Ending speculation: Presidential polls fixed for Nov. 16 | Sunday Observer

Ending speculation: Presidential polls fixed for Nov. 16

Putting the wheel in motion on the most awaited presidential election, the National Election Commission (NEC) last week issued notice of intent to hold polls, fixing the polls day for November 16, 2019.

The Government Printer publishing the Extraordinary Polls Gazette on behalf of the NEC on Wednesday (18) ended all speculations that the presidential polls might be postponed to give President Maithripala Sirisena six more months in office.

The only legal way of postponing the election now, if anyone wishes to do so, would be by a Court order.

According to the gazette, the nominations for the elections will be accepted from 9.00am to 11.00am on October 7 and the cash deposits for the candidates were being accepted from September 20 to 12 noon on October 6. The Objections for the nominated candidates will be accepted from 9.00 am to 11.30am on the nominations day itself.

While the conduct of polls on the dot (in keeping with the electoral calendar) is a major step towards safeguarding democracy, the downside would be, the inability to pass laws on several positive areas to elevate its standard and ensure an even better level playing field for the candidates.

Thus, the country will be going to polls in November sans laws to control outrageous election campaign funding for starters.

“The proposed Bill on Campaign Finance, prepared by the National Election Commission to block polls related corruption, is still held up at the Attorney General’s office,” CMEV National Coordinator Manjula Gajanayake said.

A huge campaign by the election monitors and civil society activists with the blessings of the National Election Commission resulted in laws being drafted to put a ceiling on funding for polls campaigns.

The proposed law compels the political parties as well as independent groups to reveal their sources of election funding and spells out punitive measures. The law says audited financial statements should be submitted to the Election Commission within two months after the release of election results. It also incorporates provisions for revealing funding sources and to unseat an ‘offender’ if he or she was elected. The polls monitors have pointed out campaign financing if unrestrained will distort people’s free will. Independent investigations by People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) have found that certain candidates had spent Rs.30-40 million on just 400 households in their electorates during the local government election in 2018.

“Some houses had been given new electricity and water connections as campaign bribes, “ PAFFREL Executive Director Hettiarachchi said .

The Bill has been referred to the AG’s Department several months ago to check if it conforms with the constitution. The PAFFREL Executive Directors said the Bill could be passed in Parliament before the presidential election, if the AG’s Department handles this as an urgent matter.

The option of NOTA (None of the above) to reject all the candidates in the fray if the voter feels they don’t fulfil his or her aspirations will not be available during Acts, a senior NEC official with the legal unit said.

“To allow ‘None of the Above’ option, the existing model of the ballot paper specified in Act need to be changed. That can be done only through a legal amendment passed in Parliament,” the senior officer explained.

The specimen ballot paper is mentioned in each electoral Act and if this is to be changed all those Acts must be amended.

In addition nearly 200,000 youth voters who will be turning 18 years this year will be excluded from the Presidential election in November since they were born after the qualifying date to register as a voter which is June 1. The NEC Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya told the Sunday Observer that the Commission hops to bring in changes to the legislature shortly so that no one is left out in the electoral register in the future. “But we will not be able to do it before the Presidential election this year,” he said.

However, the Election Commission is considering the introduction of the NOTA option at the Provincial Council or the Parliamentary election next year.