Election-related offences, corrupt and illegal practices and their corresponding sanctions are outlined in part VI of the Parliamentary Elections Act and in Chapter IXA, Section 169, of the Penal Code, and are prosecuted through the standard criminal or misdemeanour procedures in lower-level courts. Sanctions for the violation of electoral rules include fines, imprisonment and bans to participate in elections for up to seven years for offences such as bribery, undue influence, treating (distribution of goods), illegal voting, intimidation etc. In addition, if an elected candidate is found guilty of committing any of these practices, his/her election is declared null and void. Under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, non-compliance with the guidelines issued by the Commissioner of Elections to public officials constitutes an offence punishable with up to three years’ imprisonment.
Sri Lanka’s Constitution gives the Court of Appeal the authority to adjudicate electoral disputes. An election petition may be presented to the Court of Appeal by any electoral candidate or political party representative or any person or persons alleging himself or herself to have been a candidate in the election. Sri Lanka’s Parliamentary Elections Act of 1981 provides that election petitions must be filed within 21 days of the publication of election results in the Gazette, which is an official notification issued by the Government of Sri Lanka. Following filing of an election petition to the Court of Appeals, the Parliamentary Elections Act indicates that “every endeavor” must be made to try the petition within six months, after which the Election Judge rules on the petition.
Some of the sanctions appear disproportionate as offences subject to the suspension of electoral rights for seven years also include, for example, voters willfully showing a marked ballot. Also, there is a lack of harmonisation between provisions of the penal code and the election law that regulate election-related violations, as they provide for different penalties for the same offence.
The violation of election laws can be reported to the Election Complaint Centers while offenses under criminal law should immediately be submitted to the Police Stations, and if necessary to the District Heads of the Police and if further necessary to the Head Quarters of the Police / the Inspector General of Police.
Elections in Sri Lanka 2015 Parliamentary Elections: Frequently Asked Questions, IFES, Aug. 10 2015, http://www.ifes.org/sites/default/files/2015_ifes_sri_lanka_parlimentary_elections_faq_final_2.pdf.
Final Report: European Union Election Observation Mission, Parliamentary Elections 17 August 2015, European Union, 2015, https://eeas.europa.eu/eueom/missions/2015/sri-lanka/pdf/eueom-srilanka-final-report_20151017_en.pdf.
Complaints regarding the Violation of Election Laws, the Official Government News Portal of Sri Lanka, 2015