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‘Delivering the truth’ A polls watch with a difference

The National Polls Observations Centre (NPOC) is a polls watch with a difference. At a time when the credibility of such organizations are open to question due to foreign funding and hidden agenda, the NPOC was started by a group of professionals with their own funding without depending on foreign grants to ensure full transparency and independence. Nadira Gunatilleke interviews NPOC media spokesman Sagara Kariyawasam, Attorney-at-Law, for the Daily News.

What is the mission, vision and the main objective of the NPOC?

The NPOC was established in July 2008, along with the accepting of nominations for the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council Elections.

What made us to establish NPOC is the unjustifiable criticism pointed at the Government after the Eastern Provincial Council Election. Initially there were about 50 members from various professions behind the establishment of the NPOC where a majority of them were from the legal profession.

Our members have various political ideologies and their political views differ. But all of us have one objective. That is delivering the truth to the world and protecting the image of motherland. Educating the public is another intention of ours.

The NPOC was established with the intention of giving accurate information to the general public relating to the conduct of elections and various ways in which the parties involved in the election process violated the election laws and regulations and involved and on election violence in general.

As an independent monitoring team, NPOC was more concerned about protecting the image of the country since previous two Provincial Council elections were held at a juncture where the Government of Sri Lanka was involved in a serious humanitarian operation while protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka amidst the attempts by various interested international powers and groups to hamper that process under the guise of protection of human rights and democracy.

Describe the structure and operations of the NPOC.

The main operation centre of the NPOC is located in Colombo. But it covers five districts and a large number of electorates.


Election activities

The NPOC deploys minimum ten lawyers in each electorate. All of them work voluntarily and they are based in electorates.

In addition to them, there are independent Sri Lankan citizens who have come forward voluntarily to assist the NPOC. Each electorate has 20 such monitors. Recently the JPs’ Association of Sri Lanka joined us as monitors after watching our service over media. There is a tremendous public support towards the NPOC from the beginning.

What is the difference between the NPOC and other election monitoring bodies?

So far The People’s Action For Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) has acted independently and monitored elections in an unbiased manner even they receive foreign funds. But all the other election monitoring bodies operating in Sri Lanka have ulterior motives.

All of them depend on foreign funds and those funds do not come without a reason. There are agendas set for them by the funding agents. Some agendas are not that healthy for Sri Lanka. That is how the American Ambassador was able to walk right into the Elections Department once in the past.

But the NPOC is an entirely independent body and it is funded by its own members and majority of them are Lawyers, doctors and other professionals. Voluntary businessmen who love the country are also funding the NPOC.

Therefore we have not been given an agenda by any outside element. We are independent and we do not accept orders from foreign countries and do not depend on foreign funds.

We have not experienced any financial problems so far. We are here to tell the truth to the public. To do so we go into details of every and each complaint. According to what we found out during previous two Provincial Council Elections, 80 per cent of the complaints were on quite minor incidents.

Only 12 to 14 per cent of them were in medium level and very few serious complaints were there. But at the end of the day, election monitoring bodies showed a very gloomy picture to the public and to the world through the media.

Because of the active presence of the NPOC now the other election monitoring bodies are compelled to come out with an accurate picture and they did so (to a certain extent)during the previous two Provincial Council Elections.

According to your observations what is the latest situation in the North western and Central Provinces?

Up to January 25 the NPOC has only received 34 complaints and 31 of them are minor ones while the rest of them, three complaints, are medium. No serious complaints have been received so far. In Puttalam and Nuwara Eliya districts most of the minor conflicts were among the members and supporters of the same political party. Conflicts between rival political parties were very rare.

The NPOC wishes to make an appeal to the voters in the two Provinces.

That is to cast their valuable vote. Voting is the only way of showing the world how much democracy we Sri Lankans enjoy and how independent we are to use our democratic rights. But there are some elements which try to prevent voters from casting their votes and practising their democratic rights independently. We have to defeat the effort of these elements.

Election violence was born when the late President J R Jayawardena gave a two-week holiday for the Police Department just after the elections. But election violence has been fading away during the past few years. This is one of the very good trends that we have observed.

Many funds are required to do politics within the existing set up and it is one of the main reasons that prevent professionals from taking to politics.

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