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Sunday, 9 October 2005  
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Free and fair elections

Nominations are over. No untoward incidents were reported on Nomination Day. This is a good beginning.

Having handed over nominations the two major contenders rushed to get blessings from the Maha Sangha. We hope the words of advice received from the venerable prelates would help them to disassociate from violence throughout the campaign.

Judging by past experience we cannot be too sure the calm that prevailed on Friday would continue till the poll is over.

What should be done to minimise, if not totally prevent political violence that had been a concomitant at all recent elections? If the rule of law is respected, if elections and other laws of the land are respected, if over-enthusiastic supporters are restrained, if the law enforcement officials and elections staff are allowed to function without intimidation violence could be averted.

In this respect the foremost responsibility lies with the candidates and their party leaders to instill discipline among their followers. Most of the violence arises from disputes regarding the display of cutouts, banners, party symbols etc. at public places. Such display is illegal. Hence, if all candidates abide by the law maintaining calm is simple. Unfortunately the offenders in most cases are the candidates and their party organisers.

As far as both principal contenders are concerned they are not freshers. They are widely known. There is no need to display their image at every nook and corner. It is ridiculous to see area organisers or local leaders displaying their images together with that of the candidates in an apparent bid to get votes.

Whom are they trying to fool? Are they insinuating that the candidates are unknown and their image would help them to obtain votes? Or is it that they are unknown and could be marketed only if they have the image of the contestant by their side?

The Elections Commissioner has to utilise public funds to remove these offending posters and other illegal display items. We hope candidates aspiring to the highest office in the land would set an example and prevent the necessity to waste public funds for such a purpose.

A huge responsibility falls on the police to act impartially without fear or favour. Political pressures on them to subvert the law are tremendous at election time. We hope they could stand firm with the assistance of the Police Commission.

Elections staff should be provided with maximum security so that they could perform their duties freely.

Violence could originate from outside the forces engaged in the election, like the LTTE. Hence it is essential that maximum vigilance is maintained and law and order are maintained strictly to minimise such violence. The SLMM is reported to have requested a guarantee from the LTTE that they would not disrupt the elections in the North and the East. A positive response from them would be welcome.

The security situation in the North and East prevent open expression of voter preferences for fear of retaliation by warring factions of the LTTE. Human rights including the Right of Dissent are not respected there. This places constraints on the conduct of a free and fair poll in the area.

Due to our own follies the necessity has arisen to invite foreign observers to monitor the polls. It is time that we show the external world that we could manage our own affairs and conduct free and fair polls on our own for the practice of inviting foreign monitors has given rise to various local actors of doubtful integrity becoming their agents and influencing the outcome of the elections through the use of heavy foreign funding.

Violence could also emanate from the provocative rhetoric at election platforms and public pronouncements by politicians on stage. Candidates should restrain their supporters and set an example in conducting themselves responsibly and honourably as befitting the august post they are aspiring to.

It should be mentioned that the electorate would prefer if they limit their exposition of political history and devote more time to the exposition of future policies they hope to implement once in office.

We have a chance to ensure a free and fair poll and show the world that we are a civilised society and the happenings of yesteryear are only a temporary aberration in our rich cultural history.

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