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The Elections Chief grapples with legal lacunas

20 August 2014 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


After the declaration of the Uva Provincial Council election, the legal lacunas, in the present law, have started confronting the Elections Department in its attempt to ensure a free and fair election. Election officials based in the Uva Province remain dejected since they believe that no proper action is taken   regarding the nomination day incident in which the Assistant Elections Commissioner for Nuwara-Eliya Namal Talangama was threatened by ruling party candidate Anura Vidanagamage.

"The identification of areas where changes are needed to the election laws, the introduction of advanced voting system,"

Mr. Talangama met with this debacle when he tried to stop an unlawful vehicular procession after the nominations were closed on August 5.  Starting with this incident, the Elections Department has to grapple with different  forms of violations. It has to muster its fullest strength to cope up with many such cases being reported from the electoral districts of Badulla and Monaragala.

Unlawful cut-outs and posters, display of stickers on passenger transport buses   bearing the names, symbols and preferential numbers of candidates in the fray, and drawing of such party symbols on highways and    are the commonly found violations of the election law.  Against this backdrop, the Elections Office is constrained, both in terms of finances and personnel, to contain the flouting of the election law. Above all, the Elections Commissioner’s hands are legally tightened in taking action against errant candidates or parties. In fact, the Elections Commissioner is even unable to make a public statement regarding candidates who breach the election law.  Therefore, the Commissioner and his officials, more than anyone else, feel the necessity to strengthen the existing law giving it more teeth to act upon.

As a step in this direction, Commissioner Mahinda Desapriya sought to engage with the major political parties. Nonetheless, he had one impediment. The conference rooms of the Election Department are under repairs at the moment. Hence, it is unable for him to convene meeting at his office at the moment. Therefore, he, along with his officials, opted for the next best thing - to interact with the parties   at places convenient to them.

The first such meeting was conducted with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the parties politically aligned with it.
The identification of areas where changes are needed to the election laws, the introduction of advanced voting system,  and the need to introduce electronic voting were among subject matters discussed   with SLFP and its allies  at a meeting conducted in the parliamentary complex. SLFP General Secretary Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena and United Freedom People’s Alliance (UPFA) Secretary Environment and Renewable Energy Minister Susil Premajayantha participated in this meeting.

Here, the Commissioner stressed the need for an advanced voting system to facilitate those employees, not eligible for postal voting, to cast their ballots. There are thousands of employees    engaged in essential services such as health. But, they are not entitled to apply for postal voting   . Only employees of government ministries and departments, and school teachers can apply for it. Therefore, the Elections Department wants a separate mechanism to ensure the voting rights of employees of other sectors.
Besides, he asked for the help of political parties to introduce a law that would enablespersons confined to wheelchairs to cast their ballots at a place outside polling stations.

Persons with such disabilities are unable to enter polling stations. So, there must be legal provisions for an official to take ballot papers to such voters remaining outside polling stations, to be marked.  
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has agreed to a similar meeting after August 25. The Commissioner has sought appointments with the United National Party (UNP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

Diaspora groups springs into action

Days after the announcement of the terms of reference by the UN investigation team probing allegations of human rights violations, the pro-LTTE Diaspora groups have sprung into action to gather evidence to be submitted to the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL).
These groups, hurriedly circulated, the copies of the OISL announcement, among those concerned living in different parts of the world.

 The OISL says, “Individuals, organisations and governments are invited to submit information and/or documentation on alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes allegedly perpetrated from February 21, 2002 until November 15, 2011 in Sri Lanka by either of the parties to the armed conflict.
Submissions can be made till midnight (Geneva time)   October 30, 2014.This is to allow the investigating team time to analyse all the information gathered before drafting its report. Drafting needs to be completed at least two months before the report is presented to the HRC in March.

Submissions accepted in Sinhala and Tamil

OISL has decided to accept submissions both in Sinhala and Tamil, in addition to in English.
It further says, “Submissions should be sent in written form and must include the contact details of the authors. Submitting entities/individuals should specify if the submissions – or parts of them - should be treated confidentially. Upon receipt of the submission, OHCHR will take all necessary measures to protect the confidentiality of the personal details of the authors or any other persons named in the submissions.
Submissions may be in English, Sinhala and Tamil. They must not exceed 10 pages. Should the OISL require additional information, it will contact the author(s) of the submission.

Any video, audio or photographic material related to the submissions should not be submitted via email.  Contact the OISL to make arrangements to send it by alternative means.  The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), in March, 2014  adopted resolution A/HRC/25/1, mandating the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights to undertake what it called ‘a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, and to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations and of the crimes perpetrated with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability”.  The mandate of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka includes violations and abuses of International Human Rights Law and breaches of International Humanitarian Law as well as related crimes. Then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanetham Pillay, whose term ended on Monday, set up the OISL. It is supported and advised by three experts Martti Ahtisaari, Silvia Cartwright and Asma Jahangir.

The new High Commissioner for Human Rights will present a comprehensive written report on the outcome of the investigation to the HRC in March 2015, as per resolution A/HRC/25/1.

GL lashes out  at investigation process

External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, in his address to the fourth National Defence Seminar in Colombo, took a swipe at the section of the international community supportive of this investigation on Sri Lanka.  Outlining that Sri Lanka did not distance itself from the UN process, he said the Government of Sri Lanka engaged with the UN system. In fact, he noted that the Government was not even opposed to the domestic inquiry proposed in the operative paragraph 2 of the UNHRC resolution adopted in March, this year.Yet, the Government, he said, was opposed to the operative paragraph 10, which calls for an international investigation. Sri Lanka engages with the UN system, but is not ready to accept the international investigation panel for jurisdiction.  
In obvious reference to   some remarks by an expert serving in OISL, he said there were attempts to fly out people from Sri Lanka to neighbouring countries or to Geneva for gathering evidence.

According to the minister, this expert serving in the panel, had apparently   mentioned that enough details had already been gathered for review.
The Minister said the entire process looked shrouded in secrecy, and against the principal elements of  natural justice.  He was also critical of the TNA, saying it was acting for a regime change, rather than concentrating on what was feasible to be done through the Northern Provincial Council (NPC).

Namal’s questionnaire

SLFP Youth Wing headed by MP Namal Rajapaksa, the son of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is having youth meetings throughout the country. Blue Brigade or Nil Balakaya, created by young Rajapaksa, is at work in this respect  and he addressed a series of meetings in the Kegalle district last week.
At one such meeting conducted last Sunday within the premises of the Kotawehera Temple in Rambukkana, around 2000 youths had assembled.  The Grade V Scholarship Examination was also conducted on the same day. MP Rajapaksa and Kegalle district MP Kanaka Herath participated in religious observances at this temple with a lot of history.

A piece of silk cloth, dating back 2000 years, was found during archeological excavations at this temple, and it is proven to be  the oldest such finding in Sri Lanka    according to a carbon test conducted by American scientists . Some children had attended one evening meeting, and MP Rajapaksa asked those who did the Grade V Scholarship Exam to raise their hands. There was also a lady who raised her hands along with the  children present. “I can see a mother raising her hand. It is true. The Grade V Scholarship Exam is dubbed as the exam of mothers,” he said bursting the entire crowd into laughter. Then, he asked those who sat for the G.C.E. Advanced Level   Examination.

“How is the exam? Didn’t you find any mistake in question papers?” he asked, again leading to laughter in his audience.He had one more question to be asked, and it was to know those who voted for the first time at the last parliamentary election.
 Once the question was posed, those with their hands up, were not visible due the shading evening light.
One participant, who could not be identified, said, “All those first time voters were girls. They are shy to raise their hands. So, they remain silent,” he said adding further humour to the occasion.

"A piece of silk cloth, dating back 2000 years, was found during archeological excavations at this temple, and it is proven to be  the oldest such finding in Sri Lanka"

Basil’s indirect salvo at minor allies

Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa addressed a SLFP rally in the Ambalangoda electorate. It is yet another political rally conducted under SLFP programme to revamp the party at grassroots level. Sabaragamuwa Chief Minister Mahipala Herath chaired this meeting on August 16, 2014.
Southern Chief Minister Shan Wijeyalal Silva, the Ambalangoda organiser of the party, arrived at the meeting ground in a motorbike   parade.

Minister Rajapaksa, who is also the SLFP National Organiser, in his address remarked that though he would not underrate small parties traditionally aligned with his party, a strong SLFP was   always important for their political success  “Stronger the SLFP is, stronger these parties are, “he said.

UNP to offer Deputy Leader post to Sajith

The UNP leadership is consulting party seniors to appoint MP Sajith Premadasa as the Deputy Leader. Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has already discussed this with confidants, and in fact, he asked MP Kabir Hashim to cut short his political work in the Anuradhapura district, and arrive in Colombo for a discussion on this matter. Instead, he asked Galle district MP Gayantha Karunatilake to go to Anuradhapura to take over political activities in the electorates of Kalawewa and Horowpotana.
However, MP Premadasa is reported to be skeptical about the powers of the new position. It is learnt that he will accept the post only if it is offered with adequate powers to take decisions regarding the party and its political activities.  

Meanwhile, the party’s parliamentary group met on Tuesday, and discussed the organizational activities related to the Uva Elections. All the MPs were asked to station themselves in the province after September 9 till the election was over. Barring ten members assigned to address political rallies elsewhere in the province, others were instructed to confine themselves to the areas assigned to them in carrying out political work. MP Joseph Michael Perera is the coordinator of political work in view of this election. At this meeting, he asked whether coordinating offices have been set up now. Then, UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake said, “You have been appointed as the coordinator. Therefore, it is better for you to travel in the province and see for yourself.” After such a prompt response, it was obvious to everyone that MP Perera had not yet   travelled to the area. Everyone had a good laugh about it.  But, Mr. Perera said, “Before I go, I should know the ground situation,” he justified his position.

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