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Distinguishing features of SL Presidential poll

[Express Buzz, Monday, 25 January 2010 16:53 No Comment]

The sixth Presidential election in Sri Lanka which is to be held on Tuesday, will go down in history as having had a number of distinguishing features.

* It is the first election to be held after the military elimination of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and its entire leadership, including the Supremo, Velupillai Prabhakaran. This is signficant, in as much as, in the past, the LTTE controlled the voting behaviour of the Tamils of the Northern and Eastern provinces. The Tamils of these areas would vote or boycott or vote for a particular candidate as per the diktat of the LTTE. The Tamil parties’ stand depended on the whims of the LTTE. But at present, the Tamil parties and the Tamil voters are faced with the difficult task of making up their minds independently and acting on their own. However ,the LTTE still remains an issue with the Sinhalese speaking majority in south Sri Lanka, in so far as the ruling party candidate and serving President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is trying to create a scare that the LTTE might reappear as a result of his rival Gen.Sarath Fonseka’s alliance with the formerly pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

* It is the first election to the topmost office in the land to have a retired army officer, an Army Commander, as a candidate.

* It is first election to be held against the backdrop of a fear of a military coup as a result of the alienation of Army Commander Gen.Sarath Fonseka from President Rajapaksa and his subsequent decision to quit the army and contest the Presidency challenging Rajapaksa on the political battlefield.Way back in  October 2009 itself, Rajapaksa had feared a coup and reportedly sought India’s help.

* It is the first election in which the armed forces have been politicised and drawn into the electoral battle. Fearing that the army rank and file might back Fonseka’s alleged bid to stage a coup d’etat, or they might vote for him in the Presidential election ,the Rajapaksa government raised the salaries of army personnel with immediate effect and made consumer loans available to them. The government alleged that Fonseka had 800 army deserters in his camp who were being used to intimidate voters. It made former and serving military officers come on TV to speak about Fonseka’s misdeeds as an army officer. The state-owned media frequently spoke about the possibility of military rule if Fonseka were to win and what this would mean for democracy in the island nation. On his part, Fonseka brazenly claimed that the army supported his political ambitions, and that 90 per cent of the postal votes cast by army personnel had been for him. He also said that that the government had brought tanks into Colombo city to intimidate the voters.    

* It is the first election in which a candidate’s loyalty to the country has been questioned on technical grounds.Independent candidate Sarath Kongahage went to court challenging Fonseka’s right to contest on the grounds that as an American Green Card holder, he would not be loyal to Sri Lanka.

* It is the first election in which allegations of the use of money to buy up supporters were made dramatically, with the affected party waving bundles and bundles of currency notes in front of the media and TV cameras.

* It is the first election in which e-mail, SMS and internet have been used.

[Full Coverage]

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