Sept 23, Colombo: The Commonwealth Observer Mission which has been present in Sri Lanka since 14 September to observe the provincial council election in the North commended the government for largely peaceful well administered election but expressed concern over the heavy military presence and involvement in the elections.
Issuing a preliminary report on the elections held on 21 September for the Central, Northern and North Western Provincial Councils, the Commonwealth Observer team led by former Vice President of Kenya Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka said the administrative arrangements for voting and counting in this election were impressive.
The team deployed to the five districts of the Northern Province, met with electoral and other officials at the District level and observed voting, counting and the results process of the first ever provincial elections held in the Province.
The observers, noting the high voter turnout of 67.52% in the Northern Province, commended the voters for their commitment to the democratic process.
The mission noted that the polls opened on time, election materials were well in place and overall, the process was well administered, including the closing of the poll. They said the Election Day itself was largely peaceful, with only isolated incidents reported.
The observers commend the decision of the Commissioner of Elections to mix ballot boxes from different administrative divisions at the counting stage, to minimize the risk of tracing voting patterns at particular locations.
However, the mission noted the heavy presence and influence of the military, including persistent reports of overt military support for particular candidates, reported cases of the military actually campaigning for selected candidates, and military involvement in the intimidation of the electorate, party supporters and candidates.
The role of the military in the electoral campaign was consistently described to the mission as a significant obstacle to a credible electoral process, the observer team said.
The observers expressed concern over the apparently constricted media environment noting that in the run up to the elections and on Election Day, important online and electronic media sources were inaccessible.
It was reported to the observers that several media outlets were self-censoring when it came to in-depth or sensitive reporting on the elections.
The mission expressed concern over the numerous reports of misuse of public resources, corroborated by the Commissioner of Elections and independent domestic observers, including misuse of government personnel, vehicles and facilities for partisan political activity.
"We were also made aware of inducements offered to public officials and voters, including conditional job offers, conditional higher salaries and the cancellation of loans," the team noted.
The Mission also noted the high number of rejected ballots, at 7.5%, cast in the elections and suggested more intense voter education, including using the media, to ameliorate the phenomenon.
"Overall we are impressed by the determination and resilience of voters to exercise their franchise in the context of a compromised electoral environment. It is our sincere hope that this election will mark a forward step in the post-conflict development of the Northern Province," the mission said in its preliminary report.
The mission will complete their final report over the next four days and submit it to the Commonwealth Secretary-General.
The report will also be distributed to the government, the Election Commissioner, other political parties and to other Commonwealth governments.
The Final Report will be made available to the public, the observer mission said.