Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said he would probe whether a request issued by the Prime Minister’s office requesting media coverage for the foundation stone laying ceremony for the Central Expressway was a violation of election laws.
The Prime Minister’s office on July 30 (Thursday) sent a letter to media institutions requesting media coverage for the event, which is due to be held on August 3 (Monday). However, the move could be tantamount to election propaganda as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is contesting the upcoming General Election from the Colombo District under the United National Party (UNP) ticket. Wickremesinghe is also the leader of the UNP.
Deshapriya said he had been notified of the matter. “At this point, I cannot say whether it is an election law violation. What we request the media to do if they are covering such events, is to do so while ensuring that they do not either promote or demote a particular candidate or political party,” he explained. The Elections Commissioner however, stated he would write to the Prime Minister’s office if he found that the event violated election laws.
When contacted over the matter, Minister of Highways and Investment Promotion and UNP General Secretary Kabir Hashim, while admitting Wickremesinghe’s candidature would raise some issues to the media, stressed the media should rather focus on the project itself and not on candidates or political parties. He argued necessary development activities could not be curtailed just because it was an election period.
“Our involvement (in this function) would be very minimal. However, the President and Prime Minister, by virtue of their designations, will anyway have some role in it,” Hashim pointed out.
Analysts meanwhile, pointed out that it would be hypocritical of United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) to complain over the matter as the UPFA government of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa violated election laws with impunity when it came to using such functions for political gain.