On Monday, the Elections Commission announced June 20 as the date set for the Parliamentary Elections. Since then, there has been quite a debate as to whether it is appropriate to hold an election at a time when the country is facing a COVID-19 pandemic.
While the question is arguable, it is also vital to note that a country cannot function in a stable manner without having a strong and stable government in place. While the country, within a few months since November, began progressing well under the strong leadership of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, a strong government in place however is a necessity especially at times of crisis. Decisions have to be made, economic activities need to restart in an organized manner and proposals need to be drawn up. The backbone of a successful leadership is a stable, strong, visionary government who can move this country forward.
Having written that, Sri Lanka cannot forget that we are presently in the midst of a deadly, contagious virus. So in order to strongly adhere by the guidelines set by the Health Ministry and maintain zero cases of COVID-19 in the Hambantota district as of now, I have decided not to have any public gatherings or public election campaigings that will go against the norm of social distancing and risk the safety of the citizens. Instead, adapting with the situation, I will hold all my meetings using online technology which I have been doing since the outbreak of the virus under the banner of “Cyber Janahamu”.
The use of such technology will also introduce a new cultural wave among the residents of Hambantota, especially the youth, where I will continue to communicate with them through their smart phones etc. While online meetings will focus on the elections ahead, I will ensure we do not deviate from the present crisis and ensure to daily discuss the safety of all citizens and continue to provide all the necessary facilities such as food and facilities for them to run their businesses, while observing the standards set by the Health Ministry.
Meanwhile, I also request the Elections Commission to look at introducing pre voting methods which will enable voters to cast their votes over a series of days for the upcoming Parliamentary elections. For example, we do have the postal voting method in place, which can be expanded to the public too and each area can be assigned for a specific day to cast their vote. This wil prevent public gathering on a large scale, allocate only a limited number of election staff, law officers and monitors per day, and it will enable the voter to cast their vote who are being threatened by the virus. In the coming days, I will propose this method to the party seniors to hold discussions with the Elections Commission for them to look into the possibility of implementing at this time.
Countries such as South Korea can be an example to Sri Lanka at this time. Amidst the pandemic, South Korea successfully held parliamentary elections under strict measures. Voters had their temperatures checked on arrival at polling booths, and were allowed to enter the booths while wearing gloves and masks. While the local public there had raised concerns over their safety from the virus, many voters later took to social media saying that strict measures had enabled them to cast their votes without any fear.
South Korea has also taken measures to contain the virus, just like Sri Lanka and it is up to us now to ensure that the virus spread remains limited while going in for a peacful poll. However, as a politician myself, I request all politicians and politicial parties not to engage in public campaiging and make use of the technology available to communicate to the public and authorities. Till health authorities do not lift the ban on public gatherings, it is extremely important that no such gathering takes place.
The safety of our nation should be priority and while the government, medical workers and authorities are working tirelessly to ensure our safety, we should reciprocate in the same manner by adhering to the guidelines.
I will do my part. Hope everyone else will too. Stay safe.