18 November, 2019

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Shaping Up – The Undoing Of A Democracy

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Influencing aw Enforcement

In Sri Lanka, anything unlawful we are caught doing, can be “shaped up.” It is the “Asian Way” we say proudly, indirectly alluding to upholding the law as the “Western Way.” In that self-congratulation we forget that we bury our democracy in our feudal grave where our past belongs. For who can shape-up any crime they commit? It is our elders – our clergy like Rathana Thero (who should have been allowed to starve to death rather than let him thwart our democracy), and Gnanasara Thero, the Prime Minister, the President, our clergy, and our ruling class. 

Our 71 years of independence are wasted on us as we vote and revote for our politicians who openly take bribes, and kill our kith and kin, just because they are our feudal elders. 

Voting Right Held to Ransom

Several complaints have been received that Grama Nildaris (GNs) are collecting information on Muslim residents during voter beginning June 1. The GNs have refused to work only with our form saying they must use the second unauthorized form. That gross insubordination has been “shaped up” letting GNs do as they wish because it is some bigwigs who drafted their Nazi form. In effect, it is saying “If you want to vote, follow us and our communal leadership in disfranchising the Muslims of this country by driving in the fear to register and reveal where they live.”

Rathana and Gnanasara: Unelected Clergy holding a democracy to ransom with impunity and pardons

Parliamentary and Provincial Council Elections

PC elections are long overdue except in Uva Province. The government passed the new PC Elections Act after the Attorney General (now the Chief Justice) pulled some shenanigans through wrong advice to the Speaker on changing the Act in Committee when it was against the Standing Orders. He thereby shaped up some problems for the government. The new law, nevertheless, is a good law going by similar changes to the Local Government Act. It provides for mixed elections combining first past the post with the old preferential vote. It gives women quotas. 

The men in Parliament did not like the new law because many of them do not want to give up their places for women. Perhaps for that reason when the electoral boundaries were drawn up by the Delimitation Commission, Parliament balked at approving it. At that point a Committee under the Prime Minister had to modify and approve it within two months. That committee we were told was working on it but our sources informed us they had met only twice. We were being strung along. 

As the Speaker told us, Ministers Mano Ganeshan and Rishard Bathiudeen had asked the Committee to wait as they had sought two clarifications from the President. The Speaker did not know what they were. As he put it, they were in deadlock.

Then the question arose if the new Act was operational and if not whether the old Act was still valid under the Interpretation Ordinance. On one side the argument was that since the new Act was stuck without delimitation – to hold elections we need electorates – that new Act was nonoperational. The counter argument was that the delimitation process was begun under the Act so it was already operational.

The Commission wrote to the President reminding him of his constitutional duty to create a climate for free and fair elections by gazetting the delimitation report. He did not respond. Then we asked for an appointment and asked him to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court (which only he can do) as to whether we can hold elections under the old Act. He promised to instruct the Attorney General but so far no news. We also wrote to the Prime Minister who promised to convene a Party Leaders’ meeting on going back to the old Act. No news.

For the Election Commission to call for PC Elections, either the government must approve the delimitation report for us to go with the new Act, or legislate the abolition of the new Act and the revival of the old Act. Till then we must assume the government wants no Provincial Council elections. With the government refusing to do neither, we cannot have PC elections. 

Presidential Elections: Proverbial Parrot

We have waited for PC elections like the proverbial parrot waiting for a fruit that never ripens to ripen. No one except women and those of us who want to empower women wants the new Act. Even if the conditions for PC elections get ready, ever, by the government deciding to go ahead with the old act, it will take at least a month for parliament to enact the necessary legislative changes. And then we will want 10-12 weeks to prepare. That will take us to the end of September. However, if the presidential elections are to be held in November, the call for nominations and preparation of ballot papers for that will clash.

The presidential elections are declared by the EC and no one else (although the president has unlawfully declared 7 Dec. as the date). The laws are in place for those elections and have been implemented successfully.  I doubt that the government will change those laws to seek a delay because if there is a delay the current President will go out of office in December and there is no law under which he can stay on without a fresh mandate. If he resigns before his term ends on Jan.15, parliament will vote in a person within a month till Jan. 15. The President will not relish that.

Instead of being the proverbial parrot, let us shoot for the presidential elections which the EC has control over, and let the people speak at the earliest possible date. No more shaping up.

Upholding Election Laws

For the people to speak, the election laws and their violations must not be shaped up. Consider the numerous violations we saw during last local government elections: there was only one successful prosecution from Kurunagala leading to loss of civic rights. That too by accident in Mawatagama. The leader of an independent group had been charged with a minor violation. His bad lawyer had misadvised him that the fine being a mere 200 rupees, it is simpler to plead guilty and pay the fine than to languish in court for years. He accordingly pled guilty and promptly lost 5 years of his civic rights and his seat. 

There are lawyers in Jaffna who could have advised him on shaping up the police as they appear to have done, shaping up, it seems to me, even a Magistrate at Mallakam whom I have referred to the Judicial Service Commission for investigation. If we are to hold the presidential elections well, we cannot shape-up for money or for big-wigs.

Seminar on Election Dispute Resolution (EDR)

Are the people free to speak? An eye-opener for many was the EDR Workshop on 12 June sponsored by IFES, Australian Aid and us. One session was led by our officials heading our 25 district offices. It was no-holds-barred.

We empower our officials through the millions we are spending on technology to monitor election law violations. But real empowerment is of the heart of our officials bravely refusing any shaping up.  Among their grouses were

a) In the 2015 parliamentary elections, Assistant Commissioner Sajith Welgama referred for investigation  how, as he alleged, the SLMC Eastern Chief Minister Naseer Ahmed’s Secretary Aseez made 50 labour grade appointments through the Health Ministry. Welgama sent all details to the then Election Department in a file. He believes the matter was shaped up and the file disappeared or buried.

b) Waiving the Law: While parliament is supreme, it is now common practice from Commissioner Dayanada Dissanayake’s time to be generous in waiving the law as a favour to party leaders. Thus while the law disallows something, a Party Leaders’ meeting convened by the Election Department and now the Commission claims the right to waive laws as it wishes. That group has agreed to override Parliament which does not allow cutouts – that we may violate the law and allow cutouts of certain dimensions which seem to change from time to time. Our officials on the field then produce one circular while the parties in violation of the law produce another. The law allows no cutout. Similarly the law allows only 1 party office per polling division. When the then District Commissioner for Colombo, Achchuthan Sivasubramanaim, ordered during the 2015  presidential elections that all unlawful offices be removed immediately, Dinesh Gunawardena argued that they had the permission of the Party Leaders’ meeting. Kamal Pathmasiri, the GA and Returning Officer, had not been communicated that decision (which had no standing even if the Election Commissioner agreed to let the law be violated). Pathmasiri stood by Achchuthan. 

c) Assistant Commissioner R. Sasilan of our Batticaloa office caught then-Minister MLAM Hizbullah distributing gifts at a parliamentary rally going on after 11 pm using loud speakers (which too is a Party Leaders’ fiction in violation of sound-pollution laws). The police did not stop the meeting. Sasilan went with another police party, stopped the meeting, confiscated a gift pack, and filed a report with the OIC Wethagethara, giving him the confiscated pack. Withagethara charged Hizbullah supporters with threatening a public officer rather than treating for elections which would have put Hizbullah in trouble. He urged Sasilan unsuccessfully to admit himself to hospital to sustain the false charge which under law is sanctioned by the Attorney General. In time the OIC informed court that there is no evidence and told Sasilan that he had not given him the pack. Similarly when I gave evidence of the Tamil Congress threatening me with assault, the Jaffna Police failed to produce it in court for a year, allowing the special acting judge to throw it out. It is natural to wonder who collaborated in shaping-up.

d) In the 2014 Uva elections, Rs. 2500 was given per family in the name of drought relief. In the face of attempts to shape up, the courts had to intervene but by then a lot of money had been used to bribe voters.

e) Assistant Commissioner Soumia Fernando in the 2015 Presidential Elections asked for the dismantling of a UPFA Office in the centre of Matara invoking regulations about the 48 hour silence period preceding voting. But he was abused by UPFA’s Chandima Rajaputhra. Assistant Commissioner Bandara Mapa had his camera broken by UPFA thugs. None paid for his camera. At the request of the then President, says Kandy’s Deputy Commissioner Namal Talangama, no press statement followed. Namal reports that in Uva’s provincial elections when he stopped an illegal parade, UPFA’s Anura Withanagamage told him, “This is Mahiyangana, not Kandy. We can kill you and your family.” UPFA officials filed a police complaint against our officials whose Welfare Society had to pay for their lawyer, the department having declined to pay Rs. 12000 for a private lawyer. Nissanka of the presidential security detail assaulted Mervyn Perera’s son, but no police charge. 

f) In another shaping up of the 48 hour silence rule, parties are allowed to make any propaganda speech just before 48 hours like “vote for so-and-so” and then publish that as news during the silent period. This waiver of the law, shows intent to do favours.

Let’s not wait like parrots for the never ripening fruit. Let’s give teeth to our laws with no shaping up for anyone. Let the people speak at the presidential elections. I ask our rulers to ensure that the laws will be enforced impartially and election officials truly empowered. 

Wails Talangama.”When we defend the franchise, there is no one to defend us.”

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Latest comments

  • 6
    1

    Jeevan,
    .
    It is grossly inadvisable for an official of your standing, and an exceptionally educated one at that, to publicly declare a one-man opinion ” who (the thero) should have been allowed to starve to death,” a public statement that you should realize would only worsen the racial divide giving even more ammunition to extremists. Such a statement was totally unnecessary in case, for the points addressed in the article.
    .
    What if some in your own community expresses any similar sentiment, angered by your relentless efforts in the last three years to cause and promote religious divide in the North?
    .
    As an aside, and in the spirit of your recent harsh mockery of the “trousers” vs. “pair of trousers” knit-picking, may I suggest “With the government refusing to do either” rather than “neither!”
    .
    Never too late to learn I guess.

    • 3
      0

      Kumar R
      Please take a break. Whatever Hoole writes you find something nasty to say. For that reason we (at least I) do not take you seriously.

      You want this thero to decide on who shall sit on the cabinet? Perhaps you can try doing a hunger strike in front ofthe Dalada that Colombo Telegraph should not carry Hoole’s articles. You will be promptly arrested for not having a permit, or they will let you starve the way Thatcher let Bobby Sands kill himelf. Certainly Gnanasara will not come looking into your welfare.

      • 0
        0

        Priya,
        .
        There is a big difference between acting to not let someone in the cabinet (remember the election process?!) and wishing him starved to death! And, such commentary is an absolute no-no for a highly-educated, high-ranking official mandated to be neutral and unbiased politically, racially, religion-wise or otherwise.
        .
        My point is it is critically important that Jeevan in his official position refrain from such silly declarations and mockery, and at least act more statesmen-like, without inflaming the situation handing out such additional ammunition to extremists.
        .
        You tell me what the objective is of angering the radicalized Sinhala Budhists who venerate the Thero, not unlike the goons who carry Trump on their heads, never mind what he does.

    • 2
      0

      Engineers know technical English but not English literature.

    • 6
      0

      Jeevan might hve been in some anger as he wrote but essentially what he says is very true. To chastise him for a stray remark is to miss the wood for the trees.

      We urgently need EDUCATED MEN in governance; men of standing whom we could respect for their decency, propriety, respect of the law and for their cultured conduct. Men whose word we could trust and men who would pass muster and earn respect internationally.

      Nothing else would work. Unless this is understood this lovely country would descend into anarchy for sure.

      • 1
        0

        Justice and Fairplay,
        That will be the day – when Sri Lanka becomes a real democracy.
        Only educated persons should contest elective office.
        It is said that the majority of our lawmakers do not have even O Level passes.

        • 0
          0

          justice, I participate quite reluctantly in this meaningless position you have chosen.
          .
          What would be the most suitable education for contesting in an election? When you answer this, I promise, I’ll take it from there.
          .
          Don’t disappoint me.

      • 2
        1

        Justice and Fairplay,
        .
        The need is not just for educated men (or women), but for educated men (and women) with integrity, decency, courage and conviction.
        .
        Perhaps Jeevan can start on the integrity and honesty concerns by explaining the circumstances that led to MR promising him the VC position (now established as a would-have-been counterfeit-VC by the parallel to Jeevan’s own assertion with respect to the Governor appointment)

        • 0
          0

          Kumar R

          Please check your own posts and see if they reflect comment on the subject at hand or whether you are targeting Jeevan on some personal dislike. To me it looks very much like the latter.

          Besides your last sentence is so long and complicated , it can be understood only by a man of similar education as you. Personally speaking , I can make neither head or tail of it.

    • 2
      0

      I stand by Prof Hoole.

      At Matara how many youth went to their death, misled by the JVP/DJV.

      Was this guy a part of the JVP mafia then? Why did he leave MaTARA? Was he subject to an assault as he persecuted the people down the lane.

      Former PM.D.M.Jayaratne accused him of having a family.That accusation was never denied.

      I am ashamed of being in the robes myself.

    • 3
      1

      Kumar R

      “As an aside, and in the spirit of your harsh mockery of the “trousers” vs “pair of trousers” knit-picking, may I suggest “With the government refusing to do either” rather than “neither”.

      As a regular reader of CT, I have intense interest to see your ripostes to Prof. S.R.H.Hoole., noting your eagle eyes won’t let go even his minor slips. Your picking a lone grammatical hole in this article is educative, but your tit-for-tat, too, seems to be carrying a hole in it.

      May I suggest that what you are after is his NITPICKING, rather than “Knit-picking” ?
      Even Homer nods, I guess. Sure, it’s never too late for anyone to learn.

      G.Maheswaran

      • 1
        0

        G. Maheswaran,
        .
        You are correct – it is “nitpicking”. I stand corrected.
        .
        The intent of my chiding Jeevan was not to claim perfection nor to be hawkish on every Tom, Dick and Harry’s stray in grammar or spelling. Hence, my explicit qualifier that began with “In the spirit of … ” that may have escaped the attention it deserved!

    • 0
      0

      Kumar R,
      Despite your pretensions of expertise in English, “knit-picking” is not English.

  • 3
    8

    The main reason for undoing Democracy is
    narrow minded racial politics by Tamil and Muslim politicians.

    • 1
      1

      Colombo man, How did you manage to get out of where you were being treated. You were at the right place. Get back in.

  • 4
    0

    [The main reason for undoing Democracy is
    narrow minded racial politics by Tamil and Muslim politicians.]

    You are right Colamba Manushya. When they were beaten up repeatedly as a hobby your demo-crazy was intact and flourishing. When they demand their rights and fight back then your demo-crazy is ruined. Come on man what an undemocratic statement. This simply example proves where we stand and what future awaits us. Colamba man tell me what and what they did to minorities since independence and the crust of post independent politics? How many times they cheated the minorities?

  • 2
    0

    Note the excuses given for not holding PC elections (because now it is going to clash with preparations for presidential elections)…………..

    The is what the elections commission and their yahapalanista masters wanted all along. After the LG elections, the yahapalanista gang realised that holding PC elections would have been akin to committing hara-kiri. Their calculation has been that they have a better chance at the presidential hustings with the support of racist minority communalists. EC is playing along with that strategy by parroting these excuses. Democracy is the least concern in their minds.

    The progressive forces need to be ready to defeat these machinations and take the country out of current morass.

  • 5
    1

    Just before July 83 pogrom I remember the Buddhist monk and a local government person coming home with a list and asking us questions and for a donation. No Buddha face. My father though a Tamil was very friendly with the chief monk of the vihara from which this monk came with the list for contribution. Again some years later likewise the monk comes with a list for donations and information.

    The collecting of unauthorised data from muslims only predicts another 1983 pogrom.

    Election Commission must get the lame duck President to stop another bloodshed.

    Elections are for a civilised society. Sri Lanka is becoming more and more uncivilised.

  • 4
    2

    There is no democracy in Sri Lanka. It is a Religious Autocratic state. Independent gained in February 1948 without a drop of blood. Since then, the Island is stained with blood due communal violence, terrorism and racism and religious intolerance. The way of life must be miserable for the living.

    • 1
      0

      In order to complete the religious theocracy Ban all the Christian denominations except Catholics and all the Sunni sects. We can ask tobacco farmers also to take their religion else where.

  • 4
    0

    YOu re guilty as hell, Hoole./
    Stop jabbering and give as elections.

  • 3
    0

    Ratnajeevan:

    With all due respect we Tmils have no say in inerpreting or exercisng democracy post colonialism.. It is reerved for the Majority and we are just Subjects of the lkes of King Mahintha.

    1) In that self-congratulation we forget that we bury our democracy in our feudal grave where our past belongs.

    *** We cant even find the graves of our missing ones and how can we be guilty of digging graves to bury our Democracy.

    2) For who can shape-up any crime they commit? It is our elders – our clergy like Rathana Thero (who should have been allowed to starve to death rather than let him thwart our democracy), and Gnanasara Thero, the Prime Minister, the President, our clergy, and our ruling class.

    *** You dont have to look very far it is there for you to see as the War Winning Criminals are roaming free protected by the ruling elite with calous disregard for the victims.

    Let us hope that with the visit by the 4 TNA MPs crucially at the invitation of Modi this can be reversed by devolution of Powers under a Federal Structre and stop the rot and prevent the Governor Rhavan the practising Bhuddist aiding and abetting the Colonistaion by allowing the mushrooming of Bhudda Viharas. When he uttered the words saying that he could hear the heart beat of Tamil Mothers looking for their loved ones I thought he was genuie but this has turned out to be hollow.

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