By Chandani Kirinde
Thirty-five of the 41 presidential aspirants, who had paid their deposits, handed in their nomination papers at the Election Commission yesterday, officially kicking off the six-week-long election campaign.
Nominations were accepted between 9.00 a.m. and 11.00 a.m. last morning at the Election Commission office in Rajagiriya amidst tight security. All the nomination papers that were handed over were accepted by the EC while two objections that were raised were dismissed by the Commission.
Eighteen of the candidates will contest from recognised political parties, 15 as independent candidates and two from other parties. This is the highest number to ever contest a Presidential Election in the country and is almost double the 19 who contested the 2015 election.
The frontrunners in the race – Minister Sajith Premadasa, who will contest from the National Democratic Front (NDF), the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna’s (SLPP) Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who will contest from the National People’s Movement – were among those who handed in their nomination papers.
The rest of the candidates make up a diverse mix that includes two Buddhist monks, one woman, several former and serving parliamentarians and a former Army Commander.
Among those who had paid their deposits but did not hand in their nomination papers yesterday were MPs Chamal Rajapaksa and Kumar Welgama, Basheer Cegu Dawood, Mahipala Herath, Tissa Kuttiarachchi and Jayantha Liyanage.
EC Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya, who addressed candidates after they handed in their nominations, requested them, their supporters and members of the public to ensure that the campaign and election was conducted in a free, fair and peaceful manner, warning that the breach of election laws would be dealt with sternly.
“The Presidential Election Act makes provision on how to deal with illegal activities during an election period. The Police Department has been apprised of these laws and they will act to stop any violations,” Deshapriya said.
He said that the Gazette notification published by the EC on 19 September 2019 lays out directions to prevent the misuse of movable or immovable property belonging to the State, State Corporations or Statutory Boards during the period of an election for the promotion of or in prejudice to any party, group or candidate or obstructing the conduct of the election and requested all public officials to strictly adhere to them.
“The only political right public officials have is the right to cast their vote. They cannot engage in any other political activity. I request all public officials to abide by the directions given to them by the EC and also request all candidates not to entice any public official to act in violation of election laws,” Deshapriya said.
He warned that some of the offences carried penalties which included disqualification from the election as well as the loss of one’s civic rights.
“The foundation of a democratic society rests on the right of the people to choose their representatives through the ballot. We must ensure it is done in a free and fair manner. To ensure this we need the cooperation of all,” he said.
Deshapriya added that this right must be guaranteed to all citizens without any form of discrimination.