By Azra Ameen
Loud speakers, parades, posters, cutouts and banners are a common sight during elections. Most candidates feel that not making a public announcement while displaying banners and posters is not a favourable atmosphere for elections.
The Election Secretariat had ordered all political parties not to hold rallies and parades on nomination day and pre-nomination days of the upcoming PC polls.
Elections Commissioner, Mahinda Deshapriya in a meeting with the Inspector- General of Police N.K. Illangakoon directed that no parades, either by foot or vehicles would be allowed on the nominations day and before and when major parties are scheduled to hand over their list of candidates for the Eastern, North- Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council elections.
Even though election laws which prohibited the display of propaganda material in public places was spelt out to the political parties, election monitors are of the view that these laws have been violated by the parties on pre-nomination days and also on nomination days. Election monitors and some politicians are also of the view that public property such as government vehicles and assets should be utilized for election purposes.
Election monitors have also complained to the Elections Department on the increase in election law violations. It has been noted that even before the nominations had closed cutouts, banners and posters had begun to appear in places such as Trincomalee, Kegalle and Anuradhapura.
The election monitoring body, Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE), has received 16 incidents of polls violations on pre-nomination day and 14 incidents on nomination day.
Six incidents related to election violations have been reported from Anuradhapura District, six candidates from two major political parties have been involved in violating elections laws. According to reports from CAFFE, the most number of election violations to date has been from the Eastern Province.
Reports also say many complaints received were mainly related to cutouts being displayed in the districts, schools being used to hold political rallies, public announcements while displaying banners and posters, and several vehicle parades have also been witnessed. There were also some cases where public properties were used for election purposes.
Ceylon Today spoke to officials who deal with elections and who is concerned about the rising trend in such violations.
No major incidents reported
Mahinda Deshapriya, Election Commissioner
Only a few minor incidents and no big incidents have taken place prior to the submissions. The election period will create a carnival atmosphere among the general public, but the candidates and the supporters should know their limits. We received few complaints and we have informed the police in the respective areas so they can take necessary action and warn the parties concerned.
We have done our duty to the utmost. It is the candidates who should keep their word and not violate the election laws. We have sent communiqués and releases and guide lines to those concerned to help us have a free and fair election without all these issues, but I don’t know as to why they need to do this.
As I mentioned before, an election is like a carnival for them. After the nominations were submitted, on Friday (20), I summoned the election monitors, the police and the secretaries to the political parties, to educate them on the procedures of the upcoming elections.
It was during the meeting that I received major complaints from M.H. Sumanthiran and Wasantha Samarasinghe of the JVP from Batticaloa and Anuradhapura Districts respectively on election violations. I have decided to dispatch a team from our Department to the two areas and they will monitor these areas for a week and then we will decide as to what has to be done next.
The Election Department has also launched a new website called ‘Tell the Commissioner’ to look into the issues of violation of election laws and election violence in general.
If any of these violations listed are witnessed by the general public, they can lodge a complaint with us and I will take action.
From Monday we are also starting district wise complaint centers where officials from the Department and police will accept complaints. We have imposed strict laws so I hope all parties will consider the guidelines issued and work within the law in the upcoming election campaign. I think this situation can be brought under control since we have encountered worst incidents in the past So I don’t think this is a big issue right now.
Certain violations overlooked
Rohana Hettiarachchi, Executive- Director, People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL)
Being an election monitoring body we have received a few complaints concerning illegal election propaganda subsequent to handing over of nominations.
However, these are small issues. There are bigger issues such as ex-ministers not returning state properties and vehicles, while their candidates are currently using them in violation of election laws.
We are aware most government vehicles are being used for propaganda purposes. We have taken steps to notify the provincial council secretaries and governors in the respective areas regarding the utilization of the state owned property by former chief ministers of provincial councils which were dissolved recently.
At the meeting on Friday (20) with the Election Commissioner many issues of this sort were discussed. There was also an incident where some of the candidates were threatened by armed forces. These are serious issues that should be dealt with.
The Election Commissioner requested the two election monitoring bodies to go on a field visit and submit a report before the next meeting on the so called election law violations that have been reported. The secretaries of the UNP and TNA requested international observers to monitor the upcoming elections, but the Commissioner told them that he will only consider the request after the submission of the report.
These issues will not crop up if candidates follow the law. These people do not follow the law and they think by violating the rules they can show their strength and power.
From now on every polling center can have a party office and they can do all what they want to in that party office without hindering the general public and misusing or damaging public property. The Election Commissioner is trying his level best to have free and fair election.
So we request all party leaders and candidates to desist from using weapons and thugs to disrupt the elections.
Action will be taken
Senior DIG Gamini Navaratne, Police Elections Secretariat
We have received a few complaints on the violation of election laws, but no incidents of violence have taken place. We have received around three complaints where the candidates were threatened and intimidated.
Most of those complaints have been in violation of section 24 of the Provincial Council Act where it is mentioned that illegal rallies, processions, displaying of cutouts, banners and posters are not permitted during elections. We intend taking serious action against candidates who break the law and they will be produced in court.
The government is keen on having a peaceful, free and fair election. So I hope all candidates understand the seriousness of violating laws which in turn disrupts the peace in the country.
In the meantime, the scholarship and advanced level examinations are coming up. We request all the parties to refrain from holding their meeting and rallies near examination centers which may disturb the students who are sitting for their examinations.
Authorities do not enforce the law
Keerthi Tennakoon, Executive- Director, Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE)
The CAFFE received many complaints on the final day of nominations which was on 19 July regarding election law violations. We informed the Election Commissioner to take necessary action to protect law and order. Most of the incidents have been reported from the Polonaruwa, Ampara, Trincomalee and Ratnapura Districts.
Most of these complaints are where the parties have made public announcements, while displaying banners and posters and several vehicle parades have also been witnessed. There were also several cases where public properties were used for processional purposes.
We had two meeting to educate political parties on election laws. But other than for Batticaloa District, all the districts in the three provinces have violated the election law. The worst case was reported from the Ampara District. We also learnt that in Kantale there was a clash between two groups of a political party. Our main objective is to have free and fair elections; the parties should help us reach this objective.
We request the police to take severe action on those who violate laws. When it comes to elections, law enforcement is not taking place. The police and the government lacks in enforcing the law.
Under normal circumstances a person who is seen drunk on the road will be questioned by the police. However, on election nomination day police did not seem to take action when people were seen drunk on the roads, openly consuming alcohol and disrupting the peace.
Where are the law enforcement agencies? We have all seen candidates using public property and state property. As an example two CTB buses from Akkaraipattu Depot were used in a procession. If these issues are not looked into more violence may take place. courtesy: Ceylon Today