Mechanism to ensure compliance with media guidelines vital – PSC

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The Final report of the Parliament Select Committee (PSC) to Identify Appropriate Reforms to Election Laws and the Electoral System has observed that the Election Commission was of the view that the number of political parties registered with the Election Commission, but not contesting any of the elections, was high and to avoid jeopardising conducting free and fair elections, an effective mechanism to ensure compliance with media guidelines was needed.

The Report was presented to Parliament by committee chairman, Leader of the House, Dinesh Gunawardena.

The Report also stated that the Provincial Council Election which has been stalled for more than three years negates the democratic rights of the people.

“Instability prevailing in Local Government Authorities and the number of members of Local Government Authorities had increased considerably by the last election held in 2018. Women representation in Provincial Councils and Parliament was low and the need to ensure women representation in the electoral process was stressed. The mandatory quota allocated for youth in the Local Government Elections had been removed by the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Act, No. 16 of 2017 and the representation of youth in all three tiers was inadequate,” the Report stated.

“Numerous issues crop up in the formation and in the aftermath of formation of alliances by   political parties. Election propaganda facilities were not equal for every candidate due to the exorbitant charges levied by privately- owned electronic media. Also, the dissemination of false information, misinterpretation of information and election propaganda activities conducted by social media is in violation of election laws. The vast amount of money to be expended by a candidate in the current election campaign incentivises corruption within the political system, is leading to violence and it could also have an adverse impact on free and fair elections as it negates healthy competition among political parties and candidates in a level playing field. Despite the publication of the Code of Conduct, it is hardly adhered to by political parties, independent groups or candidates during the elections period,” it stated.

State resources are frequently used for campaign or political purposes, despite the fact that directions to prevent such misuse are published by the Election Commission in a Gazette Notification. It is observed that the current political campaigning methods and laws are inconsistent with current needs and  political parties/ independent groups and candidates should have a fair political campaigning mechanism during the election period.

Thousands of voters including employees engaged in the essential services, who are unable to go to polling stations on the day of the polls and differently-abled persons are deprived of exercising the right to vote which is the foundation for democracy. The law relating to the furnishing of declarations of assets and liabilities by the candidates should be enacted, it stated.

The law relating to security deposits had not been amended since 1981 and a necessity has arisen to bring timely amendments to these provisions to suit the monetary situation prevailing in the country, it added.