In comparison to past elections : LG polls, less complicated under mixed system | Sunday Observer

In comparison to past elections : LG polls, less complicated under mixed system

With the run up to the Local Government elections nearing completion and only about two weeks to the polls, the Sunday Observer takes a look into the preparation of the officials and candidates to face the election as well as the readiness of the general public to vote.

Amid major changes being introduced to the system, many are still perplexed as to how the system works and what the voters are expected to do, to vote on Election Day.

The upcoming Local Government polls, scheduled to be held on February 10 will appoint 8,356 new members to the smallest unit of governance in the country. This is over 3,800 more members than under the previous system.

The LG election, held every four years is deemed the most complicated and the most expensive election of all – against the Presidential, Parliamentary and Provincial Council polls. But, with the new mixed system of election combining First Past the Post system (FPP) and Proportional Representation (PR), adopted last year, the LG polls is expected to be less complicated, especially, due to the scrapping of preferential votes.

The ballot paper will contain only the names and symbols of the political parties and the independent groups that are in the fray. Under the new system, the parties were required to submit two nomination lists. The first list will be used to elect members under the wards system, and the additional list, to appoint members under the PR. The Election Department is expectant that the results can be issued early because there is no counting of preferences.

Since the election is held on a single day by deviating from the practice of staggered elections as in the past, the cost of conducting the election is expected to be less, still it is estimated that the February 10 election will cost nearly Rs 4 billion to the state.

The Commission has printed 341 different types of newly designed ballot papers. The poll cards will be posted to 15 million voters, along with household notices to familiarize voters with the registered political parties and independent groups in the fray and the list of candidates fielded by each party and group. It will give voters an idea on who is going to represent them at the grassroots level of governance. All this is estimated to gobble up Rs.275 million.

He said, an entire 50% of the election expenses will cover payments to the nearly 300,000 staff deployed to conduct the polls, including public servants, Police and the Postal Department workers. It has been estimated that Rs.1.75 billion will be incurred by overtime payments, salaries, transport and other allowances of this contingent.

Of the total costs, there is an allocation of Rs.400 million for the Police Department and Rs. 300 million for the Postal Department to cover their election duty payments.

To remove illegal campaign material, the Commission will spend an estimated Rs.60 million. This includes payments for Police and Election Commission officers.

To ensure the25% women members in the LG bodies the Act spells out that there should be a minimum of 10% women candidates in the first nomination list and 50% women candidates in the additional nomination list. Once constituted the LG body should have 25% female members.

The nominations for the elections were held in two stages from December 11 to December 14, 2017 and December 18 to December 21, 2017. A political party must pay Rs.1,500 per person as nomination fee for each local body they contest and the figure is Rs.5,000 for an independent group. Unless the political parties or the groups secure at least one twentieth of the total number of votes in the ward, the nomination fee will not be returned.

The Local Government and Provincial Councils Ministry has been allocated Rs.31 billion to run the LG bodies under the 2018 Budget. The funds will cover capital as well as recurrent expenditures for a period of 12 months. In addition to the budgetary allocations LG bodies get their coffers full by way of annual assessment tax by householders, many other taxes and certain traffic fines.

Vote of Bhikkunis

Universal suffrage is ensured and enshrined, save for very few exceptions worldwide. However, there may be practical difficulties faced by Buddhist nuns (Bhikkuni) in Sri Lanka, when it comes to their right to vote.

The issue arises with the loss of order of nuns a few hundred years back, and the issue of ordaining new nuns was something unattainable. Ten preceptors or Dasa Sil Mathas were not given higher ordination into being declared as nuns (Bhikkunies) with the three Nikayas, to date.

Once a novice is ordained as a monk a separate identity card is issued under their Bikkhu name. They are able to produce this identity card and proceed with the voting. However, Dasa Sil Mathas, despite changing their status still have to use their national identity card continuously.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer, Chairman Elections Commission, Mahinda Deshapriya said, a Dasa Sil Matha or a bhikkuni can visit the Gramaseva officer in the area and produce their national identity card and register themselves in the registry in order to make themselves eligible to vote.

“The fact that separate identity cards are not issued for Bhikkunis/ Dasa Sil Matha is beyond our control. What we can and what we have ensured is that they will be allowed to vote using the national identity card as long as they have registered themselves with the relevant Gramaseva officers,” the Chairman said.

“Bikkus can use national ID cards that have been issued to them under the name given after being ordained. For Bhikkunis there is no such ID, mainly because we do not have Bhikkunis. They are allowed to use their national identity cards. There are some ordained nuns, but it is not recognized by the three nikayas,” Bellanwila Wimalarathana thera told the Sunday Observer.

Divyagaha Yasaswi thero who also commented on the topic said, due to the fact that the Bhikkunis ordained in the country are not recognized, they are not issued with separate identity cards.

“They are called Dasa Sil Mathawan. They are indeed entitled to exercise their vote by using their national identity card and proving their identity,” the thera said.

According to the three maha nayake theras, to revive the bhikkuni order an ordination must take place by a Theravada Bhikkuni of an unbroken lineage.

Bhikkuni Dr. Kusuma Devendra who says she is the first Bhikkuni in Sri Lanka ordained after the lapse of about 1,000 years was properly ordained in 1996.

In an address made by her at the International Congress on Buddhist Women’s Role in the Sangha Bhikshuni Vinaya and Ordination Linages, Bhikkuni Dr. Kusuma Devendra says, for the dual ordination ceremony to take place only 10 monks and ten nuns are needed, hence there was no need to get the consent of all the monks in Sri Lanka.

“Most of the objections came from monks who claimed that being a Theravada country we have received a Mahayana ordination. It was argued, there was no Mahayana or Theravada during the time of the Buddha and the Buddha gave ordination to women by dual ordination which is what is being practised all over the world. Sri Lanka received dual ordination first from nuns and then from monks,” Bhikkuni Dr. Kusuma Devendra said in her address. With the new changes being imposed on the election system where it has called for 25 percent female participation in the election, these sidelined issues may be looked into by relevant authorities to correct any prejudice against a sect of society.

Voting under the new system

Under section 39 (A) of the Provincial Councils (Amendment)Act No 31 of 2017, the Returning Officers must send out the polling cards to all registered voters at least 5 days prior to the election.

Selling, buying or keeping a polling card in one’s custody without authorization will be a punishable offence.

Any person who has not received the polling card by the day of the election can still proceed to vote as they will be entertained. However, having the polling card would make the procedure much easier.

Section 41 of the Act stipulates that the election is held between 7 in the morning and 4 in the evening. Therefore, the Elections Commission requests all voters to arrive at the polling stations early with the necessary documents and cast their votes.

The Officer in Charge of the polling station must ensure that the polling station is properly maintained and there are no unwanted persons or behaviour, entertained. On such occasions the OIC has the power to remove such person that does not obey the rules within the polling station. The OIC will also have the power to decide the number of voters that will be allowed to enter the polling centre at a given instance.

In the event where a person physically disabled requires the assistance of the OIC, the latter may cast the vote as per the instructions given by the voter.

Where a person marks a ballot paper wrongly by mistake or negligence he may be issued a new ballot paper provided the OIC is satisfied that the mistake was due to negligence and he is satisfied that the circumstances give rise to issue a new ballot paper to the same voter.

When a voter realizes that a vote has been cast under his name he will be given a dual ballot paper. This ballot paper is of a different colour and the voter’s name will be entered in a dual voter registry. The voter is required to sign a statement before he is given a dual ballot paper.

Prohibited activities on the day of the election include, asking to vote for oneself, asking a voter to refrain from casting their vote to another party or any other propaganda work either within the polling centre or within half a kilometre radius from the polling centre.

Based on the new Provincial Council Act the Campaign for a Free and Fair Election (CaFFE) lays out clearly, what acts amount to acts of corruption on the day of the election. Accordingly, pretending to be someone either dead or alive, other than yourself and casting a vote, voting more than once under your own name, receiving or providing anything to obtain a vote for oneself or to prevent another from voting, influence a voter by threatening to remove him from a religious organization for not voting for a particular candidate and accepting and offering bribes in order to vote or not to vote, are some of the acts that fall into the category of acts of corruption.

Anyone influenced in such a way as mentioned above can make an immediate complaint to the police or the relevant Returning Officer or the Officer in Charge of a polling centre.