Sri Lankans will likely learn who their next executive President will be on November 18th morning at the earliest, Elections Commission chairman Mahinda Deshapriya disclosed yesterday at a meeting with heads of national newspapers at the Elections Secretariat in Rajagiriya. The lengthening of the election result assessment period is due to the use of the largest ever ballot paper necessitated by the longest ever list of presidential candidates, Deshapriya explained.
Pointing out that the ballot paper will be 26 inches long in order to accommodate the list of 35 candidates, the EC Chairman explained that the lengthy, unwieldy ballot paper would need to be folded well in order to be inserted in the ballot box and the subsequent collection and counting would require more space and time than the election administration had experienced so far.
Before he outlined the details of the voting process, the EC Chairman first urged the news media to inform the public exhaustively about the laws governing the election process.He especially drew attention to the constant use by political campaigners of places of worship for political activities. He pointed out that such use of religious sites was banned under the election law, he stressed.At the same time, clergy should also be careful not to mention the names of candidates in the performing of any religious rite, he warned. He noted that in recent years clergy had begun to actively support specific politicians and political candidates and confessed his frustration over the lack of awareness of religious leaders of the rules and regulations pertaining to elections.
He warned that the authorities would be compelled to prosecute anyone, both lay and clergy, who violated the election regulations. Police Spokesman SSP Ruwan Gunasekara, who was also present at the briefing, pointed out that conviction for election offences could mean fines and rigorous imprisonment. The Presidential Elections Act of 1981 also stipulates several years of ineligibility to vote if convicted.EC Chairman Deshapriya outlined the massive expansionof scale of logistics and operations due to the large number of candidates. Given that the ballots would have to be unfolded carefully in order that they be scrutinized and counted, he warned that the counting period will be greatly lengthened. The bulk of the ballot papers also means the need for far more space than usual in the counting centres. Furthermore, as each candidate may deploy agents at each counting centre, the counting centres will need to accommodate all these agents in addition to the counting officials and their support staff.
In this light, many school premises earmarked for the counting centres may need additional temporary constructions to meet this enhanced accommodation requirement. The Elections Department is also importing a large number of new ballot boxes. The logistical requirements for the entire operation in terms of food, accommodation, power supply, telecommunications and transport will also boost the overall cost of the Presidential Election 2019 to nearly Rs. 6 billion, Deshapriya disclosed.
He also urged the news media to build awareness among voters about the use of their preferential vote. It was important for voters to indicate their first, second and third preferences on the ballot paper in order that a proper assessment could be made in the event the first count does not produce a clear result. If no single candidate receives the required 50 per cent plus one vote in order to win the presidency, then there will be a count of the preferential votes, he pointed out. With all the new challenges due to the expanded election process, the EC Chairman said that it was likely that by November 18th morning the final result would be known and the Republic’s new President would be able to take the oath of office.