CMEV’s statement on the violation of people’s democratic rights

February 19, 2023

Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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.

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Statement on Disruptions to the Local Government Elections 2023

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.

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Report election violence and misconduct to CMEV

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.

Sinhala Medium Calls – 0112 584 051

Tamil Medium Calls – 0112 584 047

Conference on newly enacted Election Campaign Finance Regulations Act

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.

Training for Youth, Women and Members of Other
Marginalized Communities on Regulating Political Finance
for the Empowerment of Inclusive Democratic Process in
Sri Lanka

Centre for Monitoring Election Violence and Janavaboda Kendraya conducted a one-day discussion with youths, women and members of PWD organisations on the impact of the unavailability of Campaign Finance regulations for women, youth and PWDs participation in politics on November 19, 2022, at Janavaboda Kendraya. Empowering youth, women and PWDs for advocacy campaigns on regulating campaign finance was the main objective of the discussion. Mr Jayantha Dehiattage AAL and DM Dissanayake, Chief of Operation at CMEV were facilitators of the discussion.  

A Civil Society Consultative Committee for Electoral Reforms

Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) and Peoples Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) together with all other election observation and advocacy organizations held a discussion on forming a Civil Society Consultative Committee for Electoral Reforms on November 8, 2022, at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute. The main objective of the committee was to provide constructive intervention as civil societies for electoral reforms while raising a collective voice for a transparent and accountable electoral process. In addition to the Civil Society Organizations, the Chairman of the Delimitation Commission, Mr. Mahinda Deshapriya, the Election Commissioner General, Mr. Saman Sri Ratnayake, the Additional Election Commissioner of the Law and Investigation Division, Mr. B.P.C.Kularatne and the Director of  Planning  Mr. Channa P de Silva also participated in the discussion. CMEV and PAFFREL will continue this initiative with the support of all other CSOs to ensure the introduction of many required changes to the Sri Lankan Electoral system with public consultations.