David Gladstone, the former British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka during Premadasa’s administration, wrote a book after 30 years. The Gladstone Affair: A Sri Lankan Tempest: In that book, he recounts an incident that occurred during Premadasa’s administration when he went to observe voting being conducted free and fairly in polling stations during the 1991 LG elections.
This is how it was described.
President Premadasa was keen to ensure that the poll was conducted in a free and fair manner and thought it best to invite international monitors to observe and report on it. The Government’s intention was conveyed to the Ambassadorial Group and as it so happened the British High Commissioner was assigned with the task of monitoring the poll in the Southern Province.
Gladstone describes in great details what transpired on that decisive day.
He had left for Matara on the day of the poll and at Dickwella encountered a group of young Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) supporters who complained they had been barred from entering the polling booth by thugs of the ruling United National Party (UNP). Gladstone had visited the polling booth in question and the Returning Officer (RO) on duty had confirmed what the young men had said.
The RO had requested Gladstone to join him to lodge a complaint at the Police Station but the British diplomat had initially refused saying he was only an observer and not a part of the election machinery. The RO had insisted and Gladstone, rather reluctantly, had agreed to join him. A statement was recorded at the Police station and Gladstone ended up signing the document.
Gladstone reflects on those crucial moments this way: “No doubt I should have foreseen the consequences; no doubt I should have erred on the side of caution. But faced with a stark choice between affirming what I had witnessed and declining to do so on grounds of diplomatic protocol, I thought of all the bloodshed and disappearances, reprisals and repression that had raged around me for the past four years and it felt a very small step to put my signature to a statement I knew to be true; one moreover that might serve to advance, however modestly, the cause of democracy in Sri Lanka.”
After this incident, the Premadasa government made Gladstone persona non grata and expelled him from Sri Lanka. This is the first time in Sri Lanka’s election history that a Western ambassador has intervened for a free and fair election. Gladstone says in his book that he intervened in the 1991 LG election when the British government did not consider human rights and democracy as a condition when dealing with foreign countries. But Gladstone intervened to protect Sri Lanka’s democracy despite British advice.
The precedence created by him used by Teresita Schaffer, the American ambassador to Sri Lanka during 1994 general election period. She strongly pressurized DB Wijetunga President’s government that the 1994 general election should be held in a free and fair manner she also played a major role in the ensuring security of Chandrika Kumaratunga, the opposition prime ministerial candidate in the 1994 general election. She informed the US ambassador that there were threats to her life on election day, and the ambassador lobbied the government for her safety.
Due to the election violence in the 1999 North Western Provincial Council election and the 1999 presidential election during Chandrika’s government, the ambassadors of the America, Britain, and European countries at that time exerted a great pressure on Chandrika’s government to hold the 2000 general election in fair manner. Even when Chandrika was trying to postpone the 2005 presidential election to 2006, the World Democrats Union requested her to hold the election in 2005.
In the 2005 presidential election, the LTTE organization decided to boycott the vote in the North. America, Britain and the European Union pressured the LTTE to allow the people of the North to vote. Later, LTTEs boycott of the election was a major reason for the European Union to ban LTTE.
At the time of the 2015 presidential election, US Secretary of State John Kerry called then President Mahinda Rajapaksa and requested that the election be conducted in a free and fair manner. Below is the news report about it.
“The United States Secretary of State John Kerry has called the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to ensure that the presidential election today is free from violence. The United States Wednesday said it supports a free and fair electoral process in Sri Lanka that is credible, peaceful and inclusive. Spokesperson of the US State Department Jen Psaki at the media briefing Wednesday said Secretary Kerry called the Sri Lankan president yesterday to “underscore the Government’s responsibility to ensure the 8 January elections will be free from violence and intimidation and that the vote counting is carried out credibly and transparently.”
Responding to the media queries regarding concerns raised by several human rights organisations regarding the large-scale election violence in the country, the spokesperson said the United States had seen the reports. “We will continue to monitor the situation in Sri Lanka. We urge the Government, its election officials and police, all political parties and actors to ensure access to all vote centres for the voters to vote and counting centers for all international and domestic observers.
We’re concerned about reports of violence and urge the Government to ensure a transparent and credible investigation into any allegation of fraud or violence,” the spokesperson said. When asked, the State Department spokesperson said she was not aware of any plans to send observers to monitor Sri Lanka elections. Several human rights organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have expressed concerns about the pre-election violence and urged the Sri Lankan Government to protect the people’s right to exercise their right to vote freely”.
This shows that since 1991, Western countries including America have acted to protect the conducting election and democracy in Sri Lanka, regardless of which government is in power in Sri Lanka. Conducting election and democracy in Sri Lanka are now facing a greater threat. Western countries, including the United States, have not yet issued a statement in this regard. Ranil’s uncle’s newspaper ‘Sunday Times’ had created and published news that a western ambassador in this country was pressuring the court and judges to hold the vote. This is obviously a lie. But this shows that Ranil has not been able to bear the silent influence of the international community on Ranil to hold the election.