Priorities of the Elections Commission: Stymying people’s sovereignty through bureaucratic nitpicking
Posted on December 21st, 2017


It was with interest that I read Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole’s recent article in The Island, “Duties of Election Commission: A proactive or bureaucratic stand?” Prof. Hoole is one of the three members of the Elections Commission. Indeed this would be a question on many people’s minds at this moment given the rejection of many nomination lists filed by political parties for the forthcoming local government election. With regard to the rejection of the Maharagama nomination list of the Podujana Peramuna ostensibly on the grounds that it does not have the required number of women candidates, what we hear is that the list has the requisite number of women but that the gender of one female candidate had been inadvertently entered as male on the list.

Even though this had been pointed out to the returning officer, he had rejected the list nevertheless. It was said that the Weligama list of the Podujana Peramuna had not been handed in by the authorized person. According to a party leader of the JO, what had happened in that instance was that the authorized person – a politician – had come to hand in the nomination papers with a lawyer and he had handed in the first file and then been distracted by an official sitting nearby and the lawyer who had accompanied him had handed in the other file and that is what is being interpreted as ‘not having been handed in by an authorised person’. While it is certainly true that nomination papers should be handed in correctly, one has to ask oneself whether it is reasonable to reject a nomination paper on grounds such as those mentioned above.

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This is the people’s sovereignty that we are talking about. Even though the Elections Commission exists to facilitate elections and the expression of this sovereignty, instances such as these give one the impression that they are waiting to find some excuse however flimsy to reject nomination papers and thereby stymie that very sovereignty they are supposed to uphold. It would stand to reason that a nomination paper should be rejected only in instances where there is a major error which cannot be corrected before the close of the nominations. Prof. Hoole has said in the article mentioned above that a new Election Commission was appointed in Nov. 2015, and that “It is the Commission’s immense responsibility to establish strong norms of governance as precedents for future Commissions”. In that respect, the latest spate of rejections leaves much to be desired.

Referring apparently to the rejection of the Maharagama nominations list the Elections Commissioner was shown on TV explaining that while the names of the candidates were written in one column the gender was written in another column and the Elections Commission in checking whether the required number of women candidates have been included in the nomination list looks only at the column on which the gender is stated and not at the column on which the names of the candidates are written and besides, that there are many names used by both men and women such as Kumudu and that it is not possible to judge by name whether a person is male or female.

That, however, is not the point. The point is that if a nomination paper has the required number of women candidates even though the gender of one of the candidates has been inadvertently misstated in the nomination paper should that list be rejected? The requirement in the law is that it should have a certain number of women in it and that requirement has been met. In such circumstances to reject a nomination paper on the grounds that the gender of one candidate has been inadvertently misstated in the gender column can only be interpreted as bureaucratic nit picking. After all, every candidate on the nominations list is a male or female by self proclamation. Nobody has actually examined them to ascertain that they are actually what they claim to be. Therefore if the person handing in a nomination paper states that a particular candidate is female even though the gender column has misstated her gender as male that should be sufficient for the returning officer to accept the nomination paper. It should not be necessary to go to courts to get a minor error like that rectified. It is important to allow commonsense also to play a role in safeguarding the peoples’ sovereignty.

It is, no doubt, necessary to ensure that the contesting parties do not hand in faulty nomination papers. To ensure accuracy, a system of substantial fines for minor errors would be more appropriate without outright rejection. The only matters going before courts should be matters that are serious enough to be dealt with by courts. This practice of rejecting nominations lists has given rise to a culture of opponents trying to use this means to knock out the other side even before the contest begins by raising piddling issues in the paperwork submitted. The Elections Commission will have to decide whether they are running elections or a fill-in-the-blanks contest. Prof. Hoole a member of the Elections Commission himself has likened the attitude of Elections Commission officials to the little boy who was told by his mother to wear a particular shirt to school and the latter had gone to school wearing only that shirt because he had not been specifically told to wear trousers.

Elections officers would need to be reminded that their duty is to hold elections, and that the nomination paper is what enables people to contest those elections and that they should never be rejected without a good cause. Given the fact that this time the system of election has been changed completely, there should have been greater leeway given to correct minor errors in the paperwork without rejecting them outright.

One Response to “Priorities of the Elections Commission: Stymying people’s sovereignty through bureaucratic nitpicking”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    The upcoming Local Government Elections in February, 2018, will indeed serve as a Janamatha Vicharanaya or REFERENDUM on Public Opinion. It is of ENORMOUS SIGNIFICANCE to our country for the reasons I give below.

    If the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) demonstrates overwhelming strength at this Election, it will encourage the President Maithripala Sirisena and his SLFP faction to JETTISON the UNP now and join the SLPP to face the UNP as a formidable RECONSTITUTED SLFP inat the GEneral Election in 2020.

    In that case, as the Governing Party, the recombined SLPP-SLFP will be sure to win in 2020, ushering in a STABLE GOVERNMENT that will be able to PRESERVE the interests of the Patriotic Sinhala Buddhist Forces of our Motherland.

    If the Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) fails to achieve an overwhelming majority in February, 2018 Maithreepala Sirisena may decide to keep the SLFP-UNP coalition going until the Presidential Election in 2020 for his personal survival in the hope that UNP mis-steps and various commissions appointed by him to probe UNP misdeeds will weaken the UNP sufficiently at the hustings in 2020 for the SLFP to maintain its hold on the Parliament in 2020, and the Presidency in 2021.

    In the latter case, the UNP will use the remaining 2.5 years until the General Election in 2020 to weaken the Presidency and the SLPP. In particular, it will do its UTMOST to introduce a NEW CONSTITUTION that GUTS Sri Lanka’s Sovereignty imposing a Federal System of Government on a PROSTRATE Sri Lanka, SELL to foreigners and/or PRIVATIZE as many STATE INSTITUTIONS and ASSETS as possible, implement the ETCA agreement with India, stock its Party coffers with STOLEN STATE FUNDS and STASH as much money ABROAD for its leaders to serve as GOLDEN PARACHUTES for the INEVITABLE and possibly VERY VIOLENT fall of the UNP government, and put as many as possible of its political opponents in prison to weaken and destroy the opposition.

    In a NUTSHELL, the STAKE in this Election is ENORMOUS: an OVERWHELMING VICTORY for the Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) in the Local Government Election in February, 2018 is ESSENTIAL and CRITICAL to OUST the current Yamapalanaya EARLY to PRESERVE PEACE, SECURITY and GOOD HEALTH of our country until 2020 and BEYOND!

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