The people in Sabaragamuwa province turned out in large numbers yesterday to vote in the Provincial Council Elections--one that many felt was prematurely thrust on them and a wastage of public funds.
At the crack of dawn they began trekking to their respective polling booths-men, women, young and old despite the scare stories that were doing the rounds during the run up to the polls while the police kept a sharp eye on the proceedings.
It was clear that the people wanted to vote early and by noon polling booths throughout the province were reporting a 60 percent turnout.
An interesting feature was the large number of enthusiastic young voters who were using their franchise for the first time.
The polling here was conducted in a fairly peaceful manner with a few incidents being reported to the authorities and independent monitors and media having access to polling booths.
|A polling booth official returns an NIC after checking
Police, election officials and independent monitors reported a near zero in poll malpractices and this was largely due to National Identity Cards being made compulsory for a person to be eligible to vote, thereby edging out impersonation and other forms of rigging.
The night before polls work at various political offices went on till late night or early Saturday morning with respective candidates and activists being given last minute instructions with many fearing violence and malpractices while police and the army maintained a round the clock vigil in the province.
However late Friday night a UNP Western Provincial Councilor was arrested with 11 others, all armed with sharp instruments, iron rods, poles and cycle chains as they attempted to enter the Ratnapura area from Yatiyantota.
They were to be produced before a local magistrate yesterday, DIG Upali Hewage said and added that the group had arrived from Wanathamulla in Borella.
In a separate incident a Government MP from the Gampaha district had allegedly brought some 50 supporters and attempted to create trouble in the voting area of Karapincha in the Ratnapura electorate but were forced to take to their heels after the villagers stoned the bus in which they had arrived. The group was clad in red attire to give the impression they were from the JVP, but they were unmasked by the party’s polling agents who were in the area which led to the attack by the surrounding villagers. Karapincha is known to be a UNP stronghold.
A police team was later rushed to the area to prevent the incident from escalating.
Many voters were barred from voting after their make-shift NICs were rejected by officials since there was no endorsement from the Elections Department.
The temporary ID cards which carried a photograph of the voter and was counter-signed by the local Grama Sevaka was not enough to convince the officials.
Meanwhile both the UNP and the CWC charged that some Grama Sevaka Niladharis had led groups on a house to house hunt, offering extra Samurdhi benefits in exchange for the national identity cards that would prevent the holders from voting.
Under the new election regulations the NIC or any other government issued identity document was made compulsory for an individual to cast his/her vote even though he or she had a legitimate ballot paper issued by the Elections Department.
The opposition also charged that in some cases residents had been threatened with force if they failed to hand over their NIC’s and many had feared to venture out to cast their vote.
UNP spokesperson for the Ranjan Ramanayake campaign Kithsiri Kahatapitiya said incidents of poll grabbing were reported from several areas in Wewelwatte, Kahawatte, Rathtota and Enthane Estate.
“We have taken up the matter with the police and urged immediate action be taken,” Kahatapitiya said. At least 50 such incidents had been reported, he added.
The Chief Candidate for the CWC I.K. Rajan echoed the same allegations saying that similar incidents were reported to his party office from estates in the Madalagama, Delwella and Driedland divisions.
DIG Hewage confirmed that such incidents had occurred adding that he had dispatched special teams to the area to investigate the matter. “Apart from this alleged ballot grabbing issue, no other major pre-poll incidents were reported in the districts of Ratnapura and Kegalle where two DIG’s were posted to overlook the police operations,” Mr. Hewage said.
Ratnapura Governmnt Agent Malini Premaratne also confirmed the ballot grabbing reports and said her office was looking into the matter.
8, 000 police force to the fore
About 8,000 police assisted by 400 soldiers were pressed into service throughout the Sabaragamuwa Province yesterday to maintain law and order a senior policeman said yesterday.
|DIG Upali Hewage
DIG Upali Hewage said in addition to the usual police strength in the province, 5,000 personnel were brought in from other divisions and an ASP was posted to each police station to overlook the operations.
In addition, 15 to 20 soldiers were also posted at every station to assist the police maintain law and order. As a precautionary measure police had also arrested dozens of could not prove their identity prior to the poll to prevent possible violence and other forms of mischief, DIG Hewage said.
He said some of the “hot spots” that witnessed a certain degree of violence during the run up to the poll were Nivithigala, Kalawana, Rambukkana, Kegalle and Dedigama, and special attention was given to these areas. He said two police officers were posted to each of the 1014 polling booths throughout the province.
He further said that the police had received about 156 complaints from all sides of the political divide since campaigning began, and that 62 arrests had been made.
He further said that six police officers including a Sub Inspector had been earlier interdicted for lapse in duty following the attack on Ranjan Ramanayake early last week.