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EU-Sri Lanka: MEP praises genuine and well-administered elections in Colombo

Submitted by on 28 Sep 2015 – 09:05

Chief Observer of the Electoral Observatory Mission in Sri Lanka and member of European Parliament, Christian Preda has praised the election process in Sri Lanka, but was critical of the country’s ‘restrictive’ campaiging

Christian PredaFor decades, politically motivated violence has destabilized the basic standards for democratic elections in post-civil war Sri Lanka. However, for the first time, the European Parliament’s chief observer of the Sri Lanka election Christian Preda noted that the 17 August Parliamentary elections in Colombo were “well-administered and offered voters a genuine choice from among a broad range of political alternatives, though campaign rules were restrictive.”
The Sri Lankan electorate voted to reject polarisation and promote democratisation. The country emerged from the latest elections with a hung parliament with Ranil Wickremesinghe of United National Party (UNP) returning to power.

Preda’s criticism was that, while freedoms of assembly and movement were respected during the mission, campaign rules were highly restrictive — not allowing candidates to engage in door-to-door campaigning, to canvass in person or distribute leaflets — party activists and candidates campaigned vigorously, focusing on small meetings with voters.

He also mentioned that Mahinda Deshapriya, the Sri Lankan Commissioner of Elections and his staff administered the elections in a transparent and impartial manner, demonstrated strong leadership, and enjoyed the confidence of all stakeholders. During the election period, he had exceptionally broad powers to instruct any state institution, including media and the police.

“The wide interpretation of these powers, including that the Commissioner may order state media outlets to halt broadcasts, posed a challenge to recently gained media freedoms,” Preda pointed out.

Overall, however, journalists now enjoy a freer working environment, and state outlets could provide a platform for various political parties. Although the main ruling party benefited from preferential treatment on state outlets, the accommodation of a plurality of viewpoints and the move towards balanced coverage are to be welcomed.

The mission considers that although there are no legal barriers for women to vote or to run as candidates, their participation was extremely low, only 9% of the candidates.

Ignazio Corrao, head of the European Parliament delegation which joined the EU EOM on 12 July, added: “We are happy to say that elections took place in a well-organised manner and we congratulate the new elected members of the Parliament. We hope that they will conduct the important reforms the country needs and look forward to a closer cooperation with the EU.”

The EU Election Observation Mission to Sri Lanka was established on 15 July, following an invitation from the Commissioner of Elections. The mission will continue to observe post-electoral developments and a more comprehensive final report, with a detailed evaluation and recommendations towards improvements for the future, will be published in next two months.