Eastern Sri Lanka poll ‘relatively violence-free’ (Roundup)

May 10th, 2008 - 11:11 pm ICT by admin  

By P. Karunakharan
Colombo, May 10 (IANS) The poll to elect a maiden provincial council in eastern Sri Lanka ended on a “relatively violence-free note” with nearly 60 percent of about one million voters exercising their franchise, the election commission said Saturday. “According to reports received at the close of the poll, the estimated voter turnout was approximately 65 percent, 55 percent and 60 percent in Ampara, Batticaloa and Trincomalee respectively. Counting has commenced for postal votes,” the election department said.

An assistant commissioner of the election department at Rajagriya in Colombo told IANS Saturday evening that though there were reports of poll-related violence in all three districts in the eastern province, “they were not serious in nature”.

“There were no immediate reports of ’serious poll-related violence’ that could affect the overall outcome of the poll. We, however, have to wait for the zonal reports, which would be out only after the ballot boxes are opened for counting,” he said on condition of anonymity.

“Overall, I would say, the poll is relatively violence free,” he said, adding that the final result for the council would not be released if there was any re-polling due to malpractices.

However, the opposition parties such as the United National Party (UNP), the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) have charged that the poll was largely marred by violence, including rigging, impersonation, assault and intimidation instigated by pro-government mobs.

The government has denied these allegations and said the poll was “peaceful”.

The election results are expected to be announced shortly after midnight.

Meanwhile, an independent Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) in a report said it had received 25 complaints of election-related violence and urged the election commissioner to “annul the polls in these polling booths”.

“Of these (25), 18 fall into the category of major offences. The offences in the latter category include murder, attempted murder, assault, threat and intimidation, impersonation and ballot stuffing. Of the major offences, 13 were reported from Batticaloa, three from Ampara and two from Trincomalee,” the CMEV said.

Officials said that a strong contingent of 20,000 security force personnel and 15,000 poll officers were deployed to conduct a free and fair poll in 1,070 polling centres in the three districts.

Barely a few hours before the crucial provincial poll, Tamil Tiger rebels sank a naval logistic supply vessel berthed in the heavily guarded Trincomalee harbour in a pre-dawn underwater operation Saturday.

On Friday, at least 11 civilians were killed and 29 wounded in a bomb blast - blamed by the military on Tamil rebels - in the eastern Amaparai district.

However, authorities say the pre-poll violence “did not hinder the polling process” in which nearly one million registered voters were eligible to exercise their franchise to pick 37 members from 1,342 candidates, from 18 political parties and 73 independent groups.

Despite the number of political parties in the fray, the battle for the post of chief minister and forming the maiden council for the eastern province is a virtual two-horse race between the ruling United People Freedom Alliance (UPFA) of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the main opposition United National Party (UNP) headed by former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The UPFA has an electoral alliance with the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP), which broke away from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and is led by former LTTE eastern commander ‘Colonel’ Karuna.

The UPFA-TMVP coalition faces a tough challenge from the powerful alliance of the UNP and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), a key political party represents the Muslim minority.

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