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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Election Law violations dominate LG polls

Men in uniform accused of participating in polls, according to monitors
By Saradha Mohan Kumar
The first Local Government (LG) elections in the Northern Province, in an environment free of threats from the LTTE, did not mean an entirely free and fair poll. Instances of threats and intimidation and buying of polling cards were among the election law violations reported from the North at yesterday’s elections, according to observers.

The overall voter turnout for elections to 65 local bodies was around 55-60%. However, it was particularly low in the Jaffna district, where, despite heavy campaigning, only around 38% of the registered voters showed up.

Our photographers captured these polling day scenes in different areas of the country
“In the North of the country, where 19 LG elections were held, in many for the first time in over two decades, there was a climate of intimidation. People were reluctant to speak and to give their names to lodge complaints even when they alleged violations of the election law,” said executive director- People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), Rohana Hettiarachchi.

Similar sentiments were voiced by other observer groups. “After three decades of conflict, people from the Northern Peninsula, expecting to exercise their voting right, were subjected to intimidation. Quite a lot of incidents were reported from Kilinochchi district,” said Campaign for Free & Fair Elections spokesman Keerthi Tennakoon.

Polling cards of residents in Kalmaduwa, Kilinochchi district, were ‘bought’ by a group of persons for Rs 500 and Rs 1,000. CaFFE had also observed persons in uniform distributing free parcels of dry rations to the people of Kalmaduwa in Sabbhakulam grama sewa area in Killinochchi district, and demanding residents vote for the ruling party.

A tuition class building owned by a Tamil National Alliance (TNA) supporter was burnt down in Pallai, Killinochchi district. The manager of Watakachchi farm in Killinochchi had received death threats against voting, from TNA supporters who arrived in a van. The gang had damaged his vehicle and farm property. A similar incident was reported in Krishnapuram, Killinochchi district.

According to PAFFREL, a group of masked men dressed in black, arrived at a number of houses in Killinochchi and demanded their polling cards. The Network for Election Monitoring (NEM IHR) said mobs were involved in robbing polling cards and National Identity Cards by intimidating residents in Kilinochchi.

The monitoring body has also observed military personnel acting in a disruptive manner in Valikamam (west) Pradeshiya Sabha (PS) area in Jaffna. Several complaints were received on military personnel following vehicles carrying poll observers.

The People’s Liberation Front (JVP) in a statement said that in the North, especially in the Kilinochchi district, threats and intimidation were extensive, where military personnel were involved in many instances. The National Coordination Unit at the Elections Department stated that, on polling day, 75 election violence incidents were reported. CaFFE had received 32 reports of election related violence and six of assaults.

Several violations were reported from others parts of the country as well. In Colombo and Gampaha districts, many campaign vehicles were seen bearing party posters, CaFFE said. A group of supporters of a UPFA candidate in the Yatinuwara Pradeshiya Sabha, Kandy district had been surrounding polling stations and threatening voters to vote in favour of him.

Voter turnout in the districts of Colombo and Gampaha district were 55-60%, Galle district 60%, Matara district 75%, Killinochchi district 60% and Trincomalee 62%. “For the first time in 30 years, we have been able to hold an election without the assistance of the Army,” said Assistant Commissioner of Elections (Trincomalee), Nalaka Ratnayake.

He said no grave election violations were reported from the district. In the Kandy district, elections were held in Harispattuwa PS, Yatinuwara PS and Akurana PS. District Secretary for Kandy, Gamini Seneviratne said, the voter turnout was 62%, and the elections were held in a peaceful manner.
A senior police official of the Kandy Police Headquarters said no complaints were reported on election related violence.

In Anuradhapura, polls were held to appoint members for Nuwaragam-palatha, Galnewa and Rajanganaya PS. Anuradhapura district secretary Mahinda Seneviratne said the voter turnout was 60% and there were no serious incidents of election law violations reported.

According to Puttalam district secretary Kingsley Fernando, voter turnout was 60% for polls in Chilaw Urban Council and PS, Wennappuwa and Nawagaththegama PS.

“There were minor reports from polling stations where supporters of contestants of the same party were involved in brawls. Police were able to control the situation,” he said.


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