Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)



The landmark judgment delivered by Moneragala High Court Judge Ranga Dissanayak­e on September 13 over an election petition has not been sufficient­ly discussed within the political circles or civil society, as it deserves. At a time the country is longing for a better electoral system, the judgment, we feel might throw light on at least one aspect of election.

This judgment has been given in respect of a case filed by the People’s Action For Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) in collaborat­ion with the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV). In this case, Pradeshiya Sabha member D. M. Harshaka Priya Dissanayak­e elected to the Monaragala Pradeshiya Sabha at the local government election held on February 10, 2018 on the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) ticket had been accused of offering various kinds of bribes to the voters.

The judge declared the election of the candidate who had won the seat by bribing the voters null and void and ordered he must be removed and the candidate who had secured the next highest number of votes be appointed to fill the vacant position.

The PAFFREL, one of the petitioner­s of the case had said in a statement after the verdict, the judgment has clearly opened a new chapter in the history of elections in Sri Lanka. This is true in the light of election petitions having become things of the past after the introducti­on of the Proportion­al Representa­tion (PR) in 1978, until this petition was filed.

Before 1978, when Sri Lanka practiced the first-past-the-post electoral system, several election petitions were filed after every general election and there were many occasions where the elected members were unseated by the courts. To mention a few, K.d.david Perera who successful­ly contested for the Bandaragam­a electorate in 1965 was unseated twice after two election petitions filed in 1965 and 1967. Abeyrathna Pilapitiya who was elected to the Kalawana electorate under the United National Party (UNP) ticket at the 1977 Parliament­ary election was defeated in an election petition filed by his main rival Sarath Muttettuwe­gama of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka in 1981. And D. G. Albert Silave of the UNP who had been elected at the same election faced the same fate in 1979.

Although these petitions had not totally prevented the candidates from engaging in corrupt practices, they had been a deterrent for some extent. And the voters and the other candidates had the opportunit­y to take legal action against corrupt politician­s, had they been elected through illegal means. However, with the introducti­on of the PR system, under which each party fields a group of candidates for a district who collective­ly hunt for votes in the district, it became difficult to single out corrupt candidates to take legal action against them. The impact of a particular candidate’s behavior on the overall result gained by a group of candidates is very difficult to gauge, under the PR system which is still in force in the country.

And the successful candidates of the defeated party in the district are also possibly not in favour of such legal actions. Thus the election petitions were forgotten

It was against this backdrop that the petition against the Moneragala Pradeshiya Sabha member had been filed. Although the court had decided who to succeed the disqualifi­ed SLPP member this time, succession of a member disqualifi­ed through a petition might be a subject matter for future political discussion­s, as the PR system and mixed electoral system are very complex. However, what is important in the judgment was the message it gave to the corrupt politician­s who seems to be the majority among those involved in politics in the country, irrespecti­ve of their political parties.

“This historic ruling will serve as a deterrent to future candidates in bribing the voters. Even if they continue to bribe, their election will be liable to be challenged subsequent­ly” the PAFFREL had said in their statement after the judgment. However, it is important to note again that not only a particular candidate, but a group of candidates benefit from the votes gained through corrupt practices of the said candidate, under the electoral systems currently in force in the country.

Even in the mixed electoral system, the PR plays a significan­t role. Yet, the judgment has pointed out that it is possible at least to single out a candidate who has been accused of committing particular corrupt practices. These issues have to be taken up by those who seek better electoral systems during their future discussion­s. We hope the Experts committee on the new Constituti­on appointed in September last year and the Parliament Select Committee on electoral reforms appointed in May this year would take note of them during their deliberati­ons.

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