We have elected a large number of local councilors countrywide and they are going to cost the ratepayers a pretty penny.
by Manik De Silva
( February 11, 2018, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) By the time you read this newspaper, the total picture of how the local government elections countrywide went for the different contenders would be known. The overall results were not out when we went to press and what we are able to offer in terms of results is much less that a total picture due to exigencies of press times. The electronic media is at a distinct advantage over the print medium in this respect and most people will learn the results over the radio and television while some would have recourse to the internet. All in all, this was the least visible election ever and election monitors have confirmed that it was also the least violent. No lives have been lost and heads broken in the run-up to yesterday’s poll and the public has been spared of the sight of the faces of the various aspirants grinning down at them from the once ubiquitous hoardings. The Elections Commissioner, the Elections Commission and their staff and the various law enforcers deserve the highest possible praise for the manner in which the campaign has been conducted up to the time of writing.
“They are all corrupt,” said a voter standing in a short queue at Kollupitiya where this writer went to vote minutes after polling opened. “Hobson’s choice,” said another voter who heard the remark while a third person volunteered “we must get the best out of the bad lot.” Such comments are a microcosm of the widely held view that most politicians are undesirables. However threadbare the cliché, it is also true that countries get the governments they deserve. In sum, most analysts were agreed that the UNP would do best in their traditional urban strongholds while the Mahinda Rajapaksa faction of the SLFP and its allies, fighting under the pohottuwa (flower bud) symbol will draw support in the rural heartland. Our regular columnist Kumar David mischievously branded pohottuwa as poroppaya! How well President Maithripala Sirisena’s SLFP candidates will do after his strenuous efforts on their behalf, including sniping at the UNP which brought him to office, will be keenly watched. The JVP ran a well organized campaign, cocking a snook at the major contenders and projecting themselves as the only party capable of providing a clean administration. But most analysts feel that at best they may be a tie-breaker or king maker in some local bodies. Defections are also too well known during the sharing of the spoils of victory.
Whatever the results, the election that was concluded yesterday will not change the government. The former president and his supporters have been campaigning on the basis that this poll will be a ‘referendum’ on the popular view of the government. This is undoubtedly true …
Time was when candidates running for election had to file what was called “election return expenses” within a fairly short period after the polling was over and the results declared. The permitted expenditure amounted to a few cents per voter in the constituency where the candidate was running. We do not know whether this remains a dead letter in the statute or not. Obviously, given that the expenditure limits were set at a time that money had an entirely different value, they are no longer valid. Also, political parties raising funds to fight elections assist their candidates financially. It is time that we too look at the possibility of requiring public disclosure of political donations as done in some countries like the U.S. Most donors regard contributions to political causes as investments with attractive returns possible by backing the right horse. Others back more than one horse to ensure that they have not picked a loser. Some countries make state funds available to political parties for election purposes while others, like Australia, fine those who do not exercise their franchise. We should look at best practices worldwide and adopt those that are practicable at least cost to the exchequer. Appointing an Elections Commission was a good start and early results are worthwhile. Political parties will, no doubt, prioritize their own interests over those of the country when making any changes to the election law.
Whatever the results, the election that was concluded yesterday will not change the government. The former president and his supporters have been campaigning on the basis that this poll will be a ‘referendum’ on the popular view of the government. This is undoubtedly true even though local issues could have had some bearing on how people voted. However it is unlikely to have been the dominant factor. There is no doubt whatsoever that the government resorted to various questionable means to delay the election offering a variety of lame excuses for the foot dragging. Various dates for holding the election were tendered by the responsible political authorities but those deadlines were not kept. The elections were long overdue and the only plausible reason for that was the reluctance of those holding the reins of office in the center to face the people. The different players on the political stage will now have to device their strategies and adopt postures as dictated by the results of these countrywide elections. Some provincial council elections are due in the short term and there must be a presidential election by 2020.
We have elected a large number of local councilors countrywide and they are going to cost the ratepayers a pretty penny. It is time that the people themselves demanded a proper service from these institutions whose performance, to say the least, is unsatisfactory. It is hard to decide whether the situation will improve with elected mayors and chairmen restored to councils whose terms have ended with municipal commissioners and secretaries of urban councils and pradeshiya sabhas subject to directions by elected councilors. Who can blame the cynical viewpoint that whoever is elected, the result will not redound to the benefit of the ratepayers?
( Manik de Silva is the editor of the Sunday Island, a Colombo based weekly newspaper, where this piece originally appeared.)