11 August, 2020

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The EDR – The Lynchpin In Clean Elections

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

EDR Jaffna

The Election Dispute Resolution Unit under the Election Commission (EC) is the key to conducting clean elections. I believe it is to gain control of the unit that the government moved in 10 Government Agents removing experienced and honest hands like Jaffna’s N. Vethanayagan, who was near retirement and prompted by the insulting transfer sent in his retirement papers. 

A good example of how GAs and Additional GAs are used to cheat is that, in Jaffna for example, when a complaint of an illegal meeting comes in to EDR Unit, a call goes to the organizer from the EDR and when the police go there, there is nothing to catch. Another example is that when donors sent in supplies to the Kachcheri for those in COVID shelters, the supplies were sent from EDR Unit to an SLFP MP whose Youth Front distributed them as from the MP.

As a result, considering the avalanche of complaints, the EC decided to remove the chief of EDR in Jaffna, but he pleaded that he would not be able to function as an SLAS officer after that. So out of sympathy he was allowed, in the Chairman’s words, ‘to be the non-playing captain.” He had to give up the telephone where complaints come and keep out while the next level of officers would run the show. In a decentralized arrangement taking powers out of the Kachcheri, we brought in 8 Tamil-speaking officers from Ratnapura to staff 3 new EDR offices away from town while 2 were sent to revamp the Kachcheri staff.

However, on the night of 28 July when I went to EDR/Jaffna, “the non-playing captain” was there in the office. Today 31 July, I received a complaint from CaFFE’s Hariharan, the election observer, that messages are still going to the SLFP folk when they violate laws, and on 30 July evening at Thikkam Angajan Ramanathan was holding meeting blocking roads and flying flags claiming that he had built the road. Flags cannot block traffic and  need to be removed after a meeting but not Angajan’s says CaFFE.  That same afternoon the TNA was asked promptly to remove their flags and banners just 300 m away. Says CaFFE, the Jaffna EDB could not have missed seeing Ramanathan’s flags.

On the 30 July, Angajan Ramanathan had a political meeting in Mallakam attended by over 1500 persons packed into a hall when the new health guidelines just do not allow that. Several buses were used to bring in the attendees. That too is illegal. He has been having several opening ceremonies as if he is the politician responsible for the gift of the roads built with public money. When a complaint comes in Jaffna is unique, complains an EDR official, in asking for proof when other EDRs investigate. The EDR Unit has repeatedly warned Ramanathan. Mr. Karunanithi, our EDR officer now in charge, has written to the Commission. No reply he says and has asked me what to do. 

Even when boys are caught putting up notices, the police are not arresting them says Karunanithi. When a van had to be impounded, the police refused his instructions and he had to go to the DIG to get that impounding done.

While all these shenanigans go on, the neglected story is that of Election Commission staff who diligently work the units under corrupt government appointees despite the threat of political transfer from politician-cheats. 

This is the story of some of them.

Mannar

The new Assistant Election Commissioners (ECEs) are often driven by ideals. Mannar’s Jesuthasan  Jeniton and Mullaitivu’s Kantheepan are cases in point. They had their feet held to the fire during the Local Government Elections and are all the better for it.

The Motivated Mannar Team: Rohan Croos, Jesuthasan Jeniton and KMHGNSB Kekulandara

While most violations now involve pasting notices and occasionally hate speech, two of the more egregious cases were caught by Jeniton. The first of these involves candidate Douglas Devananda. At Mullikulam the parish wanted political intervention because the navy check point, SLNS Bharana, was obstructing persons coming to church as well as to their preschool. They asked Devananda for help over the phone. He had said he cannot catch the issues over the phone and would come there and offer a solution. The priest, Fr. Leo, decided to use the visit to get Devananda sympathetic. Photos show Devandanda in a garland. Plastic chairs had been laid out for a group of 15 which makes a political meeting. The EPDP National list candidate Dr. Kathirkamanathan and a candidate Chanthuru also came. Why was a meeting involving the priest, treasurer, secretary and 2 wardens held outside? For ventilation was the response. The church and the vicarage were in one unwalled compound. In the statement recorded by IP Kumara, the policeman attached to the EDR unit. Fr. Leo stated the meeting took place on church premises. Devananda promised a solution in 3 months.

Douglas in Garland at Church for Blessings? Two of his Vanni candidates to left of Father Leo

Political forces moved forcefully. Chilavathurai OIC Pushpakumara visited the church and carried out an “investigation” to declare “The Minister went for blessings and left in ten minutes”  – something the vicar never claimed.

Pushpakumara was so brazen that Jeniton complained to Bishop Emmanuel Fernando and Mannar SSP Bandula Weerasinghe. The latter has promised a fresh inquiry. It will be done by HQI Mannar Krishanthan who has good relations with the public. Will politics trump the law as it is doing in all political cases being dropped or in dropped cases being revived?

Second Mannar Case

This involves Rishard Bathiudeen. The incident is from 18 July 6 am. Assistant Director of Primary Education Ameen had invited pre-school teachers paid Rs. 6000 a month by the government to a meeting. On receiving a complaint our AROs Croos ad Kekulandara went there with IP Kumara to find the meeting under way at the private premises of Riftkaan Bathiuddin, brother of Minister Rishard Bathiudeen.

Rishard Distributing Gifts

The complaint was from teachers from Naanataan, Madhu Maanthai West, and against the Assistant Director saying they were asked to come again on Sunday and were paid their Rs. 6000 there. The teachers in sworn testimony state that they were each given a sari and in the folds of their sari there was Rs. 2000. The claims it was a union meeting and had told the teachers “Do not fix me. I did not wrong.” It is now left to the police, who wins and after that whether the Attorney General will be impartial.

In the meantime, Vanni Independent Group I’s use of temples in politics is also being investigated by police.

Mullaitivu

Mullaitivu is arguably the most backward area where a lot of electoral cheating is going on. The energetic team trying to interdict these electoral crimes consists of ACE Kantheepan, assisted by AROs Karunadha Hewamanage who looks after massive cheating in the now Sinhalese Weli Oya (formerly the Tamil Manal Aru), and the doughty M. Kirubasuthan. 

Some Premadasa supporters threatened this team for stopping them pasting notices, saying “When we come to power we will take care of you.” Says Kirubasuthan with that rare bravado, “Many of us are fearful of a punishment transfer when politicians we stop come to power. But we in Mullaitivu are not scared. There is no greater hardship posting we can get.”

The Mullaitivu team is explicit that most of the cheating involves SLPP politicians. There has been open fighting between Cader Masthan’s and Rishard Bathiudeen’s followers. The worst violations are by the Sinhalese politicians from Manal Aru, Janaka Nandakumara and Col. Ratnapiriya Bandu. Buddhist monks do Buddhist poojas for Nandakumara so he himself is not implicated.

For an area liberated from the conscription of children for war, the Mullaitivu EDR unit has identified children being used by Colonel Bandu as labour in elections.

Child Worker employed by Colonel Bandu’s Campaign

Vavuniya

Similarly in Vavuniya, Deputy Commissioner (North) Lalith Anantha with his ARO Sivakumari is doing a good job particularly as supervisor of the Northern Assistant Commissioners. One difficulty is that while the big roads in Vavuniya are clean, the numerous by-lanes are difficult to supervise. He will soon go to Jaffna as the Tamil Deputy Commissioner recused himself after facing false charges by untraceable complainants, and C.V. Wigneswaran objected to Retired Commissioner General of Elections Mohammed because he is a Muslim. We are now giving them a Sinhalese.

The Last Frontier

Our Commission has been increasingly implementing the law and this has led to reduced complaints. One last section of the law remains. Most offences after definition, end saying “Every person who contravenes [these provisions] shall be guilty of an offence and shall on conviction  after summary trial before a magistrate, be liable to a fine not exceeding one hundred Rupees or to imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding one month or to both such fine and imprisonment.” The 100 rupees is nothing. The pinch is that upon conviction the convict loses all civic rights for seven years, creating space for good people to enter the fray.

The fact is there is rarely a charge. Even when a politician transports illegal notices, it is by a private van-operator who is let off on sympathy saying impounding the van is robbing him of his livelihood. Usually we tell the rare politician who is caught in his own van “Be a good boy. Don’t do it again.” So they do it again. It is like the police telling a murderer, “Be good. Do not do another murder.”

Until we issue real punishments, there will be no improvement in electoral cheating.

Post Script

Further to the article, I wish to report how difficult it is to work without internal trust. That 1500 persons attended the political meeting in Mallakam as in my article is something I discovered from my own sources. Mr. Gengan who heads a Minibus Operators’ Union told me that his information is that 69-Tellippalai Union hired out 20 Rosa Minibuses for the event, each capable of carrying 26 passengers. Other Unions also let out minibuses.

As is the correct thing to do, I reported it to Mr. Karunanithi of Jaffna EDR. He informed me that it is a false report; our ARO attended the meeting; there were only 150 persons in attendance, and the police had given a permit.

However, photos do not lie. Here is a photo from the press and a snapshot of Capital TV news, owned by Angajan Ramanathan’s family. The news clip is also attached. Regardless of the law, even as I write his Facebook boasts of the crowd he attracted. The bad politicians are so sure of impunity that they boast of their own crimes.

It is impossible to deal with EDR/Jaffna. Mr. Karunanithi is a gentleman but even he is fooled by his staff put in place by the “Non-playing Captain.” As Mr. Karunanithi has asked the EC without reply, this man must be arrested and charged. Or else, the Commission might as well shut down and let Angajan Ramanathan run the Commission.

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Latest comments

  • 6
    1

    What a lot of details to take in, of areas that we are not familiar with!
    .
    Thank you, Professor Jeevan Hoole. Yes, all this is necessary to make sure that every citizen of our country is allowed a say in electing the members of the next Parliament.
    .
    Let us hope that nearly all the voters also exercise the same sort of concern to find out whom they are about to send in to Parliament – to lord it over us for the next five years. Judging by the mechanical way in which they have voted in all elections held so far, this is a forlorn hope.
    .
    Help! If the SLPP is allowed to have its way, we’ll be stuck with the Rajapaksa dynasty for the next forty years. Of course, I won’t be there to see it. My grand-daughters will.
    .
    At least all is quiet up here, on my hill in Bandarawela.

    • 7
      1

      Dear Sinhala Man,
      do you know this paedophile supporter of Rajapakshe s pohottuwa?
      [edited out]
      People should think twice before going to support Rajapakshe men.
      :
      Be it in Galle s Kattadiya by name “raththaran”, or this man BY NAME Nirantha Edirisinghe has been molesting male children on and on.

  • 3
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    Dr.Hoole
    While I appreciate all the good work done and writing them in CT exposing you to a great risk at the hands of war criminals especially wolf in sheep clothing like Ratnapriya and their bosses who claim to have liberated children but to use them as his own child labor for elections, something you report seems to contradict other news reports I have read elsewhere from independent sources..
    What I read was that CV Wigneswaran objected to retd Mohammed not because he is a Muslim but he was responsible for casting preferences votes for Sumanthiran, supposed to be your good friend, illegally during counting in the last general elections using non filled preference votes of TNA on the instructions of RW.

    I want to know the truth. Are you trying portray Wigneswaran as a racist and you as non racist as you have been very critical of Tamil Manaralaru renamed sinhala Weli poya- an example of Sstructural genocide by sinhala governments- to get support from Sinhala civil society, I am wondering.
    As a Sinhala civil society member I want to know the truth. One wrong statement could make the whole articles credibility doubtful.

  • 1
    0

    What action did Hool take on the confession of Sritharan that he had cast 75 fraudulent votes? The source is video footage.

  • 1
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    The writer once again seems selective in his identification of wrong doers.
    *
    “As a result, considering the avalanche of complaints, the EC decided to remove the chief of EDR in Jaffna, but he pleaded that he would not be able to function as an SLAS officer after that. So out of sympathy he was allowed, in the Chairman’s words, ‘to be the non-playing captain.” “
    Is this how business is conducted in the EC?
    Also it is a bad analogy, as non-playing captains can still direct the teams.

  • 0
    0

    PART ONE

    Professor Hoole’s work is not easy, and I am glad that I was able to provide “logistical support of sorts” when he visited the Badulla District which I know pretty well.
    .
    Three days ago, on Friday, the 31st July, evening, Prof. Hoole rang me and said that he would be coming up to see how two Districts, Badulla and Nuwara-Eliya, are faring, and could I please put up four people for a couple of nights – they could sleep on the floor! That was to include Jeevan’s wife, whom I hadn’t met in person. I may have to explain here that Jeevan’s elder brother, Rajan, and I had been in school together fifty-five years ago. Possible, I said, although I knew that I wouldn’t be able to accommodate them in the style worthy of the onerous work that they had to undertake.
    .
    I knew that for this election work they would somehow find my local knowledge of some use.
    .
    And so they came, and I appreciate how difficult it is for anybody to keep a cool head and observe what was happening in an a part of the country that they just didn’t know.

  • 0
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    PART TWO
    .
    My role had to be to let them relax more than is possible in the tourist-class hotels that the Elections Commission would have provision to spend on.
    .
    My Bandarawela home is easy to locate, but they were coming in the night from Colombo on Saturday (the 1st of August that was). It became clear that they didn’t know this locality the way I do. I had told Jeevan that the quickest way to get here was using a short stretch of the Southern Highway (to Horana), but that explanation had sounded complicated to the driver and the Sergeant who was Jeevan’s “Police Guard”. They had opted for the normal bus route through Avissawella.
    .
    They were to set out at dusk. The first surprise I received was about seven o’clock when I expected them to be somewhere near Ingiriya, but found them around Avissawella. All that I did was assure them they could allow google maps to guide them to Bandarawela. They wanted to have some dinner on the way; I guided them on that. The last bit of the journey that was to prove difficult, despite my having supplied the co-ordinates of my location.

  • 0
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    PART A
    .
    It is election day. Time to vote, not to write!
    .
    Never mind the details not having gone in.
    .
    “We” (that is five of us – Prof. Jeevan Hoole, his wife, Prof of Chemistry [that doesn’t matter, does it?] Dushyanthi, a Police Sergeant, and the driver), visited the Badulla and Nuwara-Eliya election Offices, situated in their respective Kachcheris. What Jeevan was saying to the various officers didn’t concern me at all. we spent the most time in Badulla, a town which Dushanthi did not know. There is a very ancient Buddhist temple in the town which Dushyanthi wanted to see, so we saw that and all the various Christian Churches.
    .
    But before that we’d been in Bandarawela town.

  • 0
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    PART B
    .
    Going to church was an absolute must for Jeevan and wife. So, the first thing in the morning was going to the quite magnificent “Church of the Ascension” built by the Brits, and known here as the “Gal Palliya”. It is rather blase for me since I pass it every day, but rarely go in nowadays.
    .
    I’d been baptised there more than seventy years ago by Rev. Charlie Thomas. Later confirmed elsewhere by Rt. Rev. Archibald Rollo Graham-Campbell. So I know how to behave in a Church!
    .
    We had to write our names and sign in. They were not allowed to admit more than 50 owin to COVID-19. Shoes had to come off. Going for communion, we had to keep the stipulated ne metre distance. Two priests gave the comunion to us guys who were standing, received and went back. No chalice put to our lips (fear of COVID). The wafer was dipped in wine and given us.
    .
    After service, telephoned for driver and Sergeant, who had gone off to the town. Then the Sunday fair. The Hooles bought 50 avocados, 2 kilos of passion fruit, chow chow, and some other things. Then on to Badulla, with me pointing out some places of interest, when Jeevan was not on the phone.

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