One J. R. Jayewardene resorted to all sorts of election malpractices and infamously vowed to roll back the country`s electoral map but years later another J. R. Jayawardena has stuck his neck out in a bid to help ensure free and fair elections. The latter is not a politician but a police officer a Senior Superintendent of Police, to be exact. Last week he ordered the removal of President Mahinda Rajapaksa`s cutouts in the Ampara area and almost got transferred to Kilinochchi for just doing his job.
On Saturday, in these columns, we pointed out the absurdity of the Elections Commissioner granting funds (over Rs. 12 million) to the police for removing posters, cutouts, banners etc. put up by presidential candidates. It is the duty of the Provincial Councils and the Local Government institutions to ensure that no unauthorised propaganda material is displayed in the areas under their jurisdiction. After all, it is written on elections posters that they are not meant to be pasted in public places! So, why keep throwing more and more money at the problem, when a remedy is already available at no additional cost?
Polls Chief Dayananda Dissanayake deserves plaudits for having stepped in to halt the transfer of SSP Jayawardena, who got into trouble for implementing election laws. We argued on Saturday that what this country needed was not a set of new laws as such but the proper implementation of the existing ones. The Elections Commissioner has proved that there is a great deal of power vested in him to deal with the violation of election laws.
If only successive Polls Chiefs had exercised those powers since 1977! Had they stood up to governments in power and Executive Presidents, we would not have been made witness to rigging, violence and abuse of power and State property at elections all these years. Regrettably, no action was taken to declare the infamous Wayamba (North-Western Province) polls the worst ever in this country null and void in 1999.
It may thus be seen that if good men in authority stop blaming the darkness and pluck up the courage to light a candle instead by acting without fear or favour against law breakers vis- -vis political pressure, sinister forces bent on destroying democracy could be kept at bay.
The place which SSP Jayawardena was transferred to is of significance. Of all places, the government wanted him to be sent to Kilinochchi. Why? A punishment transfer is always given to a place considered godforsaken so to ensure that the victim concerned suffers. Earlier, political potentates intoxicated with power used to ask police personnel and other government servants who refused to toe their line whether they wanted to be transferred to Jaffna yapaneta maruwak oneda? Now it is Kilinochchi!
Trying to transfer a police officer to Kilinochchi by way of punishment is tantamount to an admission by the government that the conditions that prevail there are appalling and people living in that war-ravaged area have not yet been delivered from their misery though the war is over. Past governments blundered by treating the North as a dumping ground for errant or dissenting public officers, especially police personnel, and igniting public resentment in the process. This practice must stop forthwith.
As for the controversy over the pulling down of President Rajapaksa`s cutouts, we wonder why the government`s wrath was ever directed at SSP Jayawardena. Weren`t we told the other day that the President himself had asked IGP Mahinda Balasuriya to remove cutouts, banners and posters of all presidential candidates without fear or favour and that the IGP had issued an order to that effect? SSP Jayawardena must have simply carried out the IGP`s order. So, one may argue that it is not SSP Jayawardena but IGP Balasuriya who should be sent to Kilinochchi, if at all, for removing the President`s precious cutouts. Isn`t the government barking up the wrong tree!