Focus/Spotlight

Election monitors warn of violence

Election monitoring bodies have warned that the upcoming presidential election could see a rise in election violence due to its significance to key political players in the country and that there may even be attempts to delay polls.

Election Commission (EC) Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya, speaking to The Sunday Morning, said he hoped to discuss with the other two commission members in the coming weeks as to when they would call for nominations for the presidential election.


“We haven’t decided a date yet. The members of the commission must meet and schedule the date,” Deshapriya said, adding that nominations would most likely be called sometime in mid to late October.

Elections Secretariat Director General of Elections M.K. Saman Sri Ratnayake told The Sunday Morning that, despite the intense pre-election political rhetoric being thrown around by various groups, authorities did not expect any election violence.

“We don’t believe that there would be any election violence. The past few elections have been almost completely violence-free and we expect it to be the same during the upcoming presidential election as well,” Ratnayake said.

He said that officials of the European Union (EU) and the Commonwealth met with the EC and offered to send election monitors.

Nevertheless, Ratnayake said that the EC pointed out that they did not expect violence.

“We pointed out that we do not expect violence. But we did tell the EU and Commonwealth representatives that they could send officials as part of a study tour as there would be local election monitors and observers already in place,” Ratnayake said.

Several political parties have already announced their presidential candidates even though nominations had not been officially called for by the EC.

Candidates

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) announced that former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa would be their presidential candidate while the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) nominated their party Leader MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake as their presidential hopeful to contest under the National People’s Power (NPP).

The United National Party (UNP) is still indecisive with the party torn between nominating party Leader Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and party Deputy Leader Minister Sajith Premadasa as their presidential candidate.

UNP Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva told The Sunday Morning that the party was following its constitution to ensure a democratic process is followed when picking their candidate.

“Our party is a democratic entity and therefore, over the last so many years since the party was established in the 40s, our constitution provides for a mechanism on how to select a candidate and we will democratically select who our candidate will be. That is taking some time and we will do it accordingly,” he said.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), on the other hand, simultaneously announced that they would be fielding a presidential candidate while also continuing discussions with the SLPP to form a political alliance to face the presidential polls.

“We will be fielding our own candidate as well. However, we are still deciding who the individual would be,” SLFP General Secretary MP Dayasiri Jayasekara told The Sunday Morning.

Possible violence?

However, election monitoring group Campaign for Free and Fair Election (CaFFE) cautioned that there could be election violence at the presidential election.

CaFFE Executive Director Manas Makeen pointed out that after the Yahapalana Government came into power, there had been a serious delay in holding elections, resulting in frustration among the masses due to their right to franchise being curtailed.

“The people are agitated. The local government elections were delayed until they were finally held in 2018.

The provincial council (PC) elections have been delayed as well by over two years now and there is still no sign of when it would be held,” he said.

In a recent development, the Supreme Court (SC) opined that the PC elections could not be held under the previous preferential voting system or according to the Provincial Council (Amendment) Act of 2017. According to Makeen, due to the significance of the elections and the intra-party problems brewing in the two main political camps, there is a possibility that there could be election violence, especially during the campaigning period.

“There is a lot of tension in the political parties, particularly the SLPP and UNP, with the latter still not decided on a candidate. So, we expect there could be some violence unlike the previous few elections,” he said.

In addition, he said that authorities must also look into educating voters on the voting process.

“We have found that a lot of people get confused when they see the ballot paper. This time, with so many candidates, the vote result may have to go for a second count. This means the voters must be educated on voting for a second preference, apart from the main candidate they support,” he observed.

He also said that authorities should address the issue of voter registry and identification.

“A survey carried out in 2018 found that nearly 500,000 voters did not have their national identity card (NIC). Nearly 100,000 didn’t want to provide their identity cards due to various reasons such as illegal activities they may be involved in,” he said, adding that the voter must be educated on the other available identification options when going to the polling station.

“There are seven identification methods accepted by the EC, namely the NIC, passport, driver’s license, senior citizen ID, pensioner ID, religious leaders ID, and the temporary ID given by the Election Department,” Makeen said.

The People’s Action For Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) also said that election violence was a risk.

PAFFREL General Secretary Chaminda Rajakaruna said that they expect there to be violence and election law violations in the run-up to election day.

“We are not expecting violence on election day but prior to elections, more effort would be needed when compared to previous years as there are more candidates this time and the election itself is far more crucial to the future of this country as well as the politicians and their parties,” he said.