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Election laws need revision - EC

10 March 2015 04:17 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The governance of consensus, prevailing at the moment, hit a snag when the mainstream parties voiced different opinions on the proposal for the enactment of electoral reforms together with constitutional amendments as   part of a simultaneous process.  The topic became even more topical after President Maitripala Sirisena announced that electoral reforms would be enacted alongside constitutional reforms. 

In the light of such developments, also felt is the need to iron out loopholes in the prevailing election laws to ensure free and fair elections in future.

 Elections Commissioner Mahinda Desapriya pushes for the revision of the present election laws for this purpose.

Driven by his experience in dealing with election law violations and various forms of malpractices, Mr. Desapriya articulated his position that the present laws governing the electoral system should be subjected to an overhaul revision    to address current requirements.

In his opinion, the setting up of an Independent Election Commission cannot serve the intended purpose unless the present laws are amended or revised. In particular, he said strong laws were needed to contain the misappropriation of state properties, the entertainment of voters with mass feeds and the putting up of posters which are scurrilous in nature. The prevailing laws do not have enough teeth     to take action regarding such posters. There are posters which do not mention from where they are printed. Various scurrilous   posters and pamphlets are printed and put up. There are loopholes in the system that tightens our hands in taking action,” he said. 

The election authorities have to grapple with similar loopholes in the legal system when acting against the offer of various inducements to voters.     
“We can take action when such items, meant for free distribution among voters as inducements, remain stored with a government institution. When they are distributed, then it amounts to a bribery act. It is a long and complicated process. A smooth and clear process is required in containing such activities having a bearing on the election process,” he said.

In this manner, he highlighted the need to sort out complications in the system so that the law can be applied across the board as a deterrent for various malpractices.     Actually, the Commissioner said, his officials were having regular meetings with the participation of political party representatives and all others concerned in this regard.



Postal Voting for a wider sector 
Besides, the Elections Commissioner has proposed   to allow postal voting for employees of different categories of the public service such as the health sector. 

“In the health sector, we want to give postal voting rights to employees assigned for duty on polling day. We spend Rs.400 for a postal vote. If there are 200,000 employees in the health sector, it will amount to a huge cost. Therefore, we will give postal voting rights to those slated to be engaged in most essential services. We propose postal voting rights for employees of the Airport, the harbours, the expressways and media institutions all in this manner,” he said.  Likewise, he said his Department proposed to give postal voting rights to the national level activists of political parties. “For example, the members nominated as authorised agents of political    parties cannot cast their ballots on the day of polling    because they are assigned for duties away from their polling stations. Then, they should be given postal voting facilities,” he said.

However, Mr. Desapriya said his Department would not prescribe formulas for reforming the present electoral system as it was outside its   scope. Yet, he said he would make his recommendations and observations in case he was consulted on matters connected.

“Other than that, the Election Department cannot recommend   its own formula or methodology for reforming the electoral system,” he said. Despite all that, he said various stakeholders had proposed different formulas for electoral reforms at the moment.

Among them, the Parliamentary Select Committee headed by Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) leader Dinesh Gunawardane has proposed a mix of the First Past the Post (FPP) System and the Proportional Representation System (PR). If this system is enacted, 140 MPs will be elected from the FPP,   70 from the PR and 15 from the National List. As an alternative to it, another set of MPs from the same select committee has worked out a different report proposing 110 each from the FPP and the PR systems, and five from the National List. That report has actually been evolved by the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC).

In addition to these two mix systems, a proposal has been submitted totally endorsing the present PR system. Yet, according to the Commissioner, there is another formula for the total abolition of the PR system to be replaced by the FPP in full.

Also proposed is the PR system without preferential voting.
Though there are different opinions on the electoral system, no such opinion   has been presented either on the increase or the reduction of the current number of 225 seats in Parliament. “According to the seating arrangements in the chamber of Parliament, only seven more can be increased if needed,” he said. The Commissioner noted Sri Lankans were well literate about the present electoral system though it is complex in nature.

Asked about the delimitation of electorates in the event of the enactment of fresh electoral reforms, he said the criteria for delimitation would depend on the electoral system proposed only. “There is no need for delimitation of electorates if the present system persists. If there is any reservation of seats under FPP, delimitation is required. Otherwise, I cannot prescribe any formula for electoral reforms. My responsibility is to conduct elections under whatever system available or enacted,” he said.

The electorates have been delimitated in the past system. In 1959, delimitation was done by increasing the number of electorates from 95 to 145. For that exercise, four months was spent. Next, the electorates were   delimitated in 1974. The process had taken place between August 9, and May 25 of 1976. 

Again, the electorates were delimitated from November 29,1978 to  January 12 , 1981.  
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