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9 April 2010, Colombo, Sri Lanka: On Election Day CMEV recorded 84 Major Incidents, including 53 incidents of Intimidation within the vicinity of polling centers. This figure includes 07 incidents of involving election officials, 07 incidents of Threat and Intimidation and 06 Assaults. CMEV has recorded 189 incidents of election law violations as well. When compared to the last Presidential election, there were a higher number of incidents of election related violence on the day of the poll.
We wish to record our deep concern about incidents in which polling agents were evicted from polling stations, sometimes forcefully. Furthermore, there were cases of voter obstruction and alleged attempts to rig the results reported from Nawalapitiya and Trincomalee. We have received numerous reports regarding voter impersonation in Puttalam, Kathankudy, Akkraipattu and Pottuvil.
According to CMEV field reports, the failure of polling agents to report objections relating to malpractice and irregularities, the absence of opposition polling agents and the deliberate failure of many SPOs to implement the law with regards to verifying the identity of voters, greatly facilitated voter impersonation.
CMEV also wishes to express its concern about the confusion and disarray relating to the application of indelible ink on the ring finger of voters. There has been a clear disregard of the Election Commissioner’s directive relating to this practice. During the first few hours of polling, ink was applied to both the ring and the little fingers of many voters. CMEV received such reports from all over the country, particularly Vavuniya, Deraniyagala, Colombo, Wattala, Puttalam, Kalawewa and Minneriya. When CMEV questioned this malpractice, many SPOs stated that they were unaware of the Commissioner’s directive on this matter.
CMEV notes that the Election Commissioner has suspended the counting of ballots from 34 polling stations in Nawalapitiya, and one polling station in the Trincomalee District. CMEV requested the Election Commissioner to annul polling in the Nawalapitiya electorate due to complaints received from the field about violence and irregularities. However, as of yet the Election Commissioner has not issued a gazette notification on his decision to annul the ballots in these polling stations and hold a second poll in them.
CMEV has received a number of complaints regarding the transparency of procedures followed by election officials at polling centers. According to the complaints received, officers who issued ballot papers to voters had marked the voters’ registration number on the counter foil of the ballot paper. Complainants’ claimed that this practice directly affected the secrecy of their vote. When CMEV contacted the Election Commissioner’s department regarding this issue, CMEV was informed that this is a normal procedure followed in polling centers and that at the closure of the polling centre all counter foils should be sealed, to be reopened only upon the receipt of a direct court order. The department further added that this procedure serves to safeguard the secrecy of voter identity.
CMEV learnt that people were suspicious and even fearful of this procedure, believing that their ballot papers could be traced. We urge the Election Commissioner to keep people well informed about election procedures, allay their doubts and fears, thereby ensuring increased and unfettered participation of voters in any election.
On the basis of the reports received from its monitors throughout the campaign and on Polling Day, CMEV concludes that as in the Presidential Election, the integrity of the electoral process has been undermined by violence and malpractice and strongly urges all actors to treat this seriously and take effective action to protect and strengthen the integrity of the process. We also conclude that despite this, the overall result does reflect the will of the electorate. CMEV also wishes to underscore the point that election monitors are not allowed to observe the counting of votes.
CMEV is concerned about post-election violence. CMEV highlights the importance of the immediate post-election period, and calls upon party leaders to demonstrate their commitment and respect for the rule of law by deterring post-election lawlessness among their party supporters, and political vengeance against opponents.
CMEV continues to receive reports relating to incidents of post-election violence. A CMEV stationary monitor was assaulted by an unknown group and his observation forms snatched in Nawalapitiya, yesterday (April 8th), at around 1930 hours.
Today (April 9th) CMEV received reports detailing a clash between supporters of UPFA candidate C.B.Ratnayake (candidate no. 02) and Saliya Bandara Dissanayke, Chairman of the Central Provincial Council, in Ragala, Brookside, at around 1715 hours.
CMEV learnt that Saliya campaigned in support of UPFA candidate Naveen Dissanayake (candidate no. 04), and that H.M.Dharmapala, a supporter of Ratnayake, received a gunshot wound to the hip. This injury was allegedly inflicted by Saliya. Dharmapala has since been admitted to the District Hospital. Ralgala Police Station confirmed this incident.
Today CMEV also received reports regarding another shooting in Millawana, Matale at around 1700 hours, allegedly committed by Naradha Millawana, a UPFA member of Pallepola Pradeshiya Sabha. L.D.Nandasiri, a former member of Galewala Pradeshiya Sabha, was grievously wounded in his right eye and was admitted to the Matale General Hospital. He has subsequently been transported to the Kandy General Hospital.
CMEV also received reports regarding a clash between supporters of UPFA candidates Pavithra Wanniarachchi (candidate no. 02) and John Senaviratne (candidate no. 09) near the residence of Pavithra, located in Rilhena, Pelmadulla at around 1800 hours today. When contacted, Kahawatha Police informed CMEV that a tense situation had arisen when the two groups confronted each other, but that both groups had dispersed before the situation worsened. CMEV learnt that the alleged perpetrator was a supporter of UPFA candidate Lakshman Wasantha Perera (candidate no. 01).
CMEV is concerned about the increased intra party violence during the campaign and in the post-election period, and reiterates its call to political parties, in particular the ruling party alliance, to refrain from violence.
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.