Nov 19, Colombo: The Commonwealth Observer Group has commended the people of Sri Lanka for the largely peaceful, credible and orderly manner in which they cast their vote on 16 November 2019.
However, the observers expressing concern that some groups experienced fear and intimidation said the elections have raised some issues which highlight areas for improvement:
Presenting the Group's preliminary statement at a press conference in Colombo, the Chair of the Observer Group, Prosper Bani, said while the environment before and during the poll was generally peaceful, they were concerned to hear about incidents of violence, in particular, an attack on a convoy of buses transporting Muslims to vote in the northern part of the country.
"We were encouraged to hear that although there were some incident of violence, the campaign environment was largely peaceful: The fundamental freedoms of association, expression, assembly and movement were broadly respected, and political parties were generally able to freely convey their messages to their supporters."
"We strongly condemn this and all other such incidents of intimidation and violence targeted at particular groups."
The Group stressed that a credible election must be inclusive, guaranteeing every citizen's right to participate freely and safely in the process. The Group encouraged the people and leaders of Sri Lanka to improve on inclusivity in future elections.
The Observers noted ethnic and religious tensions that characterized aspects of the pre-election environment. "We observed that some groups experienced fear and intimidation," Mr. Bani said.
Sri Lanka's rich cultural and religious diversity should be celebrated and valued, they said, urging all political leaders to priorities social cohesion and inclusion.
Another issue of concern was the use and promotion of hate speech through private media, as well as on social media platforms, to conduct campaigns, including well after the 48 hours deadline.
Noting that the Election Commission was empowered only to regulate public media through a set of media guidelines and private media was largely unregulated, the group recommended, independently regulating both private and public media through a legal framework ahead of the next election.
The Group noted that some of the recommendations offered by previous Commonwealth Observers which would improve the campaigns remain relevant and one is the need for mechanisms to regulate campaign finance in order to ensure transparency, accountability and an even playing field.
The Commonwealth Observer Group also noted the low participation of women in politics, including as candidates in Sri Lanka and encouraged the consideration of affirmative legal measures to ensure increased participation and representation of women in politics at the national level.
Mr Bani said they were impressed by the confidence and professionalism of polling officials, a significant number of whom were women and commended the inclusion of women throughout the administration of elections in Sri Lanka.
"I had the privilege of personally visiting the Election Commission's headquarters in Colombo where I was shown the impressive teams, structures and mechanisms in place for receiving and addressing complaints, receiving the results from counting centers by fax (and by WhatsApp), and for results tabulation and dissemination to the media."
Members of the Observer Group were deployed to six of Sri Lanka's nine provinces, engaging with local stakeholders in Central, Eastern, North, North Central, Southern and Western Provinces of the country.
The Group's final report will be submitted to the Commonwealth Secretary-General and subsequently made available to the Government of Sri Lanka, political parties, the Election Commission and the public.