CMEV releases first ground evaluation during campaign period for the 2020 Sri Lanka polls

First published on the website of CMEV on 23 July 2020.

ANFREL member in Sri Lanka, the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence, has released its first evaluation of the ground situation during the election campaign for the 2020 Parliamentary Election.

The ground evaluation took place during the first two weeks since the official campaigns of major political parties and candidates were launched. Four field teams together with field observers conducted these field evaluations in the Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Batticaloa, Digamadulla, Nuwara-Eliya and Monaragala electoral districts.

CMEV looked at the commitment of political parties and candidates in following the health guidelines for conducting election campaigning amid the COVID-19 outbreak; gauged public interest in participating in the elections; and assessed the developments in the ground campaigns.

The following are the major findings of the two-week evaluation of CMEV:

•   The commitment of candidates and organizers of most political parties to comply with the health guidelines was negligible as the establishment and daily functions of the campaign offices, meetings and door-to-door campaigns were all observed as operating with minimal precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Most supporters who work at campaign offices were seen not even wearing face masks.

•   An overwhelming majority of the respondents said that the health situation is not perfect to have free and fair elections while a corresponding majority rejected the idea of having elections under strict guidelines to control the health risk.

•   Majority of the respondents said that the public has no interest in elections as their main focus is about their economic issues which have been increased after COVID-19 outbreak

•   All candidates and their organizers interviewed by CMEV field teams expressed their dissatisfaction with restrictions on election campaigning and they pointed out their difficulties in communicating their preference numbers without posters and cut-outs.

•   Most opposition party candidates and some of the ruling party candidates too alleged that the police act with prejudice in implementing election laws and removing posters and cutouts.

•   Most party supporters expressed their concern about intra-party competition escalating to election violence in the final days of the election campaign.

•   A number of candidates expressed concern about the changed times for the counting procedures and the extra measures being taken as counting will not take place on the night of Election Day as in elections past.

•   A number of voters, particularly Tamil and Muslim voters, also expressed concern about the expanded security and armed forces presence due to government pandemic combating efforts, and hoped that this would not lead to disturbances during the election campaign or on Election Day itself.

Sri Lanka is set to hold the parliamentary election on 5 August 2020. It was originally scheduled for 25 April 2020 but was postponed due to the threat of COVID-19 to public health and safety.

The Ministry of Health in consultation with the Election commission issued on 9 June 2020 a comprehensive set of guidelines to be followed during elections but was only gazetted on 17 July 2020. CMEV said the gazetted guidelines relaxed a number of restrictions on physical campaigning (including meeting and canvassing participant limits) and omits a significant number of provisions in the original guidelines. CMEV noted that the first field evaluation was conducted before the health regulations were gazetted.

CMEV recorded 595 election-related violations from 2 March to 21 July 2020. Top violations include illegal campaigning (215), illegal posters/cutouts (162), and health guidelines violations (64).

Download the full report here: “Field Visit Report – Election Situation Analysis as of 15th July 2020

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