Polls chief welcomes EU monitors’ call for ceiling on campaign finance

... frowns on some of their criticisms


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Elections Chief Mahinda Deshapriya yesterday said that a ceiling on campaign finances was a necessity. In case, those political parties represented in parliament were reluctant to introduce such a drastic measure, there was a need for a mechanism to monitor and audit campaign finances, Deshapriya told The Island.

 The outspoken official was responding to European Union Election Observation Mission’s criticism of Sri Lanka’s failure to regulate campaign finance.

 The EU in its final report on the Aug. 17 parliamentary election asserted that for want of restrictions on campaign finance, the Election Department hadn’t been able to create a level playing field.  Deshapriya pointed out that the issue had been taken up with registered political parties on several occasions.

 The EU cited several candidates spending massive amounts of funds at the Aug. 17 polls.

 Asked whether the Election Secretariat would take up the issue afresh with political parties, Deshapriya said that the parliament would have to decide on a course of action. The polls chief asserted that the proposed new constitution could introduce required constitutional changes to control campaign finance.

 Deshapriya said that the EU Election Observation Mission never bothered to discuss relevant issues before the release of its final report. Due to oversight on the EU’s part, the final report contained some inaccurate assessments, Deshapriya said. The polls chief said that the EU had been critical of his efforts to compel candidates to provide their financial statements. Deshapriya said that the public expected his department to take tangible measures to compel candidates to divulge their finances though there were no specific laws to do so. He said the newly implemented media guidelines as well as alleged ban on house-to-house campaigning, too, drew EU criticism. Responding to a query, the polls chief said that the media guidelines had been implemented in consultations with media organisations. In fact, major media organizations named representatives to a special committee which worked closely with the Election Secretariat, Deshapriya said.

"The EU misinterpreted a ban on house-to-house campaigning after 8 pm as a prohibition on political meetings", Deshapriya said. The polls chief said that it could have been avoided if the EU bothered to consult him before the release of the final report.

Deshapriya also disagreed with EU assertion that Sri Lanka should continue to invite foreign polls observers. The polls chief said that Sri Lanka could do without foreign monitors. There was no requirement for foreign monitoring teams, Deshapriya said, adding that last presidential and parliamentary polls marked a major change and it was up to Sri Lankans to further improve the system.

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