More than 30,000 local and international observers are set to monitor tomorrow’s islandwide elections. Former election commissioners, lawyers, politicians, doctors and journalists are among the observers who have undergone training for weeks before moving in as observers in various parts of the country. On an invitation from the Election Commissioner, a team of Commonwealth election [...]


More than 30,000 local, international observers to monitor tomorrow’s polls


More than 30,000 local and international observers are set to monitor tomorrow’s islandwide elections.
Former election commissioners, lawyers, politicians, doctors and journalists are among the observers who have undergone training for weeks before moving in as observers in various parts of the country.

President Maithripala Sirisena meeting international observers

On an invitation from the Election Commissioner, a team of Commonwealth election observers are in Colombo.
The independent Commonwealth Observer Group, constituted by Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma, is chaired by former President of Malta Dr George Abela.

“As independent observers, our mandate is to assess the pre-election period, activities on polling day and the post-election period. Throughout, we will consider whether there has been a level playing field for the contesting parties, whether voters were free to express their will, and whether the election can be said to have been credible, transparent and peaceful,” Dr Abela said.
The nine-member group includes former election commissioners and members of parliament as well as representatives of civil society, academia and the media. Two advance observers arrived earlier this month to observe the pre-election campaign environment.

EU observers leaving for the provinces from Colombo on Friday evening. Pic by Amila Gamage

“We will assess whether the elections were conducted in accordance with the standards to which Sri Lanka has committed itself, including the Constitution and relevant national laws, as well as international commitments including Commonwealth principles,” he said.

The Forum of the Election Management Bodies of South Asia (FEMBoSA), a regional grouping for cooperation among election management bodies of eight countries of South Asia, sent 30 international election observers to the country, at the invitation of the Election Commissioner.

The South Asian countries are the Maldives, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, and South Korea.
FEMBoSA observers addressing the media on Thursday reiterated, their main task is to actually be who they are, in the sense that, they are here to only observe the elections, not to ‘preach lessons’ on democracy to Sri Lanka.

“We are not judges, or opinion makers, and certainly not people who pretend to know everything about international elections, and hence educate Sri Lanka on how to conduct a parliamentary election. We are definitely not that, because Lanka has a vibrant democracy culture in practice,” said team leader and former Election Commissioner of Maldives, Ibrahim Waheed.
On arrival, they had a meeting with the contesting political parties and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) N.K. Illangakoon. The observer-delegation assured they will be in touch with all stakeholders while ‘on-duty’ in the country.

EU observors’ chief in Galle. by Sanjeewa Wijeweera

“We have gone through Sri Lanka’s existing legislation and regulations. We intend visiting polling centres to see how effective the process is. With sufficient logistic support, our group hopes to reach every part of this country, to observe the election from the ground,” he said. Mr Waheed said that, according to their mandate and their terms of reference, they will be submitting their final report to Sri Lanka’s Elections Commissioner.

In view of the election campaigns being on the final lap, the head of the international observer group declined to comment on issues raised by the political parties with whom they had one-on-one meetings soon after their arrival. “They have raised some issues that concern them. As election observers, we are not 100% sure whether the allegations are factually accurate, or a part of their political campaigns. Hence, at this juncture we would rather not comment.

“We will be looking at the actual counting system. Some of us are new to the preferential voting system that has been in practice in Sri Lanka, so we need to educate ourselves on the that aspect too,” he said. FEMBoSA will focus on whether the system is effective for a free and fair elections, and whether everyone has access to the electoral system to choose their representatives to parliament, and also any particular system or incidents which tends to curtail the basic freedoms of an entire electorate or individual.

Observers from FEMBoSA. Pic by M.D. Nissanka

The European Union observers, also invited by the Elections Commissioner, are on their fifth observation mission in Sri Lanka.
The mission which deployed 85 observers islandwide, comprises of eight core members, 18 long term and 54 short term observers from EU member States, Norway and Switzerland. A six-member team of EU parliamentarians have also been deployed across the country covering the nine provinces.

Chief Observer of Election Observation Mission (EOM), Cristian Dan Preda told the Sunday Times that they are expected to release their final evaluation this Wednesday. “We will observe the whole election process from run-up to post election period, including the counting mechanisms used at the counting centres,” he said.

People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) an election watchdog said it would deploy 13,000 election monitors islandwide on election day for monitoring purposes. PAFFREL Executive Director, Rohana Hettiarachchi told the Sunday Times they have formulated an effective election monitoring mechanism with 330 long term observers in every Divisional Secretariat (DS), and 355 mobile teams in the country.

“We have set up a National Complaint Mitigation Centre at our head office to analyse and verify complaints, for further action. To facilitate proper coordination and prompt action on complaints, 28 district offices have been created,” he said.

In addition to the local monitors on the ground, PAFFREL on Thursday brought down 17 international observers representing the Asian Network For Free Elections (ANFREL). They have been deployed islandwide to coordinate with the local monitors.
Mr Hettiarachchi explained they have started training stationary observers to be deployed on polling day, along with their national teams which will be sent from their Colombo head office for additional monitoring in vulnerable areas.

Damaso Magbual, an ANFREL observer told the Sunday Times that, considering the prevailing atmosphere in the country, he is very optimistic for a violence-free election tomorrow. Mr Magbual who was here in January to observe the presidential elections, said he is expecting a higher voter turnout, because Sri Lanka society is very much politically sensitive, as they exercised their franchise early this year.

Campaign for Free & Fair Election (CaFFE), another election monitoring body said they will be deploying at least 9,000 trained observers islandwide for the election. “We currently have 600 people as long term observers, and are collecting all the information on violations and violent incidents from our monitors on the ground,” said CaFFE Executive Director, Keerthi Tennakoon.

Mr Tennakoon elaborated that all their monitors have undergone skilled training on election laws and regulations, and as of now, they have trained and retrained 6,500 observers including mobile teams, stationary observers and long term observers.
The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) said it would deploy around 5,000 observers consisting of three different categories, islandwide for election monitoring.

CMEV National Coordinator Manjula Gajanayake told the Sunday Times that, on election day, 4,000 static observers for all electoral districts and 75 mobile teams will be dispatched from Colombo to monitor the election process. “Currently there are 200 field observers permanently deployed. We have identified some vulnerable places where violence and tense situations may arise on election day. We will send 75 mobile teams to places such as Nawalapitiya, Vanni district and Hambantota,” he said.

Mr Gajanayake said around 90 observers will be deployed at selected counting centres islandwide, according to the quota allocated by the Election Commissioner to monitor the counting process.“They were given extensive training on electoral procedures, election laws and how to collect details from the public, before they were dispatched for monitoring,” he said.
Meanwhile, the CMEV has invited 30 international election observers from the UK, the USA, Canada and Australia.

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