Pre-election violence has triggered concerns that such incidents will only increase in the run-up to the January 27 Presidential polls – unless immediate steps were taken to check the trend of lawlessness. Observers say such incidents were being reported even before the Presidential nominations day.
As of the end of this week, some 40 election-related incidents were reported. These ranged in degrees of seriousness from threat and intimidation to assault and damage to property. The majority of the victims of violence are from the left-leaning Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP).
According to Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon, spokesman for the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE), a local independent election monitor, most of the incidents have been reported to the police, but little or no action has been taken because many of those persons behind the intimidation and violence enjoy political protection.
|An opposition party elections office in Marawila town was attacked by unknown persons on Friday night.
Mr. Tennakoon said elections-related violence and intimidation was seen on a big scale in different parts of the country during the Provincial Council elections. “The familiar pattern of violence and intimidation is being seen now, even before campaigning for the January 27 elections has begun,” he said.
Mr. Tennakoon blamed the police for the prevailing situation, adding that the police were reluctant to act because of political pressure. “This should not be the case,” he said.
The CaFFE spokesman said the state-controlled media was being exploited to the fullest in favour of the government side, ahead of the elections. He said the live media was particularly biased in its coverage of proceedings on nominations day.
“It was disgusting and irritating to see the state electronic media focusing on just one candidate and ignoring the rest. They have used this honourable occasion in a very biased and partisan manner,” Mr Tennakoon said.
“All the Presidential candidates should have had equal coverage during the live telecast. The coverage showed the names and pictures of select candidates but not those of the other candidates. This is a glaringly obvious example of biased and partisan reporting.”
Furthermore, the programme presenters kept repeating the campaign slogan of one particular candidate during the live telecast, he said. “This biased and partisan reporting goes beyond the accepted norms and ethics of unbiased media reporting,” Mr. Tennakoon said in a letter sent to Election Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake.
Meanwhile, J. C. Weliamuna, executive director of Transparency International Sri Lanka, the local body of the global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption, said successive post-Independence governments should share the blame for current conditions.
|A vandalised campaign poster in Matara town of Opposition candidate General Sarath Fonseka.
The state media has become the private property of the country’s governing body, Mr. Weliamuna told the Sunday Times. He said the government side was siphoning public assets into the election campaign.
“This money has been taken from the people in the form of taxes, whatever term the authorities choose to use,” he said. “Even the beggar in the street pays taxes. If he buys a piece of soap, he is taxed.”
Mr. Weliamuna said the United National Party had the opportunity to change the system when it was in power but failed to do so. As a result, under the present system, one single individual enjoys maximum power, he said.
Mr. Weliamuna said an independent body should oversee or monitor the state media during an election to ensure there is no abuse of power.
Ideally, an independent caretaker government should be in place during an election and immediately after the poll, he said. “But that cannot be applied in this country because of the awkward election system prevailing,” Mr. Weliamuna said.
Meanwhile, the Election Commissioner’s office has taken the Police to task over complaints made during past elections.
In a statement, the Election Commissioner’s office alleged that certain police officers entrusted with the responsibility of implementing election laws had failed to carry out their duties. In certain cases, election candidates did not receive due assistance from the police, whose job it is to maintain law and order, the statement added.
The Election Commissioner has appealed to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and his entire staff to leave no room for complaints of elections-related violence at the next polls, and to act impartially and promptly in carrying out their legitimate duties.
Senior DIG Gamini Navaratne, who oversees the elections desk for the Police Department, dismissed allegations that the police were biased in responding to elections-related violence and intimidation.
“In the past few days there have been a number of arrests of persons involved in the campaigning, across all political divisions,” DIG Navaratne told the Sunday Times. “Many have been remanded, while some are out on bail.”