Due to COVID concerns : Ballots will be counted the day after Polls – EC Chair
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan and Ruwan Laknath Jayakody
Election Commission (EC) Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya said yesterday (29) that the counting of ballots would begin on 6 August at around 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. depending on the areas, due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
He noted that the time between the closing of polls and the starting of the count on the following day will be used to review and implement health standards introduced by the Health Ministry such as hand washing and cleaning.
Meanwhile, Thamizh Makkal Thesya Kootani Leader, C.V. Wigneswaran has raised concerns with the outgoing Swiss Ambassador Hanspeter Mock over the safety of ballot boxes on the night of 5 August because the counting would take place on the following day.
Polls monitor, the People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) however noted that they had no issue with the votes polled on 5 August being counted on 6 August morning as the entire polls process of transporting ballots, counting and announcing the results will be monitored at all times, unhindered, by the representatives of candidates including those from political parties and independent groups, and representatives of authorised elections monitoring bodies.
Speaking to Ceylon Today, Executive Director of PAFFREL, Rohana Hettiarachchi noted that all stakeholders should adopt a flexible approach with regard to the poll as the risk of exposure and spread of COVID-19 was ever present. He noted that State officials and the EC should be commended for recognising the importance of this election and taking the steps to conduct it, even at great risk to their lives.
He also pointed out that while some countries take several days to release election results, Sri Lanka had always done so within a day or two.
Candidates are justified in expressing their concerns if they are worried about the receipt of votes or the security of the poll, he added.
Meanwhile, elections monitoring body, the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) noted that all political parties and independent groups have been invited by the EC to organise representatives such as polling agents to oversee the process at all times including during the night of 5 August.
National Coordinator of the CMEV, Manjula Gajanayake, also speaking to Ceylon Today, admonished Wigneswaran for rumour mongering, and pointed out that instead of spreading rumours, they should come forward to protect democracy by deploying their representatives as is their responsibility. He added that the relevant monitoring groups have invested in trained observers who would be present at all main stations at all times. Further, he noted that protective measures concerning ballot boxes such as the seals used were very strong and that 20-30 persons would be present at all times when the ballot boxes are opened.