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Peaceful polling amid charges of rigging

Polling in Lanka remained largely peaceful, albeit rigging charges, reports PK Balachanddran.
PTI | By PK Balachanddran, Colombo
UPDATED ON APR 03, 2004 01:57 PM IST

Polling for the Sri Lankan parliament, which was held on Friday, was
peaceful throughout the island. But parties opposed to the LTTE, alleged massive rigging by the LTTE in the Tamil-dominated areas of the North Eastern Province (NEP).

"There were no major incidents," said Gamini Navaratne, DIG (Elections), when asked if the elections went off peacefully. But Hindustan Times received reports of stuffing of ballots from Anamaduwa and Hanguranketa in the Sinhala-dominated South Sri Lanka and a shooting incident in Sammanthurai, a Muslim area in East Sri Lanka.

Unofficial reports said that the polling was "good" throughout the Sinhala-dominated South Sri Lanka and exceptionally good in the Northern Tamil dominated districts and the Muslim areas of the East. But it was "very poor" in the eastern Batticalao district, where people were feeling terrorised by the on-going conflict between the LTTE Supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran and the breakaway Eastern Commander Col. Karuna.

An informed source in Batticaloa said that the polling was only 30 per cent to 40 per cent in the government-controlled areas. But in the "uncleared" or LTTE-controlled areas, it was as high as 70 per cent. The number of voters in the area controlled by Karuna is about 75,000, a substantial proportion of the total votes in Batticaloa district.

Reports reaching Colombo said that there was a "funereal" atmosphere in the Tamil parts of the districts of Batticalao and Amparai, where Karuna had raised the banner of revolt against Prabhakaran and his henchmen based in the northern area of Wanni.

Very few people were on the streets and in the polling booths in the Tamil areas. But in the Muslim areas polling was brisk, said a resident of Batticaloa. This has boosted the prospects of the Muslim candidates in the district, where voting is community based.

Because of fear of violence political parties had not posted polling
agents in the booths, he said.

Following the killing of a leading Tamil candidate, Rajan Sathiamoorthy and his brother in law and the attempt to kill the Government Agent and Chief Electoral Officer R Mouna Guruswamy and university don Prof T Tiruchelvam, there was a widespread fear of violence in Battcaloa district.

LTTE "rigging"

Non-LTTE political parties alleged "massive rigging" of votes in the
northern districts of Jaffna and the Wanni by the Prabhakaran group of the LTTE, and by the Karuna group in the Eastern districts of Batticaloa and Amparai.

The LTTE had a "field day" casting the votes of the "dead, disabled and the displaced," alleged V Anandasangaree, President of the Tamil United
Liberation Front (TULF) who was standing as an Independent in Jaffna district.

Sri Lankan election law does not insist that a voter should show his
National Identity Card. The voting card is enough.

The polling officers were not only not bothered, but brushed aside
complaints, Anandasangaree said.

"The LTTE had broken the election law by providing transport to the voters and giving them ice cream and lunch packets," the TULF leader said.

The Secretary of the Eelam Peoples' Democratic Party (EPDP), Douglas
Devananda, said in a written complaint that there was "extensive"
impersonation in Jaffna district. No action was taken even when some
impersonators were caught red hand and handed over to the Senior
Presiding Officers (SPO), Devananda said.

In  Muhamalai, where cluster booths were set up to enable voters from the LTTE-controlled areas to exercise their franchise, the Government Agent of Kilinochchi asked those polling agents who were not from the polling area concerned to leave, Devananda alleged.

"This is a total violation of Election Law," he told the Returning Office of Jaffna district. According to Devananda, the law allowed a polling agent to come from anywhere in the island.

Ink not indelible

"The so-called indelible ink is hardly indelible," said PLOTE leader
D Siddharthan, who is standing in Wanni. "The voters list here was drawn up in 1986 and the youngest voter should be not less than 35 years old. But many of the voters today were as young as 18," he pointed.

Siddharthan said that all the political parties, barring the LTTE-backed TNA, withdrew their polling agents from the 64 booths meant for voters from the LTTE (Prabhakaran) controlled areas in protest. "We have sent a complaint to the Election Commissioner," he said.

The number of voters in the "uncleared" LTTE-controlled areas in the North East runs into thousands. These could swing the elections one way or the other.

According to Joseph Pararajasingham, who is fighting against Col Karuna's "Eastern separatist" ideology in Batticaloa district, Karuna had rigged the votes in the uncleared areas. Polling cards had been hijacked he alleged.

High stakes in the elections

This election is very important for both the parties -- the Sinhala in the South and the LTTE in the North and East.

In the South it is a "battle royal"  between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, with serious implications for Sri Lanka's economy and the peace process.

In the Tamil-dominated North-East, it is a battle royal between LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran and his renegade Eastern Commander Col Karuna. While Prabhakaran is desperate to prove that he is the "sole" representative of the Tamils, Karuna and the other Tamil parties are trying to show that he is not.

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