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EU election observation mission launched; 80 observers in total

Thirty long-term observers (LTOs) were deployed in all nine provinces of Sri Lanka this morning as part of a European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) tasked with monitoring the upcoming presidential election.

This is the EU’s sixth election observation mission in the country, having monitored presidential and parliamentary elections from 2000 to 2015, on the invitation of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka. Notably, the EUM claims that it is totally independent of the EU delegation to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

According to the mission’s Deputy Chief Observer Dimitra Ioannou, the LTOs will meet a “wide range of election stakeholders in their [respective] areas and begin sending first-hand accounts from the field soon.”

A press release said the EOM will carry out a comprehensive election assessment, focusing on the legal framework, electoral administration, voter registration, campaigning, conduct of the media including social media, voting, counting and tallying, and the transmission of results. The mission will remain in Sri Lanka “well beyond election day” to observe any appeals or complaints, it added.

A core team of nine experts have been on the island since 11 October, according to the EOM, and they along with the LTOs will be joined by 30 short term observers as well as a delegation of seven EU parliamentarians, bringing the mission strength to a total of some 80 observers.

Speaking to reporters in Colombo today, Deputy Chief Observer Ioannou said all EOM observers are bound by a strict code of conduct.

“The first important thing to know is the EU EOMs are completely independent and impartial, and all our observers abide by a code of conduct which stipulates that we maintain strict neutrality in the course of our work and that we do not interfere in the electoral process. The EOM does not legitimise any part of the electoral process, nor does it validate the election result,” she said.

Emphasising its independence, Ioannou said: “Although operating under the EU flag, in our assessment of the process, we are completely independent of the EU delegation to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, EU member states and all EU institutions.”

The 2019 EU EOM to Sri Lanka is led by EU Member of Parliament Marisa Matias of Portugal.

No findings have been made so far and, notably, the EOM will not make its findings public until election day. A press conference two days after election day will see Chief Observer Matias present what the mission calls a preliminary statement to the media, whether or not election results have officially been announced by then. Matias will subsequently return to Sri Lanka some two months after the election with a final report, complete with recommendations for improvements to the electoral process.

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The last EU mission that was in Sri Lanka to observe the 2015 parliamentary elections, said Ioannou, had made 26 recommendations, out of which three were fully implemented. These were the establishment of the Election Commission as per the constitutional amendment, continued voter education projects and training of election staffers, and a 25% quota for women.

“There are also some other recommendations that are partly reflected in the process, but we hope that this time we will manage to produce a number of comprehensive recommendations that the Election Commission, the Parliament, civil society and political parties will take into consideration,” she said.

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