Lanka monitors warn of poll violence

Former Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa


Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa

Sri Lanka’s election monitors have warned that the run-up to the presidential election in January could become violent and called on the Elections Commissioner for necessary action, an official said .

Wheels have been set in motion to make history in Sri Lanka after incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa called for snap presidential election seeking an unprecedented third term in power last week.

Rajapaksa signed the proclamation declaring his intention to hold a presidential election seeking another term despite having two more years to complete his second term in power.

The decision split his party with coalition partner, the nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) leaving the president’s party and forming a coalition platform with the main Opposition United National Party (UNP) and former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

Less than 48 hours afterwards, the opposition revealed their candidate to be none other than the secretary general of Rajapaksa’s own party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), and Health Minister Maithreepala Sirisena.

The coalition has received the backing of most opposition parties as it aims to end Sri Lanka’s decade-old executive presidency that gives sweeping power to one individual.

The presidential election will be held on Jan 8 and early indications are it will be a tightly run race with government supporters suspected of instigating sporadic violence.

The Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) said it has received reports of four incidents of election violence with use of firearms after Sirisena declared his candidacy last week. No one was injured in the alleged attacks.

Shots were fired at the office of UNP MP M.M.A. Halim in Sri Lanka’s hill town of Kandy in the early hours of Nov 25. The windows and walls of the office were damaged. Halim has been actively promoting Sirisena and he was the facilitator of Sirisena’s visit to Kandy, media reported.

After the election was declared, shooting incidents were reported from Maggona, Kalutara, Madampe, Puttalam (two incidents) and Mawilmada, according to the monitors.

“Although the vehicle used to carry out the shooting incident at Maggona has been identified and despite the availability of CCTV footage, police have not taken steps to arrest any suspect,” Xinhua quoted CaFFE executive director Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon as saying.

People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), another monitoring group, has called on Election Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya to establish a special police unit that answers directly to him, pointing out it would assist in enforcing election law.

However, the measure has not yet been finalised by Deshapriya.