public has right to protest
even after nominations
The Western Provincial Council elections are set to be
held on April 25 and already candidites of all political parties
are busy campaigning, often violating election laws. According
to the Provincial Councils Elections Act 1988 it is illegal to
display, handbills, placard posters, drawings, notices and
photographs of a candidate but the smiling faces that stare at
us from almost each wall, bus halt, and lamppost reminds us that
no one really cares about abiding by the election laws
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)
Propaganda Secretary Vijitha Herath
Q: What is the JVP opinion of the use of posters
in the election?
A: We do not cover the walls with posters
because they do not have individual candidates
fighting for preferential votes. The JVP only
carries out poster campaigns only if there is a
rally or a meeting at a specific area he added.
“According to the Provincial Councils Elections Act
(No. 2 of 1988) - Sect 75 it is said that we can
display handbills, placard posters, drawings,
notices, photographs of a candidate, in or any
premises on any day on which an election meeting is
due. So we are not breaking the law.
Q: Why is this law not abided by many?
A: It’s a matter of discipline. Many politicians
think that this is a law that is meant to be broken,
specially the government politicians. There are so
many loopholes and the police are powerless against
the political might.
By Rathindra Kuruwita
Election posters have been a part of Sri Lankan election
campaigns for decades and due to its omnipresence, it is an
effective method of communicating a message and influencing the
voters. In the past election posters have played a crucial role
in forming public opinion and they also reveal a country`s
Although election law makes displaying of posters and hoardings
illegal after nominations are handed over Sri Lankan politicians
continuously ignore them spending vast amounts of money causing
massive environmental damage through millions of posters pasted
at almost any accessible surface.
Is there such a law?
According to the Provincial Councils Elections Act 1988 it is
illegal to display posters and hoardings after the nominations
are handed over but no one really seem to care. On the contrary
it seems that candidates have stepped up their poster campaign
after political parties and independent groups have handed their
nominations on Thursday.
“The main problem lies in the electoral system and the apathy of
the people,” Dr. Jayathissa Costa, prominent lawyer, one time
chairman of the Law Council and a man who possesses a PhD in
election laws. “Public should try to support and initiate the
police into taking action against these law breakers. Even in
England the situation was bad and it was the angry and vigilant
citizens that cleared up the mess,” he explained.
Costa said that according to the Provincial Councils Elections
Act (No. 2 of 1988) Section 75, displaying handbills, posters
and cutouts is illegal ‘during the period commencing from the
first day of the nomination period at an election and ending on
the day following the day on which a poll is taken at such
election. “The police can remove the posters and take action
against people who engage in such activities. In the same
section it is clearly stated that people who violate these laws
can be convicted after summary trial before a Magistrate, and
fined or imprisoned,” he said.
United National Party
General Secretary Tissa Attanayake
Q: What is the UNP opinion of the use of posters
in the election?
A: Posters have been a part of our election
culture for decades and although the Provincial
Councils Elections Act of 1988 has made it clear
that posters cannot be displayed after nominations
are handed over the law has not been enforced at
all. It was not this competitive back then and I
don’t think that until mid 1990s things were this
Q: Has the UNP taken any action to make sure that
their candidates abide by the law on posters and
A: We have always asked our candidates to abide
by the election laws and ask them to advertise via
print and electronic media. But that is not always
possible for all candidates to spend so much money
According to the law the candidates can only display posters,
cutouts, pictures or banners only at their residence, office or
their vehicle after the nominations. But unfortunately this rule
is openly breached by many candidates and the police are
helpless to take effective action against it because of the huge
volume of violations and sometimes because of the political
influence. “Despite the fact that these laws have been in
existence for over 20 years no one has been able to take
effective action against posters,” Costa said.
Posters are also an environmental menace and a burden on the
economy of the country, as large amounts of resources have to be
used to remove these posters said environmental lawyer Jagath
Gunawardane. “Each time they use thousands of kilos of plastic
and other pollutant material it becomes a major impact on the
environment and the drainage system,” he said. “The cost of
removing Sri Lankan presidential election posters and cutouts
exhibited in 2005 was around eight million rupees. And it was an
election where there were only two men. In this case one has to
multiply that amount,” he added.
What’s so great about posters?
Despite availability of other media, the belief that posters are
the most effective method of communication is still widespread.
One of the main contenders for the Colombo District, UPFA
Provincial Councilor R. Duminda Silva told The Nation that the
effectiveness of the posters can not be underestimated. “Posters
can get the message across and a lot of people see it. I have
displayed posters before the nominations were handed over but
now I have stopped,” he said.
UPFA Colombo District
candidate Udaya Gammanpila
Q: As the former CEA Chairman you have claimed
that you will not use posters in your campaign. How
do you expect to conduct a campaign without the use
A: The world has moved forward and there are new
methods to conduct a campaign, especially in the
Colombo District, almost everyone has mobile phones
and most have access to the internet and the e-mail
facility. We can do a very effective campaign by
using these new methods and I think it is more
effective than traditional above and below the line
methods. This is how Obama won the election and it
is very practical in the Western province.
Q: How important are posters for an election
A: As much as I hate to admit it, a lot. It’s a
cheap and effective way of getting the message
across. But on the other hand there is massive
environmental damage and it will also be a great
burden to the economy as the Government has to
Media advisor to another top UPFA candidate claimed that
posters are cheaper and has longer life compared to other
mediums. There is so much clutter in electronic and print media
and to have a proper effect one must advertise on all major
newspapers, radio stations and TV channels he claimed. “It’s
simply too expensive. Some might have a big budget but even so
many feel that it is not very effective. I can print a set of 50
000 posters for Rs. 300,000- 400,000, the same amount that I can
place a full page ad on a newspaper but I am sure that the
posters will have the bigger impact. If they remain on the walls
for two days millions of people would see them,” he said.
The logic of that statement cannot be denied, even by
politicians who claim that they will not use posters in their
campaign. UPFA Colombo District candidate and former Chairman of
the Central Environment Authority (CEA) Udaya Gammanpila told
The Nation although his campaign will be ‘free of polythene and
posters’ its ‘almost impossible’ to conduct an election campaign
without resorting to posters.
“It is very difficult for the candidate not to resort to posters
and hoardings because of the current electoral system. No
candidate has the capability or the human resources to conduct a
proper door to door campaign and depending solely on media is
too expensive,” he said “But I don’t want to use posters and
hoardings because of the immense harm it causes to the
environment. It’s hard to imagine the massive environmental
pollution and the amount of government money that is spent
during and after each election to take care of the mess,” he
What lies beneath?
According to many law experts this issue cannot be resolved
without a total change in the election system. As long as the
proportional voting system is present and the candidates within
a party have to contest against each other, the candidates will
ignore the immense ecological damage and the election laws
claimed, Dr. Jayatissa Costa.
“The problem lies in the fact that this law is suitable for the
election system that was in place before 1977, an era before
proportional representation, and an era where the first pass the
post system was prevalent. If that system was still functioning
there would have been no need for such an intense poster
campaign,” he said. “But when there is such an immense
competition not only against the opposition political parties
but also candidates from your own political party, the
candidates will loose sight on all except winning,” he said.
To compete in a relatively small election like the Provincial
Council election a candidate will need to spend at least five to
six million rupees on his campaign and when someone spends such
an amount he needs to try to earn it back because otherwise he
will not have enough money to campaign the next time. So either
they have to be millionaires or have a sponsor who would expect
something back for the investment, which would mean that there
is always space for corruption.
“In the past there were so many professionals in our
administrative bodies but now they are replaced by businessman.
The proportional system favours the rich and the powerful,” he
Short term measures
Police have been accused by many for the continuous violation of
election laws. While the police claim that they are doing the
best they could, opposition political parties claim that the
police turn a blind eye on the actions of government
politicians. But this time the Elections Commissioner has
requested the IGP to remove all the posters and cutouts and the
DIG elections, B. K.G. Nawaratne told The Nation that the police
have already started removing posters, banners and cutouts.
“Elections Commissioner sent a special report to the IGP
complaining about the massive poster campaign in the Colombo
City. The Police with the aid of the relevant local and
municipal councils took action from last Friday to remove the
posters and cutouts,” he said. “The actions of indisciplined
candidates are really deplorable. The police have other concerns
at the time when the LTTE has resorted to desperate actions.
When we need to be really concentrated in resolving the
terrorist menace we have to also take care of this,” he said.
“In the past we faced many problems because of the sheer number
but this time we hope to take severe action against it,” he