03/04/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Election in Batticaloa a foregone conclusion

by Melani Manel Perera
NGOs want to stop the 10 March local elections, claiming that voters are being intimidated and that the poll will only strengthen the central government’s hold over the area and militarise the local administration. The Elections Commission has however dismissed all the accusations.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The Elections Commission has confirmed that local elections scheduled for  the eastern district of Batticaloa will take place on 10 March for “there is no reason to postpone,” this despite claims by some NGOs that the outcome is already a foregone conclusion.

Recently a group calling itself ‘Civil Society Collective’ has called for a stop to the elections arguing that they will only strengthen the militarised apparatus of the local administration that keeps the district under the control of the country’s ruling coalition government.

The group, which includes the (Catholic) Commission for Justice and Peace, released a report last 27 February citing local residents, some of whom are certain that if they don’t cast their ballot somebody else will do it for them.

The report also quotes residents saying that in certain areas some people are going around “telling people how to vote and for whom.” This has intimidated many voters who are afraid of retaliation if they don’t vote.

On 10 March voters in Batticaloa must fill 101 seats for nine local councils. According to the Civil Society Collective 274,481 people have the right to vote.

In its report the Collective suggests that parties from the ruling coalition government, the Tamil Makkal Vidudhalai Pulihal (TMVP) and the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), will win and thus be able to manage development funds for the area.

For years Batticaloa saw brutal violence during the country’s civil war, still raging in the north, between Tamil Tigers rebels and the army.

According to the Collective the TMVP is an armed Tamil party, and it has accused the government of failing to disarm it, something it should do before any elections take place.

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