[Thousands gathered for a opposition election rally held in Matara last week}
The government has under various names of party supporters booked all public spaces and venues that can accommodate large crowds for political meetings”, Manjula Gajanayake, National Co-ordinator, Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) said yesterday.
“This is a strategy employed to exclude all opposition parties from using these venues- constituting election violence. It is a strategy used by the very powerful incumbent government to deny any alternate voices from reaching the public,” he further said.
He said that venues in the Colombo Municipal area are have been most targeted. The playground in Maharagama is another example.
“During the last week the venue had been booked by various people and none of the opposition parties seeking to hold meetings there were able to do so. However, no meetings had been held during any of the days for which the grounds had been booked during the week”, he further explained.
The Elections Commissioner has intimated that if this situation continues, all public spaces such as playgrounds and others that are available for political meetings would be taken under his charge according to the powers vested in his office by law.
“This election, in our experience has been the most violent, most corrupt and the most expensive”, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) said, “The government’s intention is to deter the flow of the message of the opposition to the people”.
“The government denied the opposition a variety of venues including junctions, parks etc by various means. Some, they have booked in advance through their agents, in other cases they deny permission citing security concerns. During the last provincial council elections we held several meetings in the Gampaha and the Kiribathgoda areas but this time we have not been able to hold a single meeting”, Dissanayake told the Sunday Island yesterday.
“We believe that the Elections Commissioner has the right to intervene in this instance to ensure fair distribution of venues to parties”, he added.
“If the government thinks that they can stop the voices of the opposition from reaching the masses, they are living in a childish fantasy”.
Mr. Karu Jayasuriya, head of the UNP Leadership Council, commented: “This is highly un-ethical and a deliberate attempt on the part of the government to deny the voices of the opposition a place. On the other hand you can see how the president is flouting election laws using even Temple Trees for his election work, government vehicles, helicopters, offices and buildings”.
“Our party has taken a decision to meet the Elections Commissioner next week and request his intervention in this matter. The government has used various agents to book these venues to deny the opposition opportunity for propaganda”.
Meanwhile, Colombo Mayor AJM Muzammil declared “I have taken personal control of these venues to ensure fair distribution of venues to the opposition parties. The only exception was when Ratana Hamuduruwo wanted to have a meeting at the Hyde Park last week, I personally approved this but subsequently found that another meeting had been scheduled and approval ‘smuggled in’. So I made alternate arrangements for Ratana Hamuduruwo at Muttiah park”, he said.
“I guarantee that the CMC will ensure a fair distribution of the venues in Colombo to all political parties under the usual bookings procedure.”
by Maheen Senanayake/The Island