Run-up to the Presidential election: Fake News tarnish otherwise peaceful poll | Sunday Observer

Run-up to the Presidential election: Fake News tarnish otherwise peaceful poll

17 November, 2019

The eighth Presidential Election which would elect the Seventh Executive President of Sri Lanka was deemed one of the most peaceful polls in the country’s history with very few incidents of violence recorded during the pre-poll phase. However, positive development on that front was tarnished by a series of last minute fake news reports targeting the two main candidates.

Fake news

Election Commission Chairman,Mahinda Deshapriya, said only about 25 per cent of social media platforms were shamelessly abusing the media freedom but the damage they were inflicting was immense and unfortunate. He warned on Friday that if they did not stop, the Commission will have to step in and freeze these sites.

In one of the fake news flash reports released to the web on Friday an apparent US Justice Department letter dated November 11 stated that SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa had not completed the process to renounce his US citizenship. The aim of the effort was to create doubt in the minds of voters of Rajapaksa’s candidacy.

The US Embassy spokesperson in Colombo denied that the letter originated from any US government source. Another dubbed video where the US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus was saying something on similar lines was also denied and branded as manipulated and distorted by the US Embassy spokesperson. The US Embassy in Colombo Spokesperson Nancy Van Horn had confirmed that both these news were fake.

Certain local websites supporting especially the main contenders were bombarded with fake news and another post on social media claimed that the Election Commission Chairman had fallen ill implying that it will have an effect on the conduct of the election on Saturday. A famous U-Tuber also released an interview with SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday, within the 48 hour cooling period during which any propaganda work is prohibited by law.

Industry and Commerce Deputy Minister Buddhika Pathirana on Friday appearing on prime time news on TV denied that the Government had raised the price of wheat flour by Rs.8.50 He accused a sinister hand was behind this fake news to anger the voters and discourage them from voting for the government backed candidate SajithPremadasa. “This is not a mere election gimmick, but goes way beyond that,” Deputy MinisterPathirana cautioned.

The news televised by two top TV stations created such an uproar that the Finance Minister and Convenor of the Cabinet Sub-committee on Cost of Living Minister Dr.Harsha de Silva too hurriedly made statements denying the report.

Election incidents

From October 7 till Thursday, November 14, the Election Commission had recorded slightly over 3,900 election related incidents, with only 27 being incidents related to violence. Most of the complaints the Elections Secretariat received were on violation of election laws. No deaths related to election violence were reported in the pre-election phase.

Over 2,760 complaints were received by District Complaints Centres and others were received by the main complaints Centre at the Elections Secretariat on Sarana Road.

According to independent election observer group PAFFREL,in 2010 and 2015 it received 757 and 1042 election related violence complaints respectively. The complaints on the abuse of state resources had been 77 in 2010. It had jumped to 452 complaints, a six fold increase, in 2015.

This year PAFFREL received a total of 738 complaints from September 27 to 4.30 p.m. on November 15. It included 31 hospitalisations stemming from 64 violence related incidents and 200 incidents of abuse of state property, power and misuse of state employees.

Illegal propaganda and misuse of state power and property topped the list of violations during the pre-poll phase at the 2019 Presidential election.

The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) announced that between October 14 to November 10, Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s SLPP, SajithPremadasa’s NDF and Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s National People’s Power (NPP) together with a few other candidates have spent over Rs.3.1 billion for Campaigning according to the CMEV estimates.

The CMEV has calculated that the 8th Presidential election had cost each voter Rs.969. This is calculating the costs borne by the Election Commission to conduct the poll and the campaign expenditures by the political parties.

A total of 35 candidates were in the fray and 15,992,096 voters were eligible to vote at the 2019 Presidential election held yesterday.