Sajith pulls out of race as SLPP rift widens

By Saman Indrajith

Samagi Jana Balavegaya and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa yesterday (19) pulled out of the presidential race, following discussions with an SLPP delegation led by Dullas Alahapperuma.

The announcement was made hours before Parliament accepted nominations for today’s (20) vote to elect the new President. Premadasa agreed to receive the appointment as the Premier as originally proposed by the dissident group.

The move caught the SLPP by surprise as its General Secretary, Sagara Kariyawasam, last Friday declared the ruling party’s backing for the Acting President.

Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe, SLPP MP Dullas Alahapperuma and JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake are in the fray.

When the House met at 10 am yesterday, Secretary General of Parliament, Dhammika Dasanayake, announced that the process of electing a President, from one of the 225 MPs, would take place as per the provisions of the Presidential Elections (Special Provisions) Act No 2 of 1981, and asked MPs to propose and second suitable candidates.

Opposition Leader Premadasa proposed the name of MP Alahapperuma and the proposal was seconded by MP Prof. GL Peiris, who is also the Chairman of the SLPP.

Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena proposed the name of Acting President Wickremesinghe for the presidency and it was seconded by Galle District MP Manusha Nanayakkara. Wickremesinghe is the only UNP MP in Parliament.

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s name was proposed by MP Vijitha Herath and was seconded by MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya.

Parliament Secretary General Dasanayake announced that he had accepted all three names officially for the election of the new President.

Since there was no other nominations for the contest, sittings lasted only 10 minutes yesterday and the House was adjourned till 10 am today. The election of the President is scheduled to commence at 10 am today as per a motion moved by Leader of the House, Gunawardena.

The Secretary General of Parliament will act as the returning officer.

Before voting begins, the Returning Officer shall show the empty ballot box to the MPs and seal them. The Speaker also has a right to vote in this election. When the voting starts, the name of each MP, including the Speaker, and the Secretary General, who acts as the Returning Officer, will be called. Then the member should go to the returning officer’s desk and get a ballot paper. Then the member in charge of the polling will make a short signature with his initials on the back of the ballot paper. After that, the member who got the ballot paper should go to the booth arranged in the middle of the chamber, mark the ballot paper and place the short signature of the Returning Officer in a visible place in the box on the Returning Officer’s desk.

Each MP is entitled to only one vote and the vote should be marked with the number “1” in the box in front of the candidate’s name. There is also an option to mark preferences when there are multiple candidates. Accordingly, according to the number of candidates who have appeared, in the boxes in front of the names of other election candidates, 2, 3, etc., can be marked according to the order of preferences.

Here, if an error occurs in the marking of a ballot paper due to an oversight on the part of a member (the Act states that if a member has inadvertently spoiled a ballot paper…) it can be returned to the Returning Officer and if the Returning Officer is satisfied with this, another ballot paper will be issued to him. Also, the spoiled ballot paper should be cancelled immediately by the Returning Officer. When the name of a member who has not voted is called a second time before the end of voting, and if that member does not vote, he is considered to have abstained from voting.

After voting, the number of votes recorded for each candidate is counted. If a candidate wishes to come to the place where the counting of votes is conducted, he has the opportunity to do so or he can appoint another MP to represent him. If a candidate receives more than one-third of the valid votes cast, the returning officer, i.e. the Secretary General of the Parliament, immediately announces that the candidate has been elected to the presidency. If no candidate gets more than one-third of the valid votes cast, these proceedings will be extended a bit. Then the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated from the competition. If each MP who voted as first preference for the candidate removed from the competition has their second preference, they will be added to the respective candidate. Even if no candidate has received more than two-thirds of the valid votes, the candidate who received the least number of votes in each calculation is removed from the competition and votes are added to the remaining candidates in the second, third, etc. Even after doing so, if no candidate has obtained one of two of the valid number of votes, the election officer will declare that the candidate who obtained the majority of votes at the end of the counting as above has been elected to the office of President. Ø Also, when the votes are equal between two or more candidates, a draw will be made at the sole discretion of the Returning Officer. Also, the name of the candidate should be published by the Secretary General in the Gazette within three days from the election of the President.

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