08th April Colombo Sri Lanka, 7pm: At the close of polls at 4pm, the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) recorded 84 Major and 202 Minor incidents of election related violence. The majority of incidents recorded during polling hours related to campaigning and other election offences (189). Of the Major incidents there were 6 Assaults and 7 cases of Threat and Intimidation of which 4 involved the use of firearms. The majority of Major incidents related to the intimidatory presence in and around polling stations.
CMEV estimates voter turn out to be between 50-55%. This could be the lowest turn out figures in recent history, as most Presidential and General Elections have seen averages of 65-75%. The lowest turn out for a General or Presidential Election in the last twenty years was the Presidential Election of 1988, which was 55.31%, while the General Election of 1989 registered a 63.6% turn out.
CMEV had warned that the loss of public trust and confidence in the electoral process following the Presidential Election could be reflected in a low voter turnout in the General Election. CMEV reiterates its concern that this low turnout could signal a shift in the political culture of the Sri Lankan electorate, which has enjoyed the franchise for almost seven decades and registered high voter turn out in most elections. The measure of our concern is the contrast in the conditions that obtained in the country in 1988 and the conditions, which obtain today, and the turn out in the two elections. In 1988 there was a JVP insurgency in the south of the country and the LTTE insurgency in the north and east. That Sri Lanka’s first post –war General Election should elicit such a low level of interest and participation from the electorate is a cause for concern at this crucial juncture in our history.
CMEV urges all political actors to engage in serious reflection on this and take urgent action to restore public trust and confidence in the electoral process that this may well be attributable to. Were the argument to be made that the low turn out is attributable to voters concluding that the result was a foregone conclusion, CMEV draws attention to this election as the one, which recorded the highest number of candidates in any General Election in the country. Clearly they were unable to inspire or enthuse voters.
In this context, CMEV wishes to register its concern about the Ada Derana text message to the effect that the Commissioner will only announce the turn out figure along with the final results. This fuels unnecessary speculation and could further erode public trust and confidence in the electoral process.
CMEV is particularly concerned by the incidents in Nawalapitiya prior to the commencement of polling and in the early hours of polling where polling agents were threatened and intimidated. CMEV has urged the Commissioner to annul the poll in the centres affected.
CMEV is also concerned with reports of possible malpractices with post election arrangements including counting. CMEV has been informed of a ballot box allegedly being switched in Nikawaratiya by supporters of UPFA candidate Johnston Fernando in the presence of the Special Task Force and police. CMEV urges the Commissioner of Election to take all steps to ensure the safety of the ballot boxes and to investigate all allegations of malpractice. CMEV urges all political parties, candidates and their supporters to respect the electoral process including the counting that is to commence shortly. Election monitors including CMEV have been permitted to be present at the announcement of results at the District Secretariat but not at the count.