vote for the JVP”, were made. Section 78(2) of the PEA explicitly prohibits political statements that influence voters from religious premises. I warned him by SMS, citing the specific law, before leaving. But such statements continued. Brohier, like Gnanasara, seemed to think clergy have privileges to break the law.

On 25-26 October, Anglicans had their annual Diocesan Council under Bishop Dhiloraj Canagasabey. The Diocese’s Standing Committee report had statements ridiculing ex-President Rajapaksa, about his creating history and political turmoil. A headline in the report read “After Ten Years Back to the Gloom of Terror.” These words from religious premises demote the SLPP and advance the UNP and are unlawful. When a Commission order was produced prohibiting the discussion of the report, the Bishop engaging in theatrics, refused to comply. He boasted of being willing to go to jail, like one of our politicians claiming to save our soldiers. Now realizing the gravity of his offence, the Bishop says the report was for private circulation – however, there was a visitors’ gallery accommodating reporters. The Bishop may shout anti-Rajapaksa slogans on the street, but not at a religious assembly.  

The Police, however, as usual were obliging to those in cassock and mitre. They went to the meeting, spoke only to Fr. Brohier, and recorded that there was no political material. At the Commission, primed perhaps, it was argued that the act requires uttering (not writing) political words and that discussing a report with political content is not uttering!  However, Section 78(3) of  PEA prohibits inducing adherents from supporting or refraining from supporting a candidate. Clergy can exploit their respect in society, and the police and officials will read laws selectively to help them evade the law.

 

The Commission recently received a complaint that Bataramulla Seelananda Thero went to a Hindu Temple in Vavuniya on 27.10.2019, worshipped there, and promised to halt cattle slaughter if elected President. The offence is called the Corrupt Practice of buying Undue Influence. When law-and-order was a better understood concept, Gamini Dissanayake after being elected in 1970 was unseated for making political statements from a Hindu Temple. The Seelananda violation was referred to officials without a Commission decision. Nothing will likely happen.

Failure of Nineteenth Amendment

The Nineteenth amendment to the Constitution provided for three equal members of the Commission, in place of the one Commissioner. Despite the Commissioner becoming Chairman-and-Member, the tendency is to treat him as Commissioner.

The problem reached its climax with undiscussed matters being released by the Chairman as Commission decisions by officials. When accidentally discovered the document is withdrawn.

The low-point was on 5.11.2019 when a letter turned up on behalf of the Commission withdrawing the observer accreditation given by the Commission to CaFFE, the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections, which with PAFFREL, has been a key local ally of the Commission in monitoring elections. Independent observers are critical to a fair and equality-based election. Why did it happen now?

The Voter Register

A big part of our work is preparing the voter register. Equality of electors is through this. This year we will use the 2018 Register because we have been slow with the 2019 register. Therefore, those who turned 19 recently cannot vote. The delay is because of personnel issues at the Commission. 

But now there are unresolved allegations that in Colombo people of certain ethnic backgrounds, particularly Muslims, Burghers, and other Christians, have been selectively removed as voters. Grama Sevakas (GS-es) go home-by-home and get the Body-Count forms in June. Usually there is one GS for 300-800 voters. But in Colombo a GS looks after even 16,000 voters, as in Mattakuliya. After receiving this complaint, I began to look into this. In one instance, a GS going on maternity leave had not registered large numbers. At other times, a few from the same family had been deleted from the rolls. In another case everyone from a whole street had been removed. It is difficult to prove selective deletions when the Body-Count form is missing – did the householder not fill it, or did the GS discard it? If the latter, going by partial deletions, I suggest it was done to make one party win and not because of the overload of work. A larger inquiry is in order to restore confidence. If the allegations are right, then ethnic minorities are “less equal”. The law does not permit restoring them on the rolls now.

When speaking casually, even the Chairman-and-Member of the Commission admits off guard that most GAs, who are our Returning Officers, are crooked and can rattle off what different people did. In particular, the Vavuniya military Commander around 2012 got rid of Mrs. Charles as GA, and wanted all Tamil officials transferred out. Then he ethnically cleansed the place of Tamils and established all-Sinhalese settlements – Nandimithragama, Boogaswewa, Veherathennagama, Namalagama, Selalihinigama, etc.. 

Government Rules

Clumsily drafted rules violate equality. We do not know our own laws nor whether our guidelines are enforceable. We have multiple conflicting guidelines. We are discussing now if the prohibited display of notices in the 1981 law covers their distribution as the police enforce. We have forbidden LED lights in advertising. The AG initially said he would not support us in a suit against us by Emerging Media Solutions about our banning LED election advertising. He said our laws from the 1980s made no reference to LEDs while prohibiting posters. If the suit had not been rejected by the Supreme Court on 1 Nov., poor candidates would not be allowed posters, while the rich would have LED advertisements everywhere. 

With backgrounds in government sector, it is ingrained in our staff not to complain or whistle-blow. To speak to outsiders, you need the boss’ clearance says the Establishment Code. No one at the Commission will report a boss’ failures but nearly all, among themselves, will laugh and enjoy discussing their boss’ wrong-doings. In my experience, they will tell me something but when I report it, they will deny that they did.

In Local Government Elections (Feb. 2018) our officials forgot to count votes from one polling district of the Wennappuwa Pirathesa Sabai. The SLFP got one more seat than it deserved. An SLPP official noticed a contradiction, which when explored revealed the mistake. The Chief Clerk told our staffer. When the story came to me, I asked the CC. She denied it. Ultimately, Deshapriya inquired. It took the Deputy Commissioner for Local Government another week to admit to the mistake. Yet, almost two years later, GA/Colombo. who was asked to inquire and tell us what we already know, is yet to report, and the wrong person is going as a Member at Wennappuwa and drawing a salary and voting. The Deputy Commissioner has received a promotion, ignoring the fiasco that was hidden from us.

We all make mistakes. The important question is this: when we hide our mistakes and allow unelected persons to represent themselves as elected representatives, how can our results ever be trusted? 

We need to restore equality and confidence.

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Latest comments

  • 4
    1

    Dear Professor Hoole,
    .
    I’m surprised that Ven. Perry Brohier took objection to the wonderful programme that the JVP has put forward for this election. I will have more to say about this. I’ve not slept all night, and so once more I have to disappoint my pious family by not accompanying them to the Anglican Church in Maharagama where there is an extremely decent priest, Rev. Noel Fernando.
    .
    I think that I have been turned into an apostate by the wicked, devilish and dishonest Bishop Dhiloraj Canagasabey – a man I have known for thirty years. Let me ask you to look at the first two comments here:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/presidential-election-the-multiple-crises-in-sri-lankan-education/
    .
    Canagasabey ought to be jailed not so much for ridiculing his fellow devil, Mahinda Rajapaksa, as for what he has been doing to the four Colleges of S. Thomas, the Apostle.
    .
    It would help if other readers did not “Reply” this comment of mine, so as to allow me to continue with this sequence of comments. Please post as new comments.
    .
    Professor Hoole, I’m lost in admiration of your courage, impartiality, and honesty. I know you to be a devout Anglican.

    • 3
      2

      This happens sometimes. Everything below gets turned into bold.
      .
      “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
      .
      1 John 1:8: https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/1-John-1-8/
      .
      Is it any wonder that with clergy like Canagasabey, Rev. Christopher Balraj, Rev. Dushyanthi Rodrigo, Gnanasara Thero, Buddharakkitha, Somarama Rev Viratho of Burma, Ex-Bishop Shantha Francis, the late Rev. Mathew Peiris, Rev. Gnanaponrajah (gay – no worse paedophile) , https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Pell (in Melbourne), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi all religions ought to be banned.
      .
      Bloody liars and hypocrites.

  • 7
    0

    The writer enumerates a litany of complaints / questionable acts of commission and omission etc. etc. The bottom line is that our society is convoluted and in disarray. Politicians have not served us well in the past. Time is opportune for a wholesale shakeup and cleanup! Which candidate is upto it?

  • 9
    0

    Why is our crazy president, on the eve of being ejected, pardoning murderers and lawbreakers as never before.

    The brutal Royal Park murder convict, Jude Shramantha Anthony Jayamaha, is the latest to benefit. Previously there was the mad monk of Sri Lanka getting a pardon. This president is making a mockery of his office and of Sri Lanka law. He should be put behind bars for the damage he is doing.

  • 2
    6

    We as citizens of Sri Lankan cannot be tolerances of Chauvinist politics from Member of Commission Election. Ours democracy had been politically that bargain point of come to GUN-point by Tamil terrorist.
    Both of LTTE+TNA jointly claim for Tamil Homeland in major part of Lands in
    Sri Lanka to Tamil speaking People’s STATE in world .Which is therefor not that possible in Sri lanakn soil by any means
    They called for that right of ” self-determination” of ‘Tamil homeland’ by Tamil official in Election Commission. I think unjust and unreasonable an …Tamil homeland . used majority people’s Tax Payers money to used and misused .

    Therefor claims are against to RIGHT VOTE is violation of fundamental Right of Citizens of Island Democracy by Chauvinist of Tamil nationalist must be exit enforcement authority of hidden politicians cadres.
    We do not trust political Chauvinist and Tamil nationalist at any cost of democracy of will and free wish of against voters…Sri Lankan.

  • 1
    8

    To me this Commissioner seems to be pulling to one side too..
    May be a problem with the wheel balance .
    Or could be the Wheel Alignment itself.

    Anyway poor Gnnissara Thero was forced to wear the Jumper for shouting at someone in the Court Room.
    But Mr Minister Bathudeen who man hadled a Magistrate went scot free.
    Mr Bathudeen even made inquiries of a Suicide Bomber associate at the highest level and was cleared of any wrong doing by his fellow Mates in Kotte.

    Even that Thero who fed the Baby Elephant was taken to court many times.
    But thanks to Ali Sabry the Thero avoided the Jumper.

    But most importantly how can you charge Mahinda or Priyadharshana for boasting that they got 80% of the Postal Vote.

    I mean one would have expected Professor Hoole to keep the Postal Votes under lock and key so naughty boys can’t get to them.

    BTW, Did Professor have a sneaky peek at least to check how Keselwatta Kid has done ?..

  • 2
    7

    This Hoole guy is a member of the election commission; he should not express personal opinions in such a controversial manner, given his most important position.

    Sack him.

    • 3
      2

      Dear Violet Vinodhini,
      .
      I myself am surprised that he takes such risks.
      However, don’t you see that he’s critical of the group of people that he himself belongs to?
      .
      He is absolutely honest. Do you know anything to the contrary? If so, please tell me; I will do a thorough check, and then respond.
      .
      I have given you some links. If you follow them, you will, without difficulty, find out my name and even see my photograph. Our problem is that we don’t focus on one or two things and then follow through. Acting as we do, we end up with the sort of dishonest governments that we deserve.
      .
      Of those who have commented, I have given up on “Sirisena Yatawara”. He must be an honest enough guy, but I can’t understand the language that he uses. By the way, it’s not often that I use offensive language – follow the links and you will understand why I’m so angry.
      .
      K.A. Sumanasekera trolls for the Rajapaksas. If you don’t understand what “trolls” means, please ask – no problem. I’ve been a teacher of English all my life, and because of that I don’t expect every Sri Lankan to know “all of English”. Of course, if you put that word only in the Google browser you’ll get the meaning. Don’t you realise that it is Sumanasekera who has made an improper suggestion to Hoole – that he takes a “sneaky peek” at the postal votes? Punish him for suggesting that this official should cheat.
      .
      Tell me what Hoole has done wrong. Notice also, that I usually use only the denotative meaning of a word – one exception “bloody” – my apologies. Liars and hypocrites I can prove beyond all reasonable doubt.

      • 3
        0

        Dear Sinhala_Man,
        .
        Truly appreciate your public offer “He is absolutely honest. Do you know anything to the contrary? If so, please tell me; I will do a thorough check, and then respond.”
        .
        One deep and dark cloud over this Honest man that concerns all Tamils is as to what circumstances lead to Mahinda promising him the VC position at Jaffna.
        .
        In fact after the meeting with Mahinda, the Professor went on to assert in these columns that “Mahinda is an honourable man, a man of his words”? And the Professor further strongly supported publicly Mahinda’s aspiration to give a war-victory speech at Oxford! Naturally these raised the possibility of some quid pro quo in action that may have undermined some civil rights and aspirations of Professor’s own ilk.
        .
        This would be an ideal case for a thorough check as you propose, that could help free the Professor from much negative speculations – honestly!
        .

  • 2
    5

    My darling Sinhala_Man

    How can Hoole be absolutely honest.when he constantly promotes and propagates Tamil racism and cesession of this Sinhala Nation?

  • 2
    0

    I sighed loudly when I finished reading this article. The bottom line is this:

    We have a Rule of Law in name, but selective in practice. Murderers, thugs, fraudsters, drug dealers, and rapists with any political clout go Scot free, and in cases where convicted get a dubious Presidential pardon.

    Now it seems, we have an Election Commission that exists in name only – with as much bite as flea. So much for our democracy.

    We are heading up shit creek – without a paddle!

  • 0
    0

    Dear Spring Koha,
    .
    I agree. What I have said still stands. Professor Jeevan Hoole is doing his best
    , and the article deserves to be read by all.
    .
    Kumar R. is saying what he usually does, but at least what he says can be com[prehnded by us. So, go ahead and present your case yourself, since you seem to have all the facts. the only problem is that you have never let anybody know who you are. On the other hand, what you say, Kumar, need not prevent us from appreciating what Professor Hoole has done on this occasion.
    .
    As for Violet Vinodhini, an unknown commenter upto now, what she says is so vague and unsubstantiated as to be meaningless. Hers must a recent pseudonym for a person who has been making racist comments before. K.A. Sumanasekera is a troll whom I can understand, but I’m irritated when he repeatedly refers to Sajith Premadasa as “Keselwatta Kid”. Whatever humour there originally was in that has worn out long ago.
    .
    So, we have six or seven of us suing pseudonyms. What sets Spring Koha and Sinhala_Man apart (also possibly, Dionysus and Gamini) is that we are consistent. The line taken by Sirisena Yatawara is also consistent, but I find his writing very difficult to read, and it is predictably racist.
    .
    Spring Koha is so venerated by us that there is no need for him to reveal his identity. If you want mine, it is Panini Edirisinhe.

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