Sunday, February 15, 2009

Monitors say polls relatively violence-free but not free and fair

Pix by Gemunu Wellage, J. Weerasekera, Shane Seneviratne, Hiran Priyankara Jayasinghe, Kanchana Kumara Ariyadass, Pushpakumara Jayaratne, Augustine Fernando and Hilton Berenger

Given Sri Lankas violence-ridden elections in its recent history, the run-up to yesterday's polls in the Central and North Western Provinces was surprisingly calm and peaceful, according to police and polls monitors.There was violence, but it was few and far between. But this did not mean that the playfield was level.

Opposition parties and polls monitors charged that state resources were at the disposal of UPFA candidates who were seen making use of state vehicles and buildings. The role the state media played in bolstering the UPFA was no less, they said.

Polls monitors said the run-up to the polls was comparatively less violent, though they began to receive more complaints of assault and intimidation as election day approached.

Voting at a polling booth in Kandy

The People's Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) said it had received 64 complaints of violent incidents from the two provinces during the six weeks of campaigning which ended on Thursday. But eight incidents were reported to them after the campaign ended on Thursday.

"When compared to the 191 incidents reported from the North Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces during the elections held there in August, the pre election period in the Central and North Western Provinces was relatively calm," PAFFREL's Deputy Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi said.
According to PAFFREL figures, the 64 complaints also included 21 cases of assault and 12 instances of causing damage to party offices. In the Central Province, 25 incidents were reported from Kandy, 12 from Matale and five from Nuwara Eliya, while in the North Western province, 17 cases were from Puttalam and five from Kurunegela.

In one of the serious incidents after the campaigning ended, a vehicle of a UNP candidate was attacked on Thursday at Anamaduwa in the Puttalam district, Mr. Hettiarachchi said.

He said informal meetings and campaigning activities continued in Kandy and Puttalam areas even after Thursday's deadline with several of these meetings taking the form of religious ceremonies. 
He said PAFFREL welcomed the Elections Commissioner's move to appoint special officers to check identity cards or other valid documents of the voters at every polling booth.

Keerthi Tennakoon, media spokesman for the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE), said he would not label the elections as free and fair. He said his group had received 103 complaints regarding election violence in the run-up to the polls.

Of the 70 complaints recorded in the Central Province, 32 cases were from Kandy, 20 from Nuwara Eliya and 18 from Matale. In the North Western province, 15 incidents were from Puttalam and 18 from Kurunegela.

"Although the number of election-related violent incidents has declined, state property was misused on a large scale. Election law violations occurred in every district, creating an atmosphere of fear and insecurity. We can only say that there was less violence, when compared with some of the elections held in the recent past," he said.

Mr. Tennakoon said there was little voter enthusiasm and as a result voter education programmes, especially on the need to produce an identity document at the polling booth, were at their minimal. 
Backing up his allegation of misuse of state property by UPFA candidates, the CaFFE spokesman said a vehicle belonging to the Tea Research Institute (TRI) of Thalawakele was seen being used by UPFA activists in the Nuwara Eliya district with the state emblem on the vehicle being covered by party stickers. 
The National Polls Observation Center (NPOC) said it received 66 complaints of election violence. Its spokesman Sagara Kariyawasam said only one incident reported from Puttalam was of serious nature where firearms were brandished by a group.

He said his group was happy that election violence was low during the run-up to yesterday's elections to the two provincial councils but it would be happier if the polls were conducted in a free and fair manner.

Local politico's brother behind attack: UNP

UPFA supporters attacked the UNP main election office in Nawalapitiya town last evening causing injuries to nine party supporters and extensive damage to the glass panes and furniture of the office, a UNP spokesman charged.

He alleged that a brother of a local politician had led the gang soon after polling closed and the attack took place in spite of police presence some 500 metres away from the scene.

Polls calm and dull except for Baiz antics
Sunday - Columbo,Sri Lanka
As in other districts, Puttalam saw a relatively low voter turnout for ... In certain rural areas of Puttalam, the voter turnout was less than 40 percent. ...


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