Home » News

S.Lanka president urges fair vote on election eve

[AFP, Monday, 25 January 2010 10:05 No Comment]

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse vowed Monday to ensure the first post-war nationwide election goes off peacefully, as he prepared to face his former army chief after an acrimonious campaign.

Rajapakse urged the authorities to conduct a free and fair vote on Tuesday, seeking to counter opposition claims that he would launch a coup to cling on to power if defeated at the ballot box.

"The Sri Lanka government calls for a peaceful election, and stands committed to taking whatever steps deemed necessary to ensure the same," his office said in a statement.

Rajapakse, who ordered the military offensive that ended the 37-year conflict against Tamil rebels in May last year, faces a strong challenge from Sarath Fonseka, the army chief who led the troops in battle.

A total of 68,000 police and 250,000 public officials will be on duty to monitor the election, which is seen as too close to call. There are no reliable opinion polls in the Indian Ocean island nation.

In the run-up to the vote, the opposition and government have made claim and counter-claim about each other’s malevolent intentions, raising tension and the prospect of instability and a contested result.

At least five people have been killed and hundreds wounded during campaigning, according to the private Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV).

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said Monday the government was concerned about armed army deserters who were allegedly working with Fonseka’s campaign. Related article:War crimes pressure on new S.Lanka chief

"There are 600-800 that have got into some kind of lead role in the opposition campaign," he told reporters, saying the renegades were under the commander of a former major general.

He also claimed foreign interests had a hand in the opposition campaign, but declined to identify them until after the vote. A ruling party lawmaker has already pointed the finger at the United States.

The opposition accused the government of planning to rig votes and unleash violence to intimidate voters, claiming Sunday that the army, state television and police had been prepared for a coup to keep Rajapakse in power.

The two Sinhalese nationalists fell out after the war, with Fonseka retiring from the military after he was sidelined by Rajapakse and launching his surprise bid for the presidency.

The CMEV said in a report it had found serious flaws in the electoral process in the run-up to the race, which has 22 candidates standing.

"With deep regret we have to say that we have a picture of a dysfunctional electoral process and the breakdown of the authority of the (independent) elections commission," CMEV director Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu said.

He said the level of violence was worse than during the previous presidential election in 2005 and that the state authorities had blatantly disregarded the orders of the elections chief to conduct a fair poll.

Rajapakse called the vote after only four years of his six-year mandate to try to harness public acclaim for victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels, who controlled one-third of Sri Lanka just 10 years ago.

The conflict with the Tigers, who were fighting for a homeland for the minority Tamil group, cost between 80,000 and 100,000 lives, according to UN estimates.

Amid fears the opposition will not accept a Rajapakse victory because of fraud, the foreign minister played down warnings of street protests.

"I don’t think the people of Sri Lanka have time for street protests," he said. "It has never happened."

Police Deputy Inspector General Gamini Navarathne said they had deployed 68,000 men to guard the 12,000 polling booths and counting centres and step up security in the coming week.

[Full Coverage]

(For updates you can share with your friends, follow TNN on Facebook, Twitter and Google+)

Comments are closed.