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News Features


Pandemonium reigns in east despite govt. denial

By Wilson Gnanadass
- reporting from the East

The Provincial Council elections in the east, which commenced sharp on time at 7.00 am yesterday, was marred with intimidation and thuggery.

All fingers were pointed at government ministers who, according to eye witnesses and independent poll watchers, had used their clout with the intention of turning the results of the polls, their way.

Reports reaching from Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Ampara strongly indicated that government ministers were responsible for inciting and encouraging violence. Their supporters, who had been brought to the east in bus loads, had been used to intimidate voters and stuff ballot boxes as the police watched the situation helplessly.

Scores of people in this region have been deprived of their polling cards. Most of the voters in all three districts told The Nation they did not receive their polling cards.

Many people who had lost their identity cards due to the 2004 tsunami and the subsequent war, were denied access into the booth to cast their votes in Batticaloa.

Senior officials from the Elections Department in Batticaloa, however said that despite the absence of polling cards, voters were allowed to cast their votes after presenting their national identity cards.

A parcel bomb explosion in Ampara on Friday evening and an underwater bomb explosion of the cargo ship ‘Invincible’, by the LTTE in the wee hours of yesterday, triggered fresh tension, fear and anxiety among the voters.

Besides this, a large number of persons transported into the east from outside the region, allegedly by the government, was another cause for much apprehension among the voters in general.

While Election Observers, both local and foreign, told The Nation that they had not received any official complaints from any political party regarding violence, local politicians and activists confirmed that there was state sponsored thuggery dominating the three districts of Batticaloa, Ampara and Trincomalee.

Rev. Fr. Sylvester a local observer and Badrul Isham a foreign observer (Malaysia) however said they had not heard of any incidents of violence.

Denied polling cards

The majority of the eligible voters in Vavunathivu, Ariyampathi and Palamunai in the Batticaloa district and Thiriyaya and Kilivetti in the Trincomalee district were denied their polling cards.
Until the time the polling commenced yesterday, they were not in possession of their polling cards.
The main opposition UNP raised its concern with the Elections Commissioner and the Deputy Inspector General Shantha Rajapakse, to no avail.

Refugees languishing in the Hindu Cultural Hall in Trincomalee, continued to protest about the failure of the state to issue them their polling cards.

In Thiriyaya a gang of people led by a government minister, forcibly entered into a polling booth and stuffed ballot boxes. Independent election watchers confirmed that this incident took place in the presence of the police.The people therefore were not allowed to participate in the election as their polling cards were snatched away by the men, influenced by the minister.

In Kilivetti the people from the IDP camps had been prevented from participating in the elections. Men identified as supporters of the UPFA had prevented them from going to the polling booths to cast their votes.
In Verugal, unauthorised persons had entered several polling booths and packed ballot boxes with bogus votes. This was confirmed by both eye witnesses and poll watchers.

Some poll monitors said they had no powers to prevent this from happening, but vowed to make a complaint later on. They said the incidents were taking place in the presence of the law enforcement authorities.
Meanwhile UNP Member of Parliament John Amaratunga said the UNP has already brought these incidents to the notice of the Elections Commissioner and DIG Shantha Rajapakse.

He said so far no action has been taken either to prevent unauthorised persons entering polling booths or to apprehend them.
He said this was contrary to the government’s widely publicised claim that the election would be free and fair.
“I don’t want to mention the names of the ministers who are blatantly violating all the election laws. It is very unfortunate in this region,” he said.

He said two days prior to the election, the UNP had warned the Elections Commissioner and the DIG of possible election malpractices but no action had been taken.
“We have requested the polling agents to register these incidents in the complaint books, and also to get the returning officer to certify it. We will take action after the elections are over,” the UNP stalwart told The Nation.

Uneasy situation

On the eve of the election, youths attached to the Hindu Cultural hall in the Trincomalee Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, had been whisked away by unidentified men in white vans.
The refugees, staging a protest campaign not to participate in the election unless the youths were released, had further vowed to continue their protest.

They said they had to travel to Kilivetti to cast their votes and added that if the youths who were abducted yesterday and in the past were not released, they would not participate in the election.

Reports also indicated that following the sinking of the Navy supply ship ‘Invincible’ by the LTTE yesterday morning at around 2.15 am, at the Ashroff Jetty in the Trincomalee harbour, tension prevailed in Trincomalee and the security was tightened.
Reports confirmed that during the time the ship came under attack by the LTTE, there has been a large stock of arms and ammunitions – a fact flatly denied by the Sri Lanka Navy.

However, highly placed reliable sources confirmed to The Nation that the sea waters around the Trincomalee harbour had turned to blood red, thereby suspecting that this could have been due to explosives mixing with the sea water.

Commotion

As the polling started in Batticaloa , there was a commotion in Aligar Vidyalaya in Palamunai. Men identified as supporters of UPFA chief candidate M. L. A. M. Hisbullah protested against the entry of two UNP polling agents into the booth.
Two UNP polling agents M. Nazeer and M. Fazlin had been chased away without letting them perform their election duty, from their polling booth number 137.

According to eye witnesses the two UNP candidates had been assaulted by the UPFA supporters and their note books and other documents had been grabbed from them.

The thugs thereafter had attacked the residence of Buhari Jeinullabdeen –a UNPer who contested the March 10 local government election. Speaking to The Nation Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) chief candidate Basheer Segudawood said government ministers and members of parliament continued to mount pressure on the innocent voters, thereby preventing them from exercising their franchise in a peaceful manner.

However Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Batticaloa, Ananda Nanayakkara said the police have not yet been officially informed of any of these incidents mentioned by the local politicians to the media.
“So far the situation is under control. Of course there are minor incidents that are common in any election. And we are immediately sending our petrol to check on them. Otherwise there are no major incidents,” he said.

Tension in Ampara

The Special Task Force (STF) was accused of escorting a particular government minister into polling booths – again an act contrary to the stipulated election laws.
The STF according to sources had escorted a government minister into a polling booth in Akkaraipattu in the Ampara district. This situation according to sources had disturbed the voters and had caused much tension.

In another incident in Kalmunai, also in the Ampara district, a UPFA candidate had entered a polling booth at the Islamabad school and had been the cause for an uproar. This has also intimidated the voters.
Speaking to The Nation SLMC chief candidate from Ampara Hasan Ali, said the voters were subjected to intimidation and harassment.

He said his party has already informed the Elections Commissioner and the law enforcement authority.
“But so far we do not see anything positive happening. Harassment continues and the voters are getting scared to exercise their franchise in a free and fair manner,” he said.

The elite urban population in Batticaloa hinted that they voted for the United National Party (UNP) while people in the rural areas, said they voted for the United Peoples Liberation Front (UPFA) candidate Pillaiyan.

Chandrakanthan Kuhaneson alias Pillaiyan, leader of the Tamil Makkal Vidudalai Puligal (TMVP) cast his vote in Vipulananda Maha Vidyalaya, in Valaichenai at around 9.30 am. He was scheduled to arrive at 7.00 am but due to security reasons his arrival was delayed.

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