The polls for the provincial council elections in the Central, North Western and Northern provinces closed at 4 pm today and were generally peaceful. Polling took place in eight electoral districts in the three provinces based on the 2012 electoral register in which a total of 4,328,263 voters were eligible to exercise their franchise. These elections were significant due to the Northern Provincial Council elections being held for the first time and being subjected to national and international scrutiny. There was considerable enthusiasm to be seen amongst voters in the North, which is an encouraging sign of the progressive restoration of democratic spirit amongst the people in post-war Sri Lanka.
On Election Day, PAFFREL deployed 3500 stationary observers, 750 mobile observers, and 8 international observers from the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL). In addition our observation teams were supported by nearly 50 lawyers who volunteered their services on the day of elections. The election observing process was supported by 116 divisional coordinators at divisional secretariat level.
PAFFREL received a total of 106 complaints on Election Day of which 40 complaints were from the Central Province, 32 complaints from the North Western Province and 34 complaints from the Northern Province. Some of these complaints have yet to be verified, and our findings will be included in our final report. Violations reported to us included an incident in which there was shooting in the air and assault of political rivals in Kandy and the burning of an opposition polling agent’s house in Mullaitivu.
Altogether, there were pre-polls 495 complaints of which 117 were about violence and threats of violence. There were also attacks on party campaign offices. There were 36 assaults which led to the hospitalization of 43 individuals. Intra party violence was common. The Northern Province was relatively free from violence, though not from intimidation. There were 90 complaints of misuse of state resources and 244 complaints of other violations of election laws.
Among the complaints that PAFFREL was able to verify, the most serious in terms of their impact on the democratic process were the incidents in the Northern Province. Our observers received several complaints of incidents of military personnel getting involved in the election process. The complaints included the military campaigning for a few selected candidates in a few selected areas, advising voters for whom to vote and not vote, and an attack on the residence of a prominent opposition TNA candidate on the night before the elections. One of PAFFREL’s volunteers, a lawyer attached to one of our five Complaints Units in the Northern Province, who rushed to the scene was assaulted and had to be hospitalized.
PAFFREL’s international observers noted prior to the election that, “The direct participation of the military remains the most contentious concern of the public, the opposition parties/candidates as well as civil society organizations including members of the clergy.” However, the northern army commander denied any involvement of the military in the on-going election when our international observers sought clarification from him on the matter. A senior police officer in the Northern Province accused the TNA and Tamil media of spreading stories to our international observers.
On the day of the election there were further serious violations of election law when small groups of military personnel in civilian attire congregated outside polling stations which had an intimidating impact on onlookers and voters alike. When our observers asked them what they were doing, they said there were observing the polling in order to preserve the peace. Another violation reported to us by our observers was the repeated broadcast by a local television station claiming, falsely, that a TNA candidate had crossed over and joined the government alliance. We also condemn the physical attack on the election observers of another organization by members of the ruling alliance.
In all three provinces, there was blatant abuse of governmental resources of campaigning, including government staff officers, their offices and vehicles. On positive side, we wish to commend the Election Commissioner who tried his best in the circumstances to do whatever was in his capacity, but he lacked the wherewithal to ensure the necessary outcome. We also acknowledge that some senior members of the government and party leaders, as well as many police officers, made sincere attempts to control the abuse of election laws. Their failure points to the need for institutional reform, and a change in the political culture which PAFFREL is committed to work towards.
We also call on the government to investigate the specific attacks on candidates and election observers that took place during the course of the election.