What’s in a box?

September 20, 2013, 9:12 pm Today, we front-page a photograph of Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya holding one of the new ballot boxes introduced as part of a pilot project. This is a very good move in that people could see what’s in those boxes. However, plastic boxes alone won’t help solve the various problems associated with elections. The incumbent Polls Chief is doing everything in his power to eliminate malpractices and restore public confidence in the electoral process. His efforts are to be highly commended. But, much more remains to be done. All that a toothless guard dog could do is to bark. The Elections Department is in a similar predicament. There should be a robust national institution with constitutionally guaranteed powers to ensure free and fair elections. Only an outfit like the Independent Election Commission envisaged in the now defunct 17th Amendment, will be equal to that task. At present, the Elections Commissioner cannot even take penal action against the candidates who win by abusing state resources, which is a blatant violation of election laws. As for today’s polls, the winners are not difficult to guess. Losers will be the electors. All eyes are on the election to the first ever Northern Provincial Council (NPC). No less a person than UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has issued a statement welcoming polls, especially in the North. This may be the first time a UNSG has welcomed provincial elections in a UN member state! The uphill task before those who secure the control of the NPC today will be to prevent it from going the same way as other provincial councils which have become white elephants to all intents and purposes because they have been reduced to mere appendages of political parties. Helping rebuild the northerners’ lives devastated by three decades of war should be the newly elected PC’s raison d’etre.

It is hoped that polls will end in the Northwestern Province without bloody clashes among supporters of the UPFA candidates jousting for the chief minister’s post.

Destroying weapons Russian President Vladimir Putin has told the international media he is cautiously optimistic that Syria will honour its undertaking to destroy its chemical weapons. US President Barack Obama has agreed to that course of action for want of a better alternative. The sooner Syrian President Bashar al-Assad complies with Russia’s request, the better it is for him as well as the hapless Syrians. But, the question is why the US, Russia and other world powers breathing down his neck do not practise what they preach by decommissioning their nukes. The question is who helped Syria build stockpiles of chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein could not tell the world who had assisted him in producing biological and chemical weapons as revealing such information would have been tantamount to hara-kiri for him at a time he was being tried for crimes against civilians. Gaddafi would have gladly exposed those who had betrayed him after helping him procure weapons and perhaps that was one of the reasons why he was silenced in captivity. President Assad needs to be pressured to mend his ways, but it will be a grave mistake for the western powers to use the Syrian rebels for that purpose. For, they are no better than Assad and his military. Western journalists have become targets of the rebels who consider them American spies. Paradoxically, these groups are dependent on the US and its allies to sustain their offensives against Assad! All signs are that they with alQaeda cadres within their ranks would turn Syria into a dangerous place for the westerners if they succeed in overthrowing the Assad regime. In Libya, it was after ousting Gaddafi that rebels started killing one another. But, jihadists with al-Qaeda links better known as ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) have already resorted to internecine violence; they recently drove their fellow rebels belonging to the Free Syrian Army from a border town through sheer violence. This is just the tip of the iceberg and the situation is expected to take a turn for the worse with the passage of

time as the jihadists have a hidden agenda and the ouster of Assad is only the means and not the end for them. They will turn Syria into another dangerous place for everybody including Americans and other westerners. It was in the cradle of Libyan revolt, Benghazi, that a US ambassador was tortured to death by the western-backed rebels. Posted by Thavam at 4:22 PM

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