01/20/2010, 00.00
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Sri Lanka’s presidential campaign marred by deaths and violence

by Melani Manel Perera
The Campaign for Free and Fair elections (CaFFE) releases its report. Head of Election Commission says he will quit right after the election, accuses media of giving in to political pressure. The race between Rajapaksa and Fonseka is played out on the two rivals’ personality and charisma.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – The election campaign for Sri Lanka’s presidency, scheduled for 26 January, has been marred by a high number of incidents, many caused by supporters of incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Campaign for Free and Fair elections (CaFFE) reported. Elections Commission Chairman Dayananda Dissanayake is said to resign because of the violence once the election is over.

The CaFFE report that was released today contains a detailed list of clashes, targeted attacks against political rivals and murders. The first death occurred on 12 January in Hungama (Hambantota district), Rajapaksa’s home area. An armed man opened fire against a bus carrying supporters of General Fonseka, leader of the opposition and the president’s main challenger. One person was killed and ten were wounded in the action, which was blamed on pro-government militias.

The following day, Rajapaksa supporters clashed with Fonseka sympathisers in Polonnaruwa, North-Central province. Thousands of people were involved, with many getting hurt.

On the same day, people close to the president attacked opposition leader supporters who were organising a rally in Kolonnawa, a Colombo district. On 15 January, also in Kolonnawa, pro-government militias attacked the headquarters of the United National Party (UNP), which, along with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), backs General Fonseka.

Rajapaksa called early elections to take advantage of his high ratings following his victory over the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) last May. Opposition parties are behind General Fonseka, the “war hero” who masterminded the defeat of the northern separatist rebels.

However, the two candidates are not far apart at a policy level. The campaign is in fact based on differences in personality and charisma between the two leaders. This has poisoned the political atmosphere, and made it more violent. What is more, Rajapaksa is accused of using state media to promote his own electoral campaign.

Election Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake expressed his displeasure and frustration at the violations of the recommendations made to ensure the fairness of the poll. In a meeting with party secretaries, he pointed the finger at the media for giving in to political pressure and not maintaining a balance among candidates. At the end of his address, he said he would resign after the election.

In the meantime, the Sunday Times released the findings of a poll of business leaders and academics. It found that 82.7 per cent of respondents believed that election violence was greater than during the 2005 presidential election. It also reported that 84.6 per cent felt that the 2010 election would not be free and fair.

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