The United Women’s Front has called on Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya to disallow the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) from observing Sri Lankan elections after it made sexist remarks against actresses and models seeking nominations for the Western and Southern Provincial Council polls due in March.
“Elections Observers should be non-partisan and independent and they do not have the right to decide which candidates should stand for election or to foist that opinion upon the people. It is undemocratic to permit any observer organisation that violates these fundamental conditions should be granted official permission to observe elections,” Diana Gamage, head of the UWF wrote in a letter to the Polls Chief.
“We believe that to permit CaFFE to continue to observe elections officially to be an anti-democratic act,” she said.
Gamage said that on 22 January CaFFE had issued a media release publicly requesting political parties to refrain from fielding actors and actresses as election candidates. “With universal franchise, every Sri Lankan irrespective of educational qualification, social class, caste or creed was granted the right to choose his or her representatives on the principle of one person – one vote. That universal right to vote also spurred political parties to field candidates at elections that were representative of every strata and section of society. The CaFFE call for political parties to refrain from fielding actors and actresses was a violation of these democratic principles,” the letter to the Commissioner said.
The UWF said that in the same media release CaFFE also noted that actresses and models should not be granted nominations by political parties because they were ‘sex symbols’. “This is a degrading and malicious statement that was deeply insulting and damaging to women. By failing to refer to male singers and actors as sex symbols, CaFFE proved that it was anti-women. The statement had an adverse impact on many young women attempting to come forward to contest elections. Unnecessary aspersions were also cast on the personal lives of these women,” Gamage’s letter said.
She said CaFFE engages in election observation even though it is clearly not independent and non-partisan in its attitude towards women.
“Since the official sanction to observe elections is bestowed by Elections Commissioner, the United Women’s Front has called on the Commissioner to withdraw their approval to observe with immediate effect,” Gamage urged.