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Election requires peaceful, rational dialogue – upiasia.com

[MISC, Monday, 4 January 2010 16:54 No Comment]

The long years of civil war in Sri Lanka deeply impacted all areas of life in the country. One major area to suffer was the media. This was natural, as parties involved in the conflict not only fought the war on the military front but also on the propaganda front.

Therefore, people mostly got exaggerated and distorted versions of reality from the media, which was designed to meet the needs of the war and to respond to the propaganda of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The LTTE had a formidable propaganda capacity and it was natural for the state to compete in an attempt to defeat their propaganda.

A propaganda war creates deep, hard attitudes in media personnel as well as within audiences. While the media grows accustomed to creating the type of propaganda that suits the war, audiences develop an appetite for the same depending on which side they support. In all publications, people view what they read either in favor of the party they support or against the opposition.

By May 2009, Sri Lanka’s civil war with the LTTE was over. But the hardened propaganda attitudes still remain. Now, alongside the remnants of this practice, the state is deliberately trying to take advantage of these propaganda habits for its political war and to use the media to favor its views and not those of its political opponents.

Using the same war mentality, the government is portraying its political opponents as enemies. Instead of encouraging a discourse to deal with diverse political views and developing a consensus to fulfill its economic, social and cultural objectives, the leadership uses all debates as a forum to destroy its enemies.

A democracy requires discourse that is geared toward the development of rational views. In a democratic debate no one can claim to be the repository of “correct” views. The expression of all views should be encouraged in order to resolve existing problems in the economic, social and cultural spheres.

During a time of peace, social discourse should be encouraged and people should have the freedom to participate without fear. Intimidating people into silence because their ideas may be seen as opposing the government or powerful people is counterproductive to a democratic discourse.

A political debate during an election should not be conducted in an atmosphere of extreme antagonism that gives the impression of a war. It is the right of the voters to know the ideas of any candidate who seeks election as a representative of the people.

An election in a democracy is about representation. Those who seek the citizens’ votes are, in fact, asking for the right to represent them, a right that cannot be demanded by force or intimidation. Candidates who desire to represent voters must solicit their favor; rather than intimidating them, they should convince the voters of their own usefulness.

Therefore, the use of the media during an election should be peaceful and conducive to rational conversation. The voter should be provided with factual data and be treated as supreme.

Unfortunately, in contrast, the present election process in Sri Lanka is creating extreme tension. The government is demanding that voters show their gratitude for its war victory. Instead of candidates being grateful to voters for considering their views, the reverse process is occurring, with candidates intimidating the voters.

The role of the media must be to provide proper information to voters concerning all candidates, rather than pushing them to vote for one party or another.

If this election is about resolving problems in times of peace, the election itself should be conducted in a peaceful manner and a beginning should be made for ongoing democratic discourse.

Election monitoring organizations and the police are receiving reports of alleged violence on the part of various parties to the election. The election commissioner must play a greater role in getting the message to the nation that this election is for selecting the leaders of a democracy, and that it should be conducted in a peaceful and fair manner.

The election commissioner should not leave the issue of violence to be decided after the election. A proactive role is needed to maintain an atmosphere of peace and ensure that democratic discourse can take place.

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