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‘People are also against the postponing Elections’

24 August 2017 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshappriya in an interview with our sister paper ‘Deshaya’ said that his office had no intention of Gazetting any election before September 30th. He further said that his office will authorize the list of voters only on September 30th. Deshappriya further said that if any election is conducted following the specifications mentioned in the list of voters for 2016, as many as 300,000 voters who are under the age of 19 years and six months will be denied of voting rights.  The Elections Commissioner added that his office needed a further 75 days to prepare after the date for the Local Government Elections is announced. If this happens then we can conduct the elections in December. However he cautioned that the conducting of elections in a month like December could be hampered due to the presence of holidays and the conduct of the GCE Ordinary Level Examination. Following are excerpts of the interview. 

 

Q Is the Election Commission of Sri Lanka ready for elections?  
 Yes. We are counting the dates for the elections.  

Q On what system are you going to hold the Local Government Elections?  
The winners at the elections who contest under independent groups or political parties will be picked under the prevailing election law and will get to serve the council. The defeated candidates will be selected according to the preferential voting system. Those who have obtained more than 5% of the votes will be allocated slots in the wards of the council. The Election Commission of Sri Lanka will also oversee the appointment of ladies. The order list ensures that 1/4 of the party is represented by females. Sometimes, in one council that has only 20 wards, all the representatives might be ladies. But the laws specify that the appointment of males can’t exceed 15. This is the prevailing system.  

Elections can be held at the correct time. If somebody wants to receive confirmation regarding the period where elections will be held in 2019 or 2020, they can obtain a clear picture if they refer to the section of the constitution which specifies the term of office

Q Will this system change?  
We have informed to rectify the technical errors in the Local Government Act. Accordingly, the 5% barrier has been removed in addition to the rectifying of errors in the act, which has been submitted to the Parliament. In addition, a discussion is in progress within the representatives of parties with regard to new electoral system. We don’t know how far this will be successful. The present ratio is 75:25. But it has been proposed that the ration should be 60:40.  A complex system has been proposed to select those who get slots in the preferential wards. 

Q Minister Sudharshani Fernandupulle states that there is a problem in the system you have mentioned. If it’s so, they will oppose it. What is this problem?  
The Election Commission will ensure that there is a 25% representation by ladies according to the prevailing system. But there is a proposal to appoint 25% from the party as the ladies’ representatives. The Election Commission has no connection with this. An amendment has been made following discussions with both legislators and the parties to continue with this mixed election system. This system can create a situation where there are overhang seats. The only advantage in this system is obtaining a value for each vote. This mixed preferential system is used in the countries like New Zealand and Germany.  

Q Why doesn’t the Election Commission of Sri Lanka intervene in the activities of the Government which is not only changing the system of conducting elections but also delaying elections by submitting various drafts?
The Election Commission of Sri Lanka informed the Government to prevent elections being delayed further. It also told the Government to provide youth with the maximum opportunities and certify the representation of ladies without increasing the number of members in the council. We accept that Parliament can pass any legislation. The act of Local Government needs only a general majority. There is no need to obtain a 2/3 majority for this purpose. We could have conducted the elections according to the old system by cancelling the preferential system, even in 2015. But without conducting elections the Government is trying to establish a preferential system. But the people of the country don’t like it.  

The Election Commission of Sri Lanka informed the Government to prevent elections being delayed further. It also told the Government to provide youth with the maximum opportunities and certify the representation of ladies without increasing the number of members in the council

Q The tenure of three Provincial Councils will end in September. SLFP ministers have made a request to the President to conduct elections without postponing them. Can you hold this election and the Local Government Elections this year in keeping with how Minister Faiszer Musthapha has said?  
We are ready to conduct Local Government Elections in due time. Though the 20th amendment has been presented, it hasn’t been legalized yet. Therefore the Commission of Election is going to call for nominations to conduct the Provincial Council Elections. After 8 weeks from the date of nominations, the elections can be held. There is an inability to conduct elections at the beginning of December. Therefore elections might be held during the last week of November.  

Q It is alleged that some leaders of the political parties are saying that you as the Elections Commissioner is relating various stories to various parties without performing your duty properly.   
I haven’t told anything to any party other than making common statements. I haven’t spoken to any party. The Parliament has the power to change the law. The Judicial has the power to interpret the constitution. If the Supreme Court informs that a referendum is needed regarding the 20th Amendment, there might be a referendum. The Election Commission can’t do anything if the act is passed in the Parliament. The stance taken by the Election Commission is not to agree with the postponing of any election without the consent of the people. Any move taken to extend the period of parliament is against the principles of good governance and democracy. The citizens of the country are also against the postponing of elections. We have gone public with our views regarding this issue. We have also written to the political parties separately, regarding this issue.  

Conducting of elections is a sign of democracy. But it’s important to ensure that a healthy atmosphere prevails when elections are held

Q The Government has gazetted the 20th Amendment now. Local polls should be held within one day accordingly. Is it good or bad if the elections are held within a day?   
There is no problem if elections are held within a day. Any Provincial Council Election has so far never been held within a day.   

Q Is it good to postpone the elections until the end of the tenure of office of other Provincial Councils?
 It’s good to conduct the elections all together. But it is a problem if there are possibilities to extend the tenure of office without a proper date. If we had the power, we would have conducted the elections in 2013 in keeping with the preferential system. There have been no elections in 9 local bodies in Batticaloa for the past four years.  

The Election Commission will ensure that there is a 25% representation by ladies according to the prevailing system. But there is a proposal to appoint 25% from the party as the ladies’ representatives. The Election Commission has no connection with this

Q The leaders of the last regime state that they held enough elections during their period. Is that a good sign of a democratic state?
Conducting of elections is a sign of democracy. But it’s important to ensure that a healthy atmosphere prevails when elections are held. We as the Election Commission of Sri Lanka aren’t going to respond to statements issued from political platforms by the various political parties.   

Q What is this problem that has surfaced regarding the date to conduct the Presidential Elections?  
There is no such problem. Elections can be held at the correct time. If somebody wants to receive confirmation regarding the period where elections will be held in 2019 or 2020, they can obtain a clear picture if they refer to the section of the constitution which specifies the term of office. It isn’t the duty of the Election Commission to educate people regarding the law and the constitution. What we can say is that regardless whether the period is 5 or 6 years, the Presidential Elections won’t be held before 2021. It must be mentioned that polling must take place one month before the official term of office ends. 

Any move taken to extend the period of parliament is against the principles of good governance and democracy. The citizens of the country are also against the postponing of elections. We have gone public with our views regarding this issue

Q Some leaders allege that you are keen on implementing the 18th Amendment to the Constitution rather than conducting elections. What’s your response?  
A fair atmosphere must prevail to conduct elections. We are working to make the voters aware of democracy. We are keen not only on the 18 Amendment to the Constitution. It’s important to conduct elections provided we can ensure that the authority of law prevails and voters can cast their votes in an environment where there is democracy. People shouldn’t demolish offices of other parties. Election laws shouldn’t be violated. People also shouldn’t engage in 
illegal activities.   

The Judicial has the power to interpret the constitution. If the Supreme Court informs that a referendum is needed regarding the 20th Amendment, there might be a referendum. The Election Commission can’t do anything if the act is passed in the Parliament

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