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Sunday May 19th, 2024

Overcoming Old and New Challenges for an Inclusive Democracy

ECONOMYNEXT – A former Chief Election Commissioner, in India, Dr S Y Quraishi would like to see the establishment of a national election fund, through which, political parties would receive financial support based on their performance at an election.

Such a fund, he says would ensure transparency.

Throughout a 44-day period beginning April 19, India goes to the poll to elect 543 members to its 18th Lok Sabha, the Lower House of Parliament. It is the largest election in the country since 1951-1952 with nearly 970 million eligible to vote.

Dr Quraishi was commenting on the controversy surrounding the Electoral Bonds and its protection of donor identities. The scheme was introduced by the incumbent BJP government in 2017 and was abolished by the Supreme Court in February this year, owing to increasing allegations of corruption.

The scheme allowed individuals and corporate groups to donate anonymously, any amount of money to political parties, as Electoral Bonds.

Participating at a webinar entitled “India Votes: Inclusive Democracy 2024”, jointly organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), South Asia and Seeking Modern Applications for Real Transformation (SMART) on April 16, Dr Quraishi pointed out that throughout the last 75 years, political parties have received direct funding, with most donors contributing to all parties to ensure their interests are protected, whichever party wins. (In the previous system, individuals were not allowed anonymity if the donation was over Rs. 20,000).

Moderated by Independent Journalist and Filmmaker, Seemi Pasha, the webinar included Multimedia Journalist Ankita Dhar Kamakar and Co-Director of Lokniti, CSDS, Professor Sanjay Kumar as panelists. The Founder of SMART, Archana Kapoor gave the welcome address.

The election comes amidst the allegations of corruption, the electoral bonds issue, rising inflation and youth unemployment. Would the latter two issues that impact the everyday life of voters or the allegations of corruption and the non-disclosure of the donor identity funding political parties be the deciding factor?

All political parties have received funding from business houses and individuals says Professor Kumar, adding that voters are resigned to corruption within the system.

Despite unemployment and the rising cost of living, voters make their choice according to their perception of the party and candidate they prefer; if they trust a party, they believe anything the party puts out, and ignore the lie, he observes.

The large numbers seen at political rallies too could be deceiving he points out, as in most cases, participants are prevailed upon to attend with enticements such as cash payments, transportation and food.
Lokniti -CSDS is known for conducting studies around national and state elections and recently concluded a survey on the 2024 election. However, Professor Kumar cautions that the voter behaviour patterns identified in a survey do not necessarily reflect the ground situation.

There is usually a ‘joining the bandwagon’ mentality when it’s time to vote, he explains. This time around despite daily hardships, the revival of Hindutva, and the building of the Ram Mandir etc. are major factors in the voter decision-making process; ‘Hindu pride overrules all those personal deprivations.’

Voting patterns in the North and the South also vary, Professor Kumar says where regional parties hold sway in the South, while the BJP and Congress are stronger in the North.

While Lokniti surveys are for purely academic purposes, he explains, ‘we are not pollsters,’ adding that tinkering or manipulating survey outcomes are usually associated with commercial groups commissioned to produce results a political party would like to see.

While the election is fought on the aforementioned issues, Ankita Dhar Kamakar, claims that various drawbacks may result in scores of Indians being unable to exercise their franchise.

Concerns range from students living away from their usual residence, migratory workers, accessibility issues for the differently abled, voters with intellectual disabilities and proving their gender identity, in the case of the LGBTQUI community, as they cannot self-disclose, but must submit a certificate.

While many university students are unable to get to their home provinces to cast their vote, migratory populations are unable to provide proof of residence, Kamakar explains. Locating the relevant forms to prove their residence or identity is not easy on the elections website she says.

Students are unaware they can use their temporary address to cast their vote instead of travelling home, she explains, adding that it has fallen on civil society groups to spread the word in universities. Non-Resident Indians are allowed the use of a postal ballot, but that is not available for internal migrants, she claims.

Transgender folk, meanwhile, face difficulty in getting voter ID cards reflecting their status. There is also the issue of election officials not being sensitised to the social and other issues faced by marginalised communities she alleges.

Young women encounter a particular handicap; while the father leaves her out from the householder list as she would move to her in-law’s home after marriage when she does take up residence with her in-laws, they do not register her until she conceives or a son is born; if such a situation results in a divorce, why bother registering her?

Dr Quraishi however, argues that many of the drawbacks Kamakar highlighted have been dealt with by the Elections Commission. The issue of gender was raised during his tenure, he says, and there is no requirement to submit a certificate, but pick ‘T’ to indicate Third Gender, just as males and females would choose ‘M’ or ‘F’ respectively. Those living outside their usual residence are allowed to use their temporary address and not travel home to vote. Election officials will make the necessary adjustments.

Twice a year, election officials go door to door, to update information. The young and tech-savvy and non-governmental organisations too could volunteer their services, he suggests.

Dr Quraishi is hopeful India would move towards a Proportional Representation system, adding that the Nepal model would be the best suited. The current practice of a phased-out election should also be replaced where elections could be held simultaneously across the country, or in one phase, he adds.

And what of the media’s role? Professor Kumar points out that while television is among the influencers, it is not the main one, nor is it the most important now.

Social media, says Dr Quraishi is currently the biggest culprit. It spreads misinformation, and can, ‘within 5 minutes set the country on fire.’

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Sri Lanka seeks to draw youth into agri-entrepreneurship with 1.6bn funding

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Agriculture and Plantation Industries has earmarked 1.6 billion rupees for the establishment of 160 model farms across the island, that are to be owned and operated by youth agri-entrepreneurs.

“The Ministry of Agriculture and Plantation Industries has taken steps to allocate 1,600 million rupees to establish 160 villages in 25 districts with 6 youth agri entrepreneurship villages in each district,” Minister Mahinda Amaraweera was quoted in a statement.

“Arrangements have been made to provide an amount of one million rupees to each village under the first phase.”

The Minister said the aim of the program is to attract youth to agriculture and to introduce them to new agricultural technology, so they could target local markets and exports.

Under the initiative vegetables, fruits, plantation crops, and fish are to be harvested, and livestock products are to be produced in the villages. (Colombo/May18/2024)

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Sri Lanka Navy nabs fishermen engaged in illegal fishing

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Navy apprehended eight persons engaged in illegal fishing in the seas off Ambalanpokkanei, Mullaitivu, Poduwakattu, and Trincomalee, this week.

“The operations also led to the seizure of 3 dinghies and unauthorized fishing gear employed for these illegal acts,” it said in a statement.

“The Sri Lanka Navy remains vigilant and conducts operations to combat illegal fishing in its sea and coastal areas, with a view to supporting legal fishing activities.”

The fishermen were engaging in light-coarse fishing and using unauthorized fishing nets.

They were intercepted by the SLNS Gotabaya and SLNS Walagamba of the Eastern Naval Command.

The individuals were identified as residents of Mullaitivu, Kuchchaveli and Poduwakattu, aged between 21 to 53 years.

The fishermen, dinghies and unauthorized fishing gear were handed over to the Assistant Directorate of Fisheries – Mullaitivu, and the Fisheries Inspector of Trincomalee for legal action, the Navy said. (Colombo/May18/2024)

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Fifteen years after the end of the war, victims still await justice at Mullivaikkal: Amnesty

ECONOMYNEXT – Speaking at a commemoration marking the 15th anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s internal armed conflict on 18 May 2009, which culminated in the brutal Mullivaikkal offensive where countless civilian lives were lost, Secretary General at Amnesty International Agnès Callamard said:

“Today’s anniversary is a grim reminder of the collective failure of the Sri Lankan authorities and the international community to deliver justice to the many victims of Sri Lanka’s three-decade-long internal armed conflict.

It is sobering to stand in the same place where, 15 years ago, countless civilian lives were lost during the last days of the war.

Ahead of this event, we have witnessed clampdown on the memory initiatives, including arrests, arbitrary detentions and deliberately skewed interpretations of the Tamil community’s attempts to remember their people lost to the war. Authorities must respect the space for victims to grieve, memorialise their loved ones and respect their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

UN investigations have found credible evidence of crimes under international law and other violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by those on both sides of the conflict, yet there has been little in the way of an independent or impartial national inquiry into such serious crimes.

Meanwhile, the families of those who were forcibly disappeared during the conflict have been left to search desperately for their loved ones. It is truly heartbreaking to hear from victims how long they have been demanding justice in vain.

The Sri Lankan government is best placed to provide answers to the victims, however numerous domestic mechanisms to establish accountability in the last 15 years have been mere window dressing.

The report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released earlier this week too reiterates the gaping deficits in Sri Lanka’s accountability initiatives that has contributed to impunity remaining deeply entrenched.

Tens of thousands of victims and their families continue to suffer in anguish as they await truth, justice, and reparations. We stand in solidarity with them here in Mullivaikkal today.”

Background:

During the internal armed conflict from 1983 to 2009, Sri Lankan government forces and their armed political affiliates committed extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and acts of torture against Tamils suspected of links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The LTTE also launched indiscriminate suicide attacks on civilian targets like buses and railway stations, assassinated politicians and critics, and forcibly recruited children as fighters.

Violations of international human rights and humanitarian law peaked in the final months of the conflict, most notably in May 2009 when some 300,000 displaced civilians were trapped between the warring parties.

It was at Mullivaikkal, a small village in Mullaitivu district in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, where the final offensive between the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE took place, killing at least 40,000 civilians according to UN estimates.

Each year, on 18 May, a memorial event at Mullivaikkal brings together thousands of war-affected Tamils to commemorate those lost to the war and demand justice and accountability.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) this week released a report on accountability for enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka.
(Colombo/May18/2024)

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