Sri Lanka’s Election Commission convened today (08) to decide on a date for the upcoming general elections.
Speaking at a media briefing held yesterday following the mock poll held in Ambalangoda, Chairman of the Commission, Mahinda Deshpriya said the election date will be announced today following deliberations within the commission.
Even though it was expected to be announced last week, the Commission postponed the announcement of the date to take into account the opinions of health authorities and political parties prior to announcing the final decision.
The Commission is also expected to decide on a date to hold the postal voting as well as the assignment of preferential numbers to the contesting candidates.
Accordingly, the commission meeting with the attendance of its members convened at 10 am today. The printing of ballot papers and other preparations already commenced last week. The Ministery of Health also provided a set of guidelines to the Commission to ensure that elections will be held according to stipulated health guidelines. The Commission also released media guidelines and a code of conduct for political parties on Saturday (06).
The upcoming general election is expected to set back taxpayers by Rs. 9 Billion. Earlier the Commission had estimated the cost as Rs. 7 Billion. However, at the press briefing held in Ambalangoda yesterday, Deshapriya revealed that the cost had risen by an additional Rs. 2 Billion due to the requirement of hiring nearly 15 000 additional staff for election work. Health officials will also be present at polling centres across the island.
The country’s general elections, which were scheduled to be held in April was nearly pushed back by three months due to the Covid 19 pandemic. Sri Lanka has suffered 11 deaths and reported over 1900 Covid 19 positive cases since.
On March 3, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved parliament six months prior to the end of its term intending to hold the polls on April 25. At the time Rajapaksa claimed the decision was taken due to the obstructions to government activities from the existing opposition.
However, as the country went into lockdown on March 20 authorities were forced to postpone the elections to June 20. Later as Sri Lanka grappled with the pandemic Deshapriya was once again forced to announce the indefinite postponement of the general election due to the prevailing health crisis.
Meanwhile, in May the gazette extraordinaire issued by the President dissolving parliament and the gazette announcing the date of elections by the Elections Commission was also challenged in courts. However, the authorities were able to skip this legal hurdle after the Supreme Court on June 2 dismissed all seven fundamental rights petitions filed against the gazettes after hearing the parties for 10 days thereby giving elections the go-ahead.
Following the decision of the country’s top court, Sri Lanka’s preparation for the general election has now gone into full gear.
The election commission yesterday (07) even held a mock poll in Vilegoda, Ambalangoda to test Covid 19 guidelines with the participation of 200 registered voters from the area. The commission had sought to test the logistics, hygiene and other arrangements necessary for conducting the upcoming General Election under the health guidelines stipulated by the Director-General of Health Services.
The mock election was held between 10 am - 12 pm. Voters had been given prior instructions by election officials. Accordingly, they were expected to wear masks and bring their own pens from home. They were also instructed to stand on the marking set one meter apart while also told to lower their mask when the name was called to confirm their identity. Plastic coverings and other precautions were taken to ensure there was no contact between polls staff and the public.
Deshpriya said two more mock polls will be held in the coming days. He said that elections will be held according to strict health and safety guidelines as the covid 19 pandemic is yet to be eradicated from the country.
Nearly 16 million Sri Lankans will be eligible to vote in the upcoming elections. The voters will be expected to elect 196 representatives to parliament under the proportional representation method. Meanwhile, 29 MPs will be chosen based on the national cumulative votes of each political party.