Election watchdogs fear possible intervention by the military may disturb a peaceful voting process. The Center for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) stressed they are ‘seriously concerned’ about how the Army could or would influence the outcome of the election and voting on election day.
CMEV Co-Convener Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu said they are worried about a list going around with regard to various polling divisions in the country being divided up and responsibility for them being given to ex-service people. “What this exactly entails is our concern,” he noted, in an interview with the Daily FT.
Following are excerpts:
Q: We are just a day ahead of the 2015 presidential election. How would you describe the present situation?
A: This is a short campaign. Incidents of violence and consequences have not been that great as we had in previous campaigns. Nevertheless, there has been generalised violence. The known feature we have so far is the significant misuse of State resources by the incumbent.
We have had this type of elections in the past. But I think it’s more than a difference in degree; it is almost a difference in times. There is great disparity and imbalance in resources both State and otherwise that the incumbent’s campaign has in comparison to his opponent.
Then there is another factor, which is that the incidence of violence we had, we seen a lot of politicians at the local level from the ruling alliance being involved in them.
Our next consideration is that we are seriously concerned about how the Army could or would influence the outcome of the election and voting on election day. The Opposition too has stressed the seriousness of this matter. Of course there are particular concerns with regard to the north, but our fear is about the rest of the country. There is a list going around with regard to various polling divisions in the country being divided up and responsibility for them being given to ex-service people. What this exactly entails is our concern.
Q: There were a number of shooting incidents, including one that targeted candidate Maithripala Sirisena. Two election officers were assaulted. How do you say there is less violence?
A: There have been less incidents of direct physical violence; this is due to the shorter campaign. The JVP is not involved. They are not putting up many posters, which is a very common site of violence.
There are incidents. I mean we had 300 odd incidents where over 150 are classified as major incidents of violence. So there has been violence, but not as great as may have been expected or feared in comparison to previous elections.
Violence, threat and intimidations being practiced is almost predominately, not exclusively, from the ruling coalition. This is why there is the whole argument about governance breakdown of institutions.
Q: Do you feel the situation will aggravate and there will be post-election violence?
A: There is possibility. Traditionally in elections in the past what we have seen is that in the intersegment between the end of campaign and polling day, there is space for high incidence of violence. On the polling day, polling agents and counting agents are targeted, polling cards are slashed and similar incidents could occur. Certainly there could be more incidents in the days to come.
Q: As observers, what measures can you take to ensure a violence-free election?
A: We are not the Police. We are not the Judiciary. What we can do is find out and publicise incidents of violence. Hopefully the media will carry it. At the end of the day it is the voters who have to decide. In order to make an important choice, they have to be informed. Therefore, our duty is to keep the people informed.
Q: There is fear that this might end up worse than the infamous Wayamba election. Your comments?
A: Well I hope and pray that it will not be the case. CMEV has been urging the Election Commissioner and officers responsible in holding the elections to try to prevent such incidents on election day so that things will not be as bad as they were during the Wayamba election.
Q: You mentioned possible military intervention to disturb voting. Do you believe as election monitors you have taken your best effort to prevent this situation?
A: At the end of the day, that’s the question people ask. Like I said before, what we can do is find out about incidents of violence and then release it to the media. At the moment all information we receive is put up on Twitter and Facebook. We give the information we get to the Election Commissioner and the Police Department. We do try to put our best effort to reduce the number of incidents and then ensure a violence-free election.
Q: Any truth to the claims made by State media that the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) suppressed a poll predicting victory of President Rajapaksa?
A: There were two incidents. The first incident, a website put up a survey saying that the President is winning. They had put it with the CPA logo and name. the second incident was a State newspaper saying that we have suppressed results of the survey that we have done which showed the President is winning. So one day we are publishing it and then we are suppressing it. It was like the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.
By using our name and logo, they are trying to give validity to some altered text. By putting up results of such polls, they are trying to discourage people from going to the polling station. Such acts are done due to desperation. This is all part of a political and electoral hoax in which various parties engage.