23 July 2011, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) notes the conclusion of the second phase of the 2011 local government elections held today. The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) of which CPA is a constituent member, did not deploy monitors in the field in the present phase of the local government elections. Therefore, the information received is from reports filed from actors present in the areas where elections were conducted, as well as from the media.
The lead up to the elections was marred by violence and election day itself witnessed several incidents, including one killing. The elections for the 65 local government bodies held today were delayed due to legal challenges. CPA also notes that the Government using Emergency Regulations has postponed elections for a number of local authorities. We urge all political actors to take steps to ensure local government elections are held without further delay.
The present elections were held according to the 2010 Electoral Register unlike the polls held in March 2011 that used the 2009 register. A significant factor in this is the reduction of the number of registered voters in the Jaffna District. Another key point is the holding of local government elections in parts of the North such as in Killinochchi after more than two decades.
Available information indicates that these elections recorded a relatively high turn out at the close of polls. This in turn reflects renewed voter interest, especially when compared to the parliamentary elections of April 2010 that saw a turnout of 61.26%, one of Sri Lanka’s lowest turn outs at a general election. There were concerns about voter distrust in the electoral process, in particular over transportation problem and allegations of irregularities in the counting process. The turn out in the Northern Province in particular has been very high. For instance, the Killinochchi polling division recorded a turn out of just 7.23% at the Presidential elections held in 2010 and 12.13% at the parliamentary elections held the same year. In contrast, as reported in the media by returning officers, voter turnout at the close of polls in Killinochchi was 65%, Jaffna 46% and Mullativu 65%. Whilst these elections represent a significant step in the post-war consolidation of democracy, a number of incidents highlight concerns about enduring violence and malpractice compromising the integrity of the electoral process.
CPA was informed of several incidents where voters in areas of Karachchi and Palai divisions, in the Killinochchi District were forced to hand over their polling cards by armed actors hours before polling commenced at 7am. CPA also received reports that in some areas payments were made to some voters to hand over their polling cards. Some of these incidents were reported from Bharatipuram, Ramanathapuram, Konavil, Malayalapuram, Vattakachchi, Kalmadu, Ananvillandan and Navalnagar in the Killinochchi District.
While it is too early to comment on the outcome of the elections, an important point to note is the tactics used by candidates, political parties and others to influence and deter a free and fair election taking place in the North. Violence and violations of electoral law were also reported from other areas of the country. The killing of a UPFA supporter, Anura Wijeybandara in Anuradhapura District, reportedly in an intra-party clash on election day draws attention to continued political violence in the country.
A recurrent issue in elections held in Sri Lanka is the problem of documentation. Voters in the present election in parts of the North experienced this again. CPA was informed that an announcement was made by the Commissioner of Elections only at noon today stating that temporary identity cards issued by the Police would be accepted for polling in parts of Killinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts. While this delayed announcement may have helped some voters, CPA notes with concern the inability of the relevant officials to take steps prior to the opening of the polls to disseminate this information.
CPA urges the Commissioner of Elections and other relevant officials to take necessary measures to ensure these issues are addressed without delay in light of the statement made by the President of forthcoming Northern Provincial Elections to be held in 2012.
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