17 December, 2017

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When Elections? Whom To Blame?

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Despite the Nineteenth Amendment, most newspapers write of the nonexistent Election Commissioner. An Island editorial (10.02.2017) reports a meeting of the Joint Opposition (JO) with the Election Commission (EC) where all three members were present, as with the Commissioner.

It is a natural outcome of government’s undermining the EC by starving us of resources. We all know that our parliament has murderers, liquor dealers, embezzlers, sexists and other assorted crooks. They have impunity except when in the opposition. The Prime Minister justifies a travel allowance for MPs in addition to their luxury vehicles saying it is undignified for them to travel by bus. However, as a diabetic EC member, I need to travel by bus from Jaffna and urinate in public streets wherever my bus stops. I am offered dingy hotels in Colombo where I dare not go outside for my meals because of loitering prostitutes.

Jan. 2015: Distribution of Presidential Vote

On Douglas Devananda’s complaint, I had criminal charges filed against me for writing of election rigging by the last government. I became an EC member out on bail. Police prosecutors under this government made lengthy statements against me in Sinhalese (although I do not understand Sinhalese and the law says the language of the courts in the North is Tamil). Court Sergeants would manhandle me, pulling me by the arm to make me stand where they wanted me in the dock. The 2011 case was finally dismissed on 25.01.2017 by a skeptical judge who ruled that the police keep asking for time to investigate, he has seen no evidence of an investigation and no longer believes there ever was one. How did that happen under Good Governance? Is it any surprise that the EC has no status? Indian protocol puts us at the level of a Supreme Court Justice and we receive that respect when dealing with India.

Naturally, with a toothless EC, Local Government (LG) elections have for long been delayed – in Tamil areas since 2011. By filing a case the right to representative government, and the right of a citizen to exercise his franchise, are easily thwarted. Such delays restore the power devolved to LG Authorities back to the minister in the central government who appoints and orders officials who run the LGs for him. The Supreme Court has a special obligation to fast track these cases instead of letting ministers usurp the powers of LGs. Justice is denied in the name of justice!

EC-JO Meeting

In the meeting misreported in the Island editorial, the JO asked the EC for a meeting. We met on 09.02.2017 at our premises. I recall 9 stalwarts of the JO coming. Their main grievance was that elections are long overdue, “everyone” blames the “independent EC,” and we should therefore hold elections or resign.

The EC is reluctant to go public, although we felt the way things are going there may be no elections till 2020. The public has a right to know why.

The Delay and Delimitation

Power is all in government hands. For delimitation of wards, a Delimitation Committee (DC) appointed by the Minister for Local Government; then their work is subject to appeal. Upon resolution, the wards are gazetted, and the EC conducts the election.

Delimitation was done under the previous government and President Sirisena gazetted the wards on 21.08.2015. However, the boundaries were said to be gerrymandered. Despite gazetting, a new DC was appointed by Minister Faiszer Mustapha to hear appeals with senior SLAS official Ashoka Peiris Chairing.

Facilities, it is generally agreed, were inadequate as to translators, transport and money. The members, most of whom had other full-time commitments, had to visit every Secretariat and spend 3-5 days on hearings.

The first deadline extension to 30.11.2015 portended the disasters to follow. The EC was promised the report on 15.08.2016. Other dates followed. We had two DC members telling us that Minister Mustapha had explicitly asked them to delay. Mustapha told me at an EC meeting to which he came 2 hours late that he had asked the DC to slow down because he did not want them to lose their health.

Final submission was after several delays precipitated by the deaths of Mr. Peiris’ wife and mother, the UNP and SLFP nominees refusing to sign the report, etc. January end saw the Minister assuring the Supreme Court in a related case that he would gazette the report within a month.

However, mistakes are being found. I do not know whether they are grammatical and spelling mistakes or substantive. If the latter, would the 5 members need to sign again? The government has sacked Peiris even from his job as Competent Authority of the Mineral Sands Company. (The importance of the 19th Amendment is seen in this sacking and his replacement by Attorney Maithree Guneratne who himself was sacked recently as the head of the Lanka Coal Company and brought back after teaching him the importance of compliance). What now? Does the DC need to meet again to ratify the changes?

Special Allocations

After the Second JVP insurrection, a report by G.L. Peiris led to a mandated 40% allocation to youth nominations using the word shall (Act No. 25 of 1990). However, because of some not meeting the age criterion, all nomination papers were rejected for the UPFA and UNP in the 2006 elections in Gampaha and Colombo, respectively. Consequently others got elected in these UPFA, UNP strongholds. Act No. 22 of 2012 therefore changed the word shall to may, and youth to women and youth. The word may allows all parties to ignore this, fearing that stronger candidates from the other parties, that is older men, will beat any youthful or female candidate put forward by them.

There is widespread support to change this to ensure proper youth representation. If that is done, there will be need for new delimitation. So no one knows when there will be elections.

What if there are Local Government Elections?

A lot has changed since the elections of Jan. 2015. Even if we assume that the same majority will back the government despite the nonfulfilment of promises, the adjacent map of who voted for Sirisena and who for Rajapaksa tells us who will win. They garnered 51.28% and 47.58% respectively of the vote. In LG elections unlike the presidential elections where Tamils and Muslims by and large supported Sirisena, they will contest separately in the North and East to get their own Councils. Without any reduction in votes, Sirisena can at best hope to win in the few remaining places. The vast areas in blue are far more numerous in Councils. The outcome in terms of Councils will allow the JO to claim victory.

Holding LG Elections

Regular, periodic elections define a democracy. The poll delay is wrong. The EC just does not have it in its power to hold elections. We implement the law. Parliament makes the law.

We cannot simply hold elections under the wards gazetted by President Sirisena on 21.08.2015 as requested by the JO because in the intervening Act No. 1 of 2016, there is an allocation of 1/3 more representatives and then 25% more seats for women. This number too has to be gazetted by the President. So the government holds all the trumps. This increase itself is fraught with problems as LGs cannot accommodate some 70% more in present buildings. Excuses galore to exploit.

Constitutional Process

Real change in the constitution, making Sri Lanka a better democracy and embracing minorities, is urgent. Any electoral reversal of the government in LG polls would abort the constitutional process. Is that why the delay in the polls? Do the ends justify the means?

No they do not, especially when analysts allege the government is backtracking on the promised ends. Elections are a right. The only way is for the government to push through the reforms with the LG polls. That way, minorities will be assured that the government is not fibbing on reforms.

Even if Elections are Held

I am told I need to be in Colombo every day if elections are called. I will not spend my money for public work, urinating on the streets, when the PM has a fleet of BMWs and the use of a helicopter, and will not let MPs travel by bus.

Despite being told the constitution is wrong in the EC having three members and a quorum of three, the government has asked us to ignore that. On the 9th the EC had a meeting scheduled with Mustapha. He advanced it to the 8th when I was in Jaffna. The EC and he decided to edit the mistakes in the DC report. In the absence of a quorum it is illegal; Besides, it is not our report for us to edit.

Likewise, if elections are ever called, any certification of election results will be invalid without all three present. Nothing is ready for polls. Perhaps it is as intended.

*S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole – Member, Election Commission

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Latest comments

  • 5
    0

    When did the author learn that the EC is toothless? I think that he said something to that effect months ago.
    Toothlessness could even be part of an anti-democratic agenda.
    Why didn’t the members who seem aware of the situation do the right thing under the circumstances?

    • 1
      4

      More of the high profile money laundering acts of Rajaakshes should be brought before the people so that they can finally grasph the gravity of the dictationship run by most abusive Rajapakshe.
      People should be stupid idiots not tohave got this until today.
      Just because his term put the stop to the elemination of LTTE terror, they the people must not be misled by all evils.
      This country and highly literate nation in South Asia deserves a better future not being rotten by highly corrupted politcians with no back to edudated folks in this country.

  • 4
    3

    I saw that this article had appeared, but I entered two comments (just checked, the first is already on line, the more significant second is not yet on) to Prof. Hoole’s earlier article:

    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/cbk-war-crimes-the-rule-of-law/

    What he says is true, after all. The Members of Parliament (mostly professional politicians) are so pampered, those undertaking important public duties are asked to perform impossible feats.

    I’m pretty sure that what Prof. Hoole reports is factual and true, but perhaps he is saying it so often, and so stridently, that he appears to be a joke. I think the appearance is deceptive.

  • 2
    1

    Sinhala man, SJ speaking.

    You said: “I’m pretty sure that what Prof. Hoole reports is factual and true, but perhaps he is saying it so often, and so stridently, that he appears to be a joke. I think the appearance is deceptive.”

    How dare you suggest that “he appears to be a joke”?

    • 2
      2

      Dear SJ,

      I’m sorry. I don’t say that he’s a joke; I’ve said that the appearance is deceptive.

      But “sekara” has posted the first comment (which I see only now).

      Two things about “sekera”. He is Prof. Sandrasegaram and usually makes very intelligent comments.

      However, he and Prof. Hoole appear not to get on very well. I can’t really remember, just like that, where it was that I appealed to both to be more objective.

      I think that the issues that Prof. Hoole is handling are very important, and I think that Sri Lanka is fortunate to have him here saying these things.

      • 2
        0

        Sinhala_Man,

        Are not Sekara, SJ and Sivasegaram the same person?

      • 4
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        Sorry mate, Sinhala man, you got me wrong.
        I have explained elsewhere why I resorted to SJ again. In this free for all, I decided to have my share of healthy fun.

        BTW, my real name is not Sandrasegaram, and I am not Professor anybody since retirement.
        I use my aliases to avoid personalizing issues, but that is no guarantee of protection.

        I disagree with people, but do not resort to personal attack of any kind, even in retaliation.
        I have not nursed personal grudges even when badly hurt— not because I turn my other cheek but because it helps none —and isolating the personal from the professional and the public has kept me in good emotional shape with dignity intact.

        Unlike in my days of youth, I get along well with ones I work with, despite my strong words.
        I fight my corner and that of any organization I belong to without resorting to underhand tricks or personal abuse.

        If anyone imagines personal hostility that is his/her problem, not mine. I play by organizational and institutional rules, even when they tie my hands.
        Kindly desist from playing referee and in the process drive a personal wedge between me and anyone.

        You owe me no apology, but you owe one to Hoole for using the phrase “he appears to be a joke”, despite you qualifiers.

        • 2
          0

          I think that Lone Wolf’s response at 12.24 p.m. has got us back on track. I rather feel that the qualifiers that I have embedded in my response may be sufficient for Prof. Hoole not to be resentful of what I have said above.

          I now want to look at his second article on CBK’s unacceptable statement to talk about what I found out when checking on how the tri-lingual policy is working in the Estate Area where I live.

          Let’s all try to move forward!

    • 2
      1

      Sorry, a mistake by me. Not “Sandrasegaram”, but Prof.Sivaseagram, whom I knew at Peradeniya 35 years ago when I was an Arts undergrad, but he didn’t know me.

      However, I also see this:

      “This is SJ speaking, Sivaseagram has been sent on leave.”

      That appears here:

      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/cbk-war-crimes-the-rule-of-law/comment-page-1/#comment-2074190

      SJ February 12, 2017 at 11:41 pm

      So, I have to conclude that “sekera” and “SJ” are both really Prof. Sivaseagram.

      As I said Prof Sivaseagram is very intelligent and talks sense, but when it comes to this subject of Prof. Jeevan Hoole, there are all these pseudonyms which cause confusion. All of this prevents intelligent discussion of what is now happening.

      To wit: We are able to conduct elections which may even lead to changes of government, but they don’t reflect all the nuances of opinion, and most importantly, we too often find to our horror that the persons who end up in parliament are crooks who were mouthing the sentiments that we wanted to hear.

      • 0
        0

        SM
        There is no confusion
        I wrote under pseudonyms because I did not want personalising of issues.
        However, when I had to refer to incidents to which I was witness or when I talked about individuals I used the real name. I explained this to “Plato” earlier.
        I used SJ for light remarks, but dropped it after a while.

        SJ has in the style of “the Good Person Szechwan” decided to take over from Sivasegaram who needs a break.
        There is no inconsistency between views, except that SJ can be playful.
        It will be SJ for some time to come.

      • 4
        0

        Sinhala Man — isn’t the whole point of using a pseudonym that the person wants to remain anonymous? Even if you guess the identity should you be revealing it to everyone else?

        • 1
          1

          It is very difficult to counter your logic, Manel!

          Well I have just one pseudonym and I sometimes comment using my own name, which I think you would know by now. And there should be consistency.

          As I have said before, Prof. Sivasegaram has a brilliant mind. I fear that sometimes he has multiple pseudonyms and occasionally we get confused. And sometimes, in some places, Prof. Sivasegaram changes his pseudonym after acknowledging his previous one.

          As for you, I find that you have been writing under the one name for many years, and you ALWAYS talk sense. I have not seen anybody being able to seriously take you to task for inconsistency.

        • 3
          0

          Manel
          Thanks. That is kind.

          But this is CT, at times like Mariyakade, as it accommodates people with widely varying norms of public conduct.

          Personally I do not mind my exposure, as I did not use aliases to say different things to different people. I used different styles— more for amusement.

          I have no problem with Sinhala Man, except that at times he can sound a little patronizing— for which I am over 50 years too old.
          In fairness, Sinhala Man was not the first to declare my identity. He is months late, and I do not think that he meant ill. (I hope that am not being patronizing).

  • 1
    2

    Dr Jeevan Hoole,

    “The Prime Minister justifies a travel allowance for MPs in addition to their luxury vehicles saying it is undignified for them to travel by bus. However, as a diabetic EC member, I need to travel by bus from Jaffna and urinate in public streets wherever my bus stops. I am offered dingy hotels in Colombo where I dare not go outside for my meals because of loitering prostitutes.”

    Thank you for exposing the way EC members are treated. The RTI Commission also appears to be without sufficient funding.

    Are all the independent commissions without funds?

    I saw about a year ago a sleek Mercedes Benz parked outside of one of the most expensive hotels of Jaffna. According to a sign on the car it was the vehicle of the chairman of the National Police Commission. Maybe a temporary government vehicle to visit Jaffna?

    Why don’t you take a train to and from Jaffna? Better and safer than the buses and the very expensive three times a week flights.

    I once spent a night at a Colombo hotel with what I consider excessive amount of foreign ladies hanging around the public areas of the hotel. First and last time there.

    • 1
      3

      Thank you Lone Wolf. Yes, limited funds for real needs and excess for some. I am reluctant to give financial details because they will be used against me. But I will give some.

      The Chairmen of Commissions are all given cars but their fuel is limited. Commissions like ours involve a lot of travel. Some have little work. Yet allocations are the same across commissions.

      Members are given a travel allowance. That is not enough. My preference is

      a) Car. I can leave as soon as a meeting is over. Leave Jaffna at 2 AM, be in Colombo by 10 AM and return at 4:00 pm to be home by midnight. This has been disallowed now because of my travel allowance. Now if I need to go to Parliament for a meeting, it is very complicated. A taxi will not work because the number has to be given ahead and cleared. I use the office car!
      b) Personal car. Petrol alone is Rs. 10,000 per trip. With maintenance and wear total is Rs. 20,000. My driving takes three days per meeting. I asked for a driver to drive for me. It was ruled that the driver has to take personal leave and I need to pay him Rs. 1000 a day!
      c) Train – planned bookings are nearly impossible. For returning in the mornings I leave home at 4 AM. The taxi does not always turn up.
      d) Bus. Booking is easy. Toilet is a major problem. I leave Jaffna at 8PM and arrive around 4AM and need to wake up a relation. Hotel for the night is authorized but only verbally. And these are cheap hotels in places like Kelaniya, often off the bus route. To get to office I need to use an office car which is strictly illegitimate. I get “lifts” with cars going for “other purposes”. With the next government I may be hauled up by FCID for unauthorized use of office cars and dingy hotels. What a way to serve my country!

      • 0
        2

        Dr Jeevan Hoole,

        Thank you for the information.

        “Yes, limited funds for real needs and excess for some.”

        You have confirmed my hypothesis.

        The government is in my opinion offering more possibilities for northerners than before to have a say in important matters. Unfortunately they often forget the distance, cost of accommodation and transportation costs.

        I admire your strength.

        As you are likely to know advance bookings even using SLT or Mobitel exist for trains. I suspect that your problem is that the meetings are not planned well in advance allowing time to book.

  • 4
    0

    Sir, I was on a holiday back in my Motherland; left my Trumpland to visit family. I watched the Independence day parade on TV.

    I came away with an inferiority complex and class envy when I saw the parade of official cars.

    Damn man. BMW 7s(Base model runs about USD 81,500 here in the USA) for Ranil and CBK and so many. Audi A8s, SF also came in a fancy expensive car. Massive number of luxury cars for Chief Ministers, high officials etc. Mangala all came in fancy expensive cars. Now add 300% duty in SL and see how many Americans can even afford the price there?

    I called my wife back in the US immediately asked her “What the fu** can’t we have such cars and we’re the American middle class?”

    Sir, even with faculty salaries, we cannot afford such flashy expensive cars.

    Every time I go there, for and just drive past any of the hotels I seem massive cars and massive chauffeur driven SUVs disgorging fancy Sri Lankans.

    Glad the tourists are coming back and in stunning Elle, I found a beautiful escape where hordes of foreign backpackers, and hikers and other simply Hippie type serious tourists have made it a Mecca like Hikkaduwa(and with it the drug culture I was told too).

    So I was glad tourists are coming back; hotels are full; people have jobs, but even paying at over 30% Marginal rate, (federal taxes) we couldn’t afford those cars.

    The entitlement system there is awesome. I just want to go back and become an MP for one term so I can get my vehicle permit and start taking bribes to save for my yet to be born granddaughter’s dowry.

    So tell RW you deserve one too please. Jayaweyva!

  • 0
    1

    Sri lanka had elections for seventy years. What did that bring to lay people ?

    Why educated people Sri lanka are so narrow minded ?

    What do you gain by this ?

    Or is it just writing because you want to find fault on some one or something ?

  • 3
    0

    It is shocking and sad to hear what Prof Hoole is forced to continuously undergo as a member of the Elections Commission. It would be bad for his health as well. If the current allocations on travel do not permit better facilities, one alternative might be to have some meetings through video/skype. Apart from revising outdated travel rates/payments, I also believe that there should be special rates for those who come from long distances. I am familiar with this predicament of the members of the Board who had to travel from long distances as a former Director/Chairperson of the National Centre for Advanced Studies (NCAS). One also might wonder, why he doesn’t travel by train, if the bus travel is uncomfortable?

    More importantly, as he highlights, it is a disgrace for the government (Yahapalana!) not to hold the local government elections under various pretexts. The present delimitations (and also contradictory legislations) are still in a mess. The best would have been to hold the elections under the pre-2012 system, as I have advocated several times. It is still the best until other matters are sorted out. Not holding elections have serious repercussions for democracy and stability of the whole political system. A new constitution would become illusory, if formal and day to day democratic processes are not allowed.

  • 1
    0

    jim softy dimwit

    “Sri lanka had elections for seventy years. What did that bring to lay people ?”

    Free rice from moon.

    “Why educated people Sri lanka are so narrow minded ?”

    Due to lack of wisdom in people.

    “Or is it just writing because you want to find fault on some one or something ?”

    Is there anything right in this country?

  • 0
    1

    Ratnajeevan

    You always use the columns of Colombo Telegraph to air your personal grievances. When you were not made a Lecturer at the Jaffna University you were crying out in these columns.

    You are now complaining that you have to urinate on the streets when coming by bus from Jaffna to attend EC meetings and have to huddle inside dingy hostels in Colombo in fear of prostitutes. You envy the Ministers and MPs for getting luxury vehicles and travel allowances and appears to say that you should be getting the same facilities.

    You are also complaining that the Election Commission is useless because power is all in the government.

    If things are not to your liking man, better resign as member of EC and get out of it rather than whining. Nobody is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to remain as EC member. You accepted the position at your own free will and you should better leave if you have problems in doing the job. Did you lay down all these conditions when you accepted your position in the EC? If not, why are you complaining now.

    I have heard that former Prime Minister Dahanayake left for his home town Galle by a CTB bus when he relinquished office as the Prime Minister? He never demanded armored Benz car. That was a man devoted to public service.Serving as a member of EC is public service. But you seem to demand luxury cars or handsome travel allowances to travel from Jaffna and luxury hotels to stay in Colombo for doing this job.

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