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Commonwealth report notes army role

2013 Oct 31

Commonwealth Election Monitors have noted in their final report on the Northern Provincial Council Elections held last month, that the military’s alleged involvement was a key feature of the election campaign period.

The monitors have, in a seven point recommendation, noted that the involvement and influence of the military in an election campaign is serious and disturbing and must be investigated and strictly avoided in the future.

It also said that violent assaults on impartial domestic observers should be investigated and addressed, awareness must be spread on the vital role that domestic observers play as independent safeguards of the democratic process. the provisions regulating permissible activities during an election campaign should be reviewed, existing laws to prevent the widespread abuse of state resources during campaigns must be enforced, an independent Electoral Commission must be established and empowered, existing laws need to be enforced and, where necessary, may be strengthened to deter hate speech, political parties must address acts of violence carried out by their supporters and actively foster a culture of tolerance and steps should be taken to develop a media culture conducive to independent and balanced reporting while all necessary measures should also be put in place to protect the safety of media personnel.

Meanwhile Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma, in releasing the report of the Commonwealth Observer Mission to Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Council Election,  said the election was a historic election for Sri Lanka, and one which he said the Commonwealth was pleased to have been invited to observe.

Sharma said Commonwealth observers had found the conduct of election day itself to be impressive.

“Voters turned out in large numbers to exercise their franchise, and electoral officials conducted polling with dedication and diligence,” he said. “The post-results environment was also peaceful and for this, we commend the leadership of participating political parties.”

The Secretary-General, however, drew attention to the Commonwealth Observer Mission’s concerns about the pre-electoral environment. He said: “I support the Observer Mission’s view that an election is a process and not an event. The pre-electoral environment is vital to its integrity and credibility.”

Sharma also noted the Observer Mission’s call for the establishment of an independent electoral commission, which is a widely valued Commonwealth good practice. The Secretary-General said: “We have an ongoing programme of work with Sri Lanka. We stand ready to assist Sri Lanka in strengthening its electoral framework as well.

“I echo the sentiments of the Commonwealth Observer Mission in hoping that this historic election marks a step forward in the harmonious development of the Northern Province and of Sri Lanka as a whole.”

The Commonwealth Observation Mission was in Sri Lanka from 14 – 28 September. Its mandate required its members to observe and consider all aspects of the electoral process and to assess compliance with the standards for democratic elections reflected in national election-related legislation and relevant regional, Commonwealth as well as other international commitments. The Observer Mission met with a range of stakeholders and on election day its members were present in the five districts of the Northern Province. (Colombo Gazette)

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