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Thursday, 17 March 2011

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May peace prevail

Another election unfolds today where voters will exercise their franchise to return representatives to local bodies across the country. The cacophony of the month long campaign ended at midnight on Tuesday giving the voters 48 hours to mull over the slogans, promises and pronouncements of the candidates before marking that little cross on the ballot.

Elections to local bodies are no more a mundane affair and over the years have taken the form of a national poll. It has been used as a barometer to test the popularity of both the Government and Opposition rather than addressing grass roots concerns.

This is the third national level election held within the span of one year, a sign that Sri Lanka is a vibrant democracy and Sri Lankans a politically active lot. But democracy cannot be a nominal concept if its true benefits are to accrue to the people. Sadly during recent elections there have been many incidents and acts that went to undermine our democratic credentials. Chief among them is the all pervasive violence that has affected our body politic.

Violence at election time is not only a negation of the free will of the people which is a basic tenet of democracy, it also make the whole election process flawed. The fact that the country's Police Chief has to come out during every election and issue warnings to would-be-violators of election laws and perpetrators of violence is in itself an indictment on the whole election process. What message are we sending to the outside world when at every election the country has to be reminded they cannot flout election laws? Has it come to be established that this is inevitable?

Addressing the media on the eve of the election IGP Mahinda Balasuriya said he had deployed special security to polling stations where violence is likely to occur going by past experience. In other words the country's Police Chief is anticipating violence before hand at these polling centres. What does this mean other than that violence has become an integral part of the electoral process so much so it is anticipated beforehand.

He has also announced the deployment of the country's Armed Forces to augment the strength of the Police which is also a telling confession that elections in this country have assumed the proportions of a battle. If not why deploy the Armed Forces for what is essentially a civilian exercise. True, political violence in this country is not of recent origin but never has it become so widespread and accepted as part and parcel of the electoral process as at present.

Old timers of the immediate post independence vintage still nostalgically recalls the elections of that era that were peaceful and tranquil affairs mirroring the sedate pace of life that existed at the time. The Police were only deployed as mere ornaments. There was no law and order to preserve during elections. Campaigning was marked by fun and banter among rivals and the elections fought on issues and opposing views. There were hardly any inflammatory speeches made to incite supporters. Contrast this with today's scenario where guns, bombs and swords have become standards tools of electioneering.

Already two deaths have been reported during the current campaign with scores of violent incidents all for what is described as a kanu bokku election. Therefore the time has come to reassess the whole election process and remedies suggested to create a temperate atmosphere, so that election violence could be brought to the minimum. Party leaders should place themselves in the vanguard to bring about this change to usher in a new political culture. All political parties should get together in this endeavour for no single party can be absolved from blame. If necessary institutional changes should be made to bring about such a change.

There is a popular school of thought that brutalization of society during the 30-year civil war has had its impact on the electoral process as well with the proliferation of arms leading to criminalization of politics. Now with the war at end this would be the ideal time to clean up the Aegean stables to bring about sanity into our election culture. Today's Local Government elections it is hoped would herald this transformation that would eliminate the rancour and bitterness in the present political order. This too should be part of the changes that are set in motion with the ushering of a new independence that would make the country a unifying force. This is because the contentious nature of today's politics has divided entire communities on political lines which is detrimental to national unity that is a sine quo non in the current context.

Hopefully in future we will witness national elections conducted in that calm tranquil setting with the minimum presence of Police and the total absence of the Armed Forces like in the good old days as the country moves towards being a mature democracy emulating other democracies the world over where elections are but mundane affairs and not a blood sport.

Sociological aspects of crime

The crimes are events and actions that are proscribed by the criminal law of a particular country (Wilkins 1968). In general, the society and its existing laws define crime. Sometimes crime in one society may not be seen as an offence in another society. Sometimes acts of crime depend on the socio-cultural values, religious belief systems and political ideology.

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Time for civil society to recover lost or robbed identity card

The Morning Inspection- Malinda

Last week, while interviewed Rajpal Abeynayaka and me on City FM, the presenter, Indika Jayaratne came up with a splendid proposal. Sivil samaajaya jana sathu kala yuthuda? he asked. Should ‘civil society’ be nationalized or vested with the people was his question. On the face of it this seems a meaningless idea. It’s like asking ‘should cricket be cricket?’ Well, it is not football and it cannot be rugger, except of course in a metaphorical sense.

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Risorgimento Italian Rebirth

One hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Italian unification:

On March 17 2011, Italy - a country which boasts a history that is rich and vibrant - celebrates 150 years to the day when it attained unification. It was March 17, 1861 when Vittorio Emanuele II, King of Piedmont-Sardinia, proclaimed the birth of the new Italian Kingdom in Turin, which became its first capital (since then, it has been the capital of the same Piedmont-Sardinia, in Northern Italy).

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