Jan 01, Colombo: A Sri Lankan election watchdog charges that the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government is using violence to deter opposition political activities.
Election monitor Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) says that in parallel to electoral level campaigning by the common opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena there is an increase in UPFA propagated election violence.
The election monitor observes that this trend is reaching systematic proportions and slowly turning into a wave of political violence.
Up to December 31st CaFFE has received 1007 incidents of election law violations and election violence and 105 of them are election violence which includes 19 incidents of firearms usage.
The CaFFE has noted that the government has unleashed a systematic campaign of intimidation to intimidate opposition supporters. When Common Opposition Candidate Maithripala Sirisena holds a rally, election related violence spikes in the related area targeting opposition activists and infrastructure, the monitor observes.
CaFFE has compiled a list of such incidents in areas where Sirisena held rallies. A look at the list clearly shows that violence follows Sirisena and that police have taken little action to assure the safety of opposition activists and their property, CaFFE Executive Director Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon said.
Drawing attention to several incidents of attacks on opposition election offices and rallies in Eastern Province in the past few days, CaFFE points out that for example, there was virtually no political campaigning in the Northern and Eastern province until a few days ago and there were no incidents of violence. However after Common Opposition Candidate stated that he will hold a series of rallies in the Eastern Province this week, a number of election related incidents of violence has taken place.
Similarly, election related violence spiked in Hambantota after Sirisena held a series of rallies. “A number of opposition activists have been attacked in Hambantota District after Common Opposition Candidate, Maithripala Sirisena held a series of rallies. We saw the same trend in Galle most recently,” said Tennakoon.
Speaking of the attacks on a street drama troupe, 'Weediye Virodaya', campaigning for opposition in Hambantota, and Eppawela last month, Tennakoon said the group protested against many regimes but it was the first time in recent history that they were assaulted like this.
"Elections are only a part of political rights and currently the right of holding an opinion, the right to expression, the right to campaign peacefully and the right to free movement of opposition activists are being constantly violated," the CaFFE director noted.
He pointed out that in all these incidents the police failed to provide the security to opposition activists or property and remained inactive while government supporters were carrying out the attacks.
Increasing number of violent incidents against opposition activists and rallies show that there is a systematic campaign targeting opposition activists in areas where the common opposition candidate holds his election rallies, Tennakoon says.
In contrast the only known incident of opposition disturbing government campaign activities was on 30th of December in Polonnaruwa when Buddhist monks campaigning on behalf of Maithripala Sirisena came into conflict with monks campaigning on behalf of President Rajapaksa, CaFFE points out.
"Therefore, there is an obvious attempt to deter public participation and violation of people's right to engage in political activity and politicians rights to propagate his or her political message in a peaceful manner," the election watchdog stresses.
CaFFE also says that these incidents show that the police are incapable of protecting the lives and property of those who oppose the government.
"President Mahinda Rajapaksa's election theme is 'a stable country and a secure future'. However above mentioned incidents, undermine the stability of the country and the security of a large segment of Sri Lankans," CaFFE points out.
The election monitor urged the law enforcement authorities to take steps to protect the lives and property of opposition activists and restore people's faith in a free and fair election.
"If not we fear that the public will increasingly question the legitimacy of the elections and it might lead people to take violent steps to protect themselves. We have all seen what happens when a group of Sri Lankans lose faith in the electoral and law enforcement systems and I believe no one wants to see a repeat of that," the CaFFE Executive director said.
Common opposition Presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena today assured the diplomatic community based in Sri Lanka that he will take measures to establish democracy in Sri Lanka.
Addressing the diplomats at the Galadari hotel, Sirisena said that he has already shared copies of his manifesto with the diplomats based in Sri Lanka and UN organisations.
He told the diplomats that, if he wins the January 8 election, he will restore the institutions that are vital to build a just and democratic society.
"I will abolish the 18th Amendment to the constitution and establish independent commissions to ensure the independence of institutions such as the judiciary, police, public service, the Commissioner of Elections, the Auditor General and the office of the Auditor General," he said.