17 December 2018
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"Polls will be free and fair"

mahinda deshapriaWith the two main political parties, UNP and the SLFP ready for a do or die battle to secure power in Parliament on August 17, Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya, in an interview with the Sunday Observer said his office will do whatever possible to ensure the upcoming parliamentary polls ara free and fair and violence-free.

He said the Elections Department machinery will swing into full operation nominations close on July 13, to bring down illegal hoardings and cutouts, and punish offenders. According to him the police has been issued firm orders to arrest and put behind bars those who violate election laws.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: There is speculation by different parties including a section of the election monitors that the contesting parties may attempt to rig the election, given that the two main political parties in the country the SLFP and the UNP enjoy ruling powers and are desperate to form the next government?

Nothing will happen. Our officers will make sure that there is no room for election malpractices. The media, the civil society and the general public will take up positions to prevent any such misdeed. They are the actual guardians of the democracy.

Q: What about the violence, the general public may not be able to stand up against those.

That will be looked after by the police. The party leaders and politicians must educate their supporters to ensure that they will refrain from any action that may result in unleashing violence.

Already we have two cases reported, in Weligama and Mahiyangana. I have issued instructions to the IGP, with regard to all the violations of election law including the processions and the rallies. The police have been asked to get video footage and file cases against the offenders before the election. For those accused of serious violations, police will ensure the suspects will be remanded without bail.

Besides, all Ministers including the Cabinet Ministers must comply with our code of conduct.

Q: During the past election, you complained of reluctance by police to remove the illegal hoardings and cutouts. Have you taken any action to address this issue?

It has been only days since the election was announced. The machinery of the election department will swing into full action after the nominations. Still we have not given any strict instructions since we are yet to know who the candidates are. We will swing into action after July 13.

Q: The much clamoured 19th Amendment is now in force. Has it given the necessary reinforcements to ensure a free and fair poll sans violence and will you be able to exercise all the powers in the 19-A during the upcoming election?

I am indeed going to exercise all the powers vested in my office under the 19th Amendment. But I cannot give a 100 percent assurance or say that I am in a better position to perform my duties this time than the past Presidential election because the 19th Amendment is in place now. For instance we don’t have rules and regulations to deal with the private media during an election.

To address this issue the Human Rights Commission will arrange a committee with representatives of private media institutions, especially from the electronic media, to discuss a voluntary mechanism to regulate their election coverage. Private media had been extremely supportive right throughout, and I think they will extend the same cooperation in this instance as well.

Having said that, along with the election department staff, I will do my utmost to ensure the 2015 parliamentary polls will be independent and free and fair.

Q: What new powers will be useful in the forthcoming election?

We can file cases in the High Court against any public official or a staff member of a corporation or a government owned company, if they show reluctance to support or comply with election regulations. The punishment is a fine not exceeding Rs 100,000 and imprisonment for up to three years.

Even in the past election, the election staff and most of the public officers complied with our rules and regulations with a few exceptions.

After the 19-A some parts of the 18-A were removed. The Election Commission was earlier allowed to get involved in only the matters directly related to the election. That clause has now been removed giving a free hand to the commissioner to act against any violation.

Q: What is your stand on independent candidates?

We are issuing fresh decree on proxy independent candidates and proxy parties. It will not obstruct genuine independent candidates and parties from contesting the election but there will be strict controls to prevent proxy candidates or proxy parties who are contesting to promote other parties or candidates. Such things will not be entertained during this election. We will take action to remove their campaign offices.

Q: During the past presidential election, high incidents of violence were reported. Have you any special security arrangement for such vulnerable places?

Yes. We will be deploying the STF to those areas and additional election officers to keep the situation under control.

By Sunday, we will open 25 district complaint centres that will be operational for 18 hours a day. And after July 30, special divisional complaint centres will be opened in vulnerable areas. This is in addition to the 24 hour complaint centre at the Elections Department.

Q:Will you be deploying the military forces on election duty?

Only the police and the STF will be deployed to maintain law and order during election time but military and Air Force assistance will be sought to transport ballot boxes and the staff to the islets in the northern and eastern parts of the country. If reinforcements are needed from the military to control a situation, the IGP must first seek my permission.

Q: Lately, Sri Lanka seems to be gradually deviating from a culture of violent elections. Many feel you should claim credit for that.

I don’t agree. Credit must go to all - election officers, police and the civil society and media who took a leading role in educating the people and the parties. And above all the general public.

Q: You retired from the post of Elections Commissioner recently after reaching 60 years, but until the Independent Election Commission (IEC) is set up you are required to hold office. Are there any provisions in the 19-A for you to continue as the head of IEC?

That is up to the Constitutional Council and the people of this country. I am not worried about that. I am happy about what I have gained and what I have done.
Courtesy - http://www.theindependent.lk/

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