The Department of Elections is the institution delegated to administer the conduct of elections in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. It is tasked to promote Sri Lanka Democracy by conducting free and fair elections and referenda. It functions as an independent Government Department not coming under any Minister.
The Department is headed by a Commissioner who is answerable only to the parliament.
The Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution (2001) provided for an Election Commission appointed by the President on the recommendations of the Constitutional Council.
The Eighteenth Amendment also provided for the creation of the Election Commission consisting of Three (3) members appointed by the President on the recommendation of the constitutional council. The president shall appoint one member as its chairperson. However, to date, the election commission is yet to be established.
Powers and Functions of the Department of Elections
Currently, the department is mandated by the constitution and electoral law with the following functions:
- Holding elections for the President, Members of Parliament, Members of provincial Councils, and Members of Local Authorities, and the conduct of Referenda.
- Preparation and revision of electoral registers annually after an enumeration of electors.
- Take steps in order to develop the electoral process which fulfils the objectives of the underlined principles in the election laws.
During the period of an election, the department has the power to…
- Prohibit the use of any movable or immovable property belonging to the State or any public corporation
– For the purpose of promoting or preventing the election of any candidate contesting at such election
– By any candidate or any political party or any independent group contesting at such election by a direction in writing by the chairperson of the commission
- Issue guidelines appropriate to any broadcasting or telecasting operator or any proprietor or publisher of a newspaper as the case may be, to ensure free and fair elections.
- Notify the Inspector-General of Police of the facilities and the number of police officers required by the Commission for the holding or conduct of such election.
- Deploy the police officers and facilities made available to the Commission in such a manner as calculated to promote the conduct of free and fair elections
- To make recommendations to the President on the deployment of the armed forces of the republic for the prevention or control of any actions or incidents
Returning Officers and Assistant Returning Officers
The Commissioner of Elections has appointed Government Agent/District Secretary of each Administrative District as the Returning Officer for each Electoral District except for Jaffna and Vanni Electoral Districts. In the case of Jaffna Electoral District which has both Jaffna and Kilinochchi Administrative Districts, the Government Agent of Jaffna function as Returning Officer, while in the case of Vanni which has Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu Administrative Districts, Government Agent of Vavuniya functions as Returning Officer.
Several other officers were also appointed as Assistant Returning Officers to assist the Returning Officer in the performance of his/her duties. Assistant Commissioners of Elections of each Administrative District function as an Assistant Returning Officer and he is in overall charge of the organising Elections in District as the representative of the Commissioner of Elections.