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Election laws dumped in western and southern PC election campaigns Brazen foul play likely to tip t

26 February 2014 05:26 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


By Lakna Paranamanna

When issuing the latest figures on complaints received on election law violations and incidents of violence, the Elections Secretariat yesterday expressed concern over the marked increase in the misuse of state property and resources by candidates contesting the upcoming provincial polls for their campaigning activities.

Although a few years ago the nature of offences committed by candidates and their supporters were incidents of election violence - mostly perpetrated by ruling party candidates against the opposition - the tables have now turned with the misuse of state property and involvement of public sector officials in electioneering reaching the top of the complaints lists.

The statistics vary. The official figure issued by the Elections Secretariat as of Tuesday (18) had listed a total of 189 election law violations as opposed to four incidents of violence. An independent election monitoring body – People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) state they have received 67 complaints so far. Meanwhile, the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) states that nearly 98% of the complaints they have received to date are concerning election law violations, which amounts to a total of 156 complaints.

What has triggered the sudden increase of offences pertaining to election laws of the country? Has the incidence of election violence actually dropped? What are the mechanisms available to check those involved with blatant violations of election laws?

No drastic increase in election law
violations - PAFFREL

PAFFREL Executive Director, Rohana Hettiarachchi speaking to the Daily Mirror said their main concern is the increasing misuse of government resources and property. “We receive a significant number of complaints on the misuse of government property as well as on the involvement of state sector officials in electioneering. Most complaints have been concerning teachers, principals and grama niladharis who are engaged in election campaigning activities,” he said.

However, he says they have not observed a drastic increase in election law violations or election violence in either province. “However, the conduct of several candidates particularly from the UPFA in the Hambanthota District has been disturbing. Moreover, there is the issue of illegal posters and cutouts rampantly carried out, but those are offences committed at every election. We were not satisfied with police action concerning illegal propaganda activities earlier but they seem to be effectively responding to such illegalities presently,” he said.

However, he adds that having to deal with the violations perpetrated by some 3000 candidates with equal attention is also quite tough. “We have observed that in many locations cutouts are displayed in locations that are almost unreachable. In such instances, immediate action might not be possible. But just like in previous elections these activities will affect election results.”

Obligation of voters
Hettiarachchi stresses on the importance of voters assuming their obligation to act as regulators that could influence candidates refraining from committing election law violations.

“It is the unfortunate situation in this country that the system is structured in such a way that those who commit the most number of election law violations are the very candidates who would be voted into power. Instead of rejecting them, the majority tend to cheer the perpetrators on. . .”

He stressed on the importance of creating a shift in the status quo. “Voters should be more aware and involved with monitoring candidates’ conduct; adherence of candidates to election laws, their policies and mandates. It is important for voters to question the candidates and make an informed decision when choosing who to cast their vote without being enslaved to assurances of jobs, school admissions or any other benefit upon supporting candidates who don’t respect the law of the country,” Hettiarachchi said while adding that monitoring should continue even after they are elected into power.  

The system is in place
Although the Elections Secretariat might be restricted through the present provisions to take action against candidates who commit violations of election laws, Hettiarachchi says they are quite certain the election processes will be free and fair.

“There are particular offences such as vote-buying which seems to be commonly taking place now. But, the elections commissioner does not have the power to take action against candidates adopting such methods. However, with concern to the electoral process, an effective system is in place. Of course we can’t guarantee it as 100%. With  the available information we can expect the processes to be free of external interventions. We are satisfied with the way the Elections Secretariat is handling the challenges,” he added.

However, the election monitoring body – Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) Executive Director Ranjith Keerthi Tennakoon contradicts PAFFREL’s assessment of the situation regarding election law violations.

“Since January 16 up to now, a total of 217 complaints have been recorded. This is a significant hike to a number usually recorded only closer to election dates,” he said.

According to CaFFE reports, 43% of complaints received amounting to 68 are on the misuse of public property, use of state employees for electioneering and appointments and transfers during election periods. During the past few weeks, CaFFE in fact wrote to the elections commissioner (as well as the Speaker of the House on one occasion), urging immediate attention on the misuse of state resources which included the misappropriation of Transport Ministry vehicles and the use of stamps under the free postal services enjoyed by MPs to circulate election propaganda material.

“The figures reflect the level of the scale of state property exploitation carried out  by ruling party candidates in their election campaigns. Even very senior state sector officials are publicly involving themselves in electioneering activities that in turn has sent waves of encouragement in such unethical and illegal actions across state sector departments in the provinces.”

Tennakoon adds that it also reflects the extreme politicisation of the state sector. “What is worse is that most officials who commit these offences are allowed to go scot-free. This is a very disturbing trend.”

Violence under-reported?
He also expressed concern over a possible under-reporting tendency pertaining to incidents of violence that might have resulted in the present decrease in complaints on election violence.

“The majority of election violence is perpetrated by and against the same party members. The victims have developed a tendency to cover up the identities of the perpetrators in order to settle their differences behind the public eye through the intervention of senior party members,” he said, while adding that the level of division observed among members of the same party, has never been witnessed at previous elections.

Tennakoon blames the existing power disparity between the ruling party and the opposition for the development of intra-party conflicts. “Intra-party conflicts are reflections of the battle for preferential votes. The unequal political strength has shifted the attention of candidates from securing votes for a party they represent to securing a obsessively high number of preferential votes,” he added.

He went on to state that it is unfortunate to observe that despite awareness meetings, advices and warnings given to candidates, the blatant continuation  of  election regulations continues.

Tennakoon also expressed discontent over police responses towards complaints. “Recently the police had stated they have not received many complaints citing only two digit figures as the total amount of complaints they have received. This  is quite puzzling since we ourselves have lodged several complaints. However, it might be the reflection of the people’s loss of faith in the law enforcement authorities in executing justice on the complaints they make,” he added.

Increase in misuse of state property – Elections Dept

“Our main concern is to prevent the exploitation of public property for election purposes. However, it is important that the public too assists our cause by being vigilant and lodging complaints if and when they observe illegal election activities. It is only if we receive a complaint that we would have the mandate to act upon it,” Elections Secretariat Chief Coordinating Officer (Elections Complaints Investigation Centre) said.
The source of the complaint is unimportant, the official said, adding that if they receive a complaint they ensure they leave no stones unturned.
Commenting on the police responses to the complaints made on election law violations, the official said, “Issues might have arisen with the degree of attention paid to the incident. But in most cases the police have taken adequate action. Even with regard to heads of authorities, regulations are in place to take action against those who violate regulations by engaging in electioneering. As department heads they are responsible for their subordinates, resources and property falling under their purview,” he added.

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