Last presidential election recorded highest ever voter turnout

by Maheen Senanayake

The last presidential election was one where the power was bestowed back to the people.

Speaking to the Sunday Island last week Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said, "Two very important things happened during the last election; the power of the people was given back to the people and youth in this country engaged in politics."

In a candid interview, the Commissioner whose attention was repeatedly diverted towards a bird which kept pecking on his window for long periods pointed out that "several initiatives by the Elections Department including a promotional walk from the Divisional Secretary’s office to the Election Commissioner’s office in Rajagiriya to encourage the people to exercise their vote, engaged youth and created an interest in politics among a class of young Sri Lankans."

"We had a voter turn out of 81% - the best in the history of elections in the country," he said. " I always maintain that there are no bad politicians but only bad voters."

Explaining further, he said, "The challenge is to maintain the interest of the public at large and of the youth in matters pertaining to politics; and I think that we have managed to achieve that much."

"One young couple whom I am close to, who would otherwise not move out of the house if there was no vehicle, traveled by bus to Galle to cast their vote and then returned in the evening on the same day. Such was the interest in the exercise of people’s power among the young," he said.

The Commissioner ran a campaign prior to the last election on the theme ‘ Vote is your right’ highlighting nine points: None can hinder your right to exercise your franchise in secret and freely in the manner you like; the Department of Elections is under obligation to conduct the election in an appropriate manner ensuring the secrecy of your vote and count the ballot papers and preferences accurately and declare the results; it would facilitate the voting process if you can carry your poll card with you the polling station; in order to cast your vote it is mandatory to produce your National Identity Card or any other valid document to prove your identity; If your name has been listed in the electoral register and if you submit a valid identity document, there is no obstruction for you to cast your vote; refraining from voting is a denial of your right as a citizen as ensured in the Constitution; proceed to the polling station as early as possible in the morning and cast your vote without any fear or doubt; kindly convey the contents of this to the members of your household, neighbours and friends and cooperation of all electors and politicians is necessary to conduct a peaceful and fair election.

The Elections Department also rode the technology wave with a web based ‘Tell the Commissioner’ option made available for the people to contact the Commissioner directly.

"I continued to receive a variety of communications from the people and I think by responding to all of those queries we began to slowly build confidence among the people in the electoral process. I think this was another innovation that made a difference this time round and contributed to the highest ever voter turnout," he further explained.

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