Rigging feared in 'clustered' polling centres

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 04 December 2001, 13:24 GMT]
Journalists, civil society leaders and politicians in the north and eastern regions of Sri Lanka island told independent and European Union polls observers to pay special attention to 'clustered' polling booths where thousands of Tamil voters in areas held by the Liberation Tigers will have to cast their ballots Wednesday.

More than two hundred and fifty thousand Tamil voters live in large regions held by the Liberation Tigers in the north and east. Mass impersonation and rigging are most likely to happen at the ëclustered polling stationsí because very few voters from the LTTE held regions may trek for miles and come through army checkpoints to cast their ballots there, the EU observers were told.

Under Sri Lankan election laws, polling stations in areas considered ëunsafeí are clustered together in a places controlled by the Sri Lankan security forces.

eu_observers_041201.jpg
Election observers, Mr. William Kolding Laursen and Ms.Jane Thomson speaking to journalists in Batticaloa. (Photo:TamilNet)
Very few voters in these regions would bother to trek long miles and come through tight security checks by the Sri Lanka army and Police at the few entry points. The polling booths for Tamil voters in some villages have been relocated as far away as seventy kilometres in the Vanni. Public transport is available on in a few areas held by the Tigers in the Batticaloa district.

In the Vanni region, there is not public transport at all. Private transport is beyond the means of the average voter.

However, the District Secretaries (Government Agents) for Mannar and Vavuniya said that they have made all arrangements within their capacity to facilitate voters from the Vanni region to come through the SLA checkpoints Wednesday and to cast their ballots at 35 centres where polling booths from the district Mullaithivu and the LTTE held parts of the Mannar and Vavuniya have been clustered. They said that voters would be charged hundred rupees to come in special buses from the LTTE held areas to cast their votes.

However, a TNA spokesman in Vavuniya said that few voters in the Vanni, a region stung harshly by a decade long economic embargo, would care to spend 100 rupees to take a long risky ride to cast their ballots.

The Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu districts are under the complete control of the Liberation Tigers. Kilinochchi is part of the Jaffna electoral district. No one in this district would be able to vote tomorrow as there is no way they can reach the army controlled part of the peninsula. All entry points to Jaffna from Kilinochchi are heavily fortified and mined forward defence localities of the SLA.

Journalists in Batticaloa Monday night told polls observers from the Peopleís Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), an independent monitoring body, that rigging is most likely to happen at the main entry points from LTTE held areas to places controlled by the Sri Lanka army in the eastern district.

They also pointed out that a paramilitary group working with the Special Task Force in Aaraipattai, 9 kilometres south of Batticaloa town, has allegedly grabbed 900 polling cards from local voters to rig the polls tomorrow.

Mr. R. Sampanthan, the chief candidate of the TNA in the Trincomalee district urged European Union monitors in the eastern port town that their presence at clustered polling stations near the Sri Lanka Army camp in Mahindapura in the Seruwila division and at Mutur Al Hidaya school would certainly help about fourteen thousand Tamil voters in areas held by LTTE to exercise their franchise without being hindered by the government security forces or by pro-government paramilitaries.

Mr. Sampanthan brought to the notice of the EU monitors that this is the first time in 24 years, after 1977 parliamentary election, Tamil voters in the Mutur south region held by the LTTE have got an opportunity to exercise their franchise.

 

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