Fire and fury all the way

Run up to polls
By Leon Berenger

As was the case in the previous outings it was the same one party show in the south as the Government side thundered through the opposition using state machinery at its disposal with a range of violence and other forms of intimidation, while independent observers said the police must take full responsibility for what took place in the run-up to the Southern Provincial Council polls.

More than 300 incidents of pre-election violence and related cases were documented by the observers who said it was the highest when compared with previous polls in other provinces.

“In short, it was the worst ever pre-poll campaign in recent times and the police together with the Elections Department was found wanting in more than one way,” Keerthi Tennakoon of the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections, (CaFFE) said.

The district of Matara topped the list with 108 incidents followed by Galle and Hambantota. In one of the most serious incidents UNP’s chief candidate for Galle district Manusha Nanayakkara escaped unhurt after his convoy was ambushed and shot at, at Waluwatte on Friday afternoon. The incident occurred when he and his supporters were returning home after meeting party loyalists.

Mr. Nanayakkara said the gunmen had arrived on a motor cycle and sprayed the convoy with automatic fire before speeding away. The lead vehicle was damaged in the attack.

The police however, denied that such an incident occurred, adding that the candidate had staged the whole affair to garner sympathy votes. Galle Police Chief, Senior Superintendent Keerthi Silva said investigators who rushed to the scene found the candidate’s claim highly questionable.

“This trend only confirms the inactiveness of the police amidst reports that law enforcers were also made powerless owing to pressure from various quarters. It was one big joke, from the very beginning of the campaign”, CaFFE’s Mr Tennakoon said.

He added that the main culprits were from the government side where the bulk of the violence and intimidation was aimed at the JVP and to a lesser extent the main opposition UNP.

“The police and other relevant authorities sided with the government candidates when it came to the issue of cut-outs and other election propaganda material in public places. A few selected UNP candidates also received preferential treatment, but the JVP had no chance,” Mr. Tennakoon further said.

In desperation the JVP even filed a Fundamental Rights petition in court alleging police harassment of party workers. Rohana Hettiarachchi of the People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) endorsed these views.

He added that in the final days of the campaign, the Regional Elections Department offices in the Province chose to remain incommunicado while the carnival was allowed to go on. “We could not reach them either on telephone or fax to make a complaint. They were nowhere to be seen either,” Mr. Hettiarachchi said.

“Elections Comissioner Dayananda Dissanayake warned that the entire polls would be nullified if the cut-outs, banners and other material were not removed from public places. But barely 24 hours later, fresh material was put up in rural areas of the province but no action was taken,” he said. The Additional Elections Comissioner for Hambantota J. A. S. P. Jayasinghe however, said that all the stake holders involved in the polls are to blame.

“These cut-outs, banners, etc have come in different colours although one side may be more prominent. This is the trend of local elections in this country, although it should never be the case,” he added. The police on the other hand did not take any chances for yesterday’s polls, drawing in an additional 4,000 men from the outstations to beef up security in known trouble spots in the Province. Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Gamini Navaratne told the Sunday Times the men had been instructed to deal firmly with would-be trouble makers or face the risk of strict disciplinary action.

He added that they were also investigating opposition claims that more than 1000 suspicious individuals had entered the Province from Colombo and elsewhere in recent days and that the police were on a sharp look out for them.

Traffic congestion causes death: Relatives

The first and only election-related death occurred in a bizarre manner when a pregnant mother died for want of immediate medical attention while attending an UPFA rally in Matara.

Monica Mannamperi, a mother of two, was attending the rally at Matara when she suddenly collapsed to the ground after suffering an attack of high blood pressure.

It was only a 15-minute drive to the Matara hospital, but the ambulance carrying the stricken woman was caught up in a traffic congestion caused by the many vehicles that had arrived for the rally.

In the end it took some one and a half hours to make the trip to the hospital where she later died while under treatment at the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU).Relatives claim that she could have been saved if medical attention had been provided a bit earlier.

The victim was a past pupil of Vijitha Maha Vidyala and an employee with the Coast Conservation Department.

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