Thursday`s local government polls were marred by a series of incidents in the provinces, particularly in Kandy and Puttalam districts where gangs allegedly hired by ruling party politicians targeted opponents, mainly their erstwhile colleagues the JVP.
Voting had been slow across the country. However there was no balloting in parts of the northern and eastern provinces. Polling took place for 266 local government authorities after court action and unstable security situation in parts of the northern and eastern provinces delayed elections to 64 local bodies. According to reports reaching the Elections Secretariat about 55 percent exercised their franchise.
Police headquarters confirmed a spate of incidents. But there had been no incidents of firearms and bomb attacks. The LTTE office at Kattankudy in the army-controlled area had been set on fire Thursday morning by unidentified persons military sources said.
This office had remained closed since the LTTE cadres of the political wing withdrew from Sri Lanka Government controlled areas.
The Centre for Monitoring Elections Violence last night urged Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake to annul the poll at polling centre No. 44, Suduwella Primary School (Chilaw Pradeshiya Sabha) and Nawalapitiya and Trincomalee Urban Councils. The NGO reported attacks on opposition polling agents, systematic impersonation, chasing away voters.
Although the Information Department chief Anusha Palpita recently announced that results would be released through the department, Rupavahini in its 8 pm Sinhala news bulletin claimed that the UPFA secured the Hambantota postal vote.
`Outcome of this poll will not impact on the peace process in any serious way,` said Sunanda Deshapriya, director at the Centre for Policy Alternatives think tank. `The issue was left out of the campaign by the major parties. Fielding questions, he asserted that local issues came to the fore. `The JVP is likely to increase its bargaining power,` he acknowledged, adding that President Mahinda Rajapakse government would have to take a decision on future PA/JVP relations. Deshapriya said that although the polling was slow the JVPers voted.
IGP Chandra Fernando said that there were no serious incidents. Quoting senior DIGs, Fernando emphasised that there was not a single serious incident.
The vote is the first test of public opinion since President Mahinda Rajapakse came to power at the November 17 election with the support of the JVP and JHU.
JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva accused ruling party supporters of carrying out a series of attacks, particularly in the Kandy district. He accused Deputy Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage of leading the attacks, a claim vehemently denied by the ruling coalition. He slammed the ruling party of widespread violence directed at the party.
The CMEV had recorded reports of 60 incidents of election related violence, with the Puttalam and Kandy districts recording the most number of incidents. `The incidents in the Kandy district are the most serious in nature. Of the total number of incidents, 18 have been classified as major incidents and 42 as minor incidents,` the NGO said in its first statement issued last evening.
`Of the major incidents, the highest number have been recorded in the Kandy district and in terms of the category of offences carried out by each party on Election Day, 26 incidents have been recorded against the UPFA, 21 against the UNP and 5 against JVP,` it said.
CMEV has deployed 45 Field Monitors, 20 mobile teams comprising 40 CMEV observers and approximately 600 Polling Center Observers covering most of the areas.
CMEV monitors in some areas, including Kesbewa (No. 29, Somaweera Chandrasiri Vidyalaya) have encountered difficulties in gaining access to Polling Centers in the early hours of voting due to various reasons. These include denial of access by the Police.
CMEV reported instances where Polling Centers have run out of Finger Print cards, intended for voters with no ID documentation. CMEV monitors have also reported instances in which Polling Center staff have used exercise books to record the finger pints of voters, instead of using finger print cards.
Some 10.1 million people are eligible to vote for municipal and urban councils as well as village councils responsible for the maintenance of utilities.
The CMEV reported an incident where Polling cards and Identity Documents were forcibly collected during the early hours of 30th March in the Nawalapitiya area. It is alleged that this took place in the vicinity of the Kathireshan Kumara Maha Vidyalaya in Nawalapitiya.
CMEV reported of an incident in which two UNP supporters were assaulted allegedly by supporters of Mahindanada Aluthgamage, UPFA MP for Kandy District, at around 0730 hrs, in the vicinity of Nawalapitiya town. A complaint has been lodged with Nawalapitiya Police under EIB 383/81. No suspects have been taken into custody over this incident.
In Nawalapitiya Kanishta Balika Vidyalaya, Polling center No. 04, CMEV monitors have observed a large group of UPFA supporters obstructing voters and congregating on the polling center. Furthermore, CMEV Polling center Observer attached to the said polling center reports of incidents involving the use of false ID documentation for voting by an unidentified group of people. No opposition party polling agents were present in this center.
Police played down CMEV reports.
Our Galle correspondent Neminda Samarajeeva quoted the Chief Returning Officer Asoka Jayasekera as saying that about 55 percent exercised their franchise.
Kandy District - Galagedara Pradheshiya Sabha
UNP Polling agent for Gehideniya Madihe No. 29 Polling Center was assaulted around 7 am, allegedly by UPFA supporters in the vicinity of the Polling Center, and chased away.
Colombo District - Dehiwala-Mt. Lavinia Municipal Council
UPFA supporters congregating around the Polling center No. 33 Presbiterian Collage in Dehiwala, prevented opposition party voters` access to the Polling Center.
Gampaha District - Attanagalle Pradheshiya Sabha
CMEV monitors in Polling Center No. 28, Wataddara Sumanaramaya in Attanagalle Pradheshiya Sabha report that UPFA supporters were transporting voters to and from the Polling center.
Anuradhapura District - Ipalogama Pradheshiya Sabha
Systematic impersonation in No. 02 Kalawewa Muslim Maha Vidyalaya, allegedly led by UPFA supporter Niyaz Hajiyar, using few vehicles and in organized groups, reported.
Puttalam District - Arachchikattuwa Pradheshiya Sabha
UNP Candidate Mr. Sudath assaulted by a group of UPFA supporters led by Mr. Ranjith. This incident took place in the vicinity of Polling Center No. 31 Mandalana Government School in Chilaw area at around 0930 hrs.
Puttalam District - Puttalam Pradheshiya Sabha
Incident where a Group of UPFA supporters led by UPFA candidate Sunil Fernando congregating around Polling Center No. 01, Manalthivu Tamil Junior School has been reported to CMEV at around 1030 hrs. Furthermore, it is alleged that this group had assaulted and prevented a number of UNP supporters from voting and also one individual had been admitted to Puttalam Hospital after sustaining injuries.
Puttalam District- Chilaw Pradheshiya Sabha
UNP supporters reported an incident where UPFA members Sunil, Anil and Ashoka allegedly collecting Polling Cards from voters in the vicinity of Polling Center No. 44, Suduwella Junior School in Chilaw area.
Digamadulla District- Sammanthurai Pradheshiya Sabha
JVP Candidates Adam Bawa Buhari and M. S. Sinnarasa are alleged to have threatened a Police Officer in the vicinity of Polling Centers No. 23 & 25, Al-Arsath Maha Vidyalaya, in Sammanthurai. Furthermore, its alleged that this incident took place when the Police had stopped the two candidates from transporting a number of Polling Cards.
Digamadulla District - Sammanthurai Pradheshiya Sabha
CMEV monitors reported an incident where it is alleged that Police and STF officers intimidated and chased away voters in the vicinity of Polling Center No. 22, Al Ashar Vidyalaya, at around 1045 hrs. Furthermore, CMEV monitors reported Police involvement in systematic impersonation at the said polling centre.
According to TamilNet brisk polling was reported in the Ampara district. At noon about fifty percent of voters have registered their franchise.
Of the 18 local authorities in Ampara district elections to six including Kalmunai MC and PS of Addalaichchenai, Akkaraipattu, Pottuvil, Navithanveli and Ninthavur have been postponed following court orders.