North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council Elections
13th August 2008 – Media Communiqué No 01
The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence [CMEV] has commenced its monitoring of the Provincial Council Elections in the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces. CMEV has deployed 27 field monitors in the 27 polling divisions of the two provinces and informed political parties, election officials, police and the civil society of their presence. All reports of election related violence and malpractice will be sent to the CMEV Secretariat in Colombo for further corroboration before public release.
A total of 101 incidents have been recorded by CMEV since the close of nominations on the 4th July 2008 up to 11th August 2008. Of these 54 have been classified as major incidents and the remaining 47 as minor incidents. The highest number of major incidents was recorded in the Anuradhapura District  followed by Ratnapura , Kegalle  and Polonnaruwa  respectively. Of the minor incidents logged by CMEV, Anuradhapura leads district-wise . Apart from two attempted murders in the Ratnapura and Anuradhapura districts, the highest number of major incidents in terms of assault and robbery were also recorded in Anuradhapura district. This clearly indicates that in terms of overall incidents of election related violence it is the most tense of the four districts.
Of the incidents recorded so far, 52 complaints are against UPFA, 21 complaints are against UNP and 3 complaints are against JVP. In 24 complaints the party affiliation of the alleged perpetrators was not identified. The highest number of complaints was reported so far by JVP , followed by UNP  and UPFA . Of the number of complaints by the JVP, 25 were against the UPFA and only 2 complaints against the UNP.
CMEV notes that the level of violence across the campaign has steadily increased as the election draws nearer. Pre-election violence recorded by CMEV since the close of nominations on 4th July is as follows:
A postal vote of upcoming elections was held on 7th and 8th August 2008 at 941 polling centres in both provinces, of which CMEV monitors observed 136 polling centres.
Apart from two major incidents reported in Kuruwita and Aralaganwila, CMEV notes that the postal vote was held in a free and fair manner in the polling divisions it monitored.
However, there were two major incidents reported from Kuruwita of Ratnapura District and from Aralaganwila of Polonnaruwa district. In Kuruwita Police Station, 29 Police officers were not given the opportunity to cast their postal votes. They had not received ballot papers on time. When CMEV contacted the RO of the Ratnapura District he said that this was on account of a technical error. He went on to note that their right to vote could be met only through the allocation of their duty stations closer to their respective polling booths. The postal vote of the Agrarian Centre in Aralaganwila, Polonnnaruwa was held before the scheduled date. The RO Polonnaruwa in an interview with CMEV stated that the Primary investigation related to the incident was already complete and the report had been submitted to the Commissioner of Elections. Final action would be taken in accordance with the Commissioner’s decision.
Misuse of Public Property and Power
There is an increasing trend to misuse Public Property and resources during the election campaign. State owned buildings, telephones and vehicles are presently utilized for the election campaign. CMEV election monitors note that the election campaigns of former Chief Ministers are especially culpable in this regard.
Mr. Berty Premalal Dissanayake, former Chief Minister and a candidate for the office of Chief Minister in the North-Central Province flagrantly misuses all the facilities and State property (Provincial Council office, office related resources and 8 government vehicles) he had access to when he held office as part of his election campaign for re-election.
Details of misusing items are as follows:
Office: Chief Ministers Office, Harischandra Mw. [Dharmapala Mw.], Anuradhapura
Telephone/s: 025 – 2222409, 025 – 22224855, 025 – 2222045
Vehicles: [NCP KB – 2682], [NCP KB – 5339], [64 – 7666], [54 – 7305], [53 – 9380],
[32 – 6503], [65 – 6413] and [58 – 8333]
CMEV field monitors reported an incident related to the unethical conduct of former Chief Minister of the Sabaragamuwa Province vying for re-election, Mr. Maheepala Herath. According to the CMEV field monitors records, interviews for new admissions for a training course on jewellery production at the Gem and Jewellery Research and Training Institute was held on 5th August at Mr. Herath’s private residence (“Rathnagiri”, Kegalle) with Mr. W. M. W. Abeyrathne Bandara, a working Director of the Institute. Tellingly, an advertisement in the Lankadeepa newspaper on 4th August noted that the deadline for applications fell on 8th August. The Director used a double-cab bearing the registration number HP-4219 belonging to the Institute to visit Mr. Herath’s residence to conduct these “interviews”.
North Central Province
The highest election related malpractices [65%] of NCP were recorded from the Anuradhapura District. Within the Anuradhapura District, 23 incidents were recorded from Kalaweva electorate, constituting 60% of recorded incidents. There were 4 cases of assault, 1 case of hurt, 1 incident of regarding the misuse of State property, 4 related to robbery, 3 related to mischief and 11 on damage to property. The Polonnaruwa electorate recorded the highest number of incidents [65%] from the Polonnnaruwa District. Incidents included 1 assault, 2 related to robbery, 1 related to mischief, 3 incidents of threatening behaviour and 2 regarding damage to property.
The highest number of incidents [53%] was recorded in the Ratnapura District. Of these incidents 7 were from the Kolonna electorate, 5 were from the Rakwana electorate and 3 were from the Pelmadulla electorate. To date, 20 incidents were recorded from the Kegalle District. 10 incidents were from the Kegalle electorate, 4 from Rambukkana, 3 from Mawanella electorate and 1 from Aranayake, Deraniyagala and Dedigama respectively.
On account of the grave nature of the offences, incidents that occurred up to the 10th of August 2008 are highlighted below.
The attempted murder on 9th August of Mr. Lalith hettiarachchi (an active member of the JVP) recorded from the Elheliyagoda electorate in the Ratnapura District was a key incident. He is presently recovering from a gunshot wound in Ward 72 at the National Hospital in Colombo. Mr. Chameera Koswatte (Chief Ministerial candidate of JVP for the Sabaragamuwa Province) stated in an interview conducted by CMEV that “the main purpose of this incident was politically motivated”. However when CMEV asked Avissawella Police to comment on this incident, they were of the firm opinion that it was not politically motivated. Inspector of Police K. Upali Tillekaratne issued a statement that “this was perpetrated by a gang habitually involved in crimes related to “House Breaking by Night.” When CMEV spoke to the wife of the victim, Mrs. Singakkarage Siriyalatha, she too reiterated the attack on her husband was politically motivated.
The other incident was reported from the Anuradhapura – East electorate on 9th August. A supporter of the United National Party (UNP) Chief Minister Candidate Major General Janaka Perera was hospitalized with serious gunshot injuries from an unknown gang. The gang had shot at the vehicle [57 – 9757] the victim was travelling with other supporters. The firing took place around 2am close to the “Mahajana Pola”. Mr. Nuwan Sampath Jayasinghe was admitted to the Anuradhapura Base Hospital. Media coordinator Major Dayarathne had directed the driver of vehicle to CMEV spokesmen. According to the driver, two vehicles were engaged in the attack – a cab and a Land Rover Defender. No further details of the vehicles were noted. The owner of the vehicle, Mr. Kapila Muthugala also was in the vehicle. When CMEV contacted Mr. Muthugala, he mentioned and confirmed the driver’s statement and further noted that both vehicles were green, but could not identify registration number and the persons who were in them.
When CMEV contacted a spokesman of the Anuradhapura hospital, he said that the victim, Sampath Jayasinghe (18), had undergone surgery on 9th August and discharged on 11th August. Major Gen. Janaka Perera lodged a complaint to the Anuradhapura police station on 9th August 2008 under EIB 191/62. When CMEV contacted Crime branch of the Police Headquarters in Anuradhapura, Police Sergeant Mr. Jayaweera confirmed the lodging of this complaint and said that investigations were in progress.
The most notable incident in this category was recorded from the Polonnaruwa electorate in the Polonnaruwa District in relation to a clash between two UPFA groups on the 7th of August near the 5th milepost of Medagama,Aralaganwila. As a result of this clash, Mr. R.M. Punchibanda Ratnayake (former Provincial Council member and UPFA candidate for the upcoming election) suffered grievous hurt on his left arm. He is presently hospitalised in Ward 10 at the Government Hospital in Pollonnaruwa.
In the interview conducted by CMEV, Mr. Ratnayake alleged that supporters of Mr. Saranelis Dayawanse (UPFA candidate) were the perpetrators of this incident. When CMEV contacted Mr. Dayawanse, he conceded that there was a clash between the two groups.
Aralaganwila Police also stated that the two parties had settled their differences.
Use of Firearms
During the pre-election period CMEV election monitors observe that incidents involving the use of firearms are steadily increasing. 6% of incident logged by CMEV to date involved the use of firearms.
CMEV was 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 organisation to monitor the incidence of election related violence. Currently, CMEV is made up of CPA, FMM and INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre.
DR.PAIKIASOTHY SARAVANAMUTTU (CO-CONVENOR)
MR. UDAYA KALUPATHIRANA (CO-CONVENOR)
MR. UVINDU KURUKULASURIYA (CO-CONVENOR)
Please download the PDF of this statement here.
The provincial election in the east has concluded with a three member UPFA majority council in place. The results released, reveal that the UPFA has managed to overturn mammoth majorities achieved by the UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe in the 2005 presidential election. In terms of total number of votes cast, its majority over all other parties is some 41,000 votes.
Throughout the campaign and on polling day, the election was marred by violence and malpractice. Accordingly, the credibility of the result has been undermined and the election will join the infamous Wayamba Provincial Election in notoriety.
During the campaign, election monitors and opposition political parties alleged widespread abuse of state resources and the issue of the TMVP bearing arms, cast its shadow over the campaign. Whilst the argument was made and continues to be made, that armed TMVP cadres did not engage in active electioneering, there is no escaping the chilling effect on the voters at large, of the relationship between the political activists of the TMVP and its armed cadres.
Vulnerable to revenge
In any event, the ordinary voter has to survive beyond the election campaign and polling day. In short, he is always vulnerable to revenge and retaliatory attacks.
Violence was practiced by other UPFA members too, with the areas of Valachchenai and Kathankudy as well as the Pottuvil Polling Division being especially badly affected by violence and malpractice.
The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence ( CMEV) with which this columnist is associated, called for a re-poll in these areas on the basis of reports from its monitors, as it has done in respect of LTTE violence in previous elections in the north and east. Impersonation, ballot stuffing, the chasing away of polling agents and the presence of armed groups in the vicinity of polling stations were the violations most frequently identified.
The violence and malpractice reinforces the demand for the urgent implementation of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. Specifically, the reconstitution of the Constitutional Council and its nomination of members to the independent commissions, including for elections, the police and the public service. It was the civil society cry, after all, with regard to electoral violence and malpractice that served as the catalyst for the amendment.
Whilst the implementation of the 17th Amendment is no panacea, the point that needs to be emphasised is that when it was in operation, elections were not marred by such violence and malpractice, with the exclusion of violence clearly perpetrated by the LTTE.
Independent commissions provide public servants and the police with some insurance against ‘punishment transfers’ and other forms of revenge when they stand up to the worst excesses of politicians.
Bulwark against violence
Whilst the argument may be advanced that it may not have been much of a defence against TMVP violence in this election, it could well have served as a bulwark against the violence and malpractice engaged in by non-TMVP political actors.
Even with regard to TMVP violence, would it have been the case that the much heralded entry into the democratic mainstream would have been marked by assault and intimidation of police and election officials acting in the interest of a free and fair election and without fear or favour?
The eastern poll also highlights the whole issue of the circumstances of annulment of a poll in a polling station and the ordering of a re-poll by the Elections Commissioner who can exercise all the powers of the Elections Commission envisaged under the 17th Amendment, but never appointed.
Decision to re-poll
Of particular importance here, is that the decision to re-poll must be informed by the circumstances and situation outside the polling station. This is where the impersonation is prepared, where the armed gangs roam deterring people from voting or of voting for the candidate of their choice.
Furthermore, the threat, intimidation and assault of polling agents who when inside polling stations can raise the alarm and object to impersonation and attempted stuffing, takes place outside of polling stations and most often before the polling commences.
This has been the case with officials and the police too. The issue of annulment and re-polling requires serious consideration – too often has the Commissioner warned that he would do so ; and too often has he not.
It may not necessarily be smooth sailing for the regime or the clear and cogent demonstration of meaningful devolution as the instrument of peace building, now that there is a council.
Betrayal of Tamil polity
Were Pillayan not to be made chief minister, the regime risks falling victim to the charge of betrayal of the Tamil polity in the east which it insists it has been ‘liberating,’ Thoppigala on. In these circumstances, Pillayan and his cadres are bound to misbehave more grossly than they have done so far and the possibility of new alliances jeopardising the ‘liberation’ of the east, cannot be discounted.
On the other hand, were he to be made chief minister and yet denied the resources and largesse he thinks is his due, a not dissimilar outcome may be expected from his disappointment. After all, he probably believes it is payback time for him and his cadres who played so decisive a role in winning the east from the LTTE and the provincial election from the opposition? And what of the police powers he is entitled to under the 13th Amendment?
It may well turn out to be the case that in the mind of the regime, what needed to be done in the east has been done and now priorities lie elsewhere. This could mean a series of provincial council contests aimed at exhausting and demoralising the opposition until the period between November 2009 and April 2010, in which the next presidential election can be held and the next general election must be held. Pillayan will be contained and controlled in the meantime.
And the rest of us?
Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu is the Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives and Co-Convenor of CMEV. This article appeared in the Morning Leader on 14 May 2008.
- The conduct of the election clearly reinforces the urgency and pivotal importance of implementing the 17th Amendment to the Constitution in full. This entails the reconstitution of the Constitutional Council and its nomination of members to independent commissions, including commissions for the Police, Elections and Public Service – all of which have key responsibilities for the conduct of free and fair elections.
- The serious problems observed by monitors regarding the conduct of the Police and officials responsible for the conduct of a free and fair election demands this.
- Political parties need to ensure that their Polling Agents are present in the Polling Stations and are not deterred in fulfilling their responsibilities by threat, intimidation and assault prior to Polling Day and on Polling Day.
- The procedures agreed upon with regard to Voter identity and the required documentation with regard to this, must be clearly communicated to the officials in the Polling Stations and strict implementation ensured. IDs required for voting must be such that they cannot be easily forged.
- Given the violence and malpractice that takes place outside of the Polling Station and the impact it has on the exercise of the franchise, procedures must be put in place to ensure that reports of these violations are taken into account when considering whether annulment and re – polling is necessary.
- Steps should be taken to ensure that the detailed reports of election observers/monitors stationed in Polling Stations can be received by their organizations in time to be communicated to the Election Commissioner, before the counting of votes commences.