CMEV expresses its grave concern about the first death reported yesterday in connection with the Local Government Elections 2023. This death follows from the undemocratic and repressive actions of the Sri Lanka Police to prevent a protest rally organised by the National People’s Power (NPP). Nimal Amarasiri, a NPP candidate for the Nivithigala Pradeshiya Sabha, died from injuries sustained due to Police-directed water cannon and tear gas assaults at the protest rally in Colombo, on February 26, 2023.
The NPP rally was held to protest the indefinite postponement of Local Government Elections announced by the Election Commission in the face of continuous obstructions to holding elections from the President and Government. The rally was held in defiance of a Court Order against it. The Police directed heavy water cannon and tear gas assaults at the large crowd, leading to 28 people being hospitalized and two being admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. One of these persons was Mr. Amarasiri, who passed away yesterday.
CMEV deplores the oppressive efforts by the Government led by the President to violate the people’s right to vote. In particular, CMEV condemns the Government’s use of the Police to obstruct people’s democratic rights and act in an extremely repressive manner. CMEV reminds the Government and all public officials that they are duty-bound to protect the people’s fundamental right to vote. As such, the Sri Lanka Police and all relevant public authorities should comply fully with the inquiry initiated by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka at a minimum, and refrain from preventing, obstructing and/or inflicting violence on any future democratic protests.
28th February 2023.The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and its Executive Director filed a Fundamental Rights application challenging the failure and/or refusal of several government departments to take the necessary steps to hold the Local Government Elections. CPA is a constituent member and acts as the secretariat to the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV).
Elections to elect persons as members of Local Authorities in Sri Lanka are required to be held every 04 years (48 months) in terms of the relevant statutes. Elections were previously held in 2018, and the term of the Local Authorities that were due to expire in 2022 were extended for a year thereafter, and their term will expire shortly, with no further option available in law for extension.
On 30th January 2023, it was announced that the poll for Local Authorities Elections would be held on 09th March 2023. However, on 13th February 2023, the Elections Commission announced that it had been informed by the Government Printer that it would not be able to print the ballots necessary for the postal voting, if funds were not provided. It has also been reported that the Government Printer had stated that they cannot print the required ballot papers due to lack of Police security.
The Petitioners stated that the conduct of the Government Printer and the Inspector General of Police are indicative of a coordinated campaign to procrastinate the holding of Local Authority elections. The Petitioners also stated that the President, in his capacity as the Minister of Finance, and the Secretary to the Treasury have not, until the very last minute on the 23rd February 2023 indicated that there is a challenge in the allocation of funds to conduct the elections. These actions are prejudicial to the fundamental rights of the Petitioners and citizens of Sri Lanka.
The Petitioners have emphasized that the exercise of franchise as required in terms of the law is essential for a country to be a democracy, and the conduct of elections must be treated as an essential, for Sri Lanka to be and remain a democratic republic.
The Petitioners state that their rights under Articles 10, 12(1) and 14(1)(a) of the Constitution have been violated and/or continue to be violated by such attempts to sabotage and stall the holding of the Local Authority elections.
CMEV launched a publicity campaign on the newly introduced Election Campaign Expenses Regulation from Ratnapura and Balangoda towns. The objective of the campaign was to make citizens aware of new regulations to limit election campaign expenditure with the support of women, youth and PWD groups. The campaign included public announcements, street dramas, video shows, banner displays and leaflet dissemination. Ratnapura and Balangoda publicity events received a high public attraction. This program is expected to cover around 20 cities in Sabaragamuwa, Uva, Southern, Western, Eastern and Northern provinces.
CMEV’s statement on the violation of people’s democratic rights
CMEV strongly condemns the blatant violation of the people’s democratic rights by the Election Commission, Treasury, Executive, Government Printer and senior officers of the Sri Lanka Police. Examining each of these public authorities and officials in turn, reveals how they have worked together to totally disrupt the Local Government Elections.
Election Commission – The intentional delays by the Election Commission to issue notice declaring the Local Government Elections until the very last possible moment legally, has laid the foundation for creating the present election turmoil. The Election Commission was entitled to declare the elections on September 21, 2022, under the Local Government Election Ordinance, but it delayed this until January 4, 2023. This left only 6 weeks and 5 days for the election date. It also left only 11 days until the end of the present local authorities’ official terms, after the election date.? Both have left the Election Commission with very little room to maneuver. Meanwhile, as reported by the media, the Executive President had summoned the members of the Election Commission twice for meetings before and after the declaration of the election. The Election Commission has not been accountable to voters by clarifying the objective and context of those discussions. Meanwhile, the Secretary of the Treasury had met the Chairperson of the Election Commission yesterday ( 17 February 2023) to inform him that the Treasury is not in a position to release funds for the Local Government Elections.
Treasury/Executive – Following the declaration, the Secretary of the Treasury issued Budget Circular No. 02/2023 on February 02, 2023 referring to Cabinet Decision No. 23/0201/604/018 on January 30, 2023. This Circular was a blatant violation of Parliament’s financial powers by the Executive as it was imposing restrictions on already approved government expenses. The ultimate motivation of the Circular was to disrupt the electoral process by suspending the printing of ballots. However, the Circular cannot be considered as applying to the Government Printer since it gives permission to continue already agreed-upon service agreements between both government and private institutions. As the Government Printer herself has accepted (in her press statement on February 17, 2023), the official communication about the printing of ballots was made between her and the Election Commission on January 23, 2023. The agreement to print ballot papers therefore occurred prior to the Treasury Circular. Government Printer – According to the Election Commission, the Government Printer gave assurances to deliver the required number of postal vote ballot papers and other materials by February 14, 2023 and accordingly had scheduled the issue of postal vote ballots and materials to District Returning Officers on February 15, 2023. The Government Printer then sent the sudden letter to the Election Commission on February 13, 2023, requesting further advice on payment of the advance. This is what prompted the Election Commission to announce the difficulty in holding the postal vote as scheduled. The Government Printer’s arbitrary decisions and vague explanations create the reasonable suspicion that she was intent on disrupting the Local Government Election process.
Sri Lanka Police – According to the Government Printer’s press statement of February 17, 2023, the Sri Lanka Police neglected their duty to provide the required security, even after repeated requests by phone and in writing. Later, the Government Printer revealed to the media that she had started ballot paper printing but without the required police security. The Commissioner General of the Election Commission also confirmed that they requested the IGP to provide the required Police security for ballot printing on January 23, 2023, and that the IGP had instructed the relevant officers, including the Senior Inspector General of Police, Western Province, Deshabandu Tennakoon, to provide the required security. Meanwhile, the Police Media spokesperson Nihal Thalduwa informed the media yesterday that the Police had not provided security since they had no information that ballot paper printing was starting, and that security will be provided when ballot printing started. This information confirms that the relevant Senior Police Officers intentionally violated their constitutional duty to facilitate the election process by first agreeing to and then failing to provide the required security for ballot paper printing. CMEV is of the view that all the above public authorities and senior government officials have violated their constitutional duties and the fundamental rights of the people. CMEV urges the government to take accountability for these violations by taking all necessary disciplinary and legal action against them. CMEV further urges Parliament to initiate a Parliamentary Inquiry into the disruption of the Local Government Elections process, and to recommend action.
Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) will be conducting a Publicity campaign from 19th of February 2023 onwards on Campaign and Political Finance in order to make awareness among the general public about campaign and political finance for the empowerment of inclusive democracy in Sri Lanka.
Interactive awareness sessions , Leaflet distributions and public dramas will be conducted on selected cities throughout the Island. The public will be made aware of the importance of regulation of campaign finance and also the newly enacted act on Regulation of Election expenditure.
19th of February – Rathnapura & Balangoda
20th of February – Badulla & Bandarawela
21st of February – Nuwaraeliya & Kotagala
25th of February – Galle , Mathara , Puttalam & Kalpitiya
26th of February – Hambantota, Vavuniya , Mullaitivu & Kilinochchi
27th of February – Negombo , Jaffna & Chavakachcheri
Discussion on Election Expenses Regulation Act No. 03 of 2023 which was passed on 24 th of January 2023, which might play a crucial role in creating a level playing field or providing equal opportunities in the elections.
CMEV expresses its deep concern about the indefinite postponement of the postal voting for the Local Government Election 2023. It has been reported that this is due to the Government Printer’s refusal to submit the printed postal voting ballot papers on time to the Election Commission.
CMEV learnt that the Government Printer sent a letter to the Election Commission yesterday, February 13, 2023, informing it that it is unable to process the printing of ballot papers until the full cost for the printing is made by the Commission. This was in line with the President’s recent direction on January 31, 2023, to heads of government authorities to not purchase services on a credit basis.
CMEV believes that the disruption of the postal voting could impact holding the Local Government Election 2023 as scheduled on March 9, 2023. The Government’s actions have created immense uncertainty for voters regarding the Local Government Election, and this is a direct violation of the right to vote that is guaranteed for all citizens under the Constitution of Sri Lanka. CMEV highlights it is the responsibility of the Executive to create an enabling environment for conducting the Local Government Elections, as per the Constitution.
The conduct of the Government Printer is specifically a violation of Article 104B(2) of the Constitution which states that it is the duty of all authorities of the State to co-operate with the Election Commission to enforce all laws relating to holding elections. Refusal or failure to carry out this duty is a criminal offence under Article 104GG of the Constitution. CMEV specifically urges the Election Commission to exercise its powers under this Article to take action against the Government Printer and any other public authority disrupting the election process.
The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence introduced a hotline for reporting election violence or any kind of misconduct related to local government election 2023.
If you have been subjected to violence, threats or social media harassment during the local government election campaign season as a candidate or a voter , or if you have experienced illegal campaigning or misuse of public property for election campaigning, please call us through the below numbers.
Centre for Monitoring Election Violence together with Transparency International Sri Lanka conducted a conference on newly enacted Election Campaign Finance Regulations act with the participation of civil society representatives , Social and Political Activists and other interested parties.
Hon Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksha ( Ministry of Justice ,Prison and constitutional reforms ) ,Mr Anthony Banbury (President and CEO of IFES) Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu (Co-Converner-CMEV) ,Mr Mahinda Deshapriya (Chairmen ,NDC) , Ms Sankhitha Gunarathne (Deputy Excecutive Director – TISL) were the keynote speakers while Mr Saman Sri Ratnayaka ( Commissioner General – EC) , Ms Silja Pasilinna (Chief of Party, IFES) Mohamed Ziyad(TISL), Hareendra Banagala AAL, Anuradha Kandanage AAL,joined the panel discussion which was facilitated by Mr Luwie Ganeshathasan.
Mr Saman Sri Ratnayaka revealed that the above act will be in power from this election onwards where the individuals and the parties will have to disclose their audited election expense reports to the elections commission. Mr Deshapriya emphasized on the fact of importance of using a digitalized platform to collect above data and also appreciated the efforts of the former and current election commissions and civil societies for their efforts on making this bill a reality. Minister Wijeyadasa Rakapakshe mentioned that the government did not have any intention of using this bill to postpone the elections while they are looking forward to bring in more amendments to the elections act in order to strengthen the election finance regulation laws.
It was highlighted on the importance of the engagement of public and activists in order to keep improving the newly enacted act to ensure the atmosphere for fair elections.
CMEV learnt that it is alleged that two members of the Election Commission, Mr. K.P.P. Pathirana and Mr. S.B. Divaratna were threatened with death if they did not resign from the Commission, last evening via WhatsApp. CMEV vehemently condemns such undemocratic and violent actions and calls for complete transparency in investigations which have already been commenced by the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the Police.
CMEV also expresses its concern over several efforts taken by different parties to postpone scheduled Local Government elections and the possibility of this incident being associated with these efforts. Therefore, we urge the government to ensure a peaceable and secure environment for all the actors including election officials to conduct the election without any undue influence and within the period of time stipulated in the Local Government Elections Ordinance.
CMEV also urges the Election Commission to ensure that any such deplorable incidents will not cause further delays in Local Government Elections.
CMEV was formed in 1997 by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), the Free Media Movement (FMM) and the Coalition against Political Violence as an independent and nonpartisan organization to monitor the incidence of election-related violence. Currently, CMEV is made up of CPA, FMM and INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre.
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