By Shamindra Ferdinando
Dimitra Ioannou, Deputy Chief Observer, EU Election Observation Mission, yesterday, said that the EU mission couldn’t intervene in case an attempt was made to discourage the voters in the Northern and Eastern provinces from exercising their franchise.
Ioannou said so in response to The Island query what action the EU could take to ensure the people received an opportunity to exercise their franchise in support of a candidate of their choice in the wake of a five-party Tamil political grouping led by the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) declaring it would not support main candidates-Sajith Premadasa (New Democratic Front) and Gotabaya Rajapaksa (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) unless their 13 demands were met.
The Island raised the issue with the EU Mission’s No 02 following the conclusion of media conference at Hilton.
Responding to the recently declared demands, including the abolition of Sri Lanka’s unitary status as well as exclusive international accountability mechanisms to probe the conduct of the Army, Ioannou emphasised that it would be the right of the citizens and voters to exercise their franchise. “It is not the mandate of the EU to ask people to vote or not to vote. This is a decision for Sri Lankans. We are here to access the electoral process, legal framework, etc.” The official said that the assessment would be made in terms international commitments as well as national laws.
The EU official also made reference to Sri Lanka’s commitment to the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights).
The ITAK-led outfit in agreement with the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) ordered the northern electorate to boycott the Nov 2005 presidential election.
Earlier in the day, Dimitra Ioannou, flanked by Margarida Alves, an election analyst and Paul Anderson, press officer, explained the mission’s mandate to ‘observe and access’ -(1) the legal framework and its implementation (2) the election administration (3) candidates and political parties (4) state institutions and civil society (5) media and (6) overall environment including respect for fundamental freedoms, civil and political rights.
The EU deployment commenced in the second week of October. Nine election analysts arrived on Oct 11. They were followed by 30 observers from the 28-nation EU, in addition to Norway and Switzerland on Oct 18. On the Election Day Nov 16, 30 more observers and up to seven members of the European parliament are scheduled to join the mission. Member of Parliament Marisa Matias functions as the overall head of the mission.
The EU called the media briefing soon after 30 observers left Colombo for deployment in all electoral districts.
A statement issued at the briefing quoted Chief Observer Matias as having said: “The presidential election marks an important stage in Sri Lanka’s domestic process and I very much hope our presence will contribute to its transparency.”
Deputy Chief Observer Ioannou stressed their mission did not legitimise the electoral process or validate the result.
In response to a query from the foreign media, Ioannou ruled out the possibility of the mission making interventions in the run-up to the Nov 16 poll. The media questioned the credibility of the mission if it did not act immediately without waiting to release its report following the election. Ioannou said that the EU wasn’t interested in the outcome when the journalist pointed out the futility of the whole exercise if blatant violations were allowed to take place.
The Island sought an explanation as to how the EU intends to monitor foreign interventions/interference against the backdrop of accusations that both China and the US-funded political parties here. The then US Secretary of State John Kerry is on record as having said that the US provided funds amounting to USD 585 mn to Nigeria, Myanmar and Sri Lanka to ‘restore democracy’.
The Island asked whether the EU had mechanisms to ensure there was no foreign interventions. The Deputy Chief Observer said: “In general we observe according to our standard methodology which we apply in every country where we are invited to observe. We follow all aspects of the electoral process.” The EU official said that the mission did not focus on specific areas but took all available information to consideration before public comments.
Asked by The Island why no follow up action was taken in spite of the EU Election Observation Mission alleging that the TNA won the lion’s share of seats in the Northern and Eastern Provinces at the April 2004 general election with the LTTE stuffing ballot boxes on its behalf, the Deputy Chief Observer said that she was not aware of the situation then.