Harassment, Intimidation And Violence Produces A Record Low Sri Lankan Poll

Tamil tea picker in the Sri Lankan highlands
Tamil tea picker in the Sri Lankan highlands

TAMILNET reports that voting at Thursday’s Sri Lanka’s Parliamentary Elections ended on schedule at 4.00 pm local time as independent monitors placed the voter turn out to between 50 to 55 per cent.

Keerthi Tenakoon with the Campaign for Free and fair Elections (CaFFE) said the maximum average was around 55 per cent in almost all parts of the country including the North and East, an all-time low when compared with the 62 per cent turn out at the recently concluded Presidential Elections in January this year.

The Election Commissioner’s Office refused to comment on the voter turnout until the final count is completed in the next two days.

Meanwhile, some 115 election-related incidents were reported from throughout the country on Elections Day, the bulk of it being the violation of elections laws mainly from the pro-government candidates, Mr. Tenakoon said.

He added that the opposition polling agents had been driven away from many booths while the police did very little to arrest the trend.

The Sri Lankan opposition party, the UNP, on Wednesday, the day before polling day, said that the Sri Lankan Election Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake was unable to ensure a free and fair general election under the existing system as he had no control over the police and state media.

General Secretary of the UNP Tissa Attanayake quoted Dissanayake as saying that the police and the state media are two most vital institutions whose independence is crucial for a free and fair general election.

The UNP, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and Democratic National Alliance (DNA), also had a discussion with the Sri Lankan election commissioner on the sudden increase of election related violence at the tail end of the election campaign.

Only 18 to 20 per cent of the voters in Jaffna electoral district cast their votes in the parliamentary election Thursday, recording the lowest in the island while the voting percentage in the whole country was from 52 to 55 per cent, according to the Election Monitoring Agencies.

Jaffna electoral district, compared to other electoral districts, recorded the lowest turn over of voters where voting percentage in Thenmaraadchi was higher than that of Vadamaraadchi while voting was very low in the islets of Jaffna. Compared to the recent presidential election, where the voting was low, the voting turn out was even less in the parliamentary election in Jaffna electoral district.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka government has ordered the District Election Officers not to pass any information related to the voting officially.

It is expected that the Colombo Election Head Office will give out this information.

The Ampaa’rai district in the East recorded the highest percentage (58 to 60) of voting while in Batticaloa the turn over was 56 to 58 per cent.

Trincomalee district recorded 45 to 50 per cent of votes while in Vanni district there was 25 to 30 per cent votes registered.

In Vanni, the uprooted civilians held in the detention centres in Vavuniyaa were subjected to harassment purposely aimed at preventing them from voting.

Former Minster Risard Badudeen (UPFA) said that men openly carried out the above obstruction by forcibly taking away the buses meant to transport the Vanni voters to the cluster of polling centres in Ki’linochchi and Mullaiththeevu districts.

They further threatened the owners of private vehicles which government officials had arranged to transport the voters.

Even the small number of uprooted persons in the Vanni detention centres taken to vote in vehicles found to their dismay that they had been taken to the wrong polling centres instead of the centres where they were supposed to vote.

By Around 11.00 a.m Thursday only 4.29 per cent of the persons eligible to vote had cast their votes in Jaffna while after 2:00 p.m there was a slight increase.

However, only 10 per cent of the total registered voters had cast their votes in Jaffna electorate by afternoon, Jaffna Secretariat officials said.

Meanwhile, Executive Director of PAFFREL, Rohana Hettiarachchi confirmed that in Vavuniyaa in the North, alleged supporters of the former Minister of Resettlement and a leader of the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Risard Badudeen harassed private bus owners transporting Vanni uprooted civilians in Vavuniyaa detention centres to the polling stations in Vanni district.

He said that the Election Day was quite violent with incidents continuing to pour in from all parts of the island.

A shooting incident in Galle where several houses and a vehicle were damaged was reported, Rohana Hettiarachchi told media.

He added that a complaint has been lodged against a UPFA candidate for holding an illegal rally opposite a pooling booth in Galle.

There were other incidents of polling agents of the United National Party (UNP) and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) being chased away from taking over their duties allegedly by UPFA members.

Meanwhile, illegal propaganda text messages have been circulated from candidates in violation to the Election laws, Advisor to the Elections Commissioner Bandula Kulathunga said.

Clashes following Thursday parliamentary election between supporters of opposing candidates are reported to be still taking place in several areas of the island.

Former minister of the ruling United People’s Freedom (UPFA), M. Aluthgama is alleged to have been directly involved in the assault of a member of the Election Monitoring Committee in Navalappiddi in the upcountry where incidents of post election violence have been high.

Fights between two Muslim factions in Aalayadiveampu in Batticaloa in which Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) members are alleged to be involved, are also reported.

Minor incidents of clashes between opposing parties in Vavuniyaa, Trincomalee and Batticaloa have taken place following the election.

As allegations are being raised against former UPFA minister Risard Badudeen for being directly involved in election related violence in Vavuniyaa, allegations that his supporters have been assaulted in Puththa’lam area are being floated with the aim to divert attention from being focused on Risard Badudeen.

Accusation are being levelled against the government authorities in Vavuniyaa for not having made proper arrangement for the Vanni uprooted civilians held in the detention centres in Vavuniyaa to cast their votes.

Many interned Tamil civilians in Menik Farm in Vavuniyaa were told by Sri Lankan election officials that they must go to Ki’linochchi Cluster Polling Station to vote, while election officials in Ki’linochchi station were instructing civilians that they must proceed to the Menik Farm Polling Station to vote, said Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) in a statement issued Thursday.

The statement says: ‘Thousands of IDP voters have been denied their right to vote due to the non existence of clearly defined guidelines in relation to voter identification papers.

‘CaFFE elections observers were temporarily stopped by security officers from taking photographic evidence of these incidents as they unfolded in the close vicinity of Menik Farm.

‘These IDP voters in Menik Farm were told that they must go to the Ki’linochchi Cluster Polling Station to vote by Election Officials.

‘However, voters in the Ki’linochchi Cluster Polling station have been informed by Election Officials that they must proceed to the Menik Farm Polling Station to vote.

‘Election Officials have not given clear instructions to IDP’s in relation to where they can vote.

‘IDP’s were thus thrown into confusion as to whether they were to vote in Menik Farm, Ki’linochchi cluster polling centres, their original place of residence or in the areas where they have been newly resettled.

‘Evidence of this can be further identified by the registered low voter turnout by 12.00 noon.

‘In the Ki’linochchi Central College Cluster Polling Centres only 362 out of 7,504 total registered voters have been able to cast their votes in the first set of 8 cluster polling stations.

‘Furthermore, in the second set of 8 cluster polling centres only 283 out of 10,240 voters have been able to cast their votes by 12.00 noon.

‘While IDP voters have been denied their right to vote in the Menik Farm Polling Centre, supporters of former Minister Rishard Badurdeen have been visually identified by CaFFE Election observers conducting an election campaign on election day at the Menik Farm IDP Camp, Vavuniyaa.

‘CaFFE notes that there has been an incident of election violence committed against a CaFFE election observer. CaFFE observers have visually identified that former Minister Athaulla’s supporters have attacked CaFFe Election Observer Mr. Abdul Rahman in the vicinity of the Adalachenei and Akkaraipaththu border.

‘The Minister’s supporters have then confiscated CaFFE’s election monitoring evidence and the National Identification papers of the CaFFE election observer.’