European Union who employed an observation mission (EU EOM) to observe the Parliamentary Elections says that although Sri Lanka has an active voter registration process estimated 300,000 were disenfranchised at this election. The mission issuing its preliminary report says as the Department of Elections decided to use the electoral register from 2014, youth who reached 18 years failed in franchising their vote at this election.
They also added that over 15 million voters were registered of a total population of approximately 21 million. “The register from 2014 was used. As a result, citizens who turned 18 in the interim (estimated 300,000) were disenfranchised. Most interlocutors raised no concerns regarding the reliability and inclusiveness of the voter register,” the statement said.
Here is the preliminary report from the European Union. “The 17 August parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka were well administered and offered voters a genuine choice from among a broad range of political alternatives. Election Day was peaceful despite some minor incidents. Polling and counting procedures were assessed overwhelmingly positively by EU observers.”
The Commissioner of Elections and his staff administered the elections in a transparent and impartial manner, demonstrated strong leadership, and enjoyed the confidence of all stakeholders. In addition to issuing circulars and guidelines throughout the campaign, the Commissioner had exceptionally broad powers to instruct any state institution, including media and the police. The wide interpretation of these powers, including that the Commissioner may order state outlets to halt broadcasts, challenged recently gained media freedoms. Violation of these directives constituted an offence punishable with fines and even imprisonment. At times, such decisions were vague and impracticable and were issued on an ad-hoc basis.
Candidate registration was inclusive. In total, 35 political parties and alliances as well as over 200 independent groups submitted their lists in 22 electoral districts; more than 6,000 candidates stood.
Freedoms of assembly and movement were respected during the campaign. Despite overly restrictive rules which curbed freedom of campaigning, inter alia, not allowing candidates to engage in door-to-door campaigning, to canvass in person or distribute leaflets or posters, candidates and party activists campaigned vigorously, focusing on small meetings with voters. Although the campaign was assessed by stakeholders as largely peaceful, incidents involving firearms resulted in several deaths, and there were numerous cases of assault and arson. The major incidents, however, appeared to be isolated and did not lead to an escalation of violence. There were also isolated reports of limitations to campaign freedom in the Northern Province.
Party and campaign finance are not regulated; there are no requirements regarding campaign spending limits or disclosure of donations and expenditures. According to interlocutors, the campaign was very costly with some candidates spending above EUR 500,000.
The legal framework overall provides an adequate basis for the conduct of democratic elections. However, a number of specific issues need to be reviewed to bring it fully in line with international standards and commitments agreed to by Sri Lanka. These include undue restrictions to suffrage rights, the absence of deadlines to adjudicate pre-election day complaints, and disproportional sanctions for some election offences.
There are no legal barriers to the participation of women in elections as candidates or as voters. However, in the absence of affirmative action measures, the participation of women was extremely low – only 9 per cent of candidates were women.
Over 15 million voters were registered of a total population of approximately 21 million. The register from 2014 was used. As a result, citizens who turned 18 in the interim (estimated 300,000) were disenfranchised. Most interlocutors raised no concerns regarding the reliability and inclusiveness of the voter register.
The constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression was respected during the campaign. Journalists welcomed the freer media environment in which they now work. State media outlets provided a platform for various political parties. While preliminary results from the EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) media monitoring indicate state TV channels gave preferential treatment to the main ruling party, the accommodation of a plurality of viewpoints and the move towards balanced coverage are to be welcomed. Ownership and/or management of several private broadcast and print outlets is politicised, leading to coverage favouring particular candidates and parties, thus undermining the principles of balance and impartiality.
Despite the lack of legal provisions regarding domestic observation, civil society organisations carried out large-scale monitoring of misuse of public resources, campaign violations, voter education programmes and polling and counting observation, and deployed some 20,000 observers on Election Day.