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Polls Chief obliged to seek SC redress on media polls violations

In the event of sections of the state media continuously violating guidelines for the conduct of a fair poll issued by him to them, the Elections Commissioner is obliged to immediately report the matter to the Supreme Court by an application and seek redress from the Court on it.

This is provided for in a set of guidelines for the conduct of a free and fair poll, which the joint Opposition prepared in consultation with the Elections Commissioner previously, but which the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka took –up for consideration recently, on an application made by UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya. The outcome was a request by the SC to the Polls Chief, on April 1, that he looks at the guidelines once again and implements them at the forthcoming parliamentary poll.

The guidelines point out that in the face of recurring violations by the media, committed within the ambit of Article 104B5(c) of the constitution, which enables the Polls Chief to appoint a Competent Authority to monitor the Rupavahini Corporation and the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, the CA should take steps provided under Act no 3 of 2002. However, if violations continue, the Commissioner ‘should immediately report to the Supreme Court by an application and seek redress’.

A further interesting guideline is that party representatives ‘be allowed to be with the Commissioner of Elections on the day of the elections, from the commencement of the poll until the announcement of the election results.’

Another guideline of note is that a pen instead of a pencil be used to cast the vote. Besides, the rules lay down that an audit be taken of all ballot papers. First, the printed ballot papers received by the Returning Officer and second, the issued ballot papers to the Senior Presiding Officers (SPO), with the serial numbers of the ballot paper books in every district, which shall not be released until the conclusion of the poll. The audit shall be carried out by a panel of not less than three qualified auditors selected from the AG’s Department.

The guidelines provide that before the count begins, all party counting agents ‘shall be issued with this audit report for use at the count’. Until the audit report is made available, the count shall not begin.

Some other provisions of importance in this context are:

* All polling agents should be issued by the SPO with written and certified information pertaining to the issued ballot papers and the balance ballot paper books that were unused.

* Polling agents should be allowed to accompany the ballot box up to the counting room, with no interruption at the gate of the counting centre.

* A pass be issued by the SPO to the polling agent to travel in the same vehicle or any other conveyance where the ballot box is carried.

With regard to counting, the rules lay down that all ballot boxes should be received at the counting centre, prior to the commencement of the count. ‘The count shall not start prior to the receipt of all the boxes pertaining to the relevant room. After the commencement of the count, no more boxes shall be accepted.’

Other important rules in this regard are:

* All ballot boxes shall not be emptied into one box and counted together.

* There shall be no unauthorized personnel/ persons present within the precincts of the counting centre/counting room.

* In the event there is/are any unauthorized person/s present by undue influence/use of force or any other means, the count shall be suspended forthwith.

The guidelines direct the Commissioner to certify that the number of printed ballot papers equal the number of issued ballot papers to the polling booths, which in turn must equal the total polled plus the balance ballot papers. The Commissioner is also called on to indicate where the balance ballot papers are preserved.

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