The photo caption appearing in a vernacular newspaper showing candidates representing all major political parties at the upcoming Local Government Elections taking a pledge at a church service in Negombo to refrain from violence during the election campaign, no doubt, would have warmed the cockles of all those who saw it who desire a change in the violent political culture in this country.
In a welcome development and rare moment of camaraderie between fierce political opponents, all candidates from the UNP, SLFP and SLPP, together with their area leaders, gave an undertaking to conduct their respective election campaigns in a violence free atmosphere, at the Service, at St.Mary's Church, in Negombo.
Delivering a homily to the candidates and their supporters Rev. Fr. Siswan de Croos, Head of the Cardinal Cooray Spiritual Counselling Centre in Tammita, Negombo requested them all to dedicate themselves to conduct their respective election campaigns free of threats, intimidation and other forms of violent activity. They should also conduct themselves in exemplary fashion during the election period, on the election day, and, also, the post election phase. He went on to state that those who win should welcome the defeated in a friendly manner and neither the victorious nor the defeated should act in a manner that will cause pain of mind to each other. “You all should pledge at this moment to carryout your task of faithfully serving the people.”
Among those present at the service were former deputy ministers Sarath Kumara Gunaratne, Nimal Lanza, UNP Provincial Councillor Royce Fernando and former Negombo Mayor Dayan Lanza. It is reported that they all mingled together in a cordial and convivial atmosphere after the church service.
This development will be doubly welcomed by the residents of Negombo since the area at one time was a hotbed of political violence. That the candidates have taken the unusual step of convening a church service to make a collective pledge to conduct a violence free election campaign is indicative of a genuine commitment towards this end. It will also help a great deal in maintaining the peace down the ranks, at grassroots level. This is because today whole villages are divided on political lines and the antagonism has even spread to their daily lives and activities.
Hopefully, elsewhere too candidates in the fray would take similar pledges in the temples, mosques and kovils pledging their commitment to conduct their election campaigns free of violence and thuggery. The outcome is bound to create a congenial atmosphere during the campaign, with candidates also being more moderate in attacking their rivals in the fray. Ideally, the precedent by political party candidates at the mini poll in Negombo should be followed by those at the top echelons, at all major elections in the future. The lead in this respect could be provided by Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga who is also Minister of Christian Affairs. It would go a long way in bringing together all the warring factions in his Wattala electorate. This also could see the departure of the type of intemperate language being used to target opponents, mostly by the top leaders of political parties. Also, ideally, such pledges of the type witnessed in Negombo should include a commitment to strictly adhere to election laws.
This, while making the Election Commission's job that much easier would also ease the pressure on the law enforcement. Already the number of election related incidents are on the rise and the situation could worsen as D’ day draws near. Since the poll is being conducted on the old ward system, the incidents, hopefully, would be much less this time around than before. But at least Negombo will come unscathed in this respect, since vows made in church are not known to be made lightly by the Catholic community.
Ideally such pledges for a violent free poll should be taken by the main leaders of political parties in unison. This, while sending a clear message to the rank and file would also help change the contentious, confrontational political culture in this country. With the PR system now out of the way this violent political culture, hopefully, will be a thing of the past.
The quality of the candidates too is a factor that will determine the turn an election campaign could take. If bad eggs are nominated by party leaders, then the campaign is bound to turn violent, notwithstanding pledges made before the altar. Regrettably, there are allegations from the Election Monitors that underworld figures have been nominated by all major political parties at this election, as well. One would have thought that with the return to the old electoral system the need for nominating thugs, drug dealers, bootleggers, cattle rustlers and other undesirables would have come to an end. The public would also have hoped for the return of educated cultured and genuine servants of the people to whom politics was not a means to enrich themselves. But it appears that the violent political culture has got so deeply entrenched in the system it would take a long time to break with the trend.
Daily News, January 11, 2018