MORE ON ELECTION DATES
(1999 March 17)
The Supreme Court has given its judgement on the date of the elections to the five provincial councils and the commissioner of elections has fixed 6th April as the new date. A number of questions arise out of this judgement and the new date fixed by the commissioner.
However before I discuss these I would like to comment on two articles published in "The Island". One was by Mr. Jehan Perera and the other by Dr. Mervyn D. de Silva, which appeared on Saturday the 13th March. Dr. Mervyn D. de Silva is himself a politician having been a member of the parliament appointed by the S.L.F.P. Dr. de Silva in his article says that the politicians and not the Archbishop should be bashed. If the Archbishop, who has issued Christmas messages sympathetic to Tamil racism while trying to ridicule two thousand five hundred years of Sinhala Buddhist culture, plays politics then irrespective of whether he is a member of a political party or not he becomes a kind of a politician though not a party politician.
Dr. de Silva is very careful not to mention any names in his article though it is obvious that he is referring to those who have according to him "unfairly and unkindly attributed far fetched designs, sinister motives, political moves, and even geo political machinations to the request made" by the Archbishop. He quotes Laozi who is supposed to have said, "he who knows does not speak; he who speaks does not know". Being the humble doctor of Philosophy he is, Dr. de Silva says he is at the risk of being placed in the latter category. I would not have bothered too much about Laozi because he could not have made this famous statement without speaking. I wonder why Russell did not have anything to say on this statement.
The good doctor of Philosophy, I mean Dr Mervyn de Silva and not Laozi, states further: "In fact, on good Friday when Catholics venerate the cross they are exhorted not merely to weep for the death of Jesus, but also think of all those who are themselves nailed upon it every day by the cruelty and callousness of men, and think of Christ suffering in them again; the victims of the unjust economic system. The exploited for labour, for their physical attraction, for their innocence, the staring and destitute, the prisoners of conscience, and rejects and outcasts of our greedy acquisitive society." May I add one more theme. Please also think of those who are nailed upon the cross by the systems of knowledge created by the western Christian culture and by the cultural imperialism imposed by that culture on the people of other cultures.
I would not have written anything on the election dates if the Archbishop and the Bishops follow the Christ in rendering unto Caesar the things that are of Caesar's and to God the things that are of God. Unfortunately it is not the case and what is worse is the imposition of a cultural imperialism on the rest of the world by the western Christian culture. I must hasten to add before anybody jumps into wrong conclusions that the western Christian culture is not strictly based on the teachings of the Christ and today in this culture not only Caesar and God but Aristotle have all been entangled in one body. It is a curious fact that in the western culture, which creates the knowledge used by the others as well, there is no prominent theory on cultural imperialism when there are dozens of theories on class conflicts, gender politics and other such phenomena. Even the postmodernists who talk of pluralities in "theory" as against a central narrative are silent on this. Now that the Heisenberg's uncertainty in Quantum Physics has been replaced, after about seventy years, by the new concept of entanglement of particle(s), a concept not unfamiliar in the Buddhist and Hindu cultures, the "postmodernists" themselves may have to come up with entangled pluralities in a "post post modernist" future. In the meantime we will concentrate on the entanglement of God, Caesar and Aristotle. As long as this entanglement is in operation it is impossible to separate the Bishops from the politicians especially when it comes to elections on Maundy Thursdays in non-Christian countries.
If Dr. Mervyn de Silva is somewhat defensive Mr. Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council is on a bellicose path. He would like to see the Commissioner of Elections resigning for fixing the provincial council elections for the first of April. He then asserts: "The extremely hardline Tamil militancy that prevails today is the outcome of extremely unresponsive governments of the past. It is a tragedy that despite continuing to experience the agony of the Tamil revolt against the state, insensitivity to the plural nature of Sri Lankan society should continue at the highest level of governance."
By this statement Mr. Perera seems to justify "Tamil militancy". Now does he, following the BBC, identify Tamil terrorism as Tamil militancy? According to Mr. Perera this so-called militancy is the "outcome of extremely unresponsive governments in the past". People like Mr. Perera go on repeating this kind of statements even after it has been clearly shown that the so-called Tamil militancy is the result of politics of Chelvanayakam and his predecessors. What Mr. Jehan Perera has said is that the government is still insensitive to the so-called plural nature of the Sri Lankan society. In particular he says that, "there is a perception among the Catholics that they are taken for granted by the state and left to fend for themselves, if not actively discriminated against." Now Mr. Perera utters all these after the commissioner of elections had gone before the Supreme Court to move that he be permitted to vary the date fixed for the elections.
Could Mr. Jehan Perera state explicitly the actions of the government that have created this perception among the Catholics. Is it a perception that is being created in the minds of the ordinary Catholics by some people with vested interest who want to retain the privileges that they enjoyed under the British? During the past fifty years or so the Sinhala Buddhists and the Sinhala Christians/Catholics have learned to live side by side respecting the culture of each other. More than the members of the so-called inter-religious associations, who have other agenda, it is people of the calibre of Fr. Merceline Jayakody who are responsible for this state of affairs. Now for some people the date fixed for the provincial council elections has become "a God given opportunity" to sow dissension among the Catholics. Even after the Commissioner had gone before the Supreme Court some people thought it fit to stage street demonstrations agitating for "protection of religious freedom", a point I have dealt in my article on last Wednesday. They resorted to street demonstrations in spite of an "assurance" given by the secretary to the Archbishop that there would not be any street protests. "The Sunday Times" of March 7th reported: "Fr. Cyril Perera, Secretary to the Archbishop, told last night the demonstrations would go ahead as planned within the church premises and they would not take to the streets." Why did not the Archbishop or his secretary condemn the action of those who organised the street protests? Was the "assurance" given by the Secretary to the Archbishop a bogus one?
Mr. Jehan Perera and the others of his ilk go on mentioning that Sri Lanka is a plural society. Now why identify only Sri Lanka as a plural society? It is true that there are people other than the Sinhala Buddhists living in this country. Then there are people other than the Anglo Saxon Christians living in England. In France there are people other than the French Catholic. Has England (Britain or U.K.) declared Wesak a holiday in that country. Would they think twice before holding an election on a Wesak day? With or without elections the Buddhists in England, USA and the other countries in the west have to wait till the Sunday following the Wesak poya to attend to their religious observances. Where is the concept of plurality practised in the Christian countries? When a Sikh person who did not want to remove his turban while riding a bicycle was charged before a court of law in England he was simply reminded that England is Anglican and that the law did not take into consideration the practices of the other religions. It is the Buddhist culture that prevails in Sri Lanka which has made all days important to all the religions practised in the country public holidays. We are supposed to be a country with too many holidays and it has nothing to do with the concept of plurality. If plurality is the criterion then at least the Wesak poya day should have been declared a holiday in many countries in the world. The Western Social Sciences are about fifty years behind, conceptually, the Western Physical Sciences. It is only now that the Western Social Scientists are picking up concepts like indeterminacy that is being replaced by other concepts in the Western Physical Sciences. Perhaps a day will dawn when the Western Social Scientists and their followers in the other parts of the world (about twenty years after their masters) start talking of entangled pluralities in societies.
Now a few words on the procedure adopted by the Commissioner of Elections. After he fixed the 1st of April as the date of elections there were letters of protests sent to him mainly by the Christians/Catholics including the Archbishop. The objections have been raised on the grounds that the 1st of April falls within the Holy Week of the Christians and that if curfew is imposed after the elections then the Christians will not be able to attend to their religious observances on Good Friday the 2nd of April. The Commissioner had fixed 1st April after a Supreme Court decision on the 27th of January in a Fundamental Rights case , by which the commissioner was directed to take action, inter alia, to fix a new date(s) within three months from that day. In view of the representations made to him the commissioner moved that he be permitted to vary the date of elections acceptable to all sections of the people. The Supreme Court granted permission and the commissioner having consulted some representatives of political parties has now fixed the date as 6th of April.
The Supreme Court is yet to give its reasons for the judgement. This is a case, which affects not only the petitioners but the public in general though they are not a party to the case. As such the question arises as to how a member of the public who is not in agreement with the judgement applies for a writ or some other concession available within the law. A more fundamental objection would have been that the court does not have the jurisdiction to consider the motion of the commissioner of elections. The court summoned only the representatives of the political parties and the independent groups. What about the others? What are the avenues available for them to file action?
Now the commissioner is the only person who can change the date once the elections are fixed for a particular date. Under the provincial council election act he can do so in the event of an emergency or if an unexpected event takes place. Now the Maundy Thursday or the Holy Week does not fall into that category. If the Commissioner for some reason or other has changed the date because of the Maundy Thursday and the Holy Week then the 6th happens to be within a week or so from the Sinhala new year day. In certain areas people visit their relatives before the new year is dawn (parana avuruddata) and the election will affect them. Also there are various rites associated with the new year especially the gammaduwas and the like which are performed in the parana avurudda or roughly in the month of April before the new year. On the other hand if curfew is imposed it would affect not only the new year celebrations but also the religious observances on the Ava Atawaka of the Bak Maha which falls on the eighth of April this year. Now the curfew after the elections is neither an unexpected nor a definite event. Also it cannot be said in advance whether the curfew will be imposed for a day, two or even a week. It all depends on the behaviour of the politicians and their henchmen. So nobody is sure as to whether curfew will be imposed on the Ava Atawaka which falls on the eighth of April.
Apart from these problems that arise as a result of fixing the provincial council elections for the 6th the commissioner, one has to consider the fact that he sought permission from the Supreme Court to vary the date accepted to all sections of the public. How does the commissioner know that the 6th is acceptable to all sections of the public. It is true that he had met with the representatives of the political parties before he decided on the new date. Though people vote for one or the other political party it does not mean that the secretaries of the political parties can speak for those who vote for their respective parties. Perhaps the secretaries can speak for the members of their parties. But the majority of people of this country do not belong to any one of the parties. They vote for a particular party on various grounds. On a specific and an important issue they may not agree with the party for which they voted four and half years ago. There are many people who voted for the PA but do not agree with the G.L.- Neelan package. It is not an easy task for the commissioner to decide on a date acceptable to all sections of the public. In any case it is clear that the Commissioner has changed the date without consulting the opinion of the majority. Why did not the commissioner take into consideration the atawaka and the new year when he changed the date of the elections? Is it because, he like the minister Ashraf, thinks that the Buddhist organisations (and the national organisations) in this country are mere name boards?
There are a number of people who want to take legal action on many grounds, some of which have been discussed above. There are some others who are awaiting the Supreme Court to give reasons behind their judgement. All these people have to be given an opportunity to go before the Supreme Court. It is nothing but fair that the public is informed of the reasons behind the Supreme Court judgement. People should be given all the assistance they need to go before courts of law as early as possible, since until that litigation is over the country is in a state of indecision.