Kelum Bandara, courtesy of the Daily Mirror,….. 9 January 2015
Your group has monitored the election for more than one week now. How do you analyse the situation in terms of violence and violations of election law?
It seems to be a little bit more calm and peaceful compared to previous elections, according to the reports from the ground. That is the impression we get actually. In the past, there were complaints of violence. We have to define what we mean by violence. I can appreciate what the police have done. I met the Inspector General of Police (IGP) yesterday (January 6) and he said that the figures had been exaggerated. There were varying reports about the cases, but, the police said there were 344 odd cases, and 278 of them were mentioned as minor incidents.
Our view of election violence is this. We define election violence as cases directly affecting persons, property, and integrity of voters. When a voter is prevented from voting, or intimidated, then it amounts to violence. When he is physically harmed, it is violence. Electoral violence directly affects the decision making process of voters.
In certain cases, a neighbouring person comes and shouts at you over political reasons. It does not directly affect voters in that sense.
It is occasion by his belief in relation to the situation. Actually, we are exaggerating violence in Sri Lanka a little bit.
Monitors actually do an electoral mitigation. They do something. They create programmes in this direction. They minimise the impact. Election observation is meant to ensure a better quality of work at the next election.
In your view, what is the reason for varying reports coming up on election violence and violations?
I think it is because they do not have parameters to classify what constitutes election violence. Only one thing is very clear. Even the shooting and stoning incident at a rally was seen as a sporadic and random incident. They do not have the same parameters to determine what constitutes electoral violence.
There is one parameter that defines cases punishable under the provisions of the Penal Code. Those are defined under the law.
Yet, in your perception, what are the most common forms of violence and violations?
We have not done any tabulations on that yet.
How do analyse the election law of Sri Lanka?
I assume, you have a decisive election body and a police force. When these two organisations go together, violence can be minimised. In India for example, the Election Commissioner can order the police. But, here, they make a request because the police are not under the purview of the Election Commissioner during election times. If you have a strong election commission, the entire government machinery comes under its purview during election times. The Army, Navy, Air Force and the Education Department and all come under it. Even the office of the President is rendered powerless in such an eventuality. Therefore, a decisive election body can order the removal of posters whenever there is a complaint.
ANFREL has monitored elections for some time in Sri Lanka. How do you compare and contrast this election with others?
I was in Jaffna to monitor the Northern Provincial Council Election. In Jaffna. There were complaints about military participation in the election. It might have been an exaggerated allegation. The opposition won that election overwhelmingly. How did it happen if the military prevented people from voting? The military has no role whatsoever in an election. The military has a role to play in a civil conflict. There is no justification for military interference in this election because there is no war or conflict. There are no more terrorist activities or civil strife.
But, can the Election Commissioner call for military assistance when the police find it difficult to contain violence?
Yes, he can. In your law, it is silent. But, in most other jurisdictions, it can be done. It is done in India, Philippines and Indonesia.
Can you comment on the nature of the impact made by the abuse of state resources?
It definitely will have an impact. I understand public resources cannot be used for partisan ends. It is a principle. Public resources –government buildings, telecommunication facilities etc. are owned by people.They belong to people. Unless these resources are made available for the use of all the candidates, they cannot be used. In a situation where campaigning is difficult in some areas due to being inaccessible by land, state helicopters can be provided to all the candidates in the fray on different allotted days. Public resources should be distributed in an equitable manner. In Germany, the law provides for the equitable use of the media. If a party has fifty per cent representation in Parliament, it will get 50 per cent of airtime. Likewise, there is equitable distribution of airtime free. If people are flooded with news about the ruling party and virtues about its candidate, it can brainwash them.
Do you say that the German election law has a lot to offer Sri Lanka?
It is followed in Cambodia. In France, it is mandatory for electronic media institutions to provide equal airtime.
You mean the German law has solutions to most problems here?
Yes it is very much true.
There should be campaign ceilings for parties and candidates. Sri Lanka needs a strong campaign finance law. The Election Commissioner should be given more powers to work and to take action in case his instructions are disregarded
What else do you suggest or recommend for a better electoral system?
There should be campaign ceilings for parties and candidates. Sri Lanka needs a strong campaign finance law. The Election Commissioner should be given more powers to work. He should be able to take action in case his instructions are disregarded by anyone. In Philippines, the Election Commissioner can summon police and candidates. Here, the Election Commissioner should be given more powers to act.
When the budget for the Election Commissioner is approved, allocations should be made available to him forthwith. He should not beg for money from the government. He must have fiscal autonomy to find money whenever he needs it rather than go begging for it from the government.