CMEV conducted its first evaluation of the ground situation during the election campaign for the Parliamentary General Election 2020. This observation mission was conducted two weeks since the official campaigns of the major political parties and candidates were launched. Four field teams together with field observers conducted these field evaluations in the Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Batticaloa, Digamadulla, Nuwara-Eliya and Monaragala electoral districts with the primary objectives of observing the commitment of political parties and candidates in following the health guidelines for conducting election campaigning amidst the COVID-19 outbreak; gauging public interest in participating in the elections; and developments in the ground campaigns. This report summarises the field findings.
July 19, 2020 – The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) welcomes the Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medical Services finally gazetting the COVID-19 Elections Regulations on July 17, 2020. This comes 38 days after the ‘Health Guidelines for Conducting the Elections amidst the COVID-19 Outbreak’ (‘the original guidelines’) were first issued by the Ministry on June 09, 2020 and only 19 days before Election Day. Moreover, CMEV expresses its concern that a number of changes have been made to the original guidelines from when they were first published to them being gazetted as regulations. In particular:
- the maximum number of persons permitted to attend a meeting has been increased from 100 to 300, and 500 if the party leader is attending
- the maximum number of persons permitted to engage in door-to-door canvassing has been increased from 3 to 5
- numerous provisions in the original guidelines have been omitted from the gazetted regulations altogether, including provisions relating to: checking and bundling of ballot papers at District Returning offices (section 2.5 of the original guidelines); polling booths (2.9); conducting election in the quarantine centres (2.10); receiving ballot boxes at counting centres (2.11); counting centre etiquette (2.12); results tabulation centres (2.13); transport of staff and materials (2.14); special instructions for Police officers (3); disinfection (4); waste disposal (5); after the election (6). Also missing is the Health Administrative Structure outlined in section 7 to implement the guidelines.
CMEV is alarmed by these changes given that the COVID-19 pandemic situation in the country appears to be worsening. Relaxing physical campaigning restrictions is likely to expose more voters to COVID-19 through increased campaigning activities. Relaxing the restrictions on meeting attendance depending on the attendance of party leaders seems especially illogical.
Taking all this into consideration, CMEV requests the Minister of Health and Indigenous Medical Services and the Director-General of Health Services to:
- Gazette the remaining provisions in the originally published guidelines, and
- Provide an explanation to the voting public about why the originally published guidelines have been relaxed in this manner, and what steps they will take if the relaxed guidelines contribute to the pandemic situation becoming worse
- Work with healthcare workers, particularly PHIs, to resolve existing issues and to promote the regulations and educate the public
CMEV is fully committed to the election being held in a free, fair and safe manner, however, it insists that the government and health authorities have a responsibility to guarantee the health of all voters in the process, beyond short-term partisan electoral gains.
CMEV National Coordinator Manjula Gajanayake appeared on ‘Our Plight’ on 12/07/2020 to discuss various aspects and challenges of the election process until so far.
CMEV wrote to the Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine and the Director General Health Services questioning the unusual delay in gazetting COVID19 Health Guidelines for conducting the Parliamentary General Election. CMEV seeks assurance that the delay is not for any political advantage.
This document first provides an overview of some of the interventions made by CMEV in this period. It also details media coverage of CMEV’s activities and interventions. Finally, the document provides a snapshot of activity on CMEV’s official website and Facebook pages, as indicators of CMEV’s online operations during this period.
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This short guide has been prepared by CMEV to offer election stakeholders and voters a brief overview of some key considerations for holding an election during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It provides an outline of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected elections worldwide; special health and safety measures taken for elections already held worldwide; and important factors to note in the SriLankan electoral context. It is hoped that these considerations are taken into account by all election stakeholders when decisions are made regarding the Parliamentary General Election in Sri Lanka.
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