Sri Lanka rights panel in spin over vote-rigging row

by Amal Jeyasinghe
COLOMBO, Sept. 19 (AFP) —
Sri Lanka’s top human rights panel Tuesday took up an unprecedented complaint from a ruling party candidate that measures to prevent rigging at next month’s polls will violate his fundamental rights.

The Human Rights Commission (HRC) after a two-hour preliminary hearing said it could not determine if there was a "prima-face case" to proceed, but gave the complainant eight days to produce evidence to support his charge.

The media co-ordinator of the ruling People’s Alliance (PA), Ananda Goonatilleke, told the HRC his human rights were violated by the election chief Dayananda Dissayanake’s plan to minimise vote rigging.

The chief elections commissioner has ordered privately printed stickers to be attached to ballot cards to prevent the use of forged poll papers.

Poll cards without the stickers would be disgarded during vote counting.

The ruling party’s Goonatilleke argued the stickers could end up in the wrong hands and lead to his rights being violated and asked the HRC to summon the chief elections commissioner for an inquiry.

The government has also taken serious exception to the chief elections commissioner’s move to get the stickers printed at a private establishment instead of the government-run press and virtually showed him the door recently.

However, Dissanayake has resisted while other political parties have warned of dire consequences if he was removed.

The elections chief Dissanayake went before the HRC Tuesday, but made it clear that he was only responding to an "invitation" to assist the commission and was not there as a respondent.

"I am not answerable to this commission or to any other person, not even the president," he said through his attorney, Elmo Perera. "The complainant has come here with a story and wants me to divulge what other measures I am taking to prevent fraud. This I will not do."

He also declined to say if the "security stickers" the ruling party candidate said had been leaked were genuine.

Eight political parties and rights organisations field counter complaints Tuesday saying that the elections chief should be allowed to continue with his work to ensure a free and fair election.

The chairman of the Human Rights Commission, Faisz Musthapha, said Tuesday’s hearing was not an inquiry but an attempt to examine if there was sufficient grounds to see if the commission should intervene using its powers to mediate in a dispute.

Musthapha also reserved a ruling on preliminary objections that three members of the commission were in some way prejudiced.

One of the human rights commissioners is also a candidate for the ruling party, while another is a member of the executive committee of a ruling party ally.

A third member has already publicly taken a stand against the elections chief. A final ruling is expected on September 27.

The main opposition United National Party (UNP) as well as the leftist People’s Liberation Front have announced plans to stage massive demonstrations and strikes if the government tries to remove the elections chief.