EMPOWERS Elections Commission to inquire into CANDIDATES’ finances

President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday received Cabinet approval to draft legislation to control election expenses.

Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe addressing a media briefing at the Ministry stated that Cabinet granted unanimous approval for the proposal and that they hoped to bring in legislation on campaign finance before the advent of the next election. There is political commitment to make it happen, the Minister said.

The government hopes to hold its first election in two years; the Local Government elections in January 2018.

“This legislation will ensure that there is an environment for a free and fair elections and will apply for Local Government, Provincial Council, Parliamentary and Presidential elections”, Minister Samarasinghe said.

He said it was inevitable that large amounts of money showered upon voters would sway his or her vote and that this law will put a stop to that.

The Minister added that it would also minimise incidents of election violence and corruption, which grew from the root of all evil- money.

The need to have campaign finance regulations have been discussed since 2013 between Party General Secretaries, representatives of political parties and the Elections Commission. In 2016, a meeting held between the General Secretaries of all political parties and the Elections Commission, reached consensus on the need to introduce laws to curb campaign expenses but up to date, no concrete action has been taken to make such regulations a reality.

“This Cabinet paper is a victory for all voters. All citizens in this country will have the freedom to choose the candidate of their choice with no monetary obligation being placed on them. It will also ease the politician’s need to be beholden to favours towards his or her funders”, Minister Samarasinghe said.

The legislation will also empower the Elections Commission to inquire into the finances of candidates, the source of their funding and what they spend on. The Minister was of the view that these were the first steps towards reducing corruption in the political system.

Drafting of the legislation will be done with the assistance of the Elections Commission and they would decide what kind of limits need to be placed on expenses.

Controlling campaign finances has been a key demand as well as a promise from both the government as well as civil society. EU monitors in their report on the 2015 Parliamentary Elections too called for a ceiling on campaign finance and at the time, the Chairman of the Elections Commission, Mahinda Deshapriya asked that Parliament take steps to introduce such a system to ensure a better election process.

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