Election Violence in Sri Lanka: Implementing the Right to a Free and Fair Election

in Asia-Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law
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Abstract

This article assesses the freedom and fairness of the 2001 parliamentary election in Sri Lanka according to a variety of criteria, judging the effects of violence and procedural irregularity on the election outcome. Despite its ambiguity, the international right to a free and fair election, expressed through the principles of the UDHR and the ICCPR, is substantially incorporated in the domestic law of Sri Lanka. The Constitution and elections legislation recognise essential democratic and electoral rights and establish administrative procedures and judicial remedies for enforcing them. Specific controversies over electoral laws have typically been resolved within the framework of the rule of law, through either the political process or the courts, including debates about the method of voting, the powers of the Election Commissioner and the registration of parties. Referendum and emergency powers have, however, been abused to interfere with free elections in some situations. Further, recent elections have degenerated into widespread violence, intimidation and procedural irregularity, culminating in the December 2001 parliamentary election. The violent events of the 2001 election suggest that despite the formal maturity of Sri Lankan election law, the law is not being adequately enforced and deterrence, through criminal sanctions, is failing. While most police and election officials are committed to ensuring the integrity of elections, many politicians and candidates have undermined elections, in a society militarised by a protracted ethnic separatist conflict.

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