The election staff members together with other relevant stakeholders were seen making last-minute preparations yesterday to conduct the polling at polling stations across the country.
Face masks, face shields, gloves, sanitizers and infrared thermometers have been distributed to every polling station. Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya reiterated yesterday that all polling stations are “100 percent safe” and voters should not fear to come and vote.
This is the country’s 16th General Election since 1947. The voters, who are undergoing self-quarantine at home but have completed a 14-day period at quarantine centres, are requested to come between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. and special polling booths have been arranged for them. However, there will be no provision for those still in quarantine centres to vote.
The NEC expects a voter turnout between 75 and 80 per cent. The country goes to the polls in a situation where COVID-19 is under control. The NEC said that the first official result of the ‘General Election 2020’ could be expected by noon tomorrow, and the final official results before midnight on the same day. The NEC added that the issuing of preferential vote results could be completed by Friday night.
This is also the costliest election so far in the Sri Lankan history with an estimate of about Rs 10 billion, due to the additional measures required in the wake of COVID-19.
A total of 7,452 candidates are contesting the Election, 3,652 candidates from 40 political parties and the rest from independent groups. Parliament was dissolved by the President on March 2, and the nominations were accepted from March 12-19 for the Election initially scheduled for April 25, but the Election date had to be postponed twice in the wake of the Coronavirus.
The election campaigns had been low key this year due to the many restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, the competition for preferential votes had reached a fever pitch in the run up to the polls.
Deshapriya said the Commission would not hesitate to annul the results of any polling division if irregularities or election law violations were reported.
He assured that there is no room for ballot rigging or any other election fraud, also adding that “the Police officers on duty are given weapons not to brush teeth but to be used if necessary”.
After the polling ended on Wednesday, the ballot boxes will be sealed and special security will be given to them overnight. The counting will begin tomorrow at 8am. Around 200,000 public servants, 8,000 health staff personnel and about 69,000 police personnel will be on duty.
Election Watchdog Groups and the Election Commission said that a peaceful and conducive atmosphere for a free and fair election prevailed as at yesterday with no major incidents of pre-election violence reported.
The People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) and Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), two main local election monitoring groups, have deployed field observers around the country. The CMEV has deployed about 3,000 observers while the PAFFREL has deployed about 4,000 observers. Foreign poll observers have not arrived this year owing to the COVID-19 global pandemic. However, six volunteers, including foreigners currently in the country, are serving as election observers for the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL).
As at Monday, the total number of election complaints received by the Election Commission stood at 6,932, but notably there were no complaints on election violence.
The National Identity Card (NIC), Passport, Driving License, Government Pensioners’ Identity Card issued by the Department of Pensions, Elders’ Identity Card issued by the Divisional Secretariat, Clergy/Priest Identity Card issued by the Department for Registration of Persons, Temporary Identity Card issued by the Election Commission, Special Permit with the photograph issued by the Department for Registration of Persons are recognized as valid identification documents for voting.
The NEC has also requested the electors who have returned from abroad to bring their passport in addition to the NIC when they come to vote. The voters are requested to use only the cross (x) to vote.
The ‘Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna’ (SLPP) is contesting a parliamentary poll for the first time. The SLPP together with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and about nine other parties formed a new political alliance named ‘Sri Lanka Nidahas Podujana Sandanaya’ last February to jointly contest the Election, but it was agreed to retain the SLPP as the Party name and ‘Flower Bud’ as the Party symbol.
However, the SLFP is contesting separately under its traditional symbol of the ‘Hand’ for four electoral districts, namely Nuwara Eliya, Kalutara, Jaffna and Vanni.
The SLPP’s Prime Ministerial Candidate is its Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, the incumbent Prime Minister and former President (2005-2015). He is contesting from the Kurunegala District, the same electorate he contested the General Election in August 2015.
The United National Party (UNP) and its breakaway group ‘Samagi Jana Balavegaya’ (SJB) are contesting the Election separately under the symbols of ‘Elephant’ and ‘Telephone’.
The SJB is contesting an election for the first time. UNP Deputy Leader Premadasa, who held the Opposition Leader position in the last Parliament for a short period before its dissolution, is the SJB’s Prime Ministerial Candidate. Premadasa, who represented the Hambantota District in the House from 2000-2020, is contesting from the Colombo District this year.
Former Prime Minister and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is the Prime Ministerial Candidate of the UNP and he is also contesting from the Colombo District.
The ‘Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna’ (JVP) led by Anura Kumara Dissanayake is contesting the General Election from the National People’s Power (NPP), the same alliance it formed in the run up to the previous Presidential Election.
The NPP is contesting under the symbol of ‘Compass’.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led by former Opposition Leader R Sampanthan is contesting under the name of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) and the “House” symbol in the Jaffna, Vanni, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara electoral districts.
The TNA is contesting against former Northern Province Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran’s Tamil People’s Alliance, Minister Douglas Devananda’s Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and several other parties in the North and the East.