Polls chief warns perpetrators of election violence, rigging

by Amal Jayasinghe
— Sri Lanka’s elections chief Dayananda Dissanayake Tuesday warned of vote rigging and violence in December’s parliamentary polls and announced unprecedented measures to minimise malpractice.

Dissanayake said he had been given more powers under a constitutional amendment enacted just before the legislature was dissolved by President Chandrika Kumaratunga earlier this month and an election called five years ahead of schedule.

"I cannot guarantee that there will be a free and fair election," Dissanayake told reporters. "But, I have been vested with powers to minimise irregularities and malpractice."

For the first time since the proportional representation system was introduced in 1978, the elections chief will be empowered to order re-polling in areas where there is violence or ballot box stuffing.

Dissanayake said earlier practice was to cancel ballots at booths affected by violence and other malpractices, which encouraged political parties to create trouble in areas favourable to their opponents.

"I want to warn those who are planning to indulge in this sort of activity that I will order fresh elections under a huge security cover," Dissanayake said.

"This means the results in the entire district will be delayed by weeks if there is violence."

For the first time, the elections chief was also empowered to order the government to halt the transfer of public servants, including police officers, and prevent the use of state-owned vehicles for ruling party campaigning.

State-run media will also be given guidelines to prevent them from being partisan.

Dissanayake has already asked police chief Lucky Kodituwakku to suspend the transfer of over 60 senior policemen since the elections were called nearly two weeks ago.

"I have made a written order to the Inspector General and I am expecting a reply," Dissanayake said.

The opposition has been critical of the sudden police transfers and accuse the government of shifting police officers in a bid to rig the elections. There has been no immediate reaction from the government to the allegations.

Dissanayake said he could not discuss the security situation for the December 5 election, but said he wanted the police to deploy at least two constables at each of the 9,964 polling booths across the country.

"We have asked for at least three constables at each polling booth, but the police have told me that due to manpower shortages they may be able to deploy about two constables each," Dissanayake said.

He said he was also launching a series of measures to ensure stuffing of boxes and impersonations did not happen, but declined to discuss them.

"Individuals and organisations which have an interest in ensuring a free and fair election must be vigilant and be prepared to even go to court," Dissanayake said.

Last year, during the last parliamentary elections, Kumaratunga’s ruling People’s Alliance took the elections chief to the human rights commission alleging that his moves to prevent ballot rigging "violated human rights".

Dissanayake also accused the Police Criminal Investigations Department of following him last year.

The ruling party narrowly won last year’s October elections which Dissanayake described as "anything but free and fair."

He said he hoped his new powers would return the country to the peaceful and free elections seen before 1977.

Some 12.43 million men and women over the age of 18 are entitled to vote in the polls to elect 225 members to the legislature for a six-year period.