The right of all qualified citizens, irrespective of their race, religion, language, ethnicity, caste, education, ownership of wealth, birth, the place of birth, gender or any other difference, to participate in the administration of the country and / or to elect their representatives. That is, the universal franchise confers sovereignty in the people.
In other words, the right of taking decisions about himself or herself and about the county, is vested with the citizen. In monarchical systems of governments, the decision marker on these aspects, was the king. The foundation of the republics based on democratic principles after changing monarchisms, was the universal franchise. The bridge for the people to join with public administration is the universal franchise
In the year 1931, with the proposals of the Donoughmore Commission
Majority of countries consider the democratic system government as the best out of all systems in the modern world. It is through universal franchise, people get the authority to select their representatives by vote, and accordingly to change the government which they dislike and elect representatives and the government of their choice. Politicians, therefore, have to depend on the people. Rulers of a country are the caretakers and people are the owners. Governments cannot work against the will of the people, and people have the power to remove them through universal franchise.
All citizens of Sri Lanka who have completed 21 years of age were granted universal franchise in the year 1931, unless they were subject to any special disqualification. The age of right to cast vote was lowered from 21 years to 18, by the Elections Amendment Act No, 11 of 1959. Universal franchise has been a right constitutionally substantiated by the Republic Constitution of 1972 and the Constitution of 1978. The Article 3 of the constitution of 1978 states that sovereignty is in the people and is inalienable. In the same Article, sovereignty includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and franchise are include in the sovereignty. Accordingly, franchise is part and parcel of sovereignty. The legislative power of the people is exercised by Parliament, consisting of elected representatives of the people and by the people at a Referendum. The executive power of the people including the defence of the country, is exercised by the President of the Republic elected by the people, while the judicial power of the people is exercised by Parliament through courts of law. It is deduced that the total system of administration, enactment of laws, the executive and justice are exercised by people through franchise.
The machinery to implement franchise is the election. Elections are conducted to elect the President and representatives to Parliament, Provincial Councils and Local Authorities and Referenda when the approval of the people is required on national issues. The authority to conduct elections is the Elections Commission. The government has to formulate legal provisions to conduct elections. This system is called the representative democracy. Under this system, people select representatives and govern the country through them.
Security of the secrecy of vote, preventing the tampering of the vote (will) of persons, functioning of political parties, freedom of media, ensuring equal opportunities for all without discrimination, the rule of law and independence of judicial process are the areas that matter.
Periods of elections are given in relevant Acts. The period of election is from the date of calling for nominations, through determining on the objections, the poll, upto the declaration of results after counting of votes. Before the year 1947, the voter professed the vote by insertion of the ballot paper in the colour ballot box of the candidate of his choice. Allocating symbols for parties and independent candidates was introduced in the year 1947 and in that year 24 symbols were introduced. Currently the vote is cast to the symbol. In the year 1947, the election was conducted for 19 days. Currently it is conducted in a day. Until 1978 it was the first-past-the post system in Sri Lanka and after 1978 it is the proportional representation system. Under the proportional electoral system the number of members for the district is elected according to the number of votes received in the district by respective parties and independent groups. It is essential that, the name of the voter is listed in the electoral register.
The sole authority to conduct elections is the Election Commission. Commissioner of Election was empowered to exercise this authority before the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. By the Ceylon Parliamentary Elections Amendment Act No 11 of 1959, the position of the Commissioner of Elections was placed equal to the Auditor General who could function independently, free from any intervention of the government, and by the Ceylon Parliamentary Elections Amendment Act No 8 of 1964 the Commissioner’s independent position was affirmed by the amendment that the Commissioner could not be removed from the post without two third majority of the House. The independence of the Election Commission appointed under the 19th Amendment is equally secured and the Amendment has gone even further.
The Election Commission is responsible to the Parliament in regard to its responsibility in conducting elections and Parliament, in turn, is responsible to the people.