Deshapriya defends predecessor over LTTE-TNA interference in 2005 prez poll

Rules out seeking SC ruling on PC polls on the basis of Interpretation Ordinance.

National Election Commission (NEC) Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya disowned the responsibility on the part of the then Election Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake for the LTTE-TNA (Tamil National Alliance) combine organising a polls boycott which is believed to have caused UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat at the 2005 presidential election.

Deshapriya asserted that his predecessor would have acted if agents of those who contested the Nov 2015 poll had requested a re-poll or the public had brought the LTTE interference to Dissanayake’s attention. Deshapriya said so when The Island raised the issue over the phone on live Sirasa morning show Pathikada hosted by Bandula Jayasekera on Aug 20.

Asked for comment on the allegation that Dissanayake turned a blind eye to blatant LTTE-TNA intervention, Deshapriya said that all presidential candidates had agreed to have the results released. According to him as no one sought a re-poll, Dissanayake announced the final result. Once the final result was announced nothing could be done, Deshapriya said, indicating that the then Election Commission hadn’t been aware of the LTTE-TNA trying to sabotage the vital national election.

Then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa won by 186,000 votes, the lowest margin ever at a presidential poll.

Deshapriya emphasised that no one called for re-polling at the conclusion of 2005 and 2010 presidential polls. Former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka challenged Mahinda Rajapaksa at January 2010 election. Fonseka lost by 1.8mn votes.

Deshapriya succeeded Dissanayake in late March 2011. Deshapriya was appointed Chairman of the newly constituted NEC in Nov 2015.

The TNA announced the LTTE decision to prohibit Tamil voters from exercising their franchise over a week before January 17, 2005 poll.

Deshapriya asserted that the Election Commissioner/NEC couldn’t be held responsible for the failures of candidates and political parties.

Having pointed out that newly elected Pakistani Premier Imran Khan had taken tangible measures to cut down extravagant spending, Jayasekera sought Deshapriya’s opinion on local politicians. Deshapriya said that efforts to control spending by any country should be appreciated. However, being the Chairman of the NEC he couldn’t compare the current situation in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Responding to another query, Deshapriya said that he was yet to examine recent declaration of the Joint Opposition/Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna regarding twice elected President Mahinda Rajapaksa seeking a third term. Deshapriya said that in case of a dispute over the two-term limit in accordance with the 19 Amendment to the Constitution only the Supreme Court could give a ruling. Deshapriya declined to express an opinion on the basis only the Supreme Court could interpret the Constitution.

Jayasekera pointed out that Higher Education and Cultural Affairs Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC was on record as having said that only the President could seek an opinion from the Supreme Court.

Deshapriya recalled the circumstances the then General Secretary of the JHU Ven. Dr. Omalpe Sobitha Thera successfully moved the Supreme Court against a bid by the then President to put off 2005 presidential poll. The NEC Chief said that a civil person could move the relevant court to obtain an opinion.

Following the intervention made by Ven. Sobitha, the Supreme Court instructed the Elections Commissioner to hold the presidential poll between October 28 and November 22, 2005. The Court upheld Ven. Omalpe Sobitha thera’s petition that the second term of Kumaratunga would end on December 22, 2005 in accordance with Amended Section 3 of the Sri Lankan Constitution.

A five-member bench of the Supreme Court rejected the claim by the then SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena that Kumaratunga’s second term would finish in November 2006, 12 years from the beginning of her first term in November 1994.

Deshapriya acknowledged allegations against the NEC in respect of the delay in holding of Provincial Council polls.He said the delay was due to failure on the part of the parliament to complete the process in respect of enactment of the relevant law pertaining to introduction of a mixed electoral system. He said that as Parliament had received the delimitation report it was its responsibility to ensure the enactment of the law soon. The NEC couldn’t exercise the powers of the parliament, Deshapriya said, adding that even the powerful Indian Election Commission couldn’t do so.

Deshapriya insisted that the Speaker and 224 lawmakers were responsible for the delay therefore it was their responsibility to take tangible measures to enact the law without further delay.

Delay in holding PC polls

Referring to the Supreme Court ruling regarding the case filed by the Southern Provincial Council against the delay in holding Local Government polls, Deshapriya pointed out that the apex court found fault with the government for the situation. Deshapriya said that the government was found to have violated the human rights of the people. The NEC Chief reiterated that Parliament couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for the delay. According to him, the main problem was that the debate on the delimitation report never took place though placed on the Order Paper.

Due to legal experts pointing out the grave continuing violation of laws, the parliament was now set to debate the delimitation report on Friday (Aug 24).

Recalling Sri Lanka’s commitment to the United Nations, Deshapriya emphasized the pivotal importance of holding scheduled elections. The official said that there was no point in having elections if they could not he held according to the schedule.

Deshapriya alleged that Parliament was collectively responsible for clearing the way for holding of elections.

Elections to three Provincial Councils have been delayed by over ten months.

Responding to another query, Deshapriya said that between April 23 and Aug 16, 2018, the NEC had written four times to the Speaker, the President, the Prime Minister et al reminding them of their responsibility to clear the ground for PC polls. Deshapriya blamed them for not responding to NEC letters.

Asked whether the PC polls couldn’t be held under the old system as the new law was yet to become operational as pointed out by the Joint Opposition, Deshapriya said that assertion was made in line with the Interpretation Ordinance. However, legal experts of the NEC were of the opinion the law could be interpreted both for and against the proposal. Therefore, a ruling on this matter could be obtained from the Supreme Court.

Deshapriya indicated that the NEC wouldn’t seek a ruling from the Supreme Court in this regard.

Referring to delayed Local Government polls finally held on Feb 10, 2018, Deshapriya explained how legal process could delay the electoral process. Deshapriya discussed the NEC overcoming legal action meant to delay LG polls by choosing 93 local bodies where elections could be held in spite of legal recourse. Those responsible for court action withdrew the case soon after NEC announced elections to 93 local government bodies, Deshapriya said.

He blamed the public for not using Right to Information (RTI) Law to their advantage. RTI Law could make a big difference, Deshapriya said, faulting the public for failing to exploit such laws for the benefit of the society.

While ruling out the possibility of it in seeking Supreme Court ruling on the possibility of holding PC polls under the old system in the absence of new mixed electoral scheme, Deshapriya said that the NEC received an assurance from Parliament the election road map would be finalised by October this year. He accepted that assurance and expected parliament to work according to that plan.

In his concluding remarks, the NEC Chairman alleged that due to public apathy, the Commission couldn’t obtain the expected number of new voters this year too. According to Deshapriya, instead of anticipated 200,000 new voters, there were only 140,000 new voters. Deshapriya said that there were 376,000 new voters in 2015, 190,000 in 2916, 148,000 in 2017 and 140,000 this year.

Deshapriya speculated that the next presidential election could be held any time after January 2019.

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