Only Law Can Prevent Certain Election Law Violations – Mahinda Deshapriya
As the tension grows between the opposition common candidate and President Mahinda Rajapaksa, many have observed grave violations of the elections laws ahead of the election and they direct allegations at the government for misusing state property for the election campaign.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader Election Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said that if there are complaints about any election violations, the complainants need to direct them to the relevant authorities with exact facts
Excerpts of the interview:
By Waruni Karunarathne
Q: There are many allegations of misusing state property for election campaigns. As the Election Commissioner what measures have you taken?
A: What are the exact allegations that you are referring to? When people say “state property” there are so many state owned properties – unless you exactly refer to an incident I cannot say anything in general.
Q: For example there are complaints about using Sri Lanka Transport Board buses for election campaigns?
A: We have informed the SLTB that they have to submit a report to us based on the buses that they deploy in daily basis during the election period. They are required to inform us if the buses are being paid or not paid if the buses are given to be used for any other activity besides public transport. The issue is that nobody sends us clear complaints naming the incidents. For example without just saying that there are 200 buses being misused, the complainants can provide us with the details like number plates of the buses and for which meeting they were deployed. Then we can inquire about the buses with those number pates from the relevant depots.
When we ask CTB they say that those parties paid for the buses. There has to be a proper way of providing information.
Q: How should such complaints be lodged?
A: Only Law can prevent certain election law violations. We need the support of the entire country to carry out necessary proceedings for the election. People and civil societies should be proactive in lodging the complaints with exact details to the relevant authorities. For example if we get a complaint about a government vehicle being deployed to put cut outs in some area, the complaint should be lodged to our complain centres in the relevant area with the details of the number plate and the specific place the incidents happen etc, so that our officials can go to the place and investigate the incident before taking necessary actions. Recently, I received a complaint about a female Samurdh officer in Avissawella canvassing with a crowd during her office hours. Instead of complaining to me, they could inform it to the Kachcheriya in the area and then through the Divisional Secretariat, relevant authorities can take the necessary steps. Nobody actually follow the right process to lodge complaints.
Q: Do you think that public is unaware of how to lodge such complaints?
A: Not only public but the political parties also do not follow the right process when lodging complaints. I have informed all our complaint centres to be vigilant, so people can lodge complaints to those centres as the incident happens. I have been telling these things at meetings with the representatives of the political parties.
Q: Do you think that there is a favourable environment for an election?
A: We don’t see an unfriendly environment for holding an election. Nobody has observed an unfavourable environment for an election. If there is any concerns of an unfavourable environment the opposition could have brought that into our notice. At least the opposition has to say so. But nobody says that there is an unfavourable environment.
Q: Have you given any directives regarding the use of state media for election campaigns?
A: Not only for the state media but in general we have sent directives to all the media organisations. For the first time we have issued them directives through a gazette notification. Media directives, even if they cannot be made fully effective through law, we have now gazetted those directives and thus they come into effect. Media stations should follow those directives. State media also have some responsibility under the Sentence 117 of the Presidential Election Act which we discussed with them.
Biased or unbalanced reporting can do lot of damage. More damage can be done by reporting only part of the story too. Everybody points their finger at the state media but the responsibility in this regard is up to all the media organisations.
Q: If the directives are not followed, what measures can you take?
A: There is a difference between Sri Lankan Election Commission and Indian Election Commission. The directives given by the Indian Election Commission are considered laws whereas our laws need to be passed through the parliament or can be made effective through the judiciary. According to my view, making those laws effective through judiciary, falls into the hands of the civil society and media organisations etc. But right now civil society activists and journalists in the country lack practice of taking these matters to the notice of the judiciary, which is harmful to the election process. In many Acts, laws state ‘you may’ but not give direct orders. Many such laws related to election law violations are very weak. For some laws there is no mechanism to implement the laws.
Courtesy The Sunday Leader