The southern town of Hambantota has turned into a mini-battle zone with pre-election violence on a steady increase while the police and officialdom opt to remain silent and independent observers fear that the worse is yet to come.
The bulk of the violence and intimidation has been allegedly targeted at the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) with the party holding pro-government goons as being responsible for the ongoing attacks, while the police claim that all sides are to blame for the present situation.
The JVP which has a sizeable vote base, particularly in the Tissamaharama area claims that the Government is jittery of losing ground, which would be an embarrassment despite all the war victory hype and therefore is determined to stifle the opposition using whatever means possible, the district’s group leader Sisira Walathanthri told the Sunday Times.
|A JVP office after it was attacked
In addition ruling party members are also said to be misusing State property and in some cases have even co-opted public servants to bolster their campaign, he further charged.
“On one hand the Government boasts of a one-horse race at the upcoming poll but on the other hand all the unlawful methods are being used in getting its message across to the electorate. This only goes to prove that there is a certain degree of uncertainty in its camp”, Mr. Walathanthri further said.
“In short almost every election law has been violated and the officials including the police are doing nothing to correct this situation, but instead continue to turn a blind eye to the happenings,” he said.
The United National Party (UNP) Hambantota district heavyweight Parliamentarian Sajith Premadasa endorsed the views of the JVP only to add that his party would take the fight right down to the wire.
“Unlike the earlier elections held in the other provinces the fight here will be different. The Government will not have it easy. It is jittery and that probably explains the unlawful actions aimed at softening the opposition,” Mr. Premadasa further said. Mr. Premadasa joined the JVP in condemning the inaction of the police and other relevant officials for failing to implement the election laws and bringing about a peaceful climate before polling day.
“Instead they are allowing the carnival to go on”, he added.
The Government said it was the opposition that was jittery at facing the electorate at the forthcoming polls and challenged it to gather even 10 percent of the vote.
“There will be a repeat performance of the earlier victories in other parts of the country simply because the people are with the President and have embraced his policies, war or no war,” a senior UPFA minister in the Hambantota district said.He blamed the JVP for instigating the present round of violence in the district saying some of its members cannot forget their violent past.
A senior policeman based in the area that there were many pre-poll incidents but said all stake holders in the election must take responsibility.
On Thursday the police top brass in the Southern Province addressed a meeting of all the candidates in the Hambantota district and reminded them of the rules and regulations while calling on each and every individual to respect the law.
However barely hours after the meeting concluded violence flared up in the district where three persons were assaulted at Ranna in the Hungama police area and at least two JVP propaganda offices were put to the torch at Tissamaharama.
Hambantota’s police chief Senior Superintendent (SSP) Neil Daluwatte dismissed the charges made against the police by certain sections of the opposition. “We are doing everything possible to contain the violence but sometimes things are beyond our reach when incidents occur without warning and during the early hours of the morning,” he said.
Mr. Keerthi Tennakoon of the independent poll observer group Caafe said it was the opposition that was facing the bulk of the violence and held that State property and personnel were being widely used by the Government members in their favour.
“The situation is the worst so far since the conclusion of the polls in the North Central Province and if the present trend is allowed to go unchecked then more violence and other irregularities could be seen in the future,” he said.
He said it was the duty of the police and other relevant officials to act impartially and allow the campaign in the district to be carried out in a peaceful manner.
However the situation in the remaining two southern districts of Matara and Galle were relatively quiet except for a few isolated incidents, Mr.. Tennakoon further explained.Mr. J. A. S. P. Jayasinghe, the additional Elections Commissioner for the Hambantota district said that there have been a number of polls-related incidents but added that the figures were being highly exaggerated by interested persons.
“In a bid to calm matters down local Elections Department officials have called for a meeting of all the candidates for an open discussion to be held today where several festering issues are hoped to be ironed out and differences settled amicably,” Mr. Jayasinghe said.