Chairman of the Elections Commission Mahinda Deshapriya had to swoop into rescue Colombo District Secretary (GA) Sunil Kannangara at the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation last week after a raid based on a false complaint went badly awry.
Kannangara raided SLRC based on a complaint that the state broadcaster was preparing to air a programme in violation of elections laws, and allegations that some sort of material to promote NDF candidate Sajith Premadasa inside the building.
In high-handed fashion, the Colombo GA stormed in with police and elections officials in toe, and tried to forcibly enter the SLRC main control room (MCR). For security reasons, no broadcaster will permit outsiders into its MCR, the heart of its transmission. “If I find what I’m looking for, all of you and Sajith Premadasa will be finished,” Kannangara was overheard saying as he marched around the television station premises, sources inside the building at the time told Colombo Telegraph.
However, when the raid rendered no results, Kannangara and his team turned tail and tried to leave the SLRC premises. Security officials attached to the station stopped the GA from trying to leave, until the issue could be cleared up.
Soon afterwards, EC Chairman Deshapriya had to come into rescue Kannangara and his team. Deshapriya who has consistently refused to take any action against private media broadcasters Hiru and Derana TV for its blatantly biased coverage of the presidential election in which both networks are heavily favouring the SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa, stormed into the SLRC, throwing his weight around and demanding to know who was stopping his officials from leaving the premises.
Ironically Kannangara’s ill-fated raid and Deshapriya’s major rescue mission took place just after the Elections Commission Chairman had been on Derana TV making nice with anchor Chathura Alwis for a live interview. Observers said it was beyond the pale for the EC Chairman to appear on Derana TV when the private broadcaster was being accused of blatant violations of the Commission’s own media guidelines. His appearance appeared to absolve Derana TV and its Chairman Dilith Jayaweera, who recently appeared inside Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s land rover while the SLPP candidate was campaigning.
In 2016 Deshapriya was awarded for being the public servant of the year by Derana TV.
Kannangara, who will perform the role of Colombo District Returning Officer in next Saturday’s crucial presidential election is already gravely tainted with bias in favour of the SLPP.
As GA, Kannangara personally attended MP Namal Rajapaksa’s wedding ceremony in order to register the marriage.
He found himself in the throes of controversy again after he posted material abusive of NDF candidate Sajith Premadasa on his official Facebook page. The post shared by Kannangara referred to Premadasa as “booru puthaano”.
During the October 2018 coup, Kannangara posted similarly political content favouring the SLPP.
When attention was drawn to the issue during a press conference at the elections commission, Deshapriya strongly defended Kannangara, saying the Returning Officer was a good public servant. “No no I don’t think he is like that” Deshapriya noted when journalists questioned him. Since the issue was raised Kannangara deleted the post and posted a non-apology. The Colombo GA has also been remarkably pro-active in reining in offences by the Premadasa campaign, while showing incredible leniency to the SLPP.
Concerns about the Returning Officer for Colombo are particularly grave because of widespread reports around the Colombo city that scores of voters particularly from minority ethnic communities had been disenfranchised for the November 16 presidential election similar to how it happened in 2005. Colombo Telegraph also learns that EC Chairman Deshapriya is protective of this officer because he has previously been useful to the Chairman in respect of hushing up inquiries connected to the Department of Elections.
Deshapriya himself is telling the Elections Commission staff that Premadasa is unlikely to obtain more than 30% of the vote at the presidential election, Colombo Telegraph learns.