Complaints from campaign trail

By Nadia Fazlulhaq

Reports of pre-polls violence and allegations of misuse of sate property for election purposes are already coming in from the four districts where campaigning is under way for the August 23 Provincial Council elections. The districts are Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kegalle, and Ratnapura.

Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CAFE) spokesman Keerthi Tennakoon said 23 incidents have been reported: 12 from Anuradhapura, seven from Kegalle, two from Polonnaruwa and one from Ratnapura. CAFE also says it has received a large number of reports of political violence, and of unfair treatment by the police.“The police said no bias would be shown in the removal of posters and cut-outs of political candidates. However, in Anuradhapura district, posters and cut-outs were removed in some areas and not in others. Some candidates’ posters were taken down, but not others,” Mr. Tennakoon said.

Mr. Tennakoon added that a pattern of election violence, dominated by political thuggery, has been observed, especially in the Anuradhapura and Kegalle districts. “In Anuradhapura there is no transparency in the handling of law and order,” he said. “In the Rajangana area there was a clash between UPFA and UNP supporters, but the police were unable to carry out a proper investigation and take preventive measures, and as a result were unable to prevent another clash from happening at the same spot on Wednesday.”

CAFE has also received a number of complaints regarding the misuse of state vehicles. Mr. Tennakoon said there have been complaints of vehicles belonging to state institutions, including Provincial Councils and the National Services Youth Council, being used for election purposes.

Meanwhile, People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) says it has received 24 complaints relating to the election campaign: 13 from Anuradhapura, six from Kegalle, three from Polonnaruwa, and two from Anuradhapura. PAFFREL deputy director Rohana Hettiarachchi said there were 11 complaints of physical attacks; two of verbal threats; eight of incidents of damaged property; two of misuse of state vehicles, and one of unlawful campaigning. He said the majority of state-owned vehicles being used in the campaign belonged to Provincial Councils.

Members of political parties have been especially vocal on the matter of misuse of public property and the lack of action on the part of the authorities. UNP MP Lakshman Kiriella has charged that the police in the four districts had failed to maintain law and order and were “contributing” to the ongoing violence.
JVP MP and Parliamentary group leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake confirmed with The Sunday Times that state property was being used for the campaign, especially in the North Central Province.

According to the Assistant Election Commissioners, the number of eligible voters in each district are: Anuradhapura 569,398; Polonnaruwa 278,055; Kegalle 605,621, and Ratnapura 713,205.

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