S.Ratnajeevan H. Hoole
Our main job on the Election Commission is to uphold election laws and conduct free and fair elections. Of necessity, this involves interdicting election law violations, usually by powerful politicians. Politicians promote the fiction that when they violate the law, we must not name them; that naming them is to violate Commission neutrality. As a result, after the Parliamentary Elections Act was enacted in 1981, there has been no major conviction of a politician, although several violent election violations have occurred during certain polls.
A powerful former militant who successfully attacked Elephant Pass and took it over, issued a video in Nov. 2017 using hate speech on Muslims for electoral gain. A complainant sent me the video and I passed it on to the Commission which in turn sent it to the Police. The matter seemed to have died there because subsequent to crossing over to the government, he has been in favour, working with our governments in alleged atrocities; mainly against Tamil politicians and civilians and hunting the LTTE. He can spill lots of beans.
That militant gentleman is contesting elections and, presumably, is aware that large sections of the Tamil public blame him for his supposed betrayal of the LTTE. He who issued the video in February 2018 to tap into Tamil communalism against Muslims now, as elections near, badly needs that vote again.
The governments in turn have handled him with kid gloves because, if charged with anything, he can reveal the criminal activities in which he allegedly colluded with our governments. So that complaint from Nov. 2017 was in abeyance for two and a half years – until last week. Sinhalese nationalists object to his boast and have to be appeased. The CID Cyber Crimes Division therefore called me and wanted a statement from me on what they called my complaint. Analysts I spoke to say that this testimony they want from me is to scare this writer into silence and tap in turn into Sinhalese communalism. And once the elections conclude, the matter will be dropped because they dare not confront him.
Fearing the Powerful
Likewise, payments to the police or influence with them are also major factors in whether or not election law violations are prosecuted. When I was publicly threatened with assault in a speech by a Tamil party that voted for the Citizenship Act, I complained on behalf of the Commission to the police for criminally threatening a public official to stop him from doing his duty.
The police withheld the evidence I had given. An Acting Magistrate threw it out saying it had not been submitted for a year. And then the file was sent to the Attorney General, who has kept it since January 2020, purportedly to study whether the charge can be corrected. The fact is that when there is a real possibility of punishing lawless politicians, the system will apply all the breaks, fearing that one punishment will open the floodgates.
Another case involves the President’s lawyer, Ali Sabry. During the Presidential Elections, he was videoed laughing and telling a Muslim audience that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa would surely win and they should vote for him or they would receive a thrashing (“ambahnai”). I referred it as a complaint. Nothing happened. I have been repeatedly raising it at Commission meetings and finally it has recently been referred to the police. The system will now ensure the police conduct inquiries, take over two and a half years and it will still not be over as with the militant gentleman. Then the police need to refer it to the Attorney General, who as in the Jaffna case, would keep the file for over six months as he has done already. After November I would need to go to court on private time and resources. The system exists to show that the law is serious when it is really all about sham image building.
Threats to the Commission
I believe it is because of my insisting on the law in transgressions by many parties that a General Secretary in a leading party had threatened to remove me from the Commission once his party wins the upcoming general election. My immediate crime for earning his wrath is that the Commission staff ordered the return of the SLFP’s office in the Jaffna Kachcheri and a government car that their national list MP was using illegally after elections were declared on 2 March. Jayasekera claimed that I had removed his office when I had nothing to do with it. He whined that I had not removed the TNA office, whereas the TNA was using private offices and not doing cheap campaigning at public expense using government property. Up to last week, the car had not been returned.
Newspapers have an immense responsibility in a democracy. But reputed publishers joined Jayasekera’s fray, writing of an imagined rivalry within the Commission and of an interview with Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya that never took place. Likewise, a state newspaper cooked up an interview with Deshapriya attacking me. Neither newspaper has printed his denials.
A publishing group made wild and untruthful claims that my daughter eva
cuated from the UK had visited the Election Commission without undergoing the required quarantine. Besides claiming I am corrupt in the use of Commission cars (a charge denied by the Commission) they carried an article calling me a liar and alleging that I am a dual citizen of Nigeria and had raised funds there for the LTTE; whereas I was in Nigeria in the late 1970s on a work permit. I could not serve out my term as Vice Chancellor of Jaffna (appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa) in 2006 because the LTTE issued death threats on me.
Those putting out these stories know well how they bribed the LTTE with millions to prevent the Tamil people from voting in 2005. They thereby violated the Tamils’ constitutional right to the franchise. The then-Election Commissioner (not Mahinda Deshapriya) certified the result. They should write about these real scandals.
On 22 June, another publisher alleged that I am using a Mercedes Benz and charging Rs. 4 lakhs a month to the Commission from the old government’s time. Chairman Deshapriya has denied the story. The Press Institute has called this fake news. When newspapers evince a drop in honesty, it is a sure sign of collapsing standards in the country.
The former Minister also has launched attacks on me hinting that I am a saboteur in the Commission and that I had asked the public not to vote for the SLPP. Others have claimed that I have called the Sinhalese language a rubbish language whereas I merely said I do not know Sinhalese and cannot read the rubbish they write about me in Sinhalese. He untruthfully claims that I am in charge of selecting election observers. I am merely coordinating that work.
He faults me for being a dual citizen. He conveniently forgets that Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) still has Basil Rajapaksa doing work far more important than coordinating the invitation of observers.
Does he know that the 19th amendment does not disallow a dual citizen from being on the Commission? That Chamal Rajapaksa was the Speaker presiding over the passage of that amendment? Namal Rajapaksa and all, but one member of his party voting for it?
Indeed, I was appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena, a candidate working with this former Minister now. If he thinks my appointment is wrong, he should ask Sirisena and his colleagues who voted Aye on the amendment.
Operating outside the law
The Commission at its meeting on 16 June decided that operating outside the law is unacceptable and we must strictly enforce the law articulated in the1981 Parliamentary Elections Act prohibiting cut outs and banners at election offices, reversing an illegal agreement in 2005 between the then-Election Commissioner and party leaders. That agreement, is a window to how the law is seen in Sri Lanka with no relationship between it and our conduct.
Party leaders begged us to allow the continued violation of the law arguing it has been a practice since 2005. I responded on behalf of the Commission that we do not make laws, it is Parliament that makes law.
On June 17 the Commission met the President. It was a pleasant and cordial meeting. He agreed to our request that his alliance members not attack the Commission and added that he would instruct his folk to raise issues through him. I am grateful.
However, a Northern based politician has launched a new tirade against me in violation. I will not dignify his sordid details except to say that what he said is untrue and demeaning of me.
Public Service is Noble
Public service is noble. It should be enjoyable. Unless politicians collectively get together and make it really so. Few would recommend a stint in the Election Commission where we will be slandered for doing our work.
Newspapers have failed us. Instead of informing us, some glory in gossip and defamation with fake interviews.
Parliament must pass laws that parliamentarians themselves intend to keep. MPs cannot engage in defamation of members of the Commission so as to make the Commission look the other way out of fear when party leaders wreak havoc.