Police inaction in face of growing violence, say polls monitors

Southern Provincial Council polls

As the Southern Provincial Council election draws closer, election monitors are accusing the police of not doing enough to prevent the increasing incidence of pre-poll violence and violations of election laws.
The elections monitoring body- Campaign for Free & Fair Elections (CaFFE) has received reports of 24 pre-poll violations and assaults. The majority of the incidents have been reported from Galle, Hambantota and Matara.

CaFFE spokesperson Keerthti Tennakoon said the incidents were mainly due to police inaction. “The main political parties are campaigning on a mass scale and the main incidents reported are violations of election laws. Lots of posters and cut-outs have come up in prohibited areas violating election laws. Law enforcement authorities have not taken the necessary steps to prevent this situation or even have these illegal cut-outs, posters and banners pulled down,” Mr. Tennakoon said.

“The worse affected areas are Galle and Hambantota. There have been a few incidents of election violence such as attacks on political offices and causing minor hurt that were reported to us. We have also learnt that internal clashes among candidates of the same party are flaring up. If the situation is not brought under control now, it could get worse,” he warned.

Meanwhile, responding to allegations of police inaction, DIG Gamini Navaratne, who is in charge of election security said the situation in the South was under control.

“I am personally co-ordinating all four police divisions that are engaged in election duty. The situation is under control except for a few isolated incidents. We have arrested 15 people who were involved in violating election laws and pre-poll violence. The majority of the complaints are that of mischief and minor hurt,” he said.

In the latest of a series of incidents related to poll violence, armed men who had arrived in a white van had stormed the JVP election office in Agunukolapelessa in the early hours of Thursday. The men had destroyed banners and caused damage to the office.

A police complaint was lodged following the incident and an eye witness who was at the office at the time of the attack had given the registration number of the van. The eye witness had also identified one of the armed members. However, no arrests were made.

A JVP spokesperson claimed 13 of their election offices in the Hambantota district have been damaged.
On Friday, 15 JVP candidates from the Hambantota district were summoned to the Tangalle Magistrate’s Court after the Road Development Authority (RDA) accused the party members of painting their party symbol on the road. However, questions are being asked why the RDA hadn’t taken the UPFA to court for erecting Pandals. When the Sunday Times contacted RDA General Manager R.W.R Pemasiri about the situation he said he was unaware of the RDA taking legal action against the JVP.

Meanwhile, an internal feud brewing in the UPFA camp saw Anarkali Akarsha and Sajin Vass Gunawardena lodging complaints at the Galle police station against fellow Southern Provincial Council candidate Nishantha Muthuhettigama for allegedly threatening them.

On Friday, Galle Chief Magistrate Thamara Tennekoon issued a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Muthuhettigama after he failed to be present at the hearing. However, when he later presented himself in court through his lawyer, the magistrate warned him severely and released him on Rs. 200,000 surety bail.

JVP to fight back

The JVP is to lodge a complaint at the Matara district Human Rights Commission and file a fundamental rights case against the Hambantota police for harassing and discrediting 15 JVP candidates contesting the upcoming Southern Provincial Council election.

JVP MP Vijitha Herath said the members were not involved in disfiguring any roads or road signs and that they had only displayed the party symbol and not the candidates’ numbers.

He accused the police of turning a blind eye to banners and cut-outs of government members displayed on Harbour Road. “They even bear the numbers of the candidates,” he charged.

Mr. Herath said they saw this as an attempt to discredit the JVP and therefore they would lodge a complaint at the Human Rights Commission office in Matara and also file a FR case against the Hambantota police.

The 15 Hambantota District JVP candidates against whom the RDA filed a case include, Sisira Kumara Wahalathanthri, Piyasena Ramanayake, Jayantha Wanniarachchi, Athula Welandagoda, Indika Thushara Medduwage, Middeniya Gamage Nandasena, Mahadurage Sugathadasa, Chandrapala Welihenage, Prabha Ruwan Senarath, Kumudu Sanjeewa Loku Hannedige, Muthumala Patabendige, Nimal Jayantha Muthumala, Hewa Lokuge Jayasiri, Liyanaarachchige Chandradasa, Sarath Chandrasekare, Yapa and Sudirikku Hannedige Sujith.

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