Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sri Lanka suspends releasing final result of parliamentary election

Sri Lanka has suspended releasing the final result of the parliamentary election. The country's election department made the decision because of illegal activities at some polls.

The latest counting shows the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance claimed a landslide victory by securing 117 of the 225 seats. Its closest rival, the United National Party, won 46 seats. Another opposition party led by former army chief, General Sarath Fonseka, won five seats.

The election department called for a re-vote at 38 polling stations in two districts. A date has yet to be announced.


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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sri Lanka Tamils: imperfect post-war freedom to vote

Photo Courtesy of Anupama Genegoda/Perambara

By N. Parameswaran - Tamils in Sri Lanka's former war zone voted on Thursday to elect parliamentarians for the first time in three decades without the Tamil Tiger rebels dictating their ballots at gunpoint.

During their three-decade reign over parts of northern and eastern Sri Lanka, the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) routinely intimidated voters and forced them to vote for their political proxy, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

Even so, turnout was around 20 percent in most former rebel areas compared to about 50 percent islandwide, election monitors said. Thousands of soldiers remain garrisoned in the region, which critics say hampers a sense of freedom.

"People here are voting interestedly because this is the first time we are having a general election without the LTTE," said R. Croose, 25, a private sector employee in Mannar, an area of the western coast under Tiger control until July 2008.

Thursday's voting process was far from perfect, with missing names on voter rolls, a fact officials have blamed on the multiple displacements of people during the war and the Tigers' tampering with government records.

"My name is not in the list," said Weerasingham Nahamma, a 62-year old vegetable vendor, who had walked more than three miles for her nearest polling station, told Reuters.


Nor was the voting without intimidation, this time from supporters of a government minister, according to election monitors. They said the minister's supporters blocked buses meant to carry Tamil war refugees from their camps to polling stations.

During the war, armed government proxies intimidated Tamils at the periphery of the Tigers' sphere of influence through threats and violence as a counter to the rebels, leaving people caught in the middle.

With that electoral history, expectations remain low in the former LTTE areas.

"We didn't have any control or influence in this election and my only hope is for all to live in peace," said Thambithurai Aiyar, 59, a Hindu priest who voted.

The LTTE fought for a separate country for Sri Lanka's minority Tamils, who had suffered decades of mistreatment at the hands of governments led by the Sinhalese ethnic majority since independence from Britain in 1948.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is a Sinhalese Buddhist, and has struggled to win support in the mainly Hindu Tamil areas despite campaigning there on behalf of his ruling alliance candidates.

"People are still not confident the next government can give a political solution for Tamil problems," said a Jaffna political analyst on condition of anonymity. "They have a feeling that Rajapaksa might enforce a solution which he thinks appropriate."

He has all but rejected Tamil demands for devolving power, and said economic development is the route to reconciliation.

"We voted this time with a large number of hopes," Sellaiya Ranjaneedevi, 51, told Reuters TV.

Since the end of the war in May last year after a drive by government forces, she has lived in a camp with tens of thousands of other refugees in the northern city of Vavuniya. She escaped the brutal finale of the conflict.

"First we want to return to our village and we want a new home there, a good school for the children, good drinking water and agriculture facilities. We are hoping to get these from the newly elected government."

© Reuters

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Turnout Low at Sri Lanka Parliamentary Elections

By Lydia Polgreen - Three months after winning re-election in a landslide, Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, sought to solidify his party’s hold on power by securing a two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections held Thursday.

Candidates and election monitors said that voter turnout appeared to be unusually low, especially given the circumstances: the country was holding its first parliamentary elections since the Tamil Tiger insurgency was defeated in May 2009.

Mr. Rajapaksa was hoping to consolidate his presidential victory with a solid majority in Parliament. He has pledged to take firm steps to unite this ethnically divided and war-ravaged nation once the election is over.

But opposition parties accuse him of seeking to turn Sri Lanka, one of South Asia’s oldest democracies, into an effectively one-party state by using government resources to ensure that his party’s candidates prevail.

Mr. Rajapaksa’s main opponent in the presidential contest, a retired army general, Sarath Fonseka, is under arrest and in the midst of a court martial, accused of using his military post to advance his political career. Government officials say that he was plotting a coup. General Fonseka’s supporters say that the charges against him were brought to punish him for running against his onetime ally.

Mr. Rajapaksa won the January election handily with 58 percent of the vote, against General Fonseka’s 40 percent.

The opposition parties that had united in an unwieldy coalition behind General Fonseka went their separate ways for the parliamentary elections, and most are in disarray. The best they could hope for, analysts said, was to prevent Mr. Rajapaksa’s party from winning a sweeping majority that would allow it to rewrite the Constitution.

“It is a low-turnout poll,” said Ravi Karunanayake, a candidate of the main opposition party, the United National Party. “Low turnout is likely to turn out to our advantage.”

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, director of the Center for Policy Alternatives, an independent public policy institute, said the low turnout was most likely a sign of voters’ apathy.

“It is a paradoxical election,” Mr. Saravanamuttu said. “There are 7,600 candidates, but they don’t seem to have enthused their fellow citizens.”

Mr. Rajapaksa, who was first elected in 2005 after promising to defeat the rebels, has pledged to use a large parliamentary majority to take measures to unify the country, which is split along religious and ethnic lines among the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, the minority Tamils, most of whom are Hindu, and a small Muslim population.

The Tamil Tiger insurgency sought a separate homeland in northern Sri Lanka. After the Sri Lankan Army’s decisive defeat of the rebel group, most Tamil parties in Sri Lanka have given up on that dream and hope instead for a measure of self-rule within a united country. But many Sinhalese hard-liners see autonomy as a precursor to independence and want to keep the highly centralized system of government intact.

Election-monitoring groups reported sporadic violence in the days before the voting, but election day was largely peaceful, according to the Center for Monitoring Election Violence.

© The New York Times

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sri Lanka ruling party wins parliamentary election

Sri Lanka's ruling party cruised to victory Friday in parliamentary elections but fell short of the two-thirds majority that would have allowed President Mahinda Rajapakse to amend the constitution.

Rajapakse's United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) secured 117 seats in the 225-member assembly with another 45 seats left to be declared, results released by the Elections Commissioner showed.

The main opposition United National Party (UNP) won 46 seats.

Rajapakse seized on the result as an endorsement of his own vision, saying: "This outstanding victory is an endorsement of the 'Mahinda Chintana' (Mahinda vision)."

"I asked you for a strong parliament that can meet any challenge.... I sincerely thank you for giving me an unprecedented majority that will help make Sri Lanka an example to the rest of the world," he said in a statement.

Presidential spokesman Chanderapala Liyanage predicted the party would secure at least 24 of the undeclared seats, leaving it just nine seats short of a two-thirds majority.

Thursday's vote was the first parliamentary ballot since government forces defeated Tamil Tiger rebels in May, causing Rajapakse's popularity to surge.

But it was marked by a record low turnout and numerous cases of voter intimidation that resulted in fresh voting being ordered in two of the island's 22 electoral districts.

The re-poll means 16 seats will only be declared on April 19, along with another 29 that are distributed on a proportional representation system.

The widely expected victory will further strengthen Rajapakse's grip, three months after he won a second term as president by an emphatic margin.

His main rival, former army chief Sarath Fonseka, contested Thursday's poll from behind bars but his party secured just five seats.

Fonseka was arrested just weeks after the presidential vote and is undergoing court martial.

The main Tamil National Alliance won 12 seats.

Rajapakse had been hoping for a two thirds majority that would allow him to tinker with the constitution, which currently limits presidents to two successive terms.

The opposition UNP was non-committal about the outcome.

"We are not challenging the legality of those who are elected," UNP spokesman Tissa Attanayake told reporters. "But we must stress that there were serious violations in the run-up to the elections."

For many Sri Lankans, it was the first legislative poll in which they could vote without fear of Tamil Tiger violence and suicide attacks.

Analysts said the record low turnout of less than 55 percent would take the shine off the ruling party's victory.

"People have sent a message," said political analyst Victor Ivan. "They are fed up with politicians and their deception. That is why nearly half of the electorate did not bother to vote."

Human rights campaigner and political analyst Nimalka Fernando said the low turnout would undermine the new government's position.

"The result does not give moral authority to the government because half of the electorate did not vote," Fernando said. "With the legitimacy undermined, the government will not be able to go for any sweeping reforms."

Sethmini Chathurika, 28, said she had voted for Rajapakse's party because it had succeeded in ending the conflict with the Tamil Tigers.

"The president has plans to build the country. I think he deserves a parliament to implement those plans," Chathurika said.

Rajapakse's nationalistic rhetoric appeals to his majority Sinhalese community, but has been criticised by rights groups who accuse him of cronyism and suppressing dissent.

Opposition parties lost cohesion after Fonseka's arrest and went into the parliamentary election with little hope of victory.

"I hope the government uses the mandate of a stronger parliament to push investment-friendly reforms," said Srimal Abeyratne, head of the economics department at the University of Colombo.


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