Many IDPs deprived of chance to vote

By K.Lambert, Vavuniya corr.

Menik Farm, Vavuniya: The time was 5.30 a.m. on election day and voters from the refugee camps were already preparing to go to the polling booths to vote.

They were queuing up after an announcement came on the public address system in the camp that all those who wanted to vote would be provided with transport facilities and the buses would be arriving shortly.

Some of them had applied for the facility to vote as displaced voters. The booths for them were set up at the Sivanantham Vidyalaya, Aravaithottam, Chettikulam, barely one kilometre away from the camp.
Some others from Mullaitivu had opted to vote at the booths set up in Vavuniya town while the voters from Kilinochchi had to travel to booths set up at the public playground adjoining the A 9 road in Kilinochchi town.

IDPs waiting to vote at a polling booth in Aravaithottam. Pix by Priyantha Hewage

Some of the voters eagerly awaiting their opportunity to vote in the booths closer to the camps started walking towards the booths. Hundreds were seen rushing to the booths set up in the nearby school where some 16,000 voters had registered to vote.

Elderly people were among those waiting to vote. But the others who wanted to travel to Vavuniya town or proceed to Kilinochchi had to await transport. Some 25 State buses had been ordered in addition to private buses. But in the event, only five private buses turned up while State transport buses failed to arrive.

K.Sinduja, a voter from Dharmapuram, Kilinochchi who was awaiting her chance to vote said “We waited at the playground here so that we could get transport to travel to Kilinochchi. But even by noon we did not get a bus”.

She was among some 5,000 people who were waiting to travel to Kilinochchi. Many of them turned away expressing disappointment at the authorities failing to make necessary arrangements to enable them to vote.

The 30 year old conflict had deprived many of them of voting during previous elections and they were eagerly awaiting their opportunity to cast their votes. Thiyagarasa Thayalan, 41, a farmer from Mullaitivu told the Sunday Times that he was eager to vote to decide on the future leader of the country.

Meanwhile, other than ruling UPFA politicians, supporters of opposition politicians were not allowed to carry out any campaigning inside the camps before the elections. However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s cut-outs were placed prominently inside the camps.

Vavuniya town on election day

“We were not aware of the symbol of the other candidates. Some had heard about Gen Sarath Fonseka’s name and were not sure about his symbol. However we noticed that at some locations the swan symbol was drawn on blackboards,” an inmate of the camp who did not wanted to be named said.

TNA MP Sivashakthi Anandan told the Sunday Times that his party was not allowed to campaign inside the camp. However, on the day of the election UPFA supporters were seen inside the camp.

Meanwhile, JVP MP Vijitha Herath who was on his way to Kilinochchi was prevented by the Army from proceeding to the Vavuniya area. After a near three-hour delay the police had granted him permission to proceed, but since the time was around 2.00 p.m. when permission was given, he did not proceed.
Some of the voters were deprived of voting as they did not have valid identity cards and some of them believed that the identity card issued to them by the security forces was valid.

Others claimed that the Grama Niladharis in their areas had collected their details to issue them temporary identity cards, but they did not receive the identity cards in time to vote. The final voter figures was an indication that the polling was extremely low with only a total of 6,566 casting their votes of the 90,811 who were registered to vote. The number of votes includes that of those who voted in other parts of the country using the facility for displaced voters.

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