23 proxies among 35 presidential candidates cost US$ 41.6 million in Lanka

COLOMBO (The Island/ANN) - Election Commission Chairman reveals 23 proxies among presidential candidates cost a whopping US$ 41.6 million of tax money during the last election.

Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya has found fault with political parties for unnecessary high number of candidates at the 2019 presidential poll.

Deshapriya says those struggling to make ends meet had to bear the burden of the heavy expenditure caused by nearly three dozen contesting the Nov 16 national poll.

The outspoken official said so at a meeting organised by Executive Director, PAFFREL, Rohana Hettiarachchi on behalf of the March 12 Movement at the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute on Monday, Dec 09.

Among those present were representatives of registered political parties, polls monitors and a delegation of EC headed by Mahinda Deshapriya.

Deshapriya explained that sharp increase in polls-related expenditure was due to too many candidates. Responding to assertion by some representatives of political parties that the right of those interested in contesting couldn’t be denied, Deshapriya insisted such wasteful expenditure couldn’t be justified under any circumstances.

The meeting was told as to how interested parties exploited loopholes in the existing law to join the fray either as proxies of two leading candidates Gotabaya Rajapaksa (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) and Sajith Premadasa (National Democratic Front).

Jathika Hela Urumaya representative at the discussion Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe told The Island tangible measures were required to restrict the number of candidates at the next presidential election. Warnasinghe explained as to how the Election Commission had to revise expenditure estimated initially at USD 2.2 million to staggering USD 4.2 million owing to the total number of candidates being 35.

Only 35 contested the presidential poll though at the onset of the process there were 41 in the fray.

According to Warnasinghe of the 35 candidates, only three- Sajith Premadasa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Anura Kumara Dissanayake conducted real countrywide polls campaign, whereas as a couple of others, namely retired General Mahesh Senanayake, Duminda Nagamuwa, Ajantha Perera and Rohan Pallewatte engaged in electioneering to some extent.

The meeting was told of those 35 in the fray; Sajith Premadasa had ten proxies against Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s 13. Warnasinghe said that the rest contested to enjoy some perks and privileges for several weeks.

Warnasinghe’s JHU backed Sajith Premadasa at the presidential election.

Responding to a query, Warnasinghe said that major parties fielded proxies to use opportunities available to them for the benefit of big political parties/alliances. Warnasinghe pointed out that though law expressly prohibited such skullduggery, political parties continued to do so.

Warnasinghe pointed out the failure on the part of 33 out of 35 candidates to save their deposit underscored absurdity of the situation. Anura Kumara Dissanayake, in spite of securing a distant third place couldn’t poll 500,000 votes whereas the fourth placed Gen. Mahesh Senanayake managed 49,000 votes.

Warnasinghe said that the possibility of sharply increasing the deposit, too, was discussed though some doubted the success of such a strategy. Warnasinghe pointed out that in the case of proxies the bigger parties could meet the proposed additional expenditure.

At the moment, those who contested on the registered political party ticket/independents had to pay USD 277.44 and USD 388.41, respectively.

Responding to another query, Warnasinghe revealed they examined the possibility of having a system to categorize 70 odd registered political parties to restrict the number of contestants at the next presidential election. Warnasinghe said that in terms of the proposed categorization, those political parties qualified to contest presidential polls could be identified. Political parties eligible to contest parliamentary, provincial council and local government polls, too, could be identified, Warnasinghe said.

The former Western Provincial Council member said that in consultation with political parties, the EC could formulate a set of guidelines required to streamline the entire process.

Warnasinghe said that had the Election Department/ Election Commission dealt with registered political parties in a stringent manner, the number of outfits could have been brought down. Unfortunately that hadn’t been the case; Warnasinghe said adding that those responsible couldn’t further delay taking action to prevent repetition in the future.

Warnasinghe underscored the need to cut down on waste to ensure the next presidential in five years from now wouldn’t attract 50 persons.

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