10th January 2018, Colombo, Sri Lanka
The Elections Commission has officially declared 10th February as the date for the Local Authorities Elections that have been postponed for several years. Local Authorities Elections held prior to the forthcoming elections, were held in three stages as below.
The first stage was held on 17 / 03 / 2011.
The second stage was held on 23 / 07 / 2011.
The third stage was held on 10 / 08 / 2011.
Of the above three stages, the first stage was held under the former Commissioner of Elections Mr. Dayananda Dissanayake. Since Mr. Dayananda Dissanayake retired after the first stage, his successor Mr. Mahinda Deshapriya took charge of the other two stages. The said election was the last Local Authorities Election held under a Commissioner of Elections and in accordance with the proportional representative (PR) System.
Although the prevailing government at the time, had decided to commence the aforementioned Local Authorities Election under a mixed system comprising of Proportional Representative System (PR system) and First Pass the Post System (FPTP system), the particular decision was revoked and hence the election was held according to the Proportional Representative (PR) System. It was during this election that the official accreditation to deploy Observers in every polling station island-wide was given to the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) and the People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFRAL).
The final result of the three- stage elections recorded the United People’s Freedom Alliance receiving 4,774,791 votes and taking control of in 271 out of 322 local authorities. See grid below:
|Name of the party /Independent group||Urban Council||Municipal Council||Pradeshiya Sabha||Total|
|United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA)||17||29||225||271|
|Ilankai Thamil Arusu Kachchi (ITAK)||–||5||25||30|
|United National Party (UNP)||2||5||3||10|
|Sri Lanka Muslim Congress||1||–||4||5|
|Tamil United Liberation Front||–||–||2||2|
|Kandurata Janatha Peramuna (Kandurata People’s Front)||–||–||1||1|
Although the official term of a local authority is typically four years, the upcoming election was declared long after terms of office of local authorities expired. There were numerous reasons for the delay. The primary reason was the delimitation process that had to be undertaken as per the newly introduced mix member proportional system of elections and the political dynamics at play. CMEV has expressed its concerns over the postponement of elections to the Election Commission established as per the 19th Constitutional Amendment and to the public at large. We are of the view that notwithstanding the powers granted to the Election Commission under the 19th Amendment, the postponement of elections was largely due to the political dynamics at play as seen by the political parties, rather than any lapse on the part of the Commission. CMEV notes that the relevant line ministry has to issue the gazette indicating the number of members to be elected from all constituencies and that Parliament has to approve the gazette. CMEV calls for the authority to schedule elections on time to be granted to the Election Commission.
The upcoming Local Authorities Election is significant because it will be the first to be conducted under the Elections Commission as well as under new system of election. Of considerable importance too is the quota for female representation that seeks to rectify the regionally and internationally low representation of women in legislative bodies in Sri Lanka.
The total cost incurred by the Elections Commission to conduct the elections in which over 56,000 candidates will contest in 341 local authorities consisting of more than 13,000 polling stations, amounts to 3500 million LKRS. Under the new electoral system 60% of the candidates are returned through First Past the Post (FPTP) and 40% returned through PR. The overall result though, will be proportional to the total number of votes obtained. . Accordingly, a minimum of 8356 members are expected to be elected to 341 local authorities
The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), has initiated its election observation process throughout the period of local authorities election. The observation process consists of field monitors deployed as long-term observers covering all 25 administrative districts and a large number of static observers to be stationed in the polling stations on the day of elections. In addition, on polling day mobile monitors will be deployed around the country .
CMEV will continue to work with the Commission of Elections and civil society organizations to ensure the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in the electoral process. The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence has also undertaken baseline surveys and gathered data on campaign finance and the use of polythene for campaigns. CMEV will make full use of the mainstream and social media in its contribution towards the electorate making an informed choice.
CMEV writes to the President requesting to obtain the services of the Delimitation Commission that has already been established as a statutory institution at the National level for the delimitation process which was suggested by the recently approved Provincial Councils amendment Act in order to introduce a new electoral system to the Provincial Council elections.
Further CMEV highlights that appointing separate committees for this purpose sans obtaining the services of a Commission with the relevant expertise that has been already established for that very purpose will be to no avail. Furthermore, a suspicion has been emerging in the society owing to the fact that, appointing such committees is being used to prolong the commencement of elections as well. Apart from that, the Delimitation Commission could serve as an instrumental mechanism in the process of electoral reforms which will be taking place in the future.
The most recent presidential election held on the 8th of January 2015 was regarded as controversial due to various reasons. One of the frequently discussed aspects among them was the rampant misuse of state property by the previous regime. One instance of such misuse was the distribution of “Sil Redi” (Cloths warn in order to observe Sil on poyadays), that was conducted island-wide. Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) along with the other election observing organizations, complained to the Department of Elections with this regard while this misuse was taking place at the time. The revelations with that regard also were followed up consistently afterwards and it was yesterday that the verdict was given on the matter by the high court of Colombo. We believe that the said verdict will contribute to a certain extent in preventing the mal-intentioned precedent of rampant misuse of state property in order to win the elections, from taking place hereafter. The press release in relation to this matter has been published and can be downloaded in Sinhala, while the English and Tamil translations of the same, will be made available shortly.
The trailblazing advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities in Sri Lanka is no longer with us
At a significant juncture where an inclusive electoral process has been introduced with the interventions of the newly established Election Commission, Election Observing Organizations and various organizations and institutions advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities, the demise of Uva Provincial Councilor Mr. Senarath Attanayake is indeed an incalculable loss in view of CMEV.
At the time of his sudden decease at the age of fifty-one years, he had accomplished many achievements in different aspects, among which the greatest is him being the first wheelchair user in Sri Lanka to become a qualified lawyer.
Moreover, he has represented Uva provincial council in different capacities including ministerial roles for over two decades. He was a member of the Uva provincial council till the end of his days and never abused his power for narrow political gains. Out of the three people who are actively involved in politics while being wheelchair users in the whole world, he held the record of having the longest political career in representing the provincial council membership.
At a time and age where the political rights of the persons with disabilities was cast aside, the intervention made by Mr. Attanayake with that regard, was not only just revolutionary but it was a timely initiative as well.
Among the progressive changes made recently with regard to the facilitation of voting for the persons with disabilities in Sri Lanka, the circular issued by the Election Commissioner on the first week of May in the year 2015 leading up to the general election held in the month of August, was initiated as a result of a request forwarded by Mr. Attanayake to the election commissioner. The said circular held the assistant/deputy election commissioners and other relevant officials accountable for facilitating the persons with disabilities in casting their votes at the election.
Subsequently, it was him who became the great shadow that stood behind the team of voluntary advocates, youth activists and all the civil society organizations who spearheaded the initiative known as Enabled Elections which was facilitated by CMEV and functioned as a coalition of various advocacy organizations like Wheels in Motion which was co-founded by Mr. Senarath himself and Enable Lanka foundation which was another youth-led organization advocating for mainstreaming disability inclusion in Sri Lanka under his mentorship. It was Mr. Senarath Attanayake who took the lead in persuading CMEV to take up the facilitating role for this initiative.
It was not only about the political and voting rights of the persons with disabilities that Mr. Senarath worked extensively. But also he focused on various other needs of the persons with disabilities where he strived to make Wellawaya a disabled-friendly city in alignment with a global initiative of building such inclusive spaces. At present, the Wellawaya city attests to his effort and stands out as an accessible and disabled-friendly city in Sri Lanka. He invested a greater portion of his consolidated funds towards the betterment of persons with disabilities while setting an example for the other members of the provincial council and local government levels.
He maintained a consistent rapport with the CMEV as well as the Election Commission and actively intervened in highlighting the issues of the persons with disabilities in Sri Lanka at the high-level international forums such as the UN general assembly every year.
In appreciation of his tremendous service, The Viscardi Center presented him Henry Viscardi Achievement Award in the year 2016, the statement on which is extracted below.
“Provincial Councilor of Uva Province, Mr. Senarath Attanayake (Attorney-at-Law), for receiving this year’s Henry Viscardi Achievement Award. (The Viscardi Center) These international Awards, first bestowed in 2013, recognize exemplary leaders within the disability community and their extraordinary societal contributions.” More information here.
As an organization proactively engaging in the area of advocating for the political and voting rights of persons with disabilities in Sri Lanka, Centre for Monitoring Election Violence observes the demise of Mr. Attanayake as an immeasurable loss. CMEV always recalls the well-informed, courageous and exemplary service of Mr. Senarath Attanayake with great admiration. A short video documentary produced by CMEV to be aired in a recently held TV interview based on the invaluable service he has rendered to the persons with disabilities in this country, can be viewed here.
The government must take immediate steps to rectify the situation that has arisen concerning the uncertainty of commencing the proposed provincial council and local government elections
The commencement of elections in due time in the appropriate manner, is a practice that reflects the proper establishment of democracy. Asserting the contribution of the citizenry in the said election and creating an environment that is conducive for free and fair elections, are inevitable obligations of any government. It must be emphatically stated that the true meaning of the sovereignty of the people as specified in the constitution of this country could only be realized in taking the relevant measures in the manner mentioned above.
As a matter of fact, all the election observing organizations in the country, express their profound disappointment over the prevailing uncertainty in relation to the current situation of commencing elections.
Local government elections – The general public is eagerly looking forward to see the elections being held with regard to the local government institutions under a new electoral system with greater representation for women in politics and the subsequent revitalization of their activities with a new vigor.
Yet however, both the current and previous regimes have been prolonging the commencement of these elections while attributing its infeasibility to the technical issues and irregularities. By and large, there is one critical step that is required to be taken at present in order to enable the commencement of local government elections, which is passing the draft bill of electoral reforms that has already been presented to the parliament. The responsibility of accomplishing this endeavor lies with the leaders of all political parties and the other members of the parliament.
Several years have elapsed since the discourse on the new reforms of the electoral process has been initiated. The amount of finances invested in this regard also has been enormous. The issues arisen owing to the absence of the public representatives in the local government institutions also are endless. While the situation remains thus, all the Election Observing Organizations are of the unanimous opinion that the government’s act of refraining from commencing the local government elections, is a deliberate and strategic curtailment of the expectations of general public.
It causes a direct infringement of people’s sovereignty as asserted in the constitution and it also imposes a grave risk upon the development process of the country as well.
Provincial Council Elections: Just a few weeks are remaining for the end of the terms of election in the north-central, eastern and Sabaragamuva provincial councils. Accordingly, the Election Commission intends to announce the call for nominations in the first week of October. Meanwhile, the government has presented a cabinet paper highlighting three key points: introducing reforms to the electoral process to commence provincial council elections in alignment with the local government elections, increasing the representation of women up to 30% in the process of nominations an holding the elections for all provincial councils on the same day, are the three points referred to above. The election observations organizations in the country have been advocating for the implementation of measures set out by these points for a long time and have been urging every government that have come to power thus far. These proposals will be much more conducive for the creation of a people-friendly provincial council. Hence on behalf of all the Election Observing Organizations, we express our appreciative gratitude to the government for proposing them sans further delay. While thus saluting the government for bringing forth such measures, there’s a very significant fact that needs to be reiterated with this regard. The measures proposed by the aforementioned points, could not be implemented in such haste with such short notice. The government needs to understand that the voters, who have been confused by the continual prolongment of the local government elections, are observing such measures with doubt and disdain. The commencement of all the provincial council elections within one day, which is one of the points presented above, seems a very progressive step at a glance. Such a measure could save a considerable amount of money for the government and it could also help prevent the abuse of state resources which can be seen in relation to the concentration of unnecessary effort on political scams to attract voters in specific provinces. Yet however, such a decision could only be made at a series of formal discussions that could be held in the future concerning the electoral reforms that introduces a new electoral system. If such a decision is made so suddenly, the voters could expect a provincial council election to be held only on the 8th of October in the year 2019 along with the dissolution of Uva provincial council. Accordingly it is the voter to whom an injustice is caused as a result of this decision made by the government. It so happens because the right to exercise the power of people’s sovereignty is prolonged for several more years owing to the postponement of the elections.
If the government is honestly deliberating on commencing the provincial council elections on the same day for all the provinces, what needs to be done is dissolving all the provincial councils in parallel with the dissolution of the provincial council that is due to be dissolved most recently, and commencing the election on the same day in every provincial council. Or else, the government can proceed with the existing system and commence the election on the same day in accordance with a properly scheduled timetable in all the provinces after holding a discussion on the election laws and the reforms of the electoral system.
It was not recently that all the Election Observing Organizations emphasized the need to reform the prevailing electoral system. And scheduling all the provincial council elections on the same day was not the only proposal made by the Election Observing Organizations with this regard. Therefore, it is indeed disheartening to note that certain elements of the government are making claims to indicate that the said proposal has also been presented and hence endorsed by the Election Observing Organizations. Regardless of the severity of chrysies surrounding the masses, people in this country still do have faith on elections. Ever since the general election that was held in the year 1947 to elect a diverse legislature with a wider representation, it was through democratic elections that the transfer of power took place in this country. Hence it must be insistently stated that the prolongment of elections that is being continued while alluding to the technical issues, does not fulfill the expectations of the citizens of this country although such an act could be perceived as a means of achieving the narrow political gains. Moreover, it also violates the laws, traditions and treaties by which the government is abided as signatories in both national and international levels.
It should be reminded that government is a body of trusteeship that has been appointed as per the franchise of the citizens, in order to fulfill the wishes and expectations of the general public during a tenure specified by the constitution and not an arbitrary entity that holds an authority to seize the inalienable rights to which the citizens are entitled. And we strongly urge the government to commence the elections in due time in the proper order and thereby, take the appropriate measures with accountability to protect the rights of the citizens of this country.
On behalf of all the Election Observation Organizations:
Rohana Hettiarachchi – PEOPLE’S ACTION FOR FREE & FAIR ELECTIONS (PAFFREL)
Manjula Gajanayake – CENTRE FOR MONITORING ELECTION VIOLENCE (CMEV)
Keerthi Thennakoon – CAMPAIGN FOR FREE AND FAIR ELECTION (CAFFE)
Manori Kalugampitiya – MOVEMENT FOR FREE AND FAIR ELECTION (MFFE)
Asoka Obeyesekere – TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL SRI LANKA (TISL)
Daya Herath – MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS IN LANKA (MDL)