Tensions high at Election Commission over difference of opinion
A tense moment arose at an Election Commission media briefing today as Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya publicly declared that a controversial comment attributed to Commission Member Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole was the personal opinion of an inexperienced election official.
Prof. Hoole, according to Deshapriiya, had told the media that no candidate in the upcoming presidential election would secure more than 50% of the vote. (In such an event, the Commission would have to count the second and third preferential votes cast by the electorate, a process that could delay the announcement of the final result).
As Prof. Hoole was responding to a question at this morning’s media briefing about internet voting, Deshapriya interrupted his colleague mid-sentence to remark that his answer, along with his previous comment, did not reflect the views of the Commission.
Said Prof. Hoole: “Regarding postal voting, I think it’s very out of date. The way to go is to vote on the internet. We deal with millions of rupees <unclear>. Which do you value more, the billions saved in -“
At which point, Deshapriya cut him off, with a: “It is not the Commission’s decision. It is his own decision. Even India is not going for internet voting.”
Deshapriya, in an uncharacteristically stern voice, then complained that Prof. Hoole was voicing opinions not shared by the Commission he represents.
“He has his personal opinions. He says no one is going to get more than 50%. That’s not the Commission’s position. It is his own,” said Deshapriya.
Prof. Hoole countered that he had said it was his “belief”, prompting Deshapriya to argue that the former shouldn’t have expressed even a personal belief of that nature, as it might “bombards the Commission.
However, the Election Commissioner attempted to diffuse the tension somewhat by claiming that Prof. Hoole was unbiased in his role as a Commission member.
“I will say that he is not biased towards or against anyone. He is 100% impartial. I can give that guarantee. But it’s unfortunate that he expressed this view, a view we should not have expressed,” said Deshapriya.
“But the Professor is a liberal person. He has no election experience,” he added, reiterating that he, as someone with 34 years of experience in the field, would not want anyone to misinterpret his colleague’s words.
“But we have to be ready [for an eventuality with no candidate securing more than 50% of the vote],” said Prof. Hoole.
“Yes. We are ready. We have been ready since 1982. We have given instructions and training,” said Deshapriya.
In the event a second and third preference vote count is conducted, the results announcement could be delayed by no more than four hours, said the Commissioner.
“You will have the result before dinner on 18 November,” he said.
He had earlier predicted that, if all goes well, the final result should be known by lunchtime that same day.