M12M on the campaign trail Spotlight on polls and criminal elements

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By 2017-12-17

By Kavindya Chris Thomas

There was a time when dirty politics and Sri Lanka were almost synonymous. Elections would send waves of fear and paranoia among the public, armed gangs would rule the streets, notorious crime lords would discard their stereotypical hiked up sarong and cover up their prison tattoos with the white, clean national suit.

Yet, the present is not so obvious and not so hopeless. We have – we would like to think – surpassed the innate apprehension towards corrupt and violent ridden elections. Sri Lanka has witnessed two almost peaceful elections since 2015, but they too experienced some bouts of violence. The root cause for this lies with the social outcry that erupted since then that demanded the grand transition from dirty to clean politics. This was when our masses dawned on the realization that it is not only possible to have elections without the fear of riots and murder, assassinations and armed groups, but it is also possible to be satisfied of their elected representatives.

Clean politics

This change of ideology and fears was partially called into existence by the March 12 Movement, which was set up two years ago for clean politics, good governance, more checks and balances to consolidate democracy and to eventually move towards a just society. The Movement is seeking the support of civic-conscious citizens, the State and private media groups for the 25-day countrywide campaign starting on 13 March to achieve the vision and goals for which the people voted for at the presidential election on 8 January 2015.

The M12M, as the Movement is known believes that it is vital to carry the message to the grassroots level and that it is the reason why it is going countrywide. People's Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi told a news conference this week that M12M has announced that they were already in possession of accumulated evidence against certain political parties that are sponsoring convicted criminals as candidates at the forthcoming Local Government elections.

Maithripala Sirisena

Pushing its 2015 initiative to bring about a clean political culture within the country once again, the March 12 Movement noted that despite many of the leading political parties following in the footsteps of President Maithripala Sirisena and agreeing not to nominate candidates who are packing criminal records and to engage in politics certain groups have however, gone back on their word.

The Movement has so far collected over 20 complaints regarding tainted candidates who have received nominations from the two leading political parties. Hettiarachchi noted that the Movement has recorded two complaints from Ampara District, one from Polonnaruwa, two each from Kurunegala, Galle and Kegalle while five complaints against one candidate was received from Puttalam.

These individuals have been accused of a variety of illegal activities which include fraud, trafficking in narcotics, lumber, sand and wildlife, prostitution, gambling and various other misdeeds. Information has been provided anonymously and in some cases with crucial evidence accompanied with police reports. Some information has even been provided by members of the party who had been forced to remain silent during the selection process. More often than not, the party's district leader when contacted would be against providing nominations to these individuals as Hettiarachchi noted, yet the final decision on the nominations lies in the hand of the electorate organizer of that party, which leaves the rest of the candidates helpless.

Hettiarachchi said that if the political parties failed to put forward politically clean candidates at the upcoming Local Government elections, it will be in violation of public aspirations. The Movement further opined that under the new electoral system, the public's franchise is thoroughly hindered when it comes to electing the right candidate. This, added with the sudden increase of candidates for the election, from 4,000 to almost 9,000, will further frustrate the public, they noted. "The increased number of candidates that are elected are to be sustained by the nation's wealth; the monies of the people. If the right candidate - the clean candidate - is elected in, then the people won't complain about having to spend on them. If this does not change it'll be the responsibility of each and every political party and the electoral organizers."

Tainted candidates

Hettiarachchi further said, "We have already received information about candidates who have been engaged in narcotic trafficking, illegal sand mining and various other crimes, that have received nominations from parties that are contesting the election."

The Movement further noted that a draft of the proposed campaign Finance Act, with the recommendations of the Elections Commission, had been submitted to the President, who is yet to present it to the Cabinet of Ministers.

In giving nominations, PAFFREL has proposed certain criteria and standards so, that in Parliament, Provincial and Local Councils we will see sincere, selfless and sacrificial representatives who will be servants of the people, instead of plundering and pillaging the wealth of the country. PAFFREL, which for many years has played a leading role as an election observer, now hopes to expand its scope of duties and responsibilities. It says the aim is to bring about a constructive change in the prevailing political culture at a time when the country has reached a crucial moment in its political history.

Among the criteria for the nomination of candidates are:

Should not be a person who had served a jail sentence for a crime or a person who had received a suspended sentence.

Should not be a person who had been found guilty of bribery or corruption and should be acceptable to society and a person of good character. Be cautious when considering candidates allegedly involved in bribery or corruption.

Should not be a person who is engaging or had engaged in trades such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, casinos and prostitution.

Should not be a person who is engaging or had engaged in trade which destroys the ecological life support system.

Should not be a person who has abused political power.

Should not be a person who had entered into financial agreements prejudicial to the country.

Legal arena

These accusations against these candidates and those who violate the above criteria - should be met in a legal arena, accused and challenged at a Court. But the question remains, who is going to do that? The Movement has announced that they would file legal action against any such tainted persons who receives nominations.

The Movement has commenced forwarding all such complaints in writing to the secretaries of the relevant political parties. Other complaints concerned those involved in illicit liquor production, sand, soil and stone quarry mining, and obtaining monies for the provision of employment, allegedly being given nominations by political parties.

The Police and the Election Commission can only take action within the legal framework, he noted.

"The political parties must take a decision on what criteria they will adopt when selecting candidates to give nominations and whether they will select those against whom various allegations have been levelled. For the public, we advise them to, regardless of the party, elect only those who are suitable. The public have been invited to send complaints in writing to the March 12 Movement Secretariat, No. 12/3, Robert Terrace, Robert Gunawardena Mawatha, Colombo 6, the latter being the preferable mode of communication or call on 0112-514441/2 or fax to 0112-514443," he explained.

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