Peaceful conditions could boost turn-out to 85% | Daily News


 Eighth Presidential poll today :

Peaceful conditions could boost turn-out to 85%

Election watchdog groups and the Elections Commission are hailing the tightly managed election campaign that has resulted in one of the most peaceful election periods in decades and have called on citizens to actively participate by voting in the country 8th Presidential Election today. In the light of the violence-free atmosphere with a complete absence of major incidents, the Election Commission expects a high voter turn-out that could reach 85 per cent of the total registered voters. This will be higher than the 80 per cent at the 2015 Presidential poll.

“We encourage all voters to exercise their franchise. The vote is your right, your power, your voice and your future. November 16 is the International Day of Tolerance and Non-Violence. That is exactly what we need on Election Day,” said Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya.

Deshapriya announced that the first official result of the ‘Presidential Election 2019’ could be expected at midnight today, and the final official result by Monday morning unless a second count was needed. If the counting of the second and third preferential votes was needed in a scenario where no candidate obtains the qualifying 50 per cent+1 vote, the final result could be delayed till Monday night.

Nearly 16 million registered electors will go to the polls today to elect the seventh Executive President of the country from among a record 35 candidates contesting the Presidential Election 2019.

This is also the first President Election where an incumbent President, Prime Minister, Speaker or Opposition Leader is not contesting.

The Election Secretariat staff, public servants on election duty and, security forces units were making their final arrangements yesterday to conduct the poll at 12,845 polling stations set up in 12,644 polling divisions around the country.

Polling time is an extra hour longer, beginning at 7 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m, (usually 4 p.m.) with the additional hour to provide for the longer time voters will take to mark their three preferences on the record 26-inch long ballot paper.

Of the 35 candidates in what will be the country’s most expensive election so far, 20 are contesting from political parties and the rest are independent candidates. The Presidential Poll is estimated to cost a staggering Rs. 7.5 billion, mainly due to expenses precipitated by the long list of Presidential aspirants.

UNP Deputy Leader and Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa, the son of the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa, is the Presidential aspirant of New Democratic Front, a broad political coalition bearing the symbol of ‘Swan’ and led by the United National Party (UNP). This is the third outing for the Swan after 2010 (Sarath Fonseka) and 2015 (Maithripala Sirisena).

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), a nascent political party with symbol ‘flower bud’ and led by Opposition Leader and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has fielded brother and former Defence Ministry Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as its candidate and he is also supported by a section of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Thus this election will see for the first time a tussle between the son of a former President and a brother of another former President.

JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake is contesting on the ticket of the JVP-led National People’s Power movement under the ‘Compass’ symbol instead of the JVP’s usual ‘Bell’. This is the first time in 20 years that the JVP is fielding a candidate for a Presidential Election since it fielded Nandana Gunathilake in 1999.

Former Army Commander General Mahesh Senanayake, who retired in August, has also entered the fray from National People’s Movement bearing the symbol of ‘Light Bulb’. This is only the second time that a retired General is contesting the Presidential Election, the first being Field Marshal (then General) Sarath Fonseka in 2010. Only one woman is in the fray – environmentalist and social activist Dr. Ajantha Perera from the Socialist Party. Two Bhikkus are also contesting.

According to the Electoral Register in 2018, 15,992,096 registered voters are eligible to cast their votes including nearly one million new voters. The National Identity Card, valid Passport, valid postal ID, valid Driving License, Government Pensioner’s Identity Card (issued through the Divisional Secretary), Elder’s Identity Card, and Temporary Identity Card (issued through the Department of Elections) are recognized as valid identity documents for voting.

The voters are advised to refrain from carrying mobile phones to the polling booths. No personal vehicles will be allowed into polling stations, except for those carrying mobility or vision-impaired voters. The voters could either write 1, 2, and 3 for their preferences or use traditional cross mark (x) to cast their vote if they vote for only one candidate.

The Commission hopes to start counting postal votes at 5.15 p.m. today and then start counting the other votes at 7 p.m. The postal vote was conducted on October 31 and November 1. Postal Votes results are not likely to be released separately. Results will first be released on the Facebook page and YouTube Channel of the Elections Commission and will also be available to all accredited media outlets for live broadcast.

A total of about 400,000 persons have been deployed for election related work including about 200,000 public servants. Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya urged public servants not to dodge election duty, adding that an Rs 100,000 fine and three-year jail term could be imposed on a public servant for absence without a justifiable reason.

The People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) and the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), who act as official local election monitors, have each deployed about 4,000 observers around the country. In addition, the European Union and the Commonwealth have deployed over 100 foreign observers at their own cost. Moreover, election monitoring teams from India, Indonesia, Australia, South Africa and the Maldives are acting as official observers of the Elections Commission.

As at yesterday morning, the total number of election complaints received to the Election Commission stood at 3,905, with 27 complaints on election violence and 3,771 complaints on election law violations.

Specially designed large cardboard boxes are being used as ballot boxes this time instead of wooden boxes as the ballot paper is more than two feet long. The imported plastic boxes the Commission already has in possession will also be used. Fool-proof methods have been applied to all of them. The Elections Chairman reiterating that there was no chance for electoral fraud or ballot rigging, said the Commission receives the results in four different systems.

This is also the first Presidential Election being held under an Independent Elections Commission since the enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Under its Clauses, the term of office of the President has been reduced to five from six years. The next President will also not be able to hold any ministerial portfolio.

With President Maithripala Sirisena choosing to remain neutral in the election campaign, this could also be considered the first time that an incumbent President decided to remain neutral in the campaign in the run up to the election. He will be in power till the next President is sworn in, probably on Wednesday.

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