My time is up – Mahinda Deshapriya

4 August 2020 12:05 am - 7     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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  • We estimated the election would cost over Rs. 7.5 billion. But now we saw it is close to Rs.10 billion. We hope we can limit it to that. That is a colossal amount. We need to try and reduce costs. But we needed face masks and sanitizers. We need to sanitize voters three times at polling booths
  • We have requested all contesting political parties and independent groups to send two agents each to the receiving centres to observe and confirm the arrival of the ballot boxes and they will remain in the receiving centres overnight 
  • We have requested all contesting political parties and independent groups to send two agents each to the receiving centres to observe and confirm the arrival of the ballot boxes and they will remain in the receiving centres overnight together with our staff, Police officers and others 
  • We are monitoring and we will request social media users not to violate election laws. But we have no legal authority to prevent them from posting anything on social media. No one holds control over social media

 

With just hours to go before the 2020 Parliamentary Election, Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya spoke to the Daily Mirror online on the preparations for the polls, concerns and his future plans  


Excerpts of the interview: 


Q Take us through the preparations made for the Parliamentary Election...


We have assigned the health sector staff for each polling booth. There will be at least one officer for each polling booth. We will be allocating health staff to the counting centres to monitor the counting agents and ensure they don’t have any symptoms of the coronavirus.   


We are happy with the arrangements. Credit must go to the District teams, Government Agents and our Additional Commissioner and others. We only gave the instructions while the implementation was by the officers on the ground. Its not just the Election Commission staff but the entire public sector is involved.  

 

  • EC Chairman prepares for his last poll 
  • Likely to step down in September  
  • Calls for enactment of proposed laws


QThere had been concerns that voters in quarantine may not be able to vote...


Yes, we had proposed advanced voting and mobile booths for the people in quarantine but that had to be scrapped. There were legal barriers.  The Commission felt this would be the first step to move forward but we received some objections from the public. They questioned why give only people in quarantine special treatment and not others.  So we sought legal advise and decided to scrap the move. 


Finally, we decided that the voters in home quarantine will visit the polling booths on the day of the election and vote between 4pm and 5pm. They can come only with their family members and not mix with others. They will be given a special cubicle. Voters who have completed 14 days mandatory quarantine must be cleared by the Ministry of Health or Public Health Inspectors to be able to vote. 

 

Even voters who have completed 14 days mandatory quarantine process must be cleared by the Ministry of Health or Public Health Inspectors to be able to vote as ordinary voters


QThe cost of this election has increased as a result of coronavirus. How much of an increase have we seen so far?


We estimated the election would cost over Rs. 7.5 billion. But now we saw it is close to Rs.10 billion. We hope we can limit it to that. That is a colossal amount. We need to try and reduce costs. But we needed face masks and sanitizers. We need to sanitize voters three times at polling booths. So we needed 15ml of sanitizing liquid for that.  


QBased on the process because of coronavirus, how longer does it take for one voter to cast his/her vote?


The ballot paper for this election is also quite lengthy. There are 42 political parties and independent groups contesting in Colombo. In Ampara there are 54. So anyway it would take time with so many parties and groups in the ballot paper. And then we have the health guidelines. In one hour, we believe 100 voters would be able to cast their votes. Under normal circumstances, it is 120. That is why we have extended the time of the polling by an hour. However, we feel by 3.00pm, most voters would have cast their votes.  


Q Could you elaborate the counting process?


This is the first time in Sri Lanka, we will commence the counting of votes the next day. Normally we start counting after a maximum of five hours, but this time it will be after more than 15 hours. Once the voting comes to an end, we will store the ballot boxes inside the respective counting centres behind locked doors. The counting will begin on the next day. We have decided to do that because our staff members would work for over 10 hours and some of the same staff members would be involved in counting as well. Some would be there from the previous day and they would have worked continually for more than 36 hours. We feel if they become exhausted, virus could enter their system and make them ill. So the best solution for us, is to start counting the next day. Also, it gives them a fresh start. Counting at night is actually an issue and the efficiency would also become zero. So the best thing is to commence the next day (August 6) and complete the process on that day itself.  

 

 We have submitted proposals to Parliament more than five times. Yet they have not been enacted. The proposals include a ceiling on expenditure by candidates, rules for campaign financing, income and expenditure etc. We hope by the next Parliamentary election in 2025, these proposals would be made a law


QMost importantly, how about the security arrangement for the ballot boxes overnight?


That’s a good question. The ballot papers are brought to the receiving centres along with the signed documents of the staff and will be pasted on the box. That is one security measure. No one will be allowed to open the box and make any change.   


In the past, the ballot boxes arrive at the counting centres and agents were there to begin counting. This time the ballot boxes will be kept inside large cardboard cartons and sealed overnight. We have requested all contesting political parties and independent groups to send two agents each to the receiving centres to observe and confirm the arrival of the ballot boxes and they will remain in the receiving centres overnight together with our staff, Police officers and others who will be authorized to stay. Meanwhile, no one will be allowed to remain at the counting centres till the following day. So there will not be any tampering with the ballots papers and boxes.  


Q Isn’t this the first election we are not having foreign observers?


No, even at some elections in the past, there were instances where we haven’t had foreign election observers. But usually at Parliamentary elections, we used to have foreign observers. Some Asian election observers were expected to be deployed using young volunteers who are here. We will have local monitoring groups as well.  
Anyway, political parties are sending their agents and our staff will also be there, and hence, there is no concern. Also, the journalists will be around as well. Unlike in the olden days, everyone has a smart phone nowadays and nothing can escape that easily. Information is shared on social media platforms such as Facebook, Viber, Whats app and Twitter.  


QTalking about social media platforms, at the last election there were concerns that social media was misused, especially during the ‘silent period’. Is the Commission monitoring them?


Yes, we are monitoring and we will request social media users not to violate election laws. But we have no legal authority to prevent them from posting anything on social media. No one holds control over social media. The only way is to suspend social media, then people will use VPN to circumvent the ban. So, administrators of the social media pages should respect the election regulations as how they respect their religions. We have made appeals. But there is no law.  


QSome of the mainstream media have also violated election laws at past elections...


Mainstream electronic media is using frequencies which belong to the public. So we have requested the electronic media not to misuse the frequencies. But we cannot take action against them.  


QBut then isn’t the Commission weak if you cannot take action against those who violate your guidelines?


Do you think punishment is the solution? We have submitted proposals to Parliament more than five times. Yet they have not been enacted. The proposals include a ceiling on expenditure by candidates, rules for campaign financing, income and expenditure etc. We hope by the next Parliamentary election in 2025, these proposals would be made a law.  


QTill when are you hoping to hold onto office?


The Commission needs to step down by November 13, 2020. Personally, I have certain matters which I need to look into. So I hope to step down by September 15. I have been involved in the government services since 1977. In 1983, I joined the Election Department. I feel it’s more than enough.   

 

  

  Comments - 7

  • Nimal Tuesday, 04 August 2020 04:23 PM

    Thank you sir for the entertainment we had. Most jovial MACO free of "aathathiya" we had in the history of Sri Lanka.

    vithura Tuesday, 04 August 2020 05:04 PM

    His time was up long ago, he had overstayed his welcome! Relief at last, 'Auf Weidersehen'

    Willy Wednesday, 05 August 2020 02:39 PM

    what an uncivilized and ungrateful wretch you are. He has done an excellent job.

    Dharmasena De Silva Tuesday, 04 August 2020 06:20 PM

    Thanks Mako for the excellent job well done with challenges from all corners. You have done it! Happy retirement !

    ajith77 Thursday, 06 August 2020 11:24 AM

    Great Personalty to tame uncivilized poticos Weldone ! have a nice retirement

    RP Friday, 07 August 2020 08:25 AM

    Thank you Sir for a job well done even with this Covid19 pandemic .All the best to you!

    Kanday Friday, 07 August 2020 01:49 PM

    Superb job. Actually would be fantastic for him to stay on.


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