The Commonwealth election observer mission has recommended the urgent setting up of an independent election commission in Sri Lanka, saying recent elections to the Northern Provincial Council did not fully meet "key benchmarks" for free and fair polls.
The mission's report came ahead of the troubled Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to be hosted by Sri Lanka in mid-November.
"An Independent Electoral Commission, as foreshadowed in the 17th Amendment, should be established as a matter of urgency," the mission said in its report.
The concept of an independent poll panel under the 17th amendment in 2001 was cast aside in the 18th amendment enacted in 2010.
Commenting on polls in the Tamil-dominated Northern Province, the report said: "While voters on the election day were able to express their will, serious and fundamental shortcomings in the equally important pre-election period meant that in our overall assessment, the 21 September 2013 Northern Provincial Council Elections did not fully meet the key benchmarks for democratic elections."
The report said the involvement and influence of the military in the election campaign was serious and disturbing. This issue must be investigated and strictly avoided in future, it said.
The Tamil National Alliance, which swept the provincial polls, had accused the military of intimidating Tamil voters and candidates, a charge denied by the army.
Elections in the Northern Province were held for the first time after the end of the conflict with the LTTE in 2009.
The observer mission also recommended the enforcement of laws to prevent the widespread abuse of state resources during election campaigns.
This could be achieved by establishing and empowering an independent election commission as soon as possible. To deter hate speech, existing laws need to be enforced or strengthened, the report said.
Political parties must address acts of violence by their supporters and actively foster a culture of tolerance.
All necessary measures should be put in place for the safety of media personnel and for developing a media culture conducive to independent and balanced reporting.
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