Lanka’s ruling coalition wins Eastern council amid charges of violence

May 11th, 2008 - 3:58 pm ICT by admin  

By P. Karunakharan
Colombo, May 11 (IANS) Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa Sunday won the polls for the maiden Eastern provincial council, amid allegations of widespread poll-related violence. According to official election results, the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which formed an electoral alliance with the LTTE break-away Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) led by the rebels’ former eastern commander ‘Colonel’ Karuna, won two of the three districts - Batticaloa and Amparai - securing 20 seats in the 37-member council. This includes two bonus seats.

Close behind are the main opposition United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) coalition, which has won the crucial Trincomalee district, capturing 15 seats in the council.

The Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Tamil National Democratic Alliance (TNDA) have won one seat each in the council.

Over 65 percent of the nearly one million registered voters exercised their franchise Saturday to pick 37 members from a mammoth 1,342 candidates, representing 18 political parties and 73 independent groups.

Of the 591,676 valid votes polled, UPFA won 52.21 percent (308,886 votes) while the UNP won 42.38 percent (250,732 votes).

Opposition parties including the UNP, JVP and SLMC have charged that the polls were largely marred by violence, including rigging, impersonation, assault and intimidation instigated by pro-government mobs.

Independent election monitors have also expressed a similar opinion on the conduct of the polls.

The independent Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) said it has recorded 64 incidents of violence and among them “48 have been classified as major offences and 16 as minor”.

“The majority of the major offences (28) were committed in the Batticaloa district followed by Amparai (12) and Trincomalee (8),” it said, urging the Election Commissioner to order a re-poll in these areas.

Another poll monitoring group, Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) in its report said the poll “was not at all free and fair”.

“It was clearly shown that the dominance of rule of law had been overtaken by a dominance of violence,” the CaFFE said in a statement.

The government, however, denied these allegations and said the polls were “peaceful” and described the poll result as a “victory for democracy and development”.

Commenting on the outcome of the polls, leading political analyst Nanda Godage said: “The countrymen are happy at last that there is an elected body to rule the Eastern part of the country after 20 long years”.

“We can now test the will of the government to devolve power from the centre to the regions. If done properly, it will send a clear message to the people in the north that they, too, have a chance to rule themselves under the present arrangement,” Godage, a retired foreign service official, told IANS.

A senior leader of the TNDA and leader of the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) Dharmalingham Sidharthan said although his party has won only one seat in the poll, it still insists on a solution under a merged north-east province as a unit of devolution.

“Although the election was marred by violence, we believe that the government should appoint a Tamil chief minister to the maiden council, because it is the Tamil votes that ensured the victory for the government,” he said, pointing out that the provincial council system itself came into being as a solution to the Tamil problem.

The government is yet to announce a name for the chief minister.

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