Commonwealth Secretary General , Kamalesh Sharma on Tuesday shrugged off concerns about the hiring of Guyana’s former president Bharrat Jagdeo to observe Sri Lanka’s general elections earlier this year.
Jagdeo had stated that the Observer Mission had found that campaign in the run-up to the January 8, 2015 general election in Sri Lanka had been marred by a number of problems.
Sharma was asked to comment on the glaring contradiction between Jagdeo’s observation that Sri Lanka’s electioneering had been marred by several problems that had been prevalent in Guyana while he was president.
But for the Commonwealth Secretary General, he saw no issue with that: “I do not comment on domestic politics but the Secretary General uses the services of past Heads of Governments to advance the work of democracy and elections in other parts of the world and this is done quite frequently and I was very pleased when the former President accepted my invitation.”
Commonwealth Missions that have observed Guyana’s elections over the years have also raised concerns about the ruling party’s abuse of state resources including the State media to the advantage of the opposition. In fact, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) notes that during the Commonwealth Secretary General’s meeting with the Elections Commission Dr. Steve Surujbally, they reflected on the abuse of Guyana’s state media for the May 11, 2015 polls. “Also, that the state-owned media must provide equitable coverage of all political parties and move away from the temptation to provide unfettered access to one party only,” said GECOM in a statement.
In Sri Lanka, Jagdeo had issued a statement that in part notes that several troubling areas during that country’s campaign that mirror what had transpired in Guyana under his People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC)-led administration even up to the May 11, 2015 general elections.
“The election campaign period was marked by an unequal contest with extensive, large-scale abuse of state resources. They noted the comprehensive bias of state media against the Common Opposition Candidate’s campaign; the use of military personnel and public officials to support the President’s campaign; the use of Government monies, gifts and other inducements; and, the widespread use of state-owned public transport by the incumbent.”
“The Common Opposition Candidate’s campaign received little to no coverage in the state media in clear contravention of the provisions of the Constitution, the Presidential Elections Act and relevant guidelines issued by the Commissioner of Elections. The high penetration of state run radio, television and newspaper across the island, and especially in rural areas, increases the burden of responsibility on state media to take seriously its obligation as a public resource for citizens.”