Polls lawlessness reports islandwide

Reports of violence and intimidation are pouring in, especially from the South. Leon Berenger reports

Election observers are coming out strongly over police failure to maintain law and order ahead of the January 26 Presidential election, as reports of polls-related intimidation and violence continue to come in from around the country.

Election laws are being openly flouted despite repeated orders from the Elections Commissioner’s Office, according to Rohana Hettiarachchi, executive director of the independent polls monitoring group, People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL). He said reports of irregularities are coming in at an alarming rate, especially from the South.

Galewala party office of General (Retd.) Fonseka comes under attack. Pix by Kanchana Kumara Ariyadasa.

The most recent incidents were reported from the Hambantota district, where at least four party offices belonging to opposition candidate, General (Retd.) Sarath Fonseka, were torched by unidentified persons waving automatic rifles.

“This is a serious development,” Mr. Hettiarachchi said. “The law enforcement authorities are slow to take action, and this will only encourage more lawlessness. Apart from the violence and intimidation, party supporters around the country are still putting up cutouts and posters and distributing pamphlets, and doing this under the noses of the law enforcement authorities, even though such activity is prohibited by law in the run-up to the election,” he said.

Meanwhile, election campaign material is causing a serious litter problem. Mr. Hettiarachchi said the Police Elections Desk was given Rs. 12.8 million to hire workers to clean up after the election campaigns, but there is no sign of any such work under way.

So far, PAFFREL has received 29 complaints against campaigners working for the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) party; 27 complaints against unidentified persons believed to be linked to the government, one complaint against the main opposition United National Party (UNP), and four complaints against the police.

Meanwhile, some 1.5 million people may be denied their vote because of technicalities arising from the fact that they are internally displaced persons (IDPs) or residents of Jaffna, according to the Centre for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE), another independent polls monitoring group.

“Of the 160,000 IDPs eligible to vote at the Presidential election, only 26,000 were able to register before this week’s deadline,” CaFFE spokesman Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon told the Sunday Times. “The others did not have the required documents. The authorities should have given these people extra time, because they are victims of a bloody civil war,” he said.

Vandals damage Galewala election office of President Rajapaksa.

Mr. Tennakoon said both the government and the opposition parties should take responsibility for failing to address this issue, resulting in some 135,000 eligible voters not being able to vote.

Mr. Tennakoon added that minor technicalities have also rendered hundreds, if not thousands, of police and security forces personnel ineligible to register for postal voting. “In one case, a soldier serving in the North was scratched off the voter list simply because the presiding officer said he doubted the authenticity of the soldier’s signature, although the soldier’s senior officers and subordinates were present,” he added.

Mr. Tennakoon said the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) will not be sending monitoring teams for the upcoming election because the government had failed to implement EU and UN recommendations following the Presidential election of 2005.

It has been confirmed that monitoring teams from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Asian Union will be present at the January 26 election.

Grama Sevakas ordered to work overtime to process temporary IDs

Grama Sevakas (village-level officers) around the country have been instructed to report to their respective offices on three consecutive days – January 11, 12 and 13 – specifically to process applications from persons requiring temporary identification to vote at the January 26 Presidential election.

The special directive from the Election Commissioner’s Office follows complaints from poll monitoring groups that Grama Sevakas turn up at their respective offices only one day a week, leaving them with little time to attend to voter registration duties. Persons requiring temporary ID cards should produce two passport-size photographs.

The IDs will be available a week later, according to Rohana Hettiarachchi, executive director of the independent polls monitoring group, People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL).

Those who cannot provide photographs will be directed to a nearby photography studio approved by the Registration of Persons Department.

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