Lanka Needs Independent Polls Commission

Int’l monitoring body says it should have powers to even ban parties or disqualify candidates

By Kelum Bandara

International election monitors stressed yesterday that Sri Lanka should have a proactive and strong Independent Election Commission even with powers to ban political parties and disqualify candidates unless they adhered to lawful election practices.

Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) Executive Director Ms. Somsri Han-Anuntasuk told the Daily Mirror in an interview last evening that  an Election Commission should not be afraid of powerful political parties and candidates when implementing the law.

She said that there is such an Election Commission in Thailand.  “They banned a political party recently,” she said.

Responding a query about transparency in the counting of votes, the ANFREL Executive Director said votes should be counted in the presence of anyone including the media.

“In Thailand and Indonesia, the counting process is opened to the media. TV channels   update the details of the counting of votes as flight details are displayed on screens at airports. Then, everybody can see what is happening,” she said.

Ms. Han-Anuntasuk also emphasised the need to introduce laws to control the campaign finances of candidates.

“The election commission should have the power to determine the amount of money to be spent by individual candidates. Besides, once they are confirmed in office, community groups should be established to monitor their activities. Then, if they try to hoard wealth through bribes and other unlawful means, they will be exposed,” she said.

The ANFREL is an election monitoring body based in Thailand. The organization has deployed its election monitoring headed by Ms. Han-Anuntasuk to monitor the April 8 election in the country. They will be sent to eight districts including Jaffna to monitor the election from today.   In recent times, they have deployed their monitors to observe elections in several other Asian countries such Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

An Election Commission, she said, should not have the same officials for more than one term which is normally five or six years.

“Otherwise, they will become exhausted. In Thailand, the Election Commission comprises five officials. They have to relinquish their duties after seven years making way for another set of officials to take over,” she said.

She pointed out that media and civil society should be stronger and braver than politicians for the election law to be upheld in any country.

“The media should be brave enough to expose those politicians violating the election law,” she said.

Asked for comments about politicians   making politics a business to amass wealth, she said the trend was quite common in Asia.

Meanwhile, she suggested that Sri Lanka should try to introduce the electronic voting system as in India if financial resources were available for it.

“It is successfully used in India. Thailand is also going to invent a machine for it. We will not import it from India. Sri Lanka can also do it. These machines are durable. As a result, they can be used for many elections. It saves the cost incurred on printing ballot papers. Also, it is environment friendly,” she said.

Source: Daily Mirror – 03.04.2010

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