Jaffna seats: Parties and monitors slam polls chief

Number of Parliamentarians reduced from nine to six
By Chris Kamalendran

Opposition parties and independent election monitors have called on the Commissioner of Elections to reconsider his decision to reduce the number of seats in the Jaffna district from nine to six, as residents still continue to live in camps, with friends and relatives.

The UNP, the JVP, the TULF and the TNA are among the parties which are urging the commissioner to reconsider the decision. Earlier this week Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said there were 17,000 more persons still in camps for the internally displaced while a large number are yet to be resettled in their villages and go through the formality of registering themselves.

UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake said it was not the correct time to reduce the number of seats due to the unsettled situation. He added people needed to be given time to go through the process of registering themselves.

TULF leader V. Anandasangaree in a statement said he was surprised at the Elections Commissioner’s decision to reduce the number of seats in Parliament for the Jaffna District from nine to six.

“Your decision to bring the number of MPs down from, nine to six, is totally unacceptable,” he said.
Mr. Anandasangaree pointed out a number of factors had to be taken into consideration before rushing to judgment based purely on numbers of persons now residing in the peninsula.

He reminded the commissioner that many persons who were displaced during the conflict moved to the south of the country and had only started returning to their homes at the time voters lists were prepared.

Many others had not returned due to a plethora of other reasons including fear, lack of facilities, many homes not being habitable, the failure to resettle families living in the high security zones, houses forcibly retained by the military as well as refusal of permission to owners to re-settle.

He charged many had lost their means of living and none had been compensated for the losses they suffered, including compensation for loss of life. He added no statistics were available on the numbers of persons who died during the war, those who went missing or those who were abducted.

He said it was a fact that in many instances the breadwinners in many families still languished in custody, resulting in their families being reluctant to get back to their places of origin without adequate security being provided.

He said, “Your (Elections Commissioner’s) decision could only aggravate the situation and make finding a solution to the ethnic problem a mere pipe-dream. “I strongly urge you to recommend to the Government to maintain the status quo until absolute normalcy is restored and unauthorized settlements are withdrawn.

“The best and the most reasonable solution is to maintain the status quo and recommend Government maintain a ceiling on the number at 225 until the next delimitation takes place following a census,” he added.

Executive Director of CaFFE Keerthi Tennakoon called on the Elections Commissioner to clarify the legal background to his decision. However Commissioner of Elections Mahinda Deshapriya said that he was acting according to the provision of the De-limitation Commission under which the number of seats are determined on the number of voters in the district.

The last revision of the electoral register saw a drop of about 300,000 voters in the Jaffna district from the previous figure of over 700,000 voters. Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara defending the Elections Commissioner’s action said he was acting within the existing provisions of the law.

However other political parties pointed out that government should face reality –the reality being all voters are yet to resettle in their homes.

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