UPFA, TMVP alliance implicates GoSL complicity, collusion with armed group - CPA

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 27 February 2008, 13:37 GMT]
Centre for Policy Alternatives, a Colombo based think-tank that undertook a fact finding mission to Batticaloa district between February 8 and 11, said Sri Lanka's ruling United Peoples Freedom Allilance (UPFA) government, by opting for the alliance with the armed TMVP group in Batticaloa municipal council election, finds itself in a position where it is increasingly difficult for the GoSL to deny the charges of "complicity and collusion with the TMVP." The CPA's statement has warned that there was a clear sense of inevitability that the elections will result in a TMVP "victory" as it is the only "political actor" allowed to move around in recently resettled areas.

"There is a clear sense of inevitability that the elections will result in a TMVP victory. In Vakarai, CPA interviewed a few households who stated that they would have no choice but to vote for a particular party. In other recently resettled areas such as Chenkaladi, Porathivu and Vellavelli it is to be expected that the TMVP will have a clean sweep, as it is the only political actor allowed to move around in these areas," according to the CPA report.

"These areas also have limited number of international and national agencies entering the area due to restrictions of movement placed by the security forces, therefore limiting the flow of information from the areas. An opinion CPA heard repeatedly was that voters in Tamil-majority areas, especially in rural and less affluent areas, would have no choice but to turn up and vote for a particular party. By comparison in Muslim areas, despite the fear and violence, there is some element of competition between the UPFA and the SLMC and the results are by no means inevitable and the contest will be keenly fought."

The CPA also said, "Election-related incidents of violence by themselves are not an effective measure of how free and fair an election is. There is a need to take into account the overall context of threat and intimidation, fear and insecurity."

More extracts from the report follow:

"The process of nomination itself involved intimidation and violence. The TMVP candidate list includes TMVP members and individuals from the general public. CPA was informed that in some areas in Batticaloa the TMVP summoned meetings at which it called for the assembled people to choose their candidates and those selected had little choice but to submit their nominations. CPA was informed of individuals who went into hiding during the nomination period in order to avoid being called up by the TMVP to contest."

"In Muslim areas such as Valaichennai and Oddamavadi the period preceding and following the nomination has seen a series of attacks, particularly against the SLMC. Local people whom CPA spoke to in Valaichennai and Eravur claimed that armed persons from the TMVP and the UPFA are responsible for much of the violence. There are rumours that thugs have been brought into the area for the election period. It was also reported to CPA that the SLMC supporters also have access to weapons due to the high proliferation of weapons in the area. Local people whom CPA spoke to were apprehensive that in the lead up to elections violence would intensify, and more small arms would be distributed by political groups."

"At the time of the visit it was clear that there is a significant level of fear that raises serious questions as to whether the elections are or can be, free and fair."

"The lack of public campaigning is one such indicator. In Tamil majority areas, apart from Batticaloa Town, the TMVP's boat sign posters dominated the roadsides."

"In Batticaloa Town where the UPFA and the TMVP are jointly contesting, the UPFA's betal sign poster and road paintings were also very visible. The only other elections posters CPA observed in Tamil majority areas were that of the EPDP's apple sign, most often in locations rights next to their office. Public meetings are limited at best. No one in Tamil majority areas were able to refer to a meeting that they had heard of since nomination date.

"In Muslim areas. fear is also an issue that people referred to. There is an expectation that election day will be violent, with some speculating that there could be voter impersonation, ballot stuffing, and attacks on polling stations.

"Hence, no one CPA spoke to was looking forward to elections. Everyone referred to it with apprehension. There are also fears that the LTTE will engage in post-election violence targeting elected candidates."

"According to news reports, increased security threats and violence has resulted in the proposal to deploy around 4000 security personnel and police during the campaign and on Election Day."

"There were also numerous checkpoints within Batticaloa that have mushroomed since elections were announced. It is yet to be seen whether the heightened presence of security personnel and police will deter violence. The heightened security is in a context where there are several armed actors and there is no system of accountability in place."

"It was also reported to the CPA team that certain candidates have refused to have the two police personnel provided to them for protection. The team was informed that in these cases, the candidates did not trust the police and that candidates felt that their presence would not be an effective deterrent."

"UPFA's alliance with the TMVP in Batticaloa town has a number of implications for the Government. With this alliance it makes it more difficult for the Government to deny the charges of complicity and collusion with the TMVP. With a political alliance, the Government also has more of a responsibility to police the TMVP. Leading human rights figures in Batticaloa stated that the Government, like the Tamil militant groups, was forcing their choice upon the Tamil people. Accordingly, it is by no means assured that the elections will result in an improved human security situation."

"The only change envisaged is that the TMVP and other armed actors will be elected into office claim legitimacy for their role and activities in the area. It is also feared that local council elections will be followed by Provincial Council elections with no marked improvement on the ground. The current militarization of civil administration and circumvention of elected bodies is likely to continue. Such events will further legitimise the activities of actors including the TMVP and call into question whether there is space for democracy to function in the 'liberated' East."

In its conclusion, the CPA report said:

"In the event elections are conducted on 10 March, there are critical measures that the Government, security forces, police and Elections Commissioner need to take including disarming of armed actors, providing unrestricted access to polling agents and monitors to all polling centers, providing unrestricted access to candidates, monitors, media and other relevant actors to all areas of the Batticaloa district, conducting impartial investigations and inquiries into all reported incidents of violence and raising awareness among the public about the elections.

"The candidates, their parties and supporters need to ensure that they abide by and respect a free and fair election. All forms of violence, intimidation and threats need to be discontinued.

"All monitors and observers must function independently and report in an impartial manner on the ground situation and on election related issues. With the dangers and complexities related to the present elections, there is a dire need for independent monitors who provide accurate information on the ground situation and who can gauge whether the election was indeed a free and fair. For this purpose, a significant number of monitors are required, on polling day especially."

The CPA team met individuals including officials from the District Secretariat, election candidates, election monitors, community leaders and international agencies, and visited areas including Batticaloa Town, Vaakarai, Ea'raavoor, Vaazhaichcheanai and Kaaththaankudi.

Elections to nine local councils in Batticaloa district are scheduled to take place on 10th March 2008. When nominations closed on 25th January 2008, several parties came forward to contest the elections including the

The Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), People's Liberation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) and the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA). For the Batticaloa Municipal Council elections, the TMVP and UPFA are fielding candidates jointly.

The United National Party (UNP) and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) are not contesting elections having cited security concerns and questioned whether the context is conducive for free and fair elections.


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