Polls calm and dull except for Baiz antics

North Western Province
Asif Fuard reporting from Puttalam

As in other districts, Puttalam saw a relatively low voter turnout for yesterday’s provincial elections with most people apparently more interested in their daily chores than in voting.

Many polling stations reported a shocking turnout of less than 20 voters upto noon. Some of them were empty with only the Presiding Officers, independent elections monitors and police officers being present when The Sunday Times team visited the polling stations.

This situation had never prevailed before in this part of the region which often had a voter turnout of more than 50 percent. In certain rural areas of Puttalam, the voter turnout was less than 40 percent.
“I have been a presiding officer for many elections but I have not seen such a low voter turnout. It seems as if there is no election happening. Many people are continuing with their day-to-day activities and it seems they believe they have more important things to do rather than casting their vote,” a presiding officer said.

People were seen walking on the streets of Puttalam like on any other day with shops playing loud music and vendors trying to sell their goods. There was little or no election fever accept for the candidates and their supporters who roamed the streets of Puttalam with UPFA stickers of the candidates pasted on their vehicles.

Salim Farook who runs a bakery on the Kurunagela-Puttalam road said he did not want to cast his vote because he thought that the two main parties had not fielded a candidate who deserved his vote.
“I think this election is a waste of time. People are not in the mood for elections. We have to finish the war and then develop the economy. Over here people are fed up with politicians who give false promises,” he said.

Truck driver Hussain Abdullah said he had no confidence in any candidate. Three-wheeler driver Rameez Abdeen said that he did not wish to waste his time on voting as he had to do more important things such as earning for the upkeep of his family.

“In the past, elections were like carnivals. But people have appeared to have lost interest and hope. There are no proper provincial leaders who are genuinely committed to fulfil the people’s needs. So I decided not to vote,” hardware businessman Mohamed Nusky said.

In contrast, school teacher Sithy Fathima said she and her family woke up early in the morning to cast their votes. “I only pray and hope whichever party or candidate that comes into power doesn’t let the people of Puttalam and the Wayamba down,” she said.

Despite the low voter turnout, the silver lining in yesterday’s elections was that it was one of the calmest or the most non-violent in recent times. A few isolated incidents took place but nothing like the notorious Wayamba polls of 1999.

In one of the serious incidents at the Fathima Centre polling booth in the heart of Puttalam town, Deputy Minister K.A Baiz is reported to have almost clashed with police officers.

Mr. Baiz had come with several of his supporters to the booth and attempted to forcibly enter. When he was questioned by two police officers, he told them that he had brought food for one of his polling agents.

As words were exchanged between the deputy minister and the two police officers, Mr. Baiz’s supporters had reportedly tried to assault the officers, who in turn had pointed their T-56 assault rifles at the politician and his supporters.

Finally, Mr. Baiz is reported to have telephoned a senior police officer and got the two police officers moved elsewhere, while he had his way. A CID officer stationed at the Zahira National College polling booth faced a similar situation.

The CID officer, who was sent from Colombo for election duty, said some UPFA supporters had been canvassing and handing out leaflets outside the polling station.

“When I tried to stop them handing over leaflets making announcements on loudspeakers, they ignored me. They were even bringing in vehicles full of people to vote. It was obvious this was orchestrated by a particular politician. I didn’t allow them to go in and told Puttalam police officers to take action. I was shocked to hear the police officers take the politician’s side and say that one of the individuals was a candidate and I had to let them in,” he said.

Previously Deputy Minister Baiz using a provincial radio channel called "Puttalam FM" asked the people to vote for the betel leaf. Election monitors of PAFFREL called this action a violation of the election laws.

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