Northern poll landmark but did not meet democratic benchmarks: C’wealth

Thursday, 31 October 2013 01:14 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Dharisha Bastians Hailing the Northern Provincial Council elections in Sri Lanka as landmark and historic, the international monitors from the Commonwealth here to observe the polls last month noted ‘serious and fundamental’ shortcomings in electoral process in its final report presented yesterday. The monitors said that while voters on election day were able to express their will, shortcomings in the pre-election period meant that the 21 September Northern Provincial Council elections did not fully meet the key benchmarks for democratic elections. “We were 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 Commonwealth Monitoring Mission noted in its concluding report on the election. The Commonwealth Mission said the election campaign in the Northern Province appeared to have been conducted in a “compromised and subdued environment”. “This seemed, to the Mission, to be attributed in large part to the presence and influence of the military in the province. 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 final report of the Commonwealth monitors noted. Releasing the report by the monitors Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma said the observers had found the conduct of the election day itself to be impressive. “Voters turned out in large numbers to exercise their franchise, and electoral officials conducted polling with dedication and diligence,” Sharma said, adding that the post-results environment was also peaceful and for this, we commend the leadership of participating political parties.” The Secretary-General, however, drew attention to the Commonwealth Observer Mission’s concerns about the pre-electoral environment. He said: “I support the Observer Mission’s view that an election is a process and not an event. The pre-electoral environment is vital to its integrity and credibility.” Sharma also noted the Observer Mission’s call for the establishment of an independent electoral commission, which is a widely valued Commonwealth good practice. “We have an ongoing programme of work with Sri Lanka. We stand ready to assist Sri Lanka in strengthening its electoral framework as well,” the Secretary-General said. “I echo the sentiments of the Commonwealth Observer Mission in hoping that this historic election marks a step forward in the harmonious development of the Northern Province and of Sri Lanka as a whole,” Sharma remarked. The Commonwealth Observation Mission was in Sri Lanka from 14-28 September.