Confidence In The Electoral System: The Election Commission, The Attorney General & The Police

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Perhaps the most important election, the only competition for this title being from Parliamentary Elections, is round the corner. How well the result reflects the people’s will depends on the free exercise of the people’s franchise, and that depends on how well the Election Commission, the Attorney General, and the Police do their job. The signs are not good.

During the 2015 elections a Norwegian Tamil, doing illegal work transporting election material in a government vehicle, was caught with a truckful of illegal notices. He was arrested by the police. Subsequently an MP intervened with the Attorney General writing the letter shown here. It is a brazen attempt to divert the course of the law, with a shamelessness that characterizes everything Sri Lankan. The man was out in no time. The same MP, by 2018 a state minister, was photographed by me campaigning from a temple during the local government elections. If convicted it meant loss of political rights. But no prosecution. Every time I ask, I am promised follow up but nothing happens. The Election Commission seems unable to call powerful politicians to account.

Ministerial letter pleading for an Arrestee

The Norwegian is now back. He had written a scurrilous piece and allegedly demanded payment for removing it from his website. He was arrested again and was out on bail. Reports in Jaffna say he fled bail, returned for his daughter’s coming of age ceremony in Kilinochchi, and was rearrested. His work is important to politicians and it is said that he will soon work for a politician’s re-election.

It is difficult to trust our Attorneys General, who often look to appointments on the Supreme Court and are reluctant to charge politicians and their protégés. This is well known from the cases that were promised prosecution in 2015 and are now being dusted off shelves because a different government may be in place soon. In a situation on 24 Sept., I found the Attorney General claiming to represent me in the Embilipitiya case when I had given my proxy to a private lawyer whom I trusted. What would have been said in my name I do not know; nor do I know in how many cases I have been represented without my knowledge and proxy.

Worse is the ongoing Neeraviyadi Pillaiyar Temple saga that challenges our faith in the police. The Pillaiyar temple is situated in Chemmalai in the Mullaitivu District. A Buddhist monk by the name of Kolampe Methalangathara Thero has erected a Buddhist temple with state aid on the Hindu Pillaiyar Temple premises. While further construction is restrained by court, Kolampe Thero lived in the temple he had erected while the court proceedings continued. The monk died of cancer a few days ago in Colombo. On Saturday (21 Sept.) plans were afoot by his followers to cremate his remains within the compound of the temple. 

On 21 Sept. late evening I reported these developments to the Election Commission. As told to me by Chairman Deshapriya, he had informed the IGP who had said he did not know of this problem and promised that he would keep an eye. In contrast, MP Charles Nirmalanathan says he had reported it to the relevant DIG on Saturday morning itself and he had promised to alert the IGP. 

Hindus of the area went to the Acting Magistrate Sutharsan who gave an interim order around 1 am Sunday staying cremation till Monday by when the regular Magistrate and District Judge Lenin Kumar would examine the issues and give a ruling. Lenin, or his predecessor, had already issued stay orders in the old ongoing case saying no new construction should take place and nothing should be done at the temple violating religious sensibilities.

However, violating the court order, busloads of Sinhalese moved onto temple premises on Sunday. The police, army, and navy moved onto the premises too, ostensibly to keep the peace. When it was pointed out to the police that there is a court order, they claimed not to know Tamil – the Constitutional language of administration in the North, but only the armed forces do not seem to know this – so in reality to turn a blind eye and aid those planning to engage in this sacrilege in Hindu Law.

The Police: Protecting Law Violators?

By 10 or 11 AM Monday, the permanent Magistrate issued an order that there must be no cremation on or near temple premises and the cremation must be done crossing the Army Camp close to the temple and going further beyond to the beach.

By then Gnanasara Thero (who had been in jail for contempt of court for disturbing proceedings in trials against those charged with disappearing Prageeth Eknaligoda and then released by President Sirisena on pardon) had also come with a further 15-20 Sinhalese. A monk with him, when reminded of the court order, retorted “Don’t you know this is a Buddhist country where precedence is for Buddhism?” (The Election Commission is yet to act on a complaint that the UNP promised Rs. 500 milion on Buddhist temples during the 2018 elections. This complaint by former MP Sivajilingam has not even had a preliminary investigation. This was on the grounds that Buddhism has a special place so promising money for Buddhism during elections might be all right ¯_(ツ)_/¯).

Readying the funeral pyre against the Law

Within 30 minutes of the court order the pyre was lit, a mere 100 m from the Hindu temple. The Daily Mirror (24 Sept.) seemed to excuse the court order violators saying there had been no time to serve the orders. Wrong! There already was an order from Saturday saying it would be superseded by a new order on Monday. If no new order was served, then they had to abide by the old order. Besides, lawyers for both parties were in court. That news report is an excuse for Sinhalese-Buddhist chauvinism.

Some Tamils who urged the police to ensure that the court order is not breached were assaulted by the Sinhalese while the armed forces and police looked on – so I ask again who were they there to protect? Four university students were also hammered so badly that two were admitted to hospital. As a result, more students came into the area to protest, making an observer remark that with students entering the scene, the tensions will not abate.

Sure enough, a huge demonstration began in Mullaitivu, shutting down shops and business establishments. Without precedent, the GA, Ms. Rupavathi Ketheeswaran, who is the highest ranking government official in Mullativu, some District Secretaries, and an Acting Magistrate also joined the demonstration because the State seemed to have collapsed with no respect for the law by the police and armed forces. If the IGP had a little sense of prudence and of urgency when a real threat of breakdown was obvious to most, this further estrangement of law abiding folk from the State would not have happened. The forces of law and order fiddled like Nero, while a people they did not care about were burnt. All protections of the law, order, & justice had been taken away from them.

In other articles, I have documented how the police reduce charges against politicians, probably taking money or under political pressure. Sometimes even the Magistrates do not seem above suspicion as indicated by a Judicial Service Commission inquiry that concluded that a magistrate issued orders without reading the law.

Our country is bordering on moral bankruptcy. Our best institutions, including the press, seem to be in the hands of Sinhalese chauvinism.

The upcoming Presidential Elections on 16 November might be our last chance to bring us back from the brink (if we are not already over the precipice). The Election Commission is vested with many powers to halt the downward slide. It must use those powers wisely and honestly, without fear or favor, to make this an honest election with no privileges to those who hold power, whether political or financial. We need a government by persons who care for the people and not intent on enriching themselves while averting justice and staying out of jail.

Source:Colombo Telegraph