Presidential race could hinge on second-preference votes | Sunday Observer

Presidential race could hinge on second-preference votes

1 September, 2019

Despite opinions expressed that the second-preference by voters for the next president will be a crucial factor in the upcoming election, the National Election Commission stood firm in its view a count of preferences would be highly unlikely, even if the polls close in a near tie.

A senior NEC official said in Sri Lanka’s presidential election history, there has not been a need to count preferences, even during marginal victories between presidential candidates such as in 2005 and 2015.

The presidential election is required to be held before December 9 th, and so far two registered political parties the SLPP and the JVP have officially announced their candidates. The Presidential elections Act required the NEC to schedule the election between Novermber 9 and December 9th, and there are no provisions to delay the polls, Election Commission (EC) Chairman Mahinda Deshapriyahas stressed.

According to the PAFFREL the biggest victories recorded byPresidential candidates were in 1994 and 2010. Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga (who was elected for the first time in 1994) had a landslide victory, polling 62% total votes while in 2010 former President Mahinda Rajapaksa won his second term comfortably with 58% of the votes, following his ending of the LTTE war in May 2009.

But at other times, the margin of victory had been a mere 1%-2% but there had been no issue since the other candidates collectively obtained less votes.

A count of preferences will be required if the main contenders fail to win with a clear margin and the losers manage to secure over 500,000 or more votes.

“We will be separating the votes received by the main candidates. And the second or third preference of the votes obtained by candidates other than the two main candidates will be counted. “ an NEC official said explaining how the preferences will be added to the main candidates. These votes will be regarded as ballots obtained by the two leading contenders.

But it is also possible to find a winner from among the total number of votes received by the two main candidates,” the official said. “We can select the candidate who has polled the majority votes between the two,” the officer explained.

A leading independent polls observer, PAFFREL however, objected to this process, ”If the successful candidate polled much less than 50% of the total number of votes cast, it means that candidate has no majority support.”, is PAFFREL Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi’s opinion. He said it will not create legal issues but it will be ‘morally incorrect’.

“Therefore we believe that it is a must to count the preferences if the winning candidate has less than 50% of votes,”he stressed.

In the above scenario, the apparent winner who secured the marginal win in the election could also stand to lose his place to the second in line, (if the second in line wins more votes from the preferences). There can be two scenarios to merit a count of preferences. One is if the race between the two main contenders is highly competitive and the second scenario is if the candidates other than the two main candidates poll over 500,000 votes collectively.

With the JVP poised to make a comeback as a third force in the upcoming election, and also the Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) and the UNF preparing for a nail biting finish, the polls observers anticipate that there is a likelihood that the main two candidates would finish the race in a near tie. Be that as it may, AFFREL is of the view that voters must exercise their right to mark second and third preferences in the ballot paper so that the NEC had a better choice in selecting the next President, from among those most favoured.

In the last presidential election a total of 19 candidates contested and in the coming election the NEC senior officer predicted there will be over ten candidates running for Presidency.

The UNP or its coalition Democratic National Front and the SLFP led by the current President - the two leading Political parties- are yet to announce their respective candidates.