Wednesday, 20 November 2019 06:20

Commonwealth observers back stronger measures against hate speech

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Commend Sri Lankans, Election Commission on largely peaceful, orderly election
Say 84% voter turnout impressive, wants more women candidates
Say mechanisms needed to regulate campaign finance, ensure even playing field
Concerned by hate speech through private media, social media
Recommend independent self-regulatory system for broader media landscape
Recommend improving access to polling booths for disabled voters


The Presidential Elections held last week was largely peaceful and orderly, opined the Commonwealth Observer Group yesterday, but called for more women candidates and recommended an independent self-regulatory system to uphold media standards and reduce misinformation.

Former Ghanaian Minister of Interior and Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) Chair Prosper Bani commended Sri Lankans and the Election Commission (EC) for conducting a ‘largely peaceful and orderly election’. Bani made the comments at a press conference held yesterday in Colombo, where the Group shared their preliminary findings. The final report is expected to be submitted to the Commonwealth Secretary General, and made available to the Government and public.

“Democracy is a journey, from 2015 to now, there has been a significant leap in terms of reduction of violence, the efficiency in the conduct of the elections, the abuses have reduced,” Bani observed.

The control and management of hate speech in the media landscape, and the growing use of fake news, are concerns he added. “...we were concerned to hear about the incidents of violence, in particular, an attack on a convoy of buses transporting Muslims to vote in the northern part of the country. We strongly condemn this and all other such incidents of intimidation and violence targeted at particular groups,” he stressed.

The 84% voter turnout for the Presidential Elections drew the Group’s praise. “Citizens of Sri Lanka have taken a clear stand on democracy, a fundamental Commonwealth value,” he said. However, he urged all political leaders to prioritise social cohesion and inclusiveness.

The Group also highlighted the lack of participation by women, citing that only one presidential candidate out of 35 was female. “We echo the recommendation of the 2015 COG, encouraging the consideration of affirmative legal measures to ensure increased participation and representation of women in politics at the national level,” he said.

The COG was impressed by the confidence and professionalism of the polling officials, noting that a significant number of them were women. The observers noted that the Police and polling officials cooperated well, but however said polling station layout may need to be reviewed in the future.

He emphasised that Sri Lanka needed a mechanism to regulate political campaign financing for transparency, accountability and to ensure even playing field for all candidates and parties. Commenting on the use and misuse of media, Bani observed that Sri Lanka needs an independent self-regulatory system for the broader media landscape. “We will elaborate on this issue in our final report,” he said, noting that social media was also part of the broader media landscape.

“Through this election, the people of Sri Lanka have once again demonstrated their commitment to the Commonwealth’s fundamental values of democracy. We urge the country’s new leadership to promote and protect these values for all citizens,” he said.

(FT)

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