|Wikileaks:||View 04COLOMBO241 at Wikileaks.org|
|Tags:||PGOV PHUM PINS PINR CE Elections|
|Redacted:||This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000241 SIPDIS DEPARTMENT FOR SA, SA/INS, INR/NESA, DRL NSC FOR E. MILLARD E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/11/14 TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, PINS, PINR, CE, Elections SUBJECT: Sri Lanka's election process Refs: Colombo 226, and previous (U) Classified by Ambassador Jeffrey J. Lunstead. Reasons 1.5 (b,d). 1. (C) SUMMARY: In light of President Kumaratunga's calling of early parliamentary elections to take place on April 2, Mission has put together the following primer on Sri Lanka's election process. Flagging the many idiosyncrasies of the process, the primer focuses on four key areas: the nomination process; the campaign itself; election day; and the post-election timeframe. END SUMMARY. ====================== The Nomination Process ====================== 2. (SBU) In light of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga's calling of early parliamentary elections to take place on April 2, Mission has put together the following primer on Sri Lanka's election process. The first key aspect of the process involves confirming nominations for the ballot. The President has set February 17-24 for nominations to be made. During this timeframe, parties submit their official list of nominees who will be running in the election to the office of the Elections Commissioner and to the requisite local government agent in each of Sri Lanka's 22 electoral districts. 3. (SBU) The tricky part of this process actually comes before the actual nominations are submitted, however. In this pre-nomination period, the parties work furiously to confirm and solidify alliances, so that they can run joint campaigns, and appear on the ballot under one symbol and one coalition name. The governing United National Party (UNP), for example, is negotiating with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) on whether the SLMC remains willing to contest under the "United National Front" (UNF) banner that was used during the last elections which took place in December 2001. At the same time, President Kumaratunga's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is working with the radical Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) to develop their joint nomination lists. The SLFP and the JVP recently concluded an electoral alliance called the "United People's Freedom Alliance" (UPFA), and seem set to put together a joint nomination plank shortly. They will likely be joined by some small political parties, particularly some of the anti-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Tamil parties. (Note: The President's long-standing coalition grouping, the People's Alliance, will not be on the ballot this election, from what Mission understands.) ============ The Campaign ============ 4. (C) Sri Lankan election campaigns are an "anything goes" type of affair usually involving much violence. The Elections Commissioner's Office monitors the campaign to ensure that it is free and fair. This office, however, is not considered to be very effective and in the past has been subject to political influence. In a change, current Commissioner Dayanda Dissanayake is relatively impartial, but -- sticking with the tradition of his office -- he is not considered effective. He was close to President Kumaratunga, but he reportedly became upset at her when she played a role in a court-ordered injunction preventing him from retiring until an independent Elections Commission starts operating (i.e., Dissanayake is essentially being forced to remain in a job he no longer wants to be part of!). (Note: FYI: In a bid to improve governance, Parliament passed a bill in 2001 establishing an independent Elections Commission, among several other independent bodies. The commission, however, has not yet been formed in large part because the President has refused to confirm the Constitutional Commission's choice to head the Election Commission.) There are no campaign funding restrictions in place in Sri Lanka and parties can spend as much as they raise. If there are accusations of bribery, the Elections Commissioner can step in. 5. (SBU) With respect to violence, over 50 people were killed in the December 2001 parliamentary campaign, over 25 in the October 2000 parliamentary elections, and almost 50 in the December 1999 presidential election campaign. In general, Sri Lankan police are extremely ineffective in stopping the violence and apprehending those responsible. That said, there were some arrests for violence committed during the last elections, including that of Senior SLFP MP Anuruddha Ratwatte, a relative of Kumaratunga's, who is currently on trial for the killings of 10 Muslims on election day, December 5, 2001. 6. (U) Sri Lanka allows local organizations to "monitor" election campaigns and ballot counting. Foreign organizations are also allowed to "observe" the elections. The Commonwealth and the European Union sent large teams to observe the December 2001 elections. ============ Election Day ============ 7. (SBU) Parliamentary elections will be held from 7 AM to 4 PM on Friday, April 2. On each ballot, the voter must first select the party of his or her choice, then indicate a "preference" for three individual candidates. There are three ways a candidate can win a seat in Parliament: -- Under Sri Lanka's complex, almost byzantine proportional representation (PR) system, each party is allocated a certain number of seats based on the total number of votes it receives in an electoral district. Based on the voters' "preferences," candidates are then rank ordered by the parties and, if they meet the cut of how many seats that party has won in the district, they win a seat in Parliament. -- In addition to the PR seats, in each of Sri Lanka's 22 electoral districts, the party that receives the most votes is allotted at least one bonus seat. Combined, the PR seats and the bonus seats fill 196 seats in the 225-member Parliament. -- The remaining 29 seats are filled from the "National List," which is determined, proportionally, by the national percentage of votes that each party wins. For example, if the UNP wins 60 percent of the votes nationally, it will be allocated 17 seats -- 60 percent of 29 National List seats. Each party contesting elections must submit a 29-candidate National List to the Election Commissioner during the February 17-24 nomination period. The exact allotment of National List seats per party is finalized in the days immediately following the elections. 8. (SBU) Aside from the high-level of violence that afflicts the country on election day, another serious problem almost always crops up. This concerns voters (invariably Tamils) from areas controlled by the LTTE, who must travel, sometimes long distances, to vote at polling sites in government-controlled areas. In the past, it has often been difficult for these voters to cast their ballots. During the December 2001 parliamentary elections, for example, the Sri Lankan military, on the orders of President Kumaratunga's then- government, prevented thousands of Tamil voters from entering government-controlled regions on suspicion that the LTTE was planning a terrorist attack. The Sri Lankan Supreme Court in 2003 ruled the GSL's actions a violation of the fundamental rights of those affected, and fined the government and cited several officials. Elections Commissioner Dissanayake, one of those cited by the Supreme Court, has promised that there will not be a repetition of what happened in December 2001 during this election. 9. (U) Turnout usually is quite high in Sri Lankan elections, hovering at about 70 percent. Given that the April 2004 elections will be the fourth national election in less than five years (and the fact that the calling of elections at this time may well not be a popular decision), turnout could possibly be lower this time around. (Note: There are an estimated 13.8 million voters in Sri Lanka, including over 400,000 additional voters on the rolls this time around.) =========================== The Post-Election Timeframe =========================== 10. (SBU) Due to the hand counting of ballots, spread over hundreds of village-level precincts, the tallies from the April 2 election -- based on past experience -- will slowly trickle in. Results, which will only be clear a day or two following election day, are then certified by the Elections Commissioner. If a party or coalition of parties has a clear majority, a government could quickly be formed, and a list of ministers -- including a Prime Minister -- sworn in by the President. 11. (C) There are several existing coalitions that could emerge with a clear majority after April 2. If the SLFP-JVP alliance wins the majority vote, then -- as noted above -- the process of swearing-in ministers should be fairly easy as the President will immediately accept the alliance's government. If the UNP and its coalition, however, again wins the majority as it did in December 2001, the process could be more tricky. After the December 2001 parliamentary elections, for example, President Kumaratunga reserved the right to reject the UNF's slate of ministers in toto, or at least some of them. She did not reject any in the end. If the UNP wins on April 2, there is a very real chance that the President may reject some of its ministerial choices this time around given cohabitation tensions. In any case, Parliament is scheduled to convene on April 23. If there is a "hung" Parliament with no party forming the majority, the impasse could continue for weeks as parties try to come to terms with each other in order to form a sustainable government. 12. (U) Minimize considered. LUNSTEAD
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