Those who withdraw should be heavily fined Mahinda Deshapriya

7 November 2019 12:59 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A A A

Elections Commission (EC) Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya speaks to Daily Mirror on preparations for Sri Lanka’s 8th presidential election, and how voters should cast their ballot this time around.

Excerpts:

  • Difficulty handling long ballot papers
  • Official observers to monitor polling
  • Cardboard ballot boxes replace wooden ones

Q How are ongoing preparations for the November 16 presidential elections? 

We will complete logistical arrangements for the election well ahead of time. In small electoral districts with less than one million voters, we can complete work well ahead so that polling can be conducted even on November 13. This means we will be in a position to deliver ballot boxes to the respective polling stations in such districts even by November 12. Colombo, Gampaha, Kandy and Kurunegala are the biggest electoral districts in the country. Besides, there are medium-sized districts like Galle, Matara and Kalutara. We will summon the authorities of all these districts for conducting the polls well ahead of polling day on November 16.

Q What impediments do you face this time around?

There are 35 contestants. That is the biggest challenge. Besides, two popular private TV channels are acting in an extremely biased manner in support of one chosen candidate. This has made it difficult for the EC to control even the state media. If this trend is not arrested forthwith, only media owners will have the discretion to direct public opinion, no matter what. This is my view as the EC Chairman.

Q Media bias is a global phenomenon. It happens in other countries too. What mechanisms do you have to control it? 

Unlike in other countries, Sri Lankan people believe what they hear and see. They believe in selective hearing and seeing. These TV channels conduct their morning programmes on newspaper reports with adverse comments against the rival of their favourite candidate. In the news bulletins, they allocate 60 percent of airtime to cover events related to their chosen candidate. When they allocate 30 percent of airtime to the other candidate, half of it is used to portray him in a negative light.

Q What is your opinion of the State Media? 

The State media is equally bad. I cannot comment more on it. We have laws in this regard. But there is no mechanism laid down to take action. The conduct of social media is even worse. They even use my photo to promote the candidates concerned.

  • There are 35 contestants. That is the biggest challenge. Besides, two popular private TV channels are acting in an extremely biased manner in support of one chosen candidate
  • We will invite an official observer group this time. They are mainly from South Asian countries, Australia and South Africa. There will be a dozen of members in it. Commonwealth observers will also come
  • We need the cooperation of all to conduct a free and fair election. We chose November 16 as the polling day because it is the international day of tolerance and non-violence

Q There is some confusion among voters about casting their second preference. How would you explain it? 

There is nothing confusing. If a voter wants to cast his/her ballot, he/she can simply mark a cross (X) as usual in the box in front of the name and symbol of their preferred candidate. Or else, can just write the number one (1) in front of the name and symbol of his/her candidate of choice. If any voter wants to mark preferences, the voter can mark number one (1), two (2) and three (3) in front the names and symbols of candidates, according to their order of preference. They can also mark number one (1) and two (2) if they do not want to mark the third preference. But if they intend to vote for one candidate only, they can mark the numerical number one (1) or draw a cross mark (X) only. If a voter draws the cross mark (X), they should not write any numerical numbers on their ballot paper to indicate a second or third preference. If they intend to vote for one candidate, the best way is to mark the numerical number one (1) or to put a cross mark (X). Otherwise, the cross mark is not considered an equivalent to the number one.

Altogether, there are four ways of one’s casting ballot. That is drawing a cross mark only (X), writing the numerical number one (1) only, writing the numerical one and two (1,2) and the numerical one, two or three (1,2,3) in front of the chosen candidates.

Q Does this mean that if a voter wants to cast their ballot for one candidate, they can just mark a cross only?

Yes, that is true. The numbers can be used only if someone wants to mark their preferences. There is a social media campaign claiming that I asked voters to mark only the cross in front of a particular candidate. Such conduct by the social and mainstream media is unbecoming in any civilized society.

Q How do you intend to control this at future elections? 

It cannot be controlled. Things will happen according to the whims of moneyed people in the future.

Q There are reports that some candidates might withdraw from the presidential race. What is your view on this? 

Such candidates should be subjected to a heavy fine. We are overburdened with additional work triggered by them joining the fray. We have a lengthened ballot paper because of the large number of contestants. It is difficult to handle such lengthy ballot papers. We don’t have sufficient ballot boxes either. We had to introduce fresh cardboard ballot boxes. We won’t use the wooden ballot boxes this time. We will use only cardboard boxes.

Q But aren’t cardboard ballot boxes susceptible to damage? 

We are facing difficulties due to the heavy rains. The boxes won’t be damaged by a few raindrops. We will wrap them in polythene covers when being transported.

Q What about the deployment of election observers? 

We will invite an official observer group this time. They are mainly from South Asian countries, Australia and South Africa. There will be a dozen members in it. Commonwealth observers will also come. No one will be allowed to take pictures and videos or make phone calls at polling booths or counting centres, though.

Q During postal voting, there was a tendency of taking selfies with marked ballot papers. What is your view on this? 

We have ordered to penalize all public servants involved in such acts. There were past instances in which voters did this under duress. At the 2009 western provincial council elections, two strong-arm men had distributed phones among some voters to take photos of their marked ballot papers. They had been promised these phones as gifts when they produced their photos. Otherwise, they had been threatened with assault. We seized 40 such hand-phones at polling stations in the Colombo Central electorate. It can happen even now. That is why we banned taking photos. In our view, posing for a selfie with a marked ballot paper is as dangerous as doing so on a rail track with a moving train in the background. It is like taking a selfie with a charging elephant behind.

Q This is the first national election after the establishment of the Election Commission. How has that been? 

It is better to have the Commission. Then one official cannot call the shots all the time.

Q There are reports that some expatriate Sri Lankans would return for voting this time? 

It happened last time as well. It is better if they come. But if they depart again for five years after voting, that won’t be good. In my opinion, expatriate Sri Lankans who don’t return at least once every two years should not be given voting rights.

Q What new election laws have you been contemplating? 

Voting rights should be guaranteed for Sri Lankans abroad. Also, we should facilitate voting outside polling stations. At the moment this facility has been granted to displaced people. We know certain people live outside their electorates due to work and other commitments. This is seen in the health sector. We need to facilitate them in voting.

Q What about election violence this time? 

We noticed cases of ransacking campaign offices. This is triggered by the drunkenness of party supporters after attending election rallies. On the way back they damage rival campaign or party offices. They lack empathy.

Q What is your message to the parties in the fray? 

We need the cooperation of all to conduct a free and fair election. We chose November 16 as the polling day because it is the international day of tolerance and non-violence.


Voting explained

There is nothing confusing. If a voter wants to cast his/her ballot, he/she can simply mark a cross (X) as usual in the box in front of the name and symbol of their preferred candidate. Or else, can just write the number one (1) in front of the name and symbol of his/her candidate of choice. If any voter wants to mark preferences, the voter can mark number one (1), two (2) and three (3) in front the names and symbols of candidates, according to their order of preference. They can also mark number one (1) and two (2) if they do not want to mark the third preference. But if they intend to vote for one candidate only, they can mark the numerical number one (1) or draw a cross mark (X) only. If a voter draws the cross mark (X), they should not write any numerical numbers on their ballot paper to indicate a second or third preference. If they intend to vote for one candidate, the best way is to mark the numerical number one (1) or to put a cross mark (X). Otherwise, the cross mark is not considered an equivalent to the number one. 

Altogether, there are four ways of one’s casting ballot. That is drawing a cross mark only (X), writing the numerical number one (1) only, writing the numerical one and two (1,2) and the numerical one, two or three (1,2,3) in front of the chosen candidates.

 

  Comments - 0


Add comment

Comments will be edited (grammar, spelling and slang) and authorized at the discretion of Daily Mirror online. The website also has the right not to publish selected comments.

Reply To:

Name - Reply Comment


Batti University should be absorbed to national university system: President

The Batticaloa University should be absorbed to the national university syste

Alibaba’s Daraz and Dialog Axiata Sign a Strategic Partnership to Grow Digital Commerce in Sri Lanka

Dialog Axiata Group and Daraz Sri Lanka have entered into a strategic partne

Sri Lanka, China agree to renegotiate H’tota Port deal

Sri Lanka and China agreed yesterday to renegotiate the Hambantota Port proje

National security not compromised by “Maveerar Nal” commemorations

Despite various groups having celebrated the LTTE’s “Maveerar Nal” (Gre