Violations all along the campaign trail
With just five weeks to go for the North Central, Eastern and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council elections, party campaigning is hotting up even as election laws are being flagrantly violated. Up to yesterday, a total of 64 complaints of election law violations have been lodged with the Campaign for Free & Fair Elections (CaFFE), a local election watchdog organisation. Most of the complaints are about misuse of state property.
“The bulk of the complaints have come from the Anuradhapura district, in the North Central Province,” CaFFE spokesman Ranjith Keerthi Tennakoon told the Sunday Times. “Vehicles belonging to the Provincial Education Department and Zonal Education Offices are being used for election purposes, such as transporting election posters and banners.”
Teachers and assistant teachers have been seen taking part in election meetings, he added.
“There is abuse of power in all districts,” Mr. Tennakoon said. “Despite the areas being policed, election cutouts and banners have been put up. The Eravur post office was being used as a campaign office until the Elections Commissioner sealed it after complaints were made.”
Another election watchdog, People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), has received 35 complaints, most of them from the North-Central Province. “Although there is less violence here, misuse of state property is rampant,” said PAFFREL executive director Rohana Hettiarachchi. “Not only vehicles but also government buildings and resources are being illegally used, and intensively so.”
Mr. Hettiarachchi said a request has been made to the Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya to allow civil defence officers (home guards) to vote through the post. “Home guards have told us that at the previous election they were compelled to vote for the ruling party, and ordered to inform their officers who they had voted for.”
Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) has called on all political parties and the public to be alert to malpractices relating to the use of public property during the Provincial Council elections.
Use of government vehicles, including helicopters, for election propaganda is a common practice at elections. “This is especially applicable in the use of government vehicles which are either owned by the government or loaned vehicles used by government institutions,” a Transparency International news release stated.
Transparency International also said state schools and playgrounds should not be used free of charge by party candidates or supporters.
The National Polls Observation Centre (NPOC) has requested all political parties and independent groups contesting the Provincial Council elections to refrain from making communal or religious references in their campaigns and propaganda.
Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya announced that regional offices will be set up to look into election law violations. Regional offices will be put up in Valaichchenai and Kalawanchikudi in Batticaloa district; Akkaraipattu in Ampara district, Kebithigollewa, Kahatagasdigiliya, Kekirawa, Thambuttegama and Galenbindunuweva in Anuradhapura district.
In a separate notice, the Elections Commissioner appealed to candidates and party groups to refrain from putting up signs with written, painted, inked or stencilled election symbols and candidate names and identification numbers along roads and in public places. Such signage violates election laws and deface public places and roads, he said.
Minister Maitreepala Sirisena, Sri Lanka Freedom Party General Secretary, announced that the SLFP-led United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) would follow the Elections Commissioner’s instructions and make sure UPFA members conducted a fair campaign. “The UPFA campaign will be launched on August 18, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa present,” Minister Sirisena told the Sunday Times.
Main opposition United National Party (UNP) Secretary-General Tissa Attanayake told the Sunday Times that fresh university graduates who were temporarily recruited to work at divisional secretariats were told to report to the former Chief Minister’s office to assist in campaign work.
MP Attanayake said the UNP will hold 130 pocket meetings and 1,000 village-level meetings, while nation-level campaigns will begin in mid-August.The People’s Liberation Front (JVP) has begun house-to-house campaigns at village and district level. JVP MP Vijitha Herath told the Sunday Times that posters of ruling party candidates have been put in Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) buses. “State vehicles are being extensively used in campaign work,” he said. Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Batticaloa MP Pon Selvarasa said candidates and party supporters in the Eastern Province have received death threats.
“Our chief candidate K. Thureirajasingham has received a number of threats, and someone locked his gate from outside with a padlock. In Vaharai, strangers came in a three-wheeler and made off with the party’s stock of campaign leaflets,” MP Selvarasa told the Sunday Times. He said TNA candidates have attended school functions, along with Deputy Minister Vinayagamurthy Muralitharan.
Sri Lanka Muslim Council General Secretary Hassan Ali said the party will continue its house-to-house campaign during the Ramazan fasting period. “Some areas in Ampara recorded a 96-98 per cent voter turnout at the last election and are vulnerable this time. We have informed the Elections Commissioner,” he said.
A total of 3,073 candidates from approved political parties and independent groups will contest 108 seats at the North Central, Eastern and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council Provincial Council elections, to be held on September 8.
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