Batticaloa, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

Elections in the East

There is much hype by the government spokesmen about how they held an election in the East for local authorities and restored democracy. Now the government is holding a Provincial Council election. They argue that however imperfect the democracy it is a step in the right direction. But how valid is this viewpoint.

The basic premise of democracy is that the people decide who will be their rulers. But this choice must be freely exercised. If there is no freedom of choice then it can’t be considered as an expression of democracy. The former Soviet Union held regular elections to decide on the members of the Parliament. But no one considered such elections a free exercise of choice. Why? Because freedom to choose requires that here should be several candidates o choose from. Since in a modern state candidates are picked by political parties and then presented to the voters for election there must be freedom for the political parties to mobilize the voters and to do so they must be able to engage in such political activities as canvassing voters. There must also be a level playing field. It is a basic assumption that the government must maintain law & order and safeguard the right to such political activities by all political parties contesting the election. The State alone should have a monopoly of force. There is no such monopoly of force in the East for the Pillayan group is allowed to carry arms and engage in unlawful activites like child recruitments, abductions and killings. They can instill fear into the minds of the voters. It is true that the ballot is secret. But each polling station is manned by this group alone for other parties polling agents may be too afraid to participate. The elections commissioner should not be naïve as he was in a previous election held in the north when the TNA candidates were elected. The foreign observers reported that it was not a free & fair election although the elections Commissioner held otherwise.

Can an election be said to be the free if there are no other political parties contesting except the government political party and its allies. Would it not be like the elections held in the former Communist regimes? The TNA a party which represents the Tamils who constitute a significant section of the voters amounting to over 33% has decided to boycott the elections. What choice is there then for the Tamil voters? Can the outcome of the election be said to represent their free choice? Even the Muslims who constitute another third of the voters have expressed doubts about how free or fair the election would be? You might what can the government do if the TNA abstains? But it is deceptive to claim that the election is free and fair if there are no options for the voters? It is the duty of the government which claims to have cleared the LTTE from the East to ensure a free environment for the voters. It is not doing so as long as it tolerates an armed group to operate freely. Surely if the LTTE has been chased from the East why can’t the government provide protection to Pillayan and his group through the Armed Forces and the Police.

What happened in the north & east in the past when similar elections were held? The LTTE intimidated the elected members from exercising their freedom. They were coerced into complying with their instructions under the threat of death. How many elected politicians were killed by the LTTE? If Pillayan’s force is not brought under the control of the government forces implementing law & order then there may well be a repetition of the same scenario. Soon the elected members will become a proxy for Pillayan and his group. It is said that the wise learn from the mistakes of others, the ordinary men learn from their own mistakes but the foolish never learn.