The Sunday Leader

“Violence Is Not The Biggest Issue Right Now”

 - Rohana Hettiarachchi, PAFFREL Executive Director

Many have observed an increasing number of election violations especially with reference to abusing state power and misusing state resources. PAFFREL has observed many such incidents but claimed that the postal voting process by and large had only some isolated incidents. Speaking to The Sunday Leader, PAFFREL Executive Director Rohan Hettiarachchi expressed his views regarding the pre-election situation based on their observations.

 

Excerpts of the interview:

By Waruni Karunarathne

 

Q: How do you see the pre-election situation?

A: As an election monitoring body, we are not happy about the pre-election situation. Violence is not the biggest issue right now. The major issue is the abusing and misusing of government resources. For example there are 1.4 million Samurdhi families in the country. They have promised Rs. 10,000 for each family under a recent welfare programme for the Samurdhi beneficiaries. They have already given Rs. 2,500 to the people and they are claiming that the balance would be given once the President is re-elected to the post after the presidential election.

This is clearly bribing and it will affect the decisions of 1.4 million families. The government is also giving 500,000 mobile phones to all the pensioners.  When I checked with the government departments, they have actually organized it a couple of months back for a good reason – but it is now unfortunately being used for political propaganda.

With reference to new welfare schemes, for each and every Divisional Secretariat, they have allocated at least Rs. 20 million for welfare activities. For a fact I know that some of the divisions have received Rs. 40 millions or over for welfare. With that money they are providing agriculture equipment, roofing sheets, sewing machines and such equipment  claiming that those were given to start self-employment and for livelihood options which is not the intention at present. And also the government officers, especially the officers at the grass root level and Divisional Secretariats, are involved in election propaganda activities.

 

Q: Are you satisfied with the international election observers that we have invited?

A: There are several groups of election observers. PAFFREL will be bringing 35 foreign observers. We have invited international observers from South Asia and South East Asia mainly from Japan, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal. I think that the Election Commissioner has invited two teams – from the South Asian Region there are about 65 observers. I think from the Commonwealth there will be 9 people. I also learnt that PMEB also will be bringing some international observers. Accordingly, there will be more than 100 international election observers which will be an added advantage and which will help the election observation process.

 

Q: Are there any areas that are limited for the observers?

A: I do not think that there are any such area that is limited to the observers. But I heard that the foreigners need to get a clearance from the Defence to enter some Northern parts of the country. We are hoping to check  that matter with the Elections Commissioner to see if foreign observers can visit without taking permission from the Defence. The Elections Commissioner can grant us and international observers permission to enter any polling station in any district in the country. We have to check with them if that permission is sufficient or we need to get a separate permission from the Defence. Under the Elections Commissioners supervision and guidance, if that is required we can hopefully get that permission.

 

Q: Some government ministers have accused local election observers saying that they are biased towards the common opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena. How do you respond to this?

A: We are doing a different role. We cannot do party politics and represent any political party. I cannot comment on the entire observation group. Most observers of our team are doing a professional job. I do not agree with those accusations. As PAFFREL we have a clear idea of what we are doing. We have policies and we have criteria as to how we select our observers in national, regional and district levels.

There are about 8 kinds of criteria. The main criteria is neutrality and at the end of the training each observer has to sign the pledge. If we identify that they are supporting any political party we have the right to remove them. We are following that kind of standards. But at each and every election, we may have to remove one or two observers depending on such observations made by the team. We are 100% sure that whatever we say we have proof. Without proper evidence we do not say anything. We do not only want to report, but we want to help the process. At the end of the day, there is no point only to issue statements. That is why during the election period, we intervene to stop various violations.

 

Q: Many people accuse the state media for violating election laws even after the directions issued by the Election Commissioner. How do you see this situation?

A: It is indeed very clear. They started the campaigns couple of months before the election process started. On the date of the postal voting, they gave a live telecast on the launch of the election manifesto of the President. We wrote about that to the Election Commissioner. But there is no proper provision as to what we can do to take action against that. This is not only about not having clear provisions in the law – this is mainly about the political culture in the country. The government can change from time to time but it is the political culture that is created that prevents taking any actions against such violations.

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