05/12/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Eastern provincial elections: Rajapakse’s coalition wins amid fraud

by Melani Manel Perera
In the first local elections in the eastern provinces in 20 years the ruling party alliance wins. For Sri Lanka’s president this is a sign of popular support for his anti-terrorism policies. But opposition parties and independent observers complain about irregularities and widespread intimidations.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Elections to provincial councils in eastern Sri Lanka were only a “fraud” which President Mahinda Rajapakse’s ruling coalition used to impose itself on its adversaries using “violence and intimidation,” this according to Nimalka Fernando, head of an elections monitoring organisation called the Campaign for Free and fair Elections (CAFFE).

For CAFFE well as other groups and opposition political parties these elections were “manipulated” to consolidate the stranglehold of the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and the controversial Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) party.

For the first time in 20 years voters in mixed Sinhalese, Tamil and Musims Ampara, Batticaloa and Trincomalee cast their ballot to choose among 1,300 candidates to the local provincial council. The UPFA took 20 of the 37 seats.

The elections were made possible by government forces’ takeover of the area last year after being under Tamil Tiger rebel control for years.

For some observers these elections represent a first attempt by the central government to institute limited political devolution to meet Tamil demands for autonomy.

Rajapakse’s Sinhalese-controlled central government wants to transfer power to the TMVP, a Tamil-dominated party. However, the latter is more like an armed militia than a political party. It was established by a Tamil Tiger faction that broke away in 2004 and joined the government in the fight against its former comrades. But the TMVP is accused of murders, abductions and recruiting child soldiers.

In announcing his party’s victory President Rajapakse said the results show popular support for government policies in agriculture and in the fight against terrorism.

But the opposition United National Party and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress have complained about widespread election fraud and reject the results.

CAFFE has reported 175 complaints of irregularities, including 26 cases of physical assault and 35 cases of threats.

The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) and the People’s Action for Free and Fair Election (PAFFREL) have reported similar findings.

The latter has reported that election observers were not given access to 21 polling stations and that hundreds of voters have complained about physical and verbal intimidations.

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