Several election violations by the All Ceylon Tamil Congress and its ally, the Tamil Equal Rights Movement, have been stopped by the Election Commission. Together these two parties are contesting as the Tamil National People’s Front and are perhaps responsible for most violations in Jaffna.
Most of these complaints have been sent to Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole who lives in Jaffna and he in turn has passed them on to the Election Commission.
The most serious of these violations has taken place at the Maviddapuram Kandasamy Temple on 31 January 2018 where the manifesto of the party was released. News reports in the dailies Ethiroli and Thinakkural carried boastful stories on New Year’s Day of how the manifesto was released at the temple. The stories included photographs stating that Jaffna’s Chief Mayoral candidate Manivannan was present. The Facebook page of TNPF candidate Ponrasa too stated his presence and that the event was at the temple.
The holding of political events at a religious establishment is strictly disallowed by election laws. It carries stiff penalties including loss of civic rights. The TNPF lawyers who attended the temple meeting seemed to have been ignorant in inviting many reporters to come and watch, and then boasting of the event with photographs and planted news articles
When So. Suhirthan, the chief ITAK candidate for Valikamam North complained with photographs and the news articles to the Election Commission, shudders ran through the TNPF. Ponrasa quickly took down his webpages, but not before Suhirthan had obtained a screenshot. Manivannan’s friends went around asking the temple priest and others to say it was a mere pooja and that the event took place far away.
Strangely however, the police on 11 Jan. 2018 charged only the priest at the Mallakam Courts under Magistrate A. Judeson, where Manivannan and his friends practiced regularly. All seemed of the same age group. The police failed to produce the evidence of the photographs and newspaper articles.
The judge apparently warned the priest and told him not to do it again. Suhirthan followed up with another complaint saying the police were not prosecuting properly and that his complaint was against the politicians and not against the priest. A lawyer who does not go to the Mallakam courts remarked on condition of anonymity, “When we see the judge and the police day in and day out, we naturally become good friends. Our system is not perfect.”
Prof. Hoole, visibly upset by police sloppiness, stated the warning from Judge Judeson to the priest not to do it again and remarked “Big deal” in an op-ed piece. Saying that his job on the Election Commission is to uphold all election laws, he pressed the matter with Senior DIG Elections who works with the Commission.
It was under this pressure that the DIG in turn asked the police to do the case properly charging the political personages involved, claimed TNPF lawyers. Manivannan made a public speech threatening Hoole – If you pull us into dirty work, we will not let you be and promised attacks on him from 11 Feb., the day following elections. That is under investigation by the police.
All hell broke loose on 29 Jan. A case was called in Mallakam, strangely with the same case number as that of the previously closed case. The same priest, another and Manivannan were the accused. Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam who participated in the religious function was not charged. But Hoole was summoned as revealed during proceedings! Twelve lawyers represented the accused. Hoole had pointed out in his Island article that Manivannan could not be the lawyer for the priest when he had a conflict of interest with the priest. This time there were 12 lawyers.
Much was made of Hoole’s absence from court. Perhaps he is hiding in fear it was said by the lawyers. He is anti-Hindu for complaining against a function at a temple, and he has accused the judge of having a deal with the accused, said K. Guruparan twisting the meaning of the phrase “Big Deal!” Manivannan said he had never been near the temple in recent times. It was a claim belied by the newspaper articles and Facebook pages already in police hands. The police this time produced some photos but not the articles and key photo of the meeting taking place at the temple. When Judeson asked Suhirthan if he had any more evidence, he said he had given all that he has. He has since said that he did not know the police had suppressed that evidence again and thought everything was in the docket. In fact the police had stated in court that they found no evidence that a political event had taken place at the temple.
Hoole’s article was given to the judge who, said a person in court, marked it and gave it to the Registrar without reading it. He then proceeded to give his judgement dismissing the case and making serious findings against Hoole, taking the accusations of the accused at face value and without asking Hoole for an explanation. “To me, it all seemed too quick and well-rehearsed as in a kangaroo court,” said the person in court.
Guruparan, coming out of court met the press and stated that Hoole has acted in a low way siding with ITAK and working against the TNPF. He further stated that the judge has ordered the Election Commission to inquire into whether Ratnajeevan Hoole has acted favouring one party and to submit a report.
A constitutional expert told Colombo telegraph that under the Nineteenth Amendment a Magistrate has no authority to order the Election Commission and that an inquiry into the behavior of a member of the Commission rests only with parliament. Even the Commission cannot hold an inquiry against him he said. He felt that the judge had acted hastily without studying the law and not knowing the limits of his own powers.
When asked, Prof. Hoole said “The Commission is studying how to respond. We only have press reports to go by and do not know if they are correct or not. We have asked the Registrar for a copy of the proceedings and he has so far put us off saying they need time. I hope there is some integrity left, restraining the system.”
He added, ‘I have the option to go to the Mallakam Courts and get the matter re-opened. But will I receive justice after the unusual haste with which fault was found against me? I was never served any summons to appear in court. How was my fundamental right to be heard, before passing an order against me violated by the judiciary? Usually even when a person served with summons fails to show up, the judge leans over backwards to uphold the right of reply and asks for summons to be served again. So what was the hurry to close the case in one day? Why did the police suppress the newspaper articles and the Facebook pages which clearly show both, that a political event took place and that Manivannan was present at the temple? Why was the priest warned on 11 Jan. for holding a political meeting at Maviddapuram and then discharged on 31 Jan. saying it was only a worship event? Was the warning on the 11th wrong?”
A well known women’s rights activist, said “Prof. Hoole should keep his dignity as a Member of the Commission and not get too involved. I reported the assault on the woman candidate at Puthukudiyiruppu and the police have done nothing. That was a violation by ITAK. We all know that Prof. Hoole has vigorously pushed for police action there. It is difficult to maintain that he has acted only against the TNPF. But the police seem to have closed their investigation. Why is he even bothering?”
Notwithstanding that, Tamil newspapers that openly work for the TNPF have gone to town. Hoole is accused by Valampuri’s Editor N. Vijayasundaram of being anti-Hindu for going after Hindus. However, he has also forwarded a complaint against ITAK’s Chief candidate at the Jaffna Municipal Council Emmanuel Arnold saying that he held an electioneering procession through Jaffna town. Valampuri also has written that Hoole was placed on the Election Commission by a Tamil political party and he is working for that party and against its opponents. However, university sources confirm that he was nominated by the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations, although the final selection was by the Constitutional Council of 10 persons.
When a TNPF meeting was ordered by the Commission to be moved out of Jaffna University, Guruparan issued a public complaint in Thinakkural which described him as the Dean of Law when the university has no law faculty. Guruparan went on to assert lots of things as having been said by the Commission in its order which are clearly seen not to have been said by the Commission from the Commission’s letter that Guruparan had published on his Facebook pages.
A lot of damage is being done to the people’s confidence in the election system by Valampuri and Thinakkural. Said a journalist who once admired the newspaper for its independence in the LTTE days, ”During the 2015 elections one with the pseudonym Purushothaman wrote a series of articles claiming that the Chavakacheri result was fixed by the Elections Department. The Assistant Commissioner Akilan investigated it and as a result the Government Agent wrote asking the Editor for a correction. He sent reminders. But to no effect. So election officials do not want to do anything when their authority is ignored.” A clerk at the Elections Commission confirmed this.
“The Commission has asked me not to comment. They have asked lawyers to look at it and advise the Commission on whether to appeal to a higher court or go to the Judicial Service Commission, after receiving the court proceedings. In the meantime I feel hindered in doing my job as a Member of the Election Commission and always find myself wondering when I act against a party flouting our laws whether I will be accused of bias against that party,” Hoole said. (By Geena Ratnam)