The Power of the People is manifested in an electoral process where the sovereign people hand over “their” sovereignty to the governance they choose to have and contribute. This makes the election and the process a vehicle for democratic values of a society. The most important aspect of it is the ‘process’ and not the result of the election itself as there would be those who had preferred one form of governance against the others who choose a different form and the acceptance of the majority is also a concept of democracy.
If the process was not accompanied ‘free’ choices of movement, association, expression of opinions etc then the whole process needs to be re-examined under the democratic principles.
The government declared general elections for the 25th of April 2020 and the nomination to end by March 19th 2020. Unfortunately the period of at least three weeks before the nominations closed from March 1st 2020 had not been ‘free’ for communication, travel, and association. Under such circumstances how democratic would the nominations received be in terms of representing the will/mandate of the people? The larger parties may have had their own ways to make their choices, democratic or not, but even them may have done better if there had been space to meet and discuss without any fear of ‘CORONA’ in the final days when the nominations were finalised. Those who had submitted their names as independent groups and those who wanted to and were unable to submit for reasons mentioned above may have had a better chance had there been ‘normalcy’ in terms of movement and association.
In fact curfew had been established in a district close to where the nominations took place, may be for entirely different and valid reasons. There would have been those who needed clearances from their offices for nomination, leave etc. Were they affected by the non-functioning of the system over the past few weeks? If so, are these nominations valid under a democratic assessment of law?
What is the/are the reasons for not postponing the nominations and/or elections?
1. That it is essential to have a stable government for running the country has been the most stated reason. Little is emphasized on the need to give the best opportunity to the people to select the correct government. How feasible is it to have a proper assessment of the candidates for whom to cast their vote, when there is daily pressure to keep away from CORONA and also fetch food and essentials to the family? Which is priority? I would consider the second as priority, if so, are we having the right process for democratic free election is a question that needs answering.
2. We cannot fix a date for election as we are not sure of the potential end to the present issues, is another reason mentioned.
If so then let us put our heads together to solve the first before considering the election. We have the executive presidency and the caretaker cabinet to run the state. Why worry? Little do many realize that many Provincial Councils which are also constitutional bodies of governance have not operated for years but performing under the Executive Governor. Not a word has been mentioned on the need for the province to have elected representative to run an effective governance. If the need is an elected body then one may even consider the option of utilizing the service of the ‘local governments’ that were elected through properly held elections.
Considering the disaster the prime duty of the State and the President is to handle the COVOID–19 crisis and provide relief to the people who gave the mandate for governance than to consider having an election as priority for more stable government. An election at present would not have the ingredients of free choice as the people are concerned with more important issues for their life at present. They would rather listen to the CORONA guides and warnings than the election promises and debates. It is the process that matters for democracy and not the result and if the processes cannot be held freely then there are issues of democracy in election.
I see no reason why the election could not be postponed to any date? The Chairman of the Election Commission has now added his weight to this question by stating that the election cannot be held on April 25 as originally planned. Unable to assess the CORONA’s longevity, he has wisely declined to give a time frame in which the elections may be held. That date may stretch into the indeterminable future.
If that possibility needs to be taken more seriously, the President could revoke his ruling to dissolve the parliament, which was not based on any criteria but legality of 4 ½ years that comes from the 19th Amendment alone, to operate the parliament until August 2020 for which period the elected parliamentarians have the mandate of the people. This may sound absurd but as the Sainthamaruthu fiasco, where a local government body was artificially created and made to equally artificially expire, showed there had been revocation of many orders, though retrospective legislation is not a routine legality in the country.
From the perspective of democracy it is essential to have the PEOPLE as PRIORITY and not those who GOVERN them.
*The Author is a Professor of Botany and former Vice Chancellor of Eastern University and also an Attorney at law