Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Southern PC Elections: "worst since North Central Polls" says PAFFREL

As the elections for the Southern Provincial Council which will be held on October 10 nears, independent observers have declared that the polls have been marred by a disturbing number of violations and serious violence.

“It is the worse election since the North Central polls,” People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) Deputy Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi told The Bottom Line. PAFFREL reported 140 incidents of election violence yesterday and Hettiarachchi explained less than half were illegal propaganda activities and the rest were violence related and serious including 3 attempts to intimidate by shooting, 16 cases of assault, 36 cases of damaging party offices, 1 abduction attempt and 3 cases of damaging vehicles.

“In the last few days alone we have seen party candidates assaulted and we are unhappy with the situation,” he said, explaining that although several arrests were made in relation to these incidents, they may continue till the date of the polls. “We need greater contribution from the police, political parties and the citizens of the area to stem these incidents.”

His concerns were echoed by the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) Media Spokesman Keerthi Tennakoon who said that in the Hambantota District alone, within the last two days seven incidents of JVP election offices being attacked were reported adding that since nominations were called election violence in the south has been increasing in gravity and number with CaFFE reporting 197 incidents, majority of which originated from the Galle District with 76, Matara with 60 and Hambantota with 60.

“The Southern Provincial Council elections are the worst in terms of law enforcement and inaction by the Election Commission,” he declared, “There is a clear bias towards the ruling UPFA party and the action taken by the Police against these incidents is questionable.” He added that illegal propaganda takes place in broad daylight within the urban areas of Galle, Matara and Hambantota but it remains unstopped by the Police. “Some cutouts have been removed in the vicinity of the Election Commissioners’ Department but the majority remains.”

He said that the structural soundness of an election has been destroyed with the Southern Provincial Council polls. “There is no independent Election Commission and there was a lack in communication. The Commissioner failed to bring the party leaders to a meeting before the elections began this time and failed to provide adequate funding to the law enforcement officials to combat illegal propaganda which gives them an excuse.”

However, Police Spokesman DIG Nimal Mediwaka said that the Police have taken adequate steps in the South. “The violations have not been too serious and we have deployed an additional force of 1000 police officers to prevent these incidents in the pre-election period.” He outlined the security plan during the election period on October 9, 10 and 11 with 7000 Police officers deployed to provide security to poll stations, to prevent intimidation or influence of voters on their way to the polling booths and to ensure a peaceful election. “As we see a trend of a fight for preferential votes, they will also be tasked with preventing clashes between party supporters among each other and with other supporters along with providing security for the counting centres.”

He added that a third security plan aimed at ensuring a peaceful environment in the post election situation was also in place to prevent rival groups from clashing. As for controlling illegal propaganda, he said that although the Police have been getting rid of propaganda material, supporters are very quick at putting them up again. “And unless we catch them red handed the posters and cut outs keep coming.”
Meanwhile, PAFFREL will deploy 1065 election observers with 918 of the 1485 polling stations in the Southern Province provided with stationary observers and the remainder covered by mobile observers. Galle District which has the most number of polling stations will be provided with 469 stationary observers, 50 mobile and 20 for Divisional Secretariats, Matara will be provided with 283 stationary, 40 mobile and 17 for the Secretariats. Hambantota will be provided 176 stationary, 28 mobile and 12 for the Secretariats while 10 observers will be stationed at the Election Department in Rajagiriya. CaFFE will deploy 225 observers to Galle District, 215 to Matara and 175 to Hambantota with identified hot spots provided with a larger contingent of observers.

© The Bottom Line

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