'No legal authority' but ...:
Election monitors ready for action
Despite the crucial role played by election observers to ensure a
free and fair poll, the country's election laws have no provisions to
recognize their valuable contribution.Undeterred by this lack of legal
protection, nearly 25,000 local and over 100 international observers are
set to take up position to report on illegal activities before, during
and after the poll on August 17.
All Acts governing presidential, parliamentary, provincial and local
bodies elections are silent on this subject, giving no legal backing for
poll observation during elections.Despite this complete lack of
authorization, most Sri Lankans acknowledge that election monitors, both
local and foreign, have, by keeping violators at bay, hugely contributed
to the gradual transition from violence-torn and fraud-ridden elections
to the more peaceful ones you see today. People's Alliance for Fair &
Free Elections (PAFFREL) chairman Rohana Hettiarachchi, however, is
confident that the lack of legal sanction will not constrain the work of
his now internationally famous movement.This is because, he points out,
all stakeholders at elections, including the political parties, the
elections officials and the voters, recognize and welcome their role.
Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) National Organizer
Manjula Gajanayake echoes this sentiment.
A senior Elections Department official acknowledged that the
Parliamentary Elections Act No. 1 of 1981 does not provide for election
observation or monitoring.
Sri Lanka set the stage for inviting observers when an international
mission was invited for the first time to observe the 1989 general
election."From the first election where observers were present on the
invitation of the then Elections Commissioner we have not faced any
hostility." Hettiarachchi told Sunday Observer. CMEV's National
Organiser Gajanayake said that the role of the present Elections
Commissioner was instrumental in building their image. "We are invited
to all important meetings chaired by the Elections Commissioner during
elections including to the party secretary's meetings."
The PAFFREL and the CMEV are permitted to have static observers
within the polling station, a privilege not enjoyed by the European
Union, Commonwealth or SAARC observation missions, who have been invited
by Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya to monitor the August 17
"The mere presence of our offices wearing highly conspicuous yellow
hats act as a deterrent to over enthusiastic supporters," he said that
they have noticed raucous elements disperse when the observers in mobile
units pass by. "We have taken perpetrators to court before this and we
will do the same this time as well," Hettiarachchi stressed.
Sri Lanka has come a long way from extremely violent elections to the
more accommodating polls as we see today, largely due to the efforts of
the independent Elections heads, highly active civil society, the media
and the hard work of the independent poll watchdogs. In the 1989
February general elections, which were mired in violence due to the
second JVP insurrection, there were over 200 post-election political
murders, a PAFFREL report states. In the 1994 general election, the poll
related deaths stood at 20 with a total of 2,750 poll related complaints
received by PAFFREL as stated in their final report to the Elections
In the October 2000 parliamentary elections, the observers recorded
16 murders and 350 major violations. In April 2004 General election, the
number of poll related deaths dropped to six. The observers recorded a
total of 293 serious cases of violence.
The complaints included 89 cases of assault, 74 cases of threats and
51 cases of vandalism. PAFFREL commented that this was one of the most
peaceful and largely free and fair elections that was held in the recent
In the last general election in the country in April 2010, there was
just one confirmed poll related death. Complaints on polls law
violations were 313, counting 84 cases of illegal propaganda work, 72
cases of assaults, 28 cases of attacks on propaganda offices and 12
cases of threatening and intimidation.
A total of eight local bodies are expected to observe the August 2015
parliamentary election in addition to observer missions from the
European Union, Commonwealth and Federation of Election Monitoring
Bodies of South Asia (FEMBoSA). PAFFREL, CaFFE, CMEV, National Poll
Observation Centre, Mothers and Daughters of Lanka, Network for Election
Monitoring, Movement for Free and Fair Elections (MFFE) and Lanka Polls
Watch will be the local groups on duty.
The PAFFREL Chairman said it was hard to make an accurate prediction
with nearly one month to go for elections. "So far the parties have
pledged support to a violence free campaign but desperation could turn
it around as the election heats up and the polls day gets closer."
By last Friday PAFFREL recorded 54 confirmed poll related incidents
with 3 grievous assaults and two abductions while the CMEV recorded 36
incidents with two cases involving firearms.
Both the CMEV and PAFFREL have invited international observers to
strengthen their observer teams.
The CMEV National Organiser said they will be deploying over 5,000
local observers and 20 international monitors from Canada and UK.
PAFFREL will deploy 15,000 local and 15 international observers.