Flashback to Wayamba 1999
The North Western Province or Wayamba has recorded the worst election marred by violence and mayhem in post-independence Sri Lanka.
The infamous Wayamba 1999 election is still considered to be the biggest black mark in Sri Lanka's violence riddled election history.
Among the many incidents of violence and mayhem reported at the 1999 Wayamba elections was when in Puttalam a UNP polling agent who refused to budge from his desk was mercilessly assaulted allegedly by PA supporters and a politico from Colombo who reportedly went there to stuff the ballot boxes.
In another incident, armed gangs kidnapped a younger brother of a female JVP polling agent on the day of the elections. More than four JVPers were abducted. Almost all the JVP polling agents were sent to Kurunegala leaving the party's then chief ministerial candidate Bimal Ratnayake in a helpless position.
According to reports following the election, it was revealed that out of a total of 830 polling stations in the Kurunegala District, 141 had been attacked during polling hours. In the Puttalam District, out of 300 polling stations, 71 had been attacked, making the total 212.
Also from three other polling stations, nine ballot boxes had been hijacked while being transported to the counting centres, and some were found burnt.
Following reports submitted by senior presiding officers, the Elections Commissioner had said he intended making an order canceling the polling at three polling stations of which the ballot boxes did not reach the counting centre and that he intended rejecting 47,000 votes that were suspected of having been stuffed into ballot boxes.
However, the Elections Commissioner later changed his stance and said he did not intend annulling the polling of the centres that had been raided by armed gangs.
UNP's K.N. Choksy at the time had pointed out that 212 out of a total of 1130 polling stations constitutes 18.5 per cent of the total poll and argued that it was adequate enough to cancel the entire election. He had said the officers of the Elections Commissioner's Department had detected 48,000 votes in stuffed ballot boxes, but there could have been much more.
Choksy had reportedly demanded that the entire election be declared null and void and that results must not be announced. The JVP had also supported this view.
The Elections Commissioner however went ahead and announced the election results.
At the same time a UNP supporter from the Kurunegala District had filed a fundamental rights application requesting the Supreme Court to grant an interim order directing the Elections Commissioner not to gazette the results and also to make a final order after the hearing, declaring the elections null and void and directing that fresh elections be held.
The Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices Ranjith Deeraratne, S. W. B. Wadugodapitiya and Asoka Gunawardene granted leave to proceed but did not grant the interim order directing the Elections Commissioner not to gazette the election results.
Muslims prefer to stay put in Puttalam
A large number of Muslims evicted from Mannar and Jaffna by the LTTE during the height of the ethnic conflict have settled down in the Puttalam District. They too will be casting their votes at the provincial election.
These Muslims after having lived in temporary shelters for a long time are now in the process of rebuilding their lives in land plots allocated to them in Puttalam.
Although the war is now nearing an end, these people say that they do not wish to return to their homes in the north, as they had little or no faith on the permanency of the military victories achieved.
"What's the point in going back? If it happens again we will have to return and then we won't even have this piece of land," they say.
Naleem who was evicted from Mannar 19 years ago says that he arrived in Puttalam after the army had brought him and his family to Kalpitiya.
Naleem works at the saltern for a daily wage ranging between Rs. 250-300.
"We prefer to stay. We have now built a house and our children are schooling here," he said. He expresses doubts on the ability of the forces to hold on to the land that has been captured by the government.
"Without a permanent solution, we do not have confidence to leave," Naleem said.
Hameed, who has also lived in Puttalam since 1997 said he preferred to stay here.
"Even if we go, we will have to come back. We are not sure of the situation there," he said.
According to him, almost every Muslim who was evicted from the North, preferred to stay back in Puttalam.