#icanChangeSL & #wecanChangeSL: Shaping a new Sri Lanka

The Presidential poll of 8 January 2015 inspired the largest number of voters in Sri Lanka’s history to turn out to elect a new president. The #IVotedSL campaign, which went viral in the lead up to and on the day of the election, was an unprecedented effort over social media to enhance voter turnout. Thousands of Sri Lankans participated.

This new campaign seeks to build on and sustain this interest in reframing our country.

As we all know, the work to shape Sri Lanka’s future doesn’t stop with electing a new president or a new government. Change will need to involve all of us as citizens in our various positions and roles in society. There is now a vibrant public and private debate of citizens across the country (and beyond its borders) about the hopes and vision for Sri Lanka’s future. This is currently taking place on social media, traditional media and also in homes and workplaces.

The campaign encourages us all to focus on what we can do in our individual capacities, as well as what other citizens in government, opposition politics, public services, business or our own neighbourhoods can do, to bring about change for good.

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Use the hashtag (#icanChangeSL) to flag an action that you took, a resolution you have made, or an example that you personally want to follow. For example:

  • “I just refused to pay a bribe to a public official #icanChangeSL”
  • “I will speak up the next time I see a woman being harassed on the bus #icanChangeSL”
  • “I am trying to learn about other religious beliefs #icanChangeSL”

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Use the hashtag (#wecanChangeSL) to highlight an example of a positive social practice, an inspiring news story, an idea for your friends or community, or an aspiration for the country as a whole. For example:

  • “Let merit not ‘influence’ decide who gets the job #wecanChangeSL”
  • “Rather than criticizing public services, let’s suggest how to improve them (with available resources) #wecanChangeSL”
  • “Just heard of plan to establish a post A/L volunteer corps for Sri Lanka! #wecanChangeSL”.

Some people are already using the hashtag (#ChangeSL) to mark positive changes that they see taking place in the country.

This is a tool to get your views as a citizen heard, to share your ideas and get feedback. Please use it.

This country is ours to change.

Download the logos here for Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and the web.

Statement on elections poll falsely attributed to CPA

5 January 2015, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) is aware that a poll purportedly done by CPA projecting the results of the Presidential election is being circulated in the mainstream media and online. It first appeared on a Facebook page called “We vote Mahinda Rajapaksha” which is linked to the official website of the incumbent. Furthermore, the edition of the Silumina on Sunday (4thJanuary) claimed that since the poll showed a Mahinda Rajapaksha victory, CPA deliberately suppressed it.

CPA issued a disclaimer in the first instance and wishes to point out that in one instance we are supposed to have published the results of a poll projecting a Mahinda Rajapaksha victory and in another suppressed it!

It is clear that those behind this misinformation are very keen to have CPA validation of their work and objectives.

CPA wishes to state that this is NOT a CPA survey and that the results of any CPA survey have NOT been suppressed on the grounds, as implied, that they are disappointing and not in line with the supposed political objectives of the organization.

The results of CPA surveys can be accessed on the CPA website.

CPA denies producing poll

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), has denied that they compiled the recently publicised poll predicting Mahinda Rajapaksa would win the election.

Executive director of CPA, Dr. P. Saravanamuttu, told The Colombo Post that in the first instance a poll purportedly carried out by CPA was promoted online with a direct link to the President’s official website stating Rajapaksa would win. CPA at the time denied having produced such a poll.

He went on to state that on Sunday the state owned Silumina carried a front page story accusing CPA of suppressing a poll that presented Rajapaksa as a winner of the election. The article went on to further say that members of foreign diplomatic missions in Colombo had contacted CPA and instructed them to suppress such information.

Both allegations have been vehemently denied by Saravanamuttu who described the acts by members of the government as “pure acts of desperation”. He further added that all polls conducted by CPA can be accessed online.

View the article published in the Colombo Post here.

Military could be used to ensure low voter turn-out in North-East

For many, myself included, it is difficult to imagine the Rajapaksas relinquishing office on the 9th of January consequent to a defeat at the polls. Therefore the genuine concern and speculation as to what could happen. I expect the use of the military to ensure a low turn -out in areas where there is a concentration of Tamil, Muslim and non- Sinhala Buddhist votes, especially in the North and East. We know what was done in the 2013 Northern Provincial Council election and in previous national elections. In particular, 2005.

Read the full interview with Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu here, published by Colombo Mirror.

“Present The Proof!” – Interview with Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

Many local election monitors have observed grave incidents of election law violations and violence ahead of the Presidential Election whereas some government ministers have directed a number of accusations at local election observers of being biased towards the opposition common candidate Maithripala Sirisena. Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Executive Director of Centre for Policy Alternatives Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu said that those are very loose accusations directed against the local observers given that the accusations are being directed by the government, the very people who are engaged in misusing and abusing state powers and resources.

Read the full interview, published in the Sunday Leader newspaper today, here.

The Contest

This is a historic, decisive election. It is the first time an incumbent has sought a third term. His victory will consolidate an authoritarian populism as the form of government and political culture. We will cease to be even the formal functioning, albeit flawed democracy, some believe we are. Rights will be irrelevant at best and subversive at worst and the roots of conflict will be sustained and reproduced.

Of course there are risks with the opposition. Most importantly, there is hope and it is most certainly more than bad enough to take the risk for the sake of the country.

Read the article by Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, published on Groundviews, in full here.

A presidential election at the height of the tourist season? An interview with Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

For me this election is very crucial for a number of reasons.

From the fifties onwards this kind of boisterous formal democratic functions – all beautiful and all – has been growing unlike in India in the subcontinent which has been committed to institutions and processes of parliamentary democracy. Now this has got a battering over the years. I think this is probably the greatest threat, because what you have got is a dynastic project and State capture by the family headed by a populist authoritarian figure underpinned by his personal popularity – probably the most popular politician at one level. Now under the Rajapaksa regime there is no space for civil society. Rights are irrelevant at best, subversive at worst, transformed into what we called the text book East Asian model. For the first time in our history we have a military which is a major actor in politics as well as the economy. ‘It’s the Military Incorporated’.

This is new to Sri Lanka. We have had this democratic tradition since 1931 and we were the first non-white colony to have universal franchise.

Read the full interview with Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu published in The Sunday Island newspaper here or download PDF of it here.

Flagrant violation of polls laws, elections already not on a level field

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Image courtesy The Economist

The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) is currently in the process of recruiting field staff for the 160 polling divisions and field co-ordinators for the 25 administrative districts in the island.

Asked whether there have been any violence so far with respect to the presidential election,Manjula Gajanayake , national co-ordinator, CMEV said: “On the day the common opposition candidate was presented to the people, several celebrating opposition parties have been threatened. In one instance, Chamila Ranasinghe, a former Pradeshiya Sabha member of the UNP and current supporter was physically assaulted at Maggona Junction.”

“However, there is a new form of violence,” he said. “The election cut outs of the incumbent president have appeared all over the island almost overnight. However, no authority has been sought for these from any of the local authorities – Municipal Councils, Urban Councils and the Pradeshiya Sabhas”.

Explaining further he said “There is a bi-law that all advertisements have to be authorized by the local government body and there is a complete violation of this law by the incumbent president and party in power.

Asked whether taxes associated with such advertising has been collected he said, “forget taxes, not even authority has been sought”.

The Sunday Island called the Mayor of Colombo, MJM Muzammil whose number appeared to be roaming out of the country yesterday. Other officials were not available for comment.

In the case of the Municipal Councils, the Mayor and in the case of the Urban Councils or Pradeshiya Sabhas, the Chairmen must grant the necessary permissions that also include the collection of the associated taxes that have to be paid.

One promoter in Colombo who did not wish to be named said “look at all the pennants, and advertisements in Colombo, they carry a number like file number. That is the reference to the authority and taxes being paid. All corporates advertising outdoors have to pay for every pennant, billboard and message out there and corporates in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) category have to adhere to these by-laws when there is such flagrant violations on the part of government. And the cost is per day, so the moment that you don’t pay the local authority brings it down. ”

Another marketing manager of a multi-national company said “Advertising costs are very high and taxes on outdoor advertising is a serious component”.

The CMEV had been formed in 1997 by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), the Free Media Movement (FMM) and the Coalition Against Political Violence as an independent and non-partisan organization to monitor the incidence of election related violence. Currently CMEV is made up of CPA, FMM and INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre.

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Courtesy The Island

Uva Provincial Council Elections 2014: Communiqué on Post-Election Violence

Download this PR as a PDF here.

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25 September 2014: The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) has been informed of 9 incidents of violence after the conclusion of the Uva Provincial Council elections held on 20th September 2014. The incidents reported to CMEV include incidents where UPFA supporters were involved in making threats to and/or damaging property of opposition candidates (particularly JVP and UNP). CMEV is concerned with the ongoing violence and the lack of accountability for it, which denotes the prevailing culture of impunity.

Although the Department of Police claimed to have a strict security apparatus to deal with post-election violence, these measures have been insufficient to deal with the violence that has erupted. Subsequent to the outbreak of post-election violence, the Police took action to deploy additional officers to neutralise the situation. It is evident that due to this action further violence was prevented and communities who feared an escalation of violence, reassured that this would not be the case. These incidents highlight the need for pre-empting post-election violence and taking necessary measures to prevent such situations.

CMEV is especially concerned by the incidents that transpired in Mahiyanganaya. A significant number of incidents were reported from the day of nominations to the post-election period. All three independent election observer organisations: CMEV, Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) and People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), issued a joint statement highlighting these concerns.  Following pre-election violence that transpired in Mahiyanganaya, the Election Commissioner, at a meeting held on the 10th September requested that the Inspector General of Police (IGP) takes necessary measures to respond to the situation and to take pre-emptive measures against any outbreak of violence. The IGP thereafter deployed 30 STF personnel to the area. CMEV learns that the STF personnel were withdrawn a day prior to the election redeployed on Election Day and withdrawn once more soon after the election. These measures are contrary to what the IGP agreed to at the meeting convened by the Election Commissioner on 10th September where he gave an undertaking that the Uva province DIG would provide security to opposition parties and take steps to prevent violence in the remainder of the campaign, on Election day and the post – election period. CMEV condemns continuing violence and urges all law enforcement agencies and political party leaders to take necessary measures to prevent further violence and to take action against those who are involved in and complicit in such violence.

Following are some of the incidents recorded by CMEV in the post-election period: 

Attack on the residence of JVP Provincial Council candidate

The residence of JVP Uva Provincial Council candidate P. P. G. Wijesiri was attacked by an unidentified group at 12.30 a.m on the 22nd September. The said residence is located at Singhasiripura, Madurukatiya, Kumbukkana in Moneragala District. Subsequent to switching off street lights, the attackers shattered three windows and partially damaged a room. Mr. Wijesiri has lodged a complaint (No. 51) regarding the incident with the Moneragala Police. When contacted by CMEV, the Moneragala Police Division- Election Operation Centre confirmed that the incident was recorded.

Attack on UNP Provincial Council candidate

Roy Kalinga, former opposition leader of Wellawaya Pradeshiya Sabha and candidate of the UNP for the Uva Provincial Council, was assaulted by an unidentified group using clubs at his residence in Athili-wewa, Dambarawa, Wellawaya on the 22nd September. The group arrived in 2 white defender vehicles at 2 a.m and also attacked his vehicles. He was subsequently admitted to the Sirigala hospital in Moneragala and is being treated at ward No. 02 (photos available).  The hospital confirmed that 2 persons were admitted and the condition of Mr. Kalinga is not serious. Mr. Kalinga’s spouse lodged a complaint (No. 52) on the incident with the Wellawaya police. When contacted, Moneragala Police Division- Election Operation Centre confirmed that the incident was recorded.

Attack on the residence of JVP Provincial Council candidate’s father

The residence belonging to the father of JVP Provincial Council candidate W. M. A. K Wickramasinghe Bandara was attacked by an identified group at 12.45 a.m on the 22nd September. The residence is located at Obbegoda, Dambagalla, in Moneragala District. When contacted by CMEV, Mr. Bandara claimed that the attack was due to his father’s involvement in his election campaign. The Moneragala Police Division- Election Operation Centre confirmed that the incident was recorded as complaint No. 53.

Attack on UNP Pradeshiya Sabha member

UNP member of Hali-Ela Pradeshiya Sabha, Chandana Ranmuthugala was assaulted allegedly by UPFA supporters, identified by Mr. Ranmuthugala as Nihal and Jayaweredana. The incident occurred on the 20th September when Mr. Ranmuthugala was on his way to the Badulla counting center close to the Lunugalla polling center. Mr. Ranmuthugala was admitted to ward No. 9 in Badulla hospital. A complaint regarding the incident has been made to the Badulla Police.

Attack on UNP supporter

R.M. Gunathilaka, supporter of UNP Provincial Council candidate Harin Fernando, was assaulted at his residence at midnight  on the 20th September subsequent to threats made at 7 p.m allegedly by a group of persons led by vice chairman (UPFA) of Badulla Pradeshiya Sabha. A complaint regarding the incident has been made to the Badulla Police.

Attack on the vehicle of UNP Provincial Council candidate

Following news that the UNP party office in Hali Ela was set on fire, UNP Provincial Council candidate Harin Fernando and supporters were rushing to the area when an armed, unidentified group stoned the vehicle convoy. The incident took place around 5 p.m on 22nd September when the convoy was passing Hali Ela junction. 3 vehicles were damaged in the incident but no casualties were reported. A spokesperson for Mr. Fernando claimed that the Badulla Police took almost 2 hours to take the complaint.

The situation subsided without further violence or damage caused by the sharp weapons that were carried by the mob, due to the Police being deployed to disperse the mob. The incident took place in an area with a heavy Muslim population. The community was apprehensive about the violence. Mr. Fernando has informed CMEV that the mob blamed villagers of Hali Ela for UPFA electorate’s defeat. Mr. Fernando further informed CMEV that UPFA Badulla district MP Dilan Perera was amongst the mob. CMEV could not reach Mr. Perera for a statement.

During the incident, a journalist from the Lankadeepa newspaper, Chandana Kuruppuarachchi, was attacked by the mob. He claimed that the mob chased him for a distance of almost 1km and pelted stones at him. He was admitted to the Badulla hospital with a few broken teeth.

Attack against the Supporter of UNP Mahiyanganaya Organizer

CMEV received reports both from the field as well as through a complaint made by Upali Senaratne, UNP organizer for Mahiyangana electorate, that politicians were threatening opposition supporters in the Mahinaganaya area.

One incident was recorded at 7 p.m from Adaulpatha, Redeemaliyadda, Mahiyanganaya, where the driver of Mr. Senaratne’s, Chaminda Sampath, was allegedly attacked by supporters of UPFA MP for Badulla district, Thenuka Vidanagamage. He was later admitted to the Badulla hospital.

Another incident was recorded from the same area. Mr. Senaratne alleged that a three-wheeler belonging to Priyantha Kumara, one of his supporters, was damaged by UPFA supporters on the 22nd September.     

A further incident was reported from the Mahiyangana police station, when Mr. Senaratne and his supporters were attempting to make a complaint to the Police officer in charge of elections. Mr. Senaratne and his supporters alleged that they were threatened and beaten by supporters of UPFA Provincial Council candidate Anura Vidanagama. Mr. Vidanagama himself had at the Police station threatened Mr. Senaratne and supporters. This incident took place in the presence of ASP S. Wedamulla from the Mahiyangana Police division. When contacted by CMEV, Mr. Vidanagama claimed that these were false allegations. He directed any further inquiries to the Mahiyangana Police who he claimed was conducting an impartial investigation into the complaints.

Monitoring and Mitigating Electoral Violence Through Nonpartisan Citizen Election Observation

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NDI-USA has just published Monitoring and Mitigating Electoral Violence through Nonpartisan Citizen Election Observation.

This is a guide book informed by lessons learnt around election monitoring shared by international election observers who attended a workshop held in Bangkok in 2013. The Executive Director of CPA, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, was also part of this workshop.

NDI-USA visited CMEV to gather details for this guide, and have highlighted CMEV’s experience in several places throughout the guide, including on page 19, 30 and 52, as well as in the main Sri Lanka case study on page 81.

This is the first guide specifically focused on outlining and systematizing strategies and methods for citizen election observers to monitor and mitigate electoral violence. The guide outlines an overall approach for designing electoral violence monitoring and mitigation strategies, and then takes a practical look at four key areas in which citizen observers can contribute to mitigating electoral violence: (1) long-term election observation; (2) traditional and social media monitoring, reporting on hate speech, and contributing to media accountability; (3) crowdsourcing and visualizing electoral violence-related data; and (4) grassroots electoral violence mitigation and mediation efforts.

Download the full guide here, or visit NDI-USA’s website for specific chapters.