VAYAMBA VIOLENCE AND PARTY POLITICS
(1999 January 27)
The PA has officially won the Vayamba provincial council elections. If the PA had lost in Vayamba it would have been the beginning of the end of the government. Now that they have won it appears that it is still the beginning of the end of the government, even if it takes a little longer time. The PA will be forced to engage in more and more "bheeshanaya" in order to survive, which unfortunately for them is going to be counter productive.
The opposition naturally claims that the elections were marked by violence and that the official results announced by the commissioner of elections and his officers do not reflect the true public opinion. There will be election petitions filed by the opposition parties and the judiciary will give its verdict in due course. However, in the meantime the government will claim that the people have approved their policies so much so that they have been able to capture power in the Vayamba provincial council from the UNP.
As I have said in "Vayamba Elections and the Peace Lobby" on the 23rd of December 1998, the PA had to win this election at all costs for the survival of the government. The PA had won the Vayamba at the general elections with a comparatively small majority and the question had to be asked whether they had been ill advised to hold the Vayamba provincial council elections having postponed elections to five other provincial councils in some of which the PA had a better standing.
Having decided to hold the elections to the Vayamba provincial council the PA had to make sure that they won by any means. Now the government may have learnt a lesson, unless it had not thought about it even before the elections, and would be thinking of having elections to one provincial council at a time, as all the state power can be concentrated in one province then. One wonders whether the government would conduct elections to the other five provincial councils on a staggered basis.
Some are of the opinion that the PA would not have won the elections to the Vayamba provincial council, if not for the violence. The violence unleashed in the Vayamba has been unprecedented in certain ways. During the election campaign women have been stripped and then asked to walk along the roads, the children of rival candidates have been forced to eat cow dung. At least two people have been killed as a result of violence associated with the elections.
On the election day itself many incidents have been reported and the opposition parties had rejected the official results even before counting was started. This is unprecedented though the violence is not entirely unprecedented. Polling agents of the opposition parties have been chased away from the polling booths and the voters in a number of villages have been intimidated and prevented from casting their votes. The commissioner of elections is not empowered by the law to consider requests and appeals by the political parties and to declare the elections null and void though the results announced by him and his returning officers do not seem to have any validity in the eyes of many people.
However, according to some sources, the commissioner has cancelled the polls at about 35 polling stations, due to corruption and malpractice. But now the results have been announced and it is not possible to have fresh elections at these particular booths. There should be some mechanism provided by the law to prevent the commissioner of elections going ahead with counting before the supreme court gives a provisional order to do so, if we are going to continue with the present system of elections to the various bodies.
Many people have commented on the violence associated with the elections to the Vayamba provincial council. There were appeals from various quarters requesting the public and the political parties to refrain from resorting to violence. The monitoring bodies would have done their "job" in the field and most probably are in the process of writing their final report to be submitted to the appointing authorities. Some have already issued their interim reports and have held press conferences.
In spite of the appeals from various bodies and individuals violence could not be stopped. In our society, violence in general and political violence in particular has been increasing in recent times. The sociologists would love to call it a sociological problem, even though they do not have solutions to the problem. One of the major differences in what are known as the hard sciences and the social sciences is around finding solutions to the problems. In the so-called hard sciences once a problem is analysed and diagnosed, in general a solution or remedy is also sought. On many occasions solutions are found, sometimes after long periods of study. These solutions are temporary in character and very often the problem as well as the solution are replaced with a different set. Also these solutions are only working solutions in the sense that there is some kind of consistency between the problem and the solution.
However, in the social sciences no solutions are offered to many of the so-called sociological problems. Even in the case when a solution is offered very often it turns out to be impracticable and not something that could be implemented. The social scientists may offer many excuses as to why their solutions cannot be implemented. For example they may blame the politicians. But the problem cannot be evaded by blaming somebody else who happens to be associated with the problem. The solution to the problem should either incorporate a method to reform the politicians or it should offer a scheme that could be implemented without the politicians, as politicians being a sociological category constitute part of the problem.
What is the solution that the sociologists can offer to eradicate political violence in our society? If there is no solution can they at least show that political violence cannot be eradicated in societies like ours? What is the type of society in which political violence can be eliminated? Is it the communist society of Marx? How stable is such a society even if it can be created?
Are the sociologists capable only of description and not of prescription? The post modernists appear to have grasped this problem as they are mainly interested in criticism and not in offering solutions. However, that does not mean that in the west, where most of the knowledge is created, the politicians and the others are not giving any thought to solving their problems. Post modernism appears to be a system of knowledge created by the west not for their consumption but for exportation to the other cultures.
Be that as it may, in Sri Lanka some sociologists have a standard answer to the problem of violence. Blame the Sinhala Buddhists for the violence in the society. Following the London based sociologist Dr. Bruce Kafra one can even construct a theory to claim that political violence is due to the paintings of the "yamapallas" that the Sinhala Buddhists see on the walls of some of the temples. I wonder what would happen if a "yamapalla" comes across such sociologists.
Leaving aside the "yamapallas" and the sociologists to themselves one could easily observe that violence has in general increased from one election to the next. Contrary to what many people think there has been political violence even during the state council days. There has been thuggery, corruption and cheating from the very beginning in 1931. The Marxists who were at the receiving end then would testify to this. Both the UNP and the JVP who now cry foul have violated the rights of the people to a free poll. Some of the incidents that occurred on Monday are not unfamiliar to the Sri Lankan voters irrespective of whether they are Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim.
In recent times the political party with the state power has resorted to thuggery and violence using the state machinery during elections. The JVP, though they did not have the state power, ordered the people at gunpoint not cast their votes and at certain places did not hesitate to shoot at people who went to the polling booths. The LTTE has only been more ruthless. However, these are not excuses for the PA or some other party to resort to violence especially during the elections.
It has to be pointed out that many of the critiques of the PA today were among its most ardent supporters during the 1994 elections. They turned away from the PA sometime ago when they realised that the political package was not on. At present these people may be against violence and abuse of power, but their motive seems to be something else. They are now turning towards the UNP to devolve more and more power to the east and the north paving the way for a separate state. If they were against abuse of state power they should have protested earlier against the abuse of state media by the government to promote the package. However, they were the most prominent in the programmes that "took the package to the people".
It is said that the English has given us cricket and parliamentary democracy. Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan have already become world champions in one day cricket and Bangladesh has won the ICC trophy. But it is clear that the parliamentary "democracy" and party politics have not been successful in this part of the world. Probably this has something to do with the South Asian culture in general and has to be studied in depth. The violence during elections has increased in Sri Lanka and it appears that we are on the verge of reaching the limit. We are at a loss in coming to grips with the right of the people to vote at elections, the concept of national policies, the concept of a political party, the role of the opposition, the use and abuse of state and official power etc. Party politics have only helped to divide us more and more.
We have been debating on the executive presidential system and the Westminster system without realising that both systems based on party politics are unsuitable to this country. Party politics has been a bane in our national politics and it is high time that we replaced it with some other system. On many accounts this is the ideal time to establish a national movement in which most of the problems we face could be discussed and evolve a "democratic system" more suitable to the country. It has to be emphasised that the national movement should not be another political party nor a so-called third force.