By Lahiru Pothmulla and Kalani Kumarasinghe
In its final report on Sri Lanka’s November 16 presidential election, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) yesterday proposed that the the Election Commission be better empowered and to develop efficient mechanisms between the EC and Facebook to enhance transparency in campaigning.
EU EOM Chief Observer Marisa Matis presented the final report and the recommendations during a news briefing held in Colombo.
She said the Election Commission conducted the presidential election in a credible and professional manner and that the election overall was peaceful except for a few incidents of violence.
The EU EOM report made 23 recommendations for improving the framework for elections based on its observations with Ms. Matis enumerating six of them, which were identified as key recommendations.
She said formal cooperation between the election administration and the main social platforms should be fostered.
“The EC and Facebook should aim at developing more efficient mechanisms to enhance the transparency of campaigning on the platform and the respect for existing campaign rules, including, but not limited to, the electoral silence period. Social platforms, and in this case Facebook in particular, should grant equal treatment in terms of the assistance offered to election management bodies in all countries where they are avenues for political advertising and messaging,” Ms. Matis said.
She said unified campaign silence rules should be established for contestants, traditional and online and social media for paid-for campaigning, with clear, enforceable sanctions for non-compliance.
Some of the key areas addressed by the recommendations are the adoption of a law on campaign financing, enactment of legislation to strengthen the capacity and procedures of the Election Commission in line with its constitutional mandate, and revision of the Presidential Elections Act, including revision of campaign regulations to ensure equal campaign opportunities.
In terms of reforming the Presidential Election Act, Ms. Matis said it should be done to remove ambiguity, harmonise terminology with most recent laws and avoid potential for conflicting interpretations.
Commenting on campaign financing and the need to have a limit on funds, the EU said the campaign expenditures of the first main two candidates were way ahead of the rest of the candidates.
Adopting special measures as anticipated by the Constitution to remove barriers and promote equal participation of women in public and political life was another key recommendation.
Ms. Matis said an electoral process well managed by the EC and a peaceful campaign on the ground contrasted with divisive rhetoric, hate speech and disinformation in traditional and social media.
“The absence of a law on campaign finance and the biased election coverage by private and State media contributed to an uneven playing field and limited the opportunity for most candidates to convey their message,” she said.
Ms. Matis said enduring gaps and restrictions in legislation need to be addressed in line with Sri Lanka’s international commitments, including the adoption of effective measures to tackle the low level of women’s participation in politics.
The EU EOM was deployed to Sri Lanka from October 11 to December 12, 2019 with 30 long-term and 30 short-term observers from 27 EU member states, Norway and Switzerland.
Quote -- The absence of a law on campaign finance and the biased election coverage by private and State media contributed to an uneven playing field and limited the opportunity for most candidates to convey their message