Threat to Law and Order
Note: Constitution, §104B(2):”It shall be the duty of the [Election] Commission to secure the enforcement of all laws relating to the holding of [Elections].” This article is an attempt to secure that enforcement.
The reputation of the police is at a low ebb – with viral videos of the IGP assaulting a person, an SSP convicted of murder, a former DIG implicated in the Jaffna school girl’s rape and widespread testimony of bribery on the highways. Election officials on duty who were assaulted at the 2015 elections are yet to receive justice because the AG refused to charge the assailants.
Yet, the ongoing elections are regarded as relatively problem free. That gain needs consolidation and reflects well on our people. However there are signs aplenty that prosecutions are rarely pursued with the intention of punishing violators because our big fishes are above the law. A stunning unpunished example is the PM’s National Sasundoya Program launched on 5 Dec. building 1000 Temples using state funds. Because this involves waving religious symbols at elections to buy or influence the vote of one community, and because it was done at a religious ceremony (with the PM bowing before monks and the photo circulated widely), this covers a multiplicity of sins – what the law calls “undue influence,” “corrupt practice,” “treating” and “bribery” – making the PM liable to up to 6 or 12 months of RI (depending on the offence) or a trivial fine up to Rs. 500. The real bite, however, is that if he is convicted with even a 1 cent fine, for 7 years from the date of conviction he cannot vote or be a candidate; and if he has already been elected at the time of the offence, he shall be unseated. That would certainly send a loud message.
However, in Sri Lanka where politicians and high officials can speed without tickets, everyone, including the AG, will look the other way. Only small fry are punished to put on a show.
We have come far after a long period of darkness with neither law nor order. The police are therefore fearful of victimization if they uphold the law. On the 11th morning I dropped my son off at the airport and saw two huge posters at the exit on the parking lot fence – one promoted political heavyweight, Hon. Siripala de Silva, and the other some UNP candidates. I reported it and the Commission ordered its immediate removal. I was told it would have been done. Come nightfall, returning to Jaffna and curious, I detoured to see the two displays still up. I went to the Katunayake Police. They wanted an order in writing, which I issued and the OIC committed to removing it. I asked when. He said immediately.
Since when do the police need a written order to stop an illegal activity? It shows fear and wanting someone else to take the responsibility.
Religion in Politics
Recall that the prohibition on buying “undue influence” using religion is a part of our proud democratic heritage. Thus it was that Gamini Dissanayake was unseated by an Election Judge for holding a public election meeting at a temple in Scrubbs Estate, Nuwara Eliya around 24.05.1970; and at the Mariamma Kovil of Ward No. 3, Hawa-Eliya, Nuwara Eliya around 16.05.1970; and for the offence of corrupt practice by making false statements during the election against the SLFP candidate Tantalage William Fernando in relation to his personal character and conduct. Dissanayake’s appeal was rejected in 1971 by the Supreme Court. Fitting the times, his worshippers rewrite history that the vacation was only for the third offence.
This heritage against bringing religion into politics, has been quietly forgotten since the time Buddhism was elevated to an effective state religion in 1972. However, the law prohibiting undue influence remains, but unused to our detriment. For, enforcement would involve challenging important folk and the 1972 constitution.
Maviddapuram Pooja: Only the poor Kurukkal charged
Some Tamil wags ask “If the PM can get away with it, why not we?” So it was that on 30.12.2017 that the Tamil National Forum had a pooja at the Maviddapuram Temple, the oldest in Jaffna. The Priest, Maha Rajasri Ratnasabapathy Kurukkal, is from a liberal tradition where his late brother, Maha Rajasri Shanmuganatha Kurukkal, incumbent in 2011, rose from his death-bed to issue a statement welcoming me, a great grandson of one-time temple mudalali Viswanathamudaliar Sangarapillai, as a candidate for VC Jaffna. This he did although we are now Christians, to counter virulent sentiments expressed by Dr. Yogalakshmi Ponnambalam and Lawyer Kandiah Neelakandan (who “promotes” national unity and reconciliation as Governor at ONUR). They campaigned that Jaffna University should be headed by a Hindu.
As priests always do, blessing one and all, Ratnasabapathy Kurukkal blessed the tray with a yellow sheaf of the party’s policy statement under a bowl. This was followed by a public meeting on temple premises. Five lawyers participated: Gajendrakumar, Viswalingam Manivannan, Kandeepan, Jeyaruban, and Thirukumaran, besides a sixth woman-lawyer. They surely knew the law.
Unenthusiastic Police Prosecution
At the Commission I raised (Chief ITAK Candidate for Vali-North) K. Suhirthan’s complaint in writing of 04.01.2018. The Commission had the pictures shown here. Its Deputy Commissioner in Jaffna too had them, which he got independently and said he would show the police if they came. He had visited the temple and agreed that the meeting was clearly on temple premises. Suhirthan gave them to the KKS OIC with another 8 photos. I told Senior DIG (Elections and Administration), C.D. Wickramarathne, about the need to prosecute persons because the current practice of asking violators merely not to repeat it, leads to repetitions. He promised to implement the law.
However, the police charged only gentle Ratnasabapathy Kurukkal whom no judge would convict, whereas the complaint was against the politicians. This was before the judge, Hon. T. Karunakaran, at the Malakam Court, where nearly all the named lawyers practised regularly and must have been friends with the police prosecutors through regular contact.
Worse, Jaffna ACTC Mayoral candidate Manivannan, also a regular at court, appeared for the priest, despite the conflict of interest. The priest’s interest was to say who was responsible. Manivannan’s was to hide his and his party’s involvement. The Police B-Report did not have the incriminating photos due to police sloppiness. Reports say, the judge told the priest it is a serious offence and he should not repeat it. Big deal!
A new follow-up complaint by Suhirthan asks why the police neither produced nor named the party and people responsible for the meeting. There must be a new case against those responsible directly under Senior DIG Wickramarathne’s oversight. Will the AG give his required consent?
The Broad Malaise
A few parties are taking our laxity for granted, and spoiling the elections for all of us. For example, the Tamil Makkal Peravai (Tamil People’s Council, TPC) led largely by doctors and university dons is set up as an alternative to the TNA. They have an office at the university where meetings have been held under the cover of partnering with a union. A photo shows Gajendrakuar working there at night with Thinakkural’e media man Yathendra. The same office was used by the two and Suresh Premachandran to make voice cuts for the media. Emboldened, they have announced a political seminar at the university under their own auspices for 16.01.2018. Council members appointed by the UGC and on the TPC are said to have arm-twisted the VC into agreeing. The Commission has ordered not to hold it there and not to involve students and administrators.
In the same trend of ignoring laws, the STF and CID are, in a chilling move, gathering candidate data despite prohibition by the Commission. Likewise, the President (Daily Mirror 17.01.2018) “had ordered the Department of Samurdhi Development to halt the recovery of loans issued for housing renovation of low income families” – just hand out state funds as “treats” during elections without the approval of Parliament for cheap popularity!
A Bright Spot for the Police, Judiciary
I will end on a positive story for the police and judiciary from the Point Pedro government hospital, Manthihai. Instead of in the dirty brown sachets in which medicine is dispensed, a bright blue SLFP-colour envelope was used with the wording “A Gift from Angajan Ramanathan’s Youth Front.” A complaint was filed by a citizen with the Chief Returning Officer and the Divisional Health Service. The CRO, GA/Jaffna Vethanayagam, spoke to the hospital authorities and stopped it.
Without punishment, however, the practice naturally resumed last week. This time another citizen, bypassing the Commission, complained directly to the police with far better results. The Police surrounded the hospital and recovered some 500 such envelopes. The Point Pedro Magistrate, Ms. Nalini Subaskaran – a great example to other judges, policemen, the AG and men – ordered the police to burn all envelopes keeping a few for evidence, investigate further and produce the person in charge. It transpires now that Krishnamoorthy Jehanaathan, the one mixing medicines in the dispensary, is Hon. Angajan’s SLFP candidate for the Thunnalai North Karaveddy Pradeshiya Sabai!