by Ashanthi Warunasuriya
Following are excerpts of the interview.
Q. How do you feel about holding the post of Elections Commissioner, especially these days with the political arena heating up on the Local Government election?
A. Nothing special. Any job, if you do it unwillingly, becomes a nuisance. If you do anything willingly, it brings joy. Of course when people scold me I feel sad, but there is no huge burden though. From my childhood I was trained to carry the weight of others and do what is expected of us. However in this instance, what is most important to the people is the election. With regard to the delay in elections, we are looking at all possible ways of holding the elections as soon as possible.
Q. Don’t you feel that the delaying of the Local Government election is a death blow to the people’s sovereignty?
A. Of course it is. It is a great blow to democracy. We have been saying that all along. We are not saying that the elections were postponed deliberately. Until last February there was no possibility of holding the elections. But, from about the end of April, I feel it is being delayed unnecessarily. The elections were postponed until April, due to unavoidable circumstances. But now they can stop the delay and hold the elections early. The politicians were passing the ball to you but now they are not passing the ball because people know that it is not possible to play ball anymore.
Q. What is the reason for postponing holding the elections?
A. From 2013, the elections are being delayed. The Local Government elections should have been held in Batticaloa in March 2013. But, because the 2012 act was enforced they could not hold the elections. By then the delimitation was not completed. In order to hold the elections according to the new electoral system, the divisional boundaries were needed. Then the number of members need to be gazetted. Then there are several amendments in the 2012 act, these are technical glitches. From 2013 we have been telling them about these issues, but they only started to do them from 2015. The delimitation dragged on for three years from 2012 to 2015 August. Then to rectify its mistakes it took another 14 months and it was only completed in February 2017. The member numbers were gazetted on April 7. That too, although it was supposed to come into effect from July 1, it somehow got pushed back to October 1. By then the amendments to the act and technical glitches rectification act would have been submitted to parliament. Now the electoral system needs to be changed. Now they are claiming to want a proportional representation system and are delaying it further. However, the election should not be delayed any further. If this amendments to the act cannot be passed within this month, then we have to think that the delay in holding elections is deliberate.
Q. Does that mean there is no election in sight?
A. It’s like a mirage. We think it is close but keep running. When we get closer we see that it is still further away.
Q. Looking back at our past, there were several instances where we had to fold away the election map. Is this like that?
A. But then the map was folded and put away after the election was held. We can’t compare the past with today. I personally believe that a referendum is required to postpone the provincial elections. If the act is not passed this month the Local Government elections cannot be held this year. Not holding elections at the proper time is a violation of the United Nations Human Rights Universal Declaration as well.
Q. Is there a plan to collectively hold all Provincial Council elections together?
A. If that is the case why are they delaying the elections? Instead of wasting time, they can dissolve all provincial councils and hold the elections at once. This is our argument. Now they say it is being postponed until the Uva provincial council term ends. Then for two years these will be under the control of the Governor. They could dissolve all the provincial councils and bring them under the President’s Secretary. Then all the politicians can stay at home.
Q. Does that mean you are unable to do your duty?
A. We can’t make the laws in order to have elections.
Q. But can you make a request?
A. Yes a request must be made. In this regard I had discussions with the party secretaries recently. Discussions will also be held with the party leaders.
Q. Is this the reason that election commissioners get depression?
A. That is a statement made by our Dayananda accidentally. I believe that it would be best not to mention the word depression.
Q. Haven’t you ever been depressed or fed up?
A. Yes we have also got it. I am tired. Sometimes the people do not accept what we do. I feel that this is like drawing water from a perforated bucket. Yet I work with trust. Total democracy has not been achieved anywhere in the world. We try to create a just and law abiding society that is fair to all. We go to every area and hold discussions. It is only the people that can bring about democracy and a law abiding society.
Q. There were claims that there were political interferences to your duties. Is this true?
A. Not just me but I don’t think any of the Commissioners had any such political interference. Even if there was political meddling, it is irrelevant because we do our duty properly. There might have been such political interferences but there is no point in talking about it now.
Q. In doing your job, were there instances where you were afraid?
A. Even if I had such fears during 1988, 1989, now there are no such fears that I might be killed.
Q. What would you want to say to the people of this country?
A. Do not lose hope in democracy and in your voting rights. The country’s sovereignty relies on your voting rights. Do not lose hope and all must unite and help strengthen the right of the people by actively getting involved in the political process.
I ask the people and the political parties to actively get involved in protecting the country’s democracy and rule of law. The worst thing to do is to remain silent. Just as a government can be toppled by a vote, it can also protect a government. The vote is your power, vote is your voice, vote is your future, vote is your right. The only thing those over 18 get without discrimination is their vote and their death. Our aim is to preserve the voting rights of the people. The Youth and women should come forward and participate in politics. Just as the slogan says, prisoners are humans, similarly, politicians are humans too.
Q. It seems like you have taken the side of the politicians?
A. What is the difference between you, the politician and me? We are all human beings. There is a Tamil saying that every mother-in-law was once a young girl and a wife. Hence, we are the ones who elected these politicians, now instead of branding them as rogues and chasing them off, we must try to correct their mistakes. I am not favouring them but this is my view.
Q. They say that with your personal preference, political parties have increased. Will they increase further?
A. This is not my singular preference, this was the recommendation of three people.
Q. Looking back do you feel you have missed anything?
A. No one is perfect. I believe that everything happens for the best. I try to do my best. I think had I stopped smoking long before, I would not have to be on these medications. Those days I was very slim. Perhaps it would have been nice if I had remained that size without putting on so much weight. The biggest hope is that the elections can be held soon. I can legally remain in this post until 2020, if I don’t die before that or face any other issue.