Following is a release by the Friday Forum on democratic governance responsibilities of civil society
Public support and vigilance essential to ensure clean polls
In order to address several public concerns over the conduct of free and fair elections at the forthcoming municipal and local government elections, a delegation of the Friday Forum met with the new Commissioner of Elections Mahinda Deshapriya, to review measures taken by him to ensure clean Polls.The Friday Forum raised several issues of importance in the context of democratic governance in the post 18th Constitutional Amendment political setting. They also discussed the appointment of the new Commissioner in the context of civil society expectations of free and fair elections and the setting of new benchmarks of democratic governance, transparency and credibility of his public office by acting strictly in terms of the law.
A key area of concern highlighted by Friday Forum was the facilities for IDPs to vote as they have been denied their franchise for many years on account of the war. The Commissioner assured the Friday Forum that special polling facilities for IDPs will be provided islandwide to address this serious lapse in ensuring the fundamental rights of war affected citizens.
He confirmed that IDPs who have not been able to get back to their original places of residence have the right to vote from their temporary places of residence in view of this convenience. He appeals to the public to inform, encourage and assist the IDPs in their areas including through social service and religious networks which IDPs are comfortable with to seek support.
The Friday Forum warns that persons living in remote and sparsely populated areas, who have not been previously registered on account of the war, and who continue to neglect being registered, stand the risk of losing their rights and share of resource allocations in the future.
In the above connection, the Commissioner also stressed that the reduction in parliamentary representation of the Jaffna District can be corrected to its original levels if its population is accurately represented through enhanced voter registration and updating of election registers supported by all political parties.
Additionally, all persons who are temporarily residing overseas whose names have been, erroneously or otherwise, removed from election registers in the past can now request inclusion in the revised lists being compiled currently.
All political parties and civil society organisations should ensure revisions on behalf such persons before the current window closes in November 2011. Appeals can be made in November 2011 against any deletion, non-inclusion etc found to be objectionable by the relevant stakeholders. These persons will however be entitled to vote provided they are in Sri Lanka at the time of elections.
The Friday Forum emphasised that ensuring accurate demographic representation of the population via electoral registration and census participation is an effective means of addressing the democratic rights and socio-economic participation of citizens in the equitable allocation of national resources by the State.
The Commissioner informed the Friday Forum that in order to encourage voter registration, registration forms can be easily obtained from local EC offices throughout the island or down loaded from the EC official website (http://www.slelections.gov.lk), which has a special press release on the subject in all three official languages. The Commissioner requests the media, civil society organisations and all political parties to proactively support the registration of persons living in remote parts of the country, particularly IDPs, that lack awareness and easy access for registration.
The Commissioner also stressed the importance of the media’s role in giving prominence to EC circulars and press releases. The Friday Forum draws the attention of news editors of all media institutions to this appeal by the Commissioner of Elections.
Other key areas addressed by the Commissioner are as follows:
1. Strict enforcement of the law banning posters in public places for canvassing of candidates will be implemented by the Police throughout the island. The Friday Forum commends the new Inspector General Police who has expressed his commitment in this regard. The public, civil society and political groups can also ensure adherence by notifying the Police and the Elections Commissioner of illegal posters in their electorates.
2. The Commissioner stated that new procedures and processes, including additional staffing, will be implemented in polling booths and around the vicinity in order to control voter intimidation and political violence.
3. He stated that Independent election monitoring organisations will be permitted to monitor polling.
4. He is actively pursuing, the possibility of facilitating the monitoring of the counting process by agents of candidates and authorised monitors via electronic technology processes. Preferential votes at each counting centre will be announced and a notice put up. In Colombo, these will be put up on a giant screen.
5. Measures have been taken to clear the doubts of the general public in the counting process of preferential votes.
In view of the measures taken by the Commissioner, the Friday Forum appeals to the media, civil society networks, religious and community organisations and the general public to be proactive in supporting the above mentioned initiatives in order to meet public expectations for the conduct of free and fair polls.
On behalf of Friday Forum, the Group of Concerned Citizens: Jayantha Dhanapala, Rt. Reverend Duleep de Chickera, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, Manouri Muttetuwegama, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare, Dr. A.C. Visvalingam, Lanka Nesiah, Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, Prashan de Visser, Ahilan Kadirgamar, D. Wijayanandana, Professor Ranjini Obeyesekere, Professor Gananath Obeyesekere, Dhamaris Wickramasekera, Dr. Camena Gunaratne, J.C. Weliamuna, Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, Suresh de Mel, Daneshan Casiechetty and Chandra Jayaratne.
The Friday Forum
2, Greenlands Avenue,
26th September 2011