Lanka Polls: Under the shadow of fear

At daybreak of October 10, the D-day for polling for Sri Lanka’s 11th Parliament, the 12 million voters will have one question lurking in their mind. Is it worth risking one’s life to cast a ballot? Akrita Reyar reviews the situation.

Akrita Reyar

That is at least what the common Lankan thinks. For a recent opinion poll reveals that only 9 per cent of the Lankans expected the elections to be free from corruption and malpractice and 45 per cent expected poll violence. These statistics are not without basis. By October 7 midnight, when campaigning came to an official end, there had been over 1500 election related incidents of violence. These acts of terror can be attributed not only to the Tamil Tigers but also to inter party clashes and intra-party tensions. Explaining rivalry within parties, Wilson Gnanadass, a journalist with the Sunday Leader says, “This is as a result of the electoral pattern where one even goes to the extent of killing another for the preference vote to be on the top of the list. Many in fact condemned the preferential vote system because this leaves room for party men to fight with each other to be more popular than his own colleagues.“ Foreign poll monitors, who have turned out in large numbers, express their helplessness. They say the violence is more than they expected but are unable to take any action as their hands are tied due to their limited role. Chandrika Kumaratunga has done little to bring things under control. There are allegations against the family members of her cabinet for perpetrating violence. The opposition is also using this as an excuse to cover up lapses on their side. On being questioned, Karu Jayasuriya, Chairman, UNP said, “ Our party supporters are simply returning the blows they got.” The neutrality of the police is also suspect. In most cases, police has not been prompt. There are allegations that police turned a blind eye to the excesses by supporters of the ruling People’s Alliance. “ The police has done very little to arrest the situation. In fact, it is the police that has been the cause for the increase in violence in some places”, says Gnanadass. On earlier occasions, the police was used to transfer ballot boxes stuffed with bogus ballot papers. The upright Election Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake has pulled up the government for printing election material in private press. He has also got yellow stickers affixed to ballots to distinguish them from bogus votes. Violence is not a novelty in the war-ravaged Sri Lanka. And as usual, LTTE is expected to create mischief. They don’t want the new constitution, addressing the grievances of the minority community, to come into force and will do everything to disrupt free polls. Overall the ground situation in Lanka is not at all conducive to free and fair polls. The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), an independent body, in its first report said that with war, displacement and disruption of normal life, conditions are not conducive for a free and fair exercise of franchise. It pointed out that 2,46,775 people have been displaced due to fighting between the LTTE and the army. It also mentioned that some over-ground militant groups-cum-political parties have been given permission to move about with weapons, and this intimidates unarmed political parties. At the end, CMEV’s verdict is the one the Lankan’s are dreading : These may be the most violent elections of recent times.

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