Election monitors call for remand prisoners’ voting rights | Sunday Observer

Election monitors call for remand prisoners’ voting rights

Election monitors said Sri Lanka needs to make its elections more inclusive in the backdrop of revelations that certain groups, including remand prisoners are deprived of voting rights due to archaic laws.

Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) National Coordinator Manjula Gajanayake said a significant number of people are excluded from elections due to reasons that can be overcome. Patients and doctors in hospitals, Ports and Airport staff, media personnel and those rejected by society such as remand prisoners who have not been convicted of any crime are among this group.

National Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya said the law did not permit them to have polling stations in prisons, but the prison authorities can be issued directives to allow remand prisoners to cast their vote in their home towns. Committee for Protecting the Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) Chairperson, Attorney-at-Law, Senaka Perera, said the organisation would take steps to file a fundamental rights petition if the authorities fail to put in place a mechanism to provide remand prison inmates with the right to vote. “It is a basic right and cannot be denied,” Perera said. “We will file an FR if the authorities fail the take the necessary steps,” he said.

A Prisoners’ Rights group had written to the Justice Minister and the Elections Commission (EC) during the second week of July, requesting a mechanism which would allow remand inmates to cast their votes in elections. The group had noted that a suspect is considered innocent unless proven guilty under Section 13 (5) of the Constitution.

Perera said these persons should be granted the rights of an ordinary citizen. “The suspects who have been remanded could be granted the right to vote under Section 89 of the Constitution unless they have been imprisoned after being convicted,” he added.

“Some countries in South Asia, including India have surpassed Sri Lanka in this sphere, Gajanayake said, adding these countries have put in place systems for inclusive elections.

“It is only a matter of introducing an amendment to the Elections Act of 1980,” he said.

Due to legal set backs, another 100,000 Sri Lankan refugees who are in South India are also deprived of their franchise rights. These people who had been living in the North and East had fled the country years ago to escape the separatist war.