The Sunday Leader

Election Law Violations On The Rise

By Waruni Karunarathne and Nirmala Kannangara

Many people including members of the civil society have expressed their grave concerns over alleged election law violations and violence ahead of the up-coming election.

As of December 17, PAFFREL recorded 358 cases among which 304 incidents were proven to be genuine incidents. Executive Director of CaFFE, Keerthi Tennakoon said that compared to other elections, a very high number of election violations have been reported considering the fact that the election campaigns are at its initial stage.

He added that as of last Friday, 370 cases were reported and out of that 38 incidents were reported as violence and 332 were reported as election law violations. According to him, the most notable incident reported last week was the incident in Galle where a stage of the opposition rally was set on fire. Even though Deputy Minister Nishantha Muthuhettige was accused of being involved in the incident and forcibly taking out his followers from the police, the police have not yet arrested him for any inquiries.

President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), Upul Jayasuriya said that this is far from a free and fair election. According to him, the SLFP candidate had been addressing the judicial officers and this is unethical, unbecoming and unheard of for a candidate to address judicial officers. He added other than the ruling party, other parties are restricted to hold their meetings – where the limitations are being posed by blocking access to all the local authority playgrounds and public places claiming that there are reservations.

“The government media has received a directive from the Elections Commissioner to follow the guidelines. But the guidelines are being totally violated. The government media is only being used for the candidates of the UPFA whereas no coverage given to the opposition candidates,” he stated. According to him, whatever the coverage the state media gives to the opposition candidate, they are all adverse publicity whereas no positive coverage is given. He added with reference to the recent incident in Galle, meeting places of the opposition parties are being attacked by ruling party politicians.

He pointed out that putting up cut-outs is a violation of election laws under Section 74 of the Election Act whereas all local authorities are violating that. He added that they had filed three cases in Colombo, Kotte areas but undertakings are not given to remove the posters. “Under Section 74 Subjection 5 it is the duty of the police to remove them. No need of the Attorney General or anybody else to give them directives,” he said and added that the police have failed to implement simple laws in all the areas in the country.

“If the police is saying that they have not seen anyone of those people who put those cut-outs (which is a violation of law and an offence) it is totally false. Under the Police Ordinance it is the duty of the police to watch for offenses that are being committed,” Jayasuriya added.

Meantime, speaking to The Sunday Leader, Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) Dr Prathibha Mahanamahewa said that they carried out discussions with several officials regarding the concerns of civil society organizations on election violence and violations. According to him, when the HRCSL asked the police about removing the cut-outs, the police had informed that 90% of the cut-outs have been removed.

He added that the HRCSL also had discussions with the officials of Rupawahini Corporation on complaints of state media being misused for election campaigns by the government. He added that based on a complaint lodged by UNP MP Karu Jayasuriya, the HRCSL questioned the officials of the Rupawahini Corporation regarding the matter. According to him, the Rupawahini Corporation had said that there is room for any candidate to carry out their election campaign with the Rupavahini Corporation and equal air time would be given but the candidates need to make requests and pay the required fees for their campaigns. He added that the officials of the Rupawahini Corporation showed the HRCSL the requests made by the ruling party to air their campaign whereas no opposition party has made such requests.

Meanwhile Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) Polonnaruwa Depot sources said as to how their managers who are government supporters have urged the employees to cast their postal votes on Tuesday and Wednesday in front of them as they want to see to whom the employees are voting.

“This is the first time our managers have requested us to cast our vote in front of them. This is against the election rules of a country. We have learnt that all other depots too have faced this same problem as all employees have been asked to cast their votes in front of the superiors. We have informed this to our trade union offices in Colombo. If we are not allowed to cast our vote secretly on Tuesday and Wednesday we will stage a protest against this unruly situation in the country. We know only about what is happening at the SLTB but this may be happening at every government institution although this has not come to the light,” sources said.

Meanwhile, government officers in Polonnaruwa were up in arms against a meeting held on Tuesday December 16 at Deer Park Hotel Polonnaruwa. According to them this meeting was organized by Land and Land Development Deputy Minister Siripala Gamlath who is also the owner of Deer Park Hotel for all government high ranking officers to get their support for President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the upcoming election.

“Although the Elections Commissioner instructed the government officials not to engage in political work, it was the respective Ministry Secretaries that sent letters to all these higher officials to participate at this meeting presided by Deputy Minister Gamlath. At the meeting we were asked to support President Rajapaksa at the election and for us to canvas on his behalf. Let the politicians do politics but not the government officials. We have informed this to the Elections Commissioner but to no avail. If the Elections Commissioner is straightforward none of these Ministry Secretaries can do politics while working as public officers. They know the Election Commissioner is a puppet of this government and that is why election rules are being violated openly,” sources said.

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