People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) Election Day Report: Elections to Three Provincial Councils on 08.09.2012
Elections to Three Provincial Councils on 08.09.2012
The elections to provincial councils in the Eastern, North Central and Sabaragamuwa took place on Saturday, September 8, 2012. People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) election observers observed the polls with close to 85 percent coverage with both mobile and stationery monitors both in the run-up to the election and on Election Day itself. In the three provinces, PAFFREL deployed 1500 stationary observers of whom 34 were long term observers who monitored the pre-polling situation. In addition PAFFREL had 100 mobile teams with 300 mobile observers.
With few exceptions the polls were peaceful and the efficient conduct of the Elections Department and Police in ensuring an environment conducive to the voters to exercise their franchise freely is to be commended. This may have accounted for the reasonable voter turnout of around 55 percent notwithstanding the loss of confidence in the Provincial Council system, to which the premature dissolution of these three Provincial Councils contributed. However, in some areas there was a tense atmosphere due to the strong rivalry between the contesting political parties. This was most marked in the Eastern Province, especially in places like Valaichchenai, Kattankudi and Akkaraipattu.
Among the more serious incidents were in Trincomalie district, Pulmudai a clash in which over 200 people participated, 2 SLMC supporters were assaulted and hospitalized. There were also clashes between rival party members in Kattankudi and in Akkaraipattu a vehicle belonging to a ruling party member was attacked and damaged. In Minneriya in the North Central Province, Close to Siriketha Vidyalaya a central government Minister’s convoy chanced upon an opposition candidate on the road that was set upon and assaulted.
PAFFREL received 105 complaints on Election Day. They consisted of 44 election violations and 61 violations of Election Law.
Despite the overall peaceful environment on Election Day, PAFFREL does not consider these elections to meet its criteria for a free and fair poll. This was primarily due to the manner in which the government authorities acted in the pre-election period. Many of those vested with governmental authority and contesting the polls blatantly violated the election law. There was large-scale abuse of government vehicles and state property for election campaigning purposes and public announcements of new recruitments to the public service in the provinces in which the elections were taking place.
Although acts of violence were on a relatively low scale compared to previous elections, the intense rivalry between the political parties in the Digamadulla District led to some acts of violence and many threats of violence. The request of the SLMC for police protection for its candidates was not forthcoming despite public announcements by the IGP that such protection would be provided. There were also allegations that a senior police officer in the East had conducted himself in a partisan manner, and he was transferred out to another part of the province.
We note that the Police were successful in controlling some unlawful campaign activities, especially in removing of illegal posters, hoardings and cut-outs. However, the delay in taking violators of election laws and the vehicles into custody indicated their inability to fulfill their duties in the face of state power. We believe it is unrealistic to expect the Police and even other government officials to be impartial where there is no structural mechanism to protect them when they act in a non-partisan manner.
Even though vested with only limited powers, the Election Commissioner and his officers were seen to act with enthusiasm and positive spirit to provide the most level playing field possible at the elections. He closed illegal campaign offices, stopped new recruitment of the public service, prevented the distribution of goods to voters which were deemed to be inducements and ordered the seizure of state vehicles being illegally utilized for campaign purposes. At the same time, he also maintained good communication with political parties and the media to promote the best possible elections under the circumstances. We believe his actions reflect the continuing integrity of the public services in the country which PAFFREL is pledged to strengthen in the face of difficult political circumstances.
People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL)
For questions or comments, please contact Rohana Hettiarachchi at rohana.paffrel at email.com