Sri Lanka civil servants warned of jail if election laws violated

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Colombo, Jun 27: Sri Lanka's election chief today warned civil servants they will face fines and three years in prison for failing to ensure a free and fair parliamentary election announced for August.

The head of the independent elections commission, Mahinda Deshapriya, said he has been given wide powers under a recent statute to deal with civil servants who violated elections laws and favoured candidates.

Sri Lanka civil servants warned of jail

"I have powers now to jail public servants for a period of three years and also fine them up to 100,000 rupees (USD 770)," Deshapriya told reporters a day after President Maithripala Sirisena sacked parliament and cleared the way for an election 10 months ahead of schedule.

Almost all previous elections have been marred by allegations that state officials colluded with the party in power to give them an undue advantage at the polls. Independent poll monitors have also reported large scale abuse of state vehicles and other resources to boost the campaign of the party in power.

At the previous national vote, the presidential poll in January, Deshapriya had ordered police to" shoot in the head" and kill anyone trying to disrupt elections.

The January 8 election was relatively peaceful with only one drive-by shooting which killed a supporter of Sirisena. Deshapriya said the formal election period will begin from July 6 and warned that the government cannot make any politically-motivated transfers of civil servants until after the vote on August 17.

Sirisena dissolved the legislature at midnight Friday and said he would summon the new parliament on September 1 in line with pledges he had given to Sri Lanka's international backers.

During the May visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry, President Sirisena had assured that there would be a new government in Colombo by September.

Pro-Western Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had pressed for early elections to increase the majority of his United National Party (UNP), which sat in opposition until Sirisena's victory in January's polls.

Wickremesinghe's party has welcomed the election as an opportunity to increase their strength in the legislature and ensure stability.

President Sirisena had inherited the sacked parliament from his autocratic predecessor, who controlled a loyal band of lawmakers who repeatedly blocked reforms, including fiscal policy moves.

However, Sirisena managed to restore the two-term limit on the presidency which Rajapakse had removed in 2010 and also reduce the presidential term and the life of a parliament to five years, down from six. Sirisena had also given more powers to the elections commission. 

AFP

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