LG polls before February 17 - Deshapriya

Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya addressing yesterday’s press conference. Picture by Rukmal Gamage

Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya yesterday expressed confidence that they will be able to hold Local Government Polls on or before February 17, 2018.

He said the LG Election Day will most probably fall between February 4, 2018 and February 17, 2018. Deshapriya said all political parties and other organisations have requested the Election Commission to hold the coming election on a Saturday and added that the election date will also not fall on a Sunday or a Public Holiday.

Accordingly, Deshapriya said there is only a limited choice to decide on a specific date. He also pointed out that the authority to announce the exact date of an election is vested with the returning officers and stressed that politicians will have no say in the matter. The election period for the coming LG poll commenced from yesterday and will continue for 75 days.

The Returning Officers yesterday issued the nomination notice for the 248 councils and the balance 93 was already issued last November 27. The nominations are called for at two periods, from December 11 to 14 and December 18 to 21, 2017. However, the election will be held on a single day.

Deshapriya added that when accepting nominations, the Election Commission will inquire if the all candidates on the nomination lists are citizens of Sri Lanka.

The Election Commission also issued two Gazettes yesterday on Media Guidelines and on the misuse of public property for election propaganda.

“The Commission will also be receiving postal vote applications for all these councils as well. The Election Commission will send 15 million poll cards to electors which will reach them by the third week of January,” Deshapriya added.

Chairman Deshapriya observed that this is the first time in Sri Lanka’s history that an LG poll is held island wide on the same day.

“It will also be the largest election ever held in the country,” he added.

He also pointed out that the challenge ahead for the Election Commission is a daunting one which requires 300,000 officers including police and other support forces to be deployed for election duty at 14,000 polling stations.

“More than 8000 candidates will be competing in the election as well,” he said.

The estimated election expenses, Deshapriya said, will be below Rs. 4000 million. The election expense estimation as at mid 2017 was Rs.3500 million, he explained.

“Since the election will be held in early 2018, the estimation may vary,” Deshapriya said.

“There will be some allowance increases for government workers by the beginning of 2018, which will most definitely affect the election expenses. We might have to allocate generators for each polling station, since counting will also take place at the same venue. However, we will do our best to save public money,” Deshapriya added.

Stressing the importance of vote counting at the polling station itself,an Election Commission member, the former editor of the Department of Legal Draftsman President Counsel Nalin J.Abeysekara pointed out that the arrangement will allow for the announcing of the election results sooner than was on previous occasions.

Deshapriya highlighted that strict legal action will be taken against any election campaign related activity,such as, processions, demonstrations and parades that will disturb the school students who will be sitting for the GCE Ordinary Level Examination during the same dates where nominations have been called for for all 341 councils from yesterday.

He said the Election Commission has directed the Police to take persons involved in such activity into Police custody and added that they will have a special discussion with the Police with regards to the matter on December 7.

Deshapriya also mentioned that the Election Commission has requested all political parties to refrain from using religious institutions for election propaganda as it is prohibited by the law.

“These religious institutes include Buddhist temples,churches, mosques and any Hindu temple or Kovil and propaganda can be any rally or discussion or anything relating to propaganda. Say if a politician participated in an event inside a religious institute and addressed media outside the premises, we will consider that also as an offense,” he said. “We have also requested from government institutions not to allow any public property to be used for propaganda work of any election campaign. The public property includes logistics as well as public officers,” he added.

Deshapriya expressed his confidence that the Election Commission will be able to conduct a free, fair and credible election this time with the support of all government and other responsible parties involved in the election, including political parties, the public and media.

Chairman Deshapriya also said a special unit will be appointed next week alongside the Permanent Committee to Investigate on Election Complains, to monitor and prevent violence against female candidates who will be running for office at the coming LG poll.

He said the special unit will be headed by the Commission member, President Counsel Nalin J. Abeysekara and will work with representatives from observer groups, civil organizations and other interested parties.

Speaking of election delays, Chairman Deshapriya said Sri Lanka needs to have an election calendar which will enable to have scheduled elections and prevent future delays. “There may be snap elections due to legal or other matters. But, we need to have a fixed election calendar. There is no policy requirement to conduct all LG and provincial elections on the same day. All these steps should be taken by Parliament. The public must also realise that politics is not just for the politicians, but that it belongs to the public as well. Therefore, we need to have awareness campaigns as well,” Deshapriya said. 

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