Overall election violence drastically reduced | Sunday Observer

Overall election violence drastically reduced

Election monitors said, the LG election campaign was marred by alleged acts of intimidation of women candidates of several political parties by their male counterparts, who almost exclusively dominated the propaganda activities. Election monitors confirmed that during their work in the North Western and Eastern Provinces, a number of female candidates, grassroots female activists and community leaders informed that there was a systematic campaign to demoralize and discredit female candidates by certain Muslim clerics attached to controversial organizations.Commenting on actions that can be taken to prevent a repetition of such incidents in the future, election monitors said the people have to act in a civilized manner and understand that this sort of treatment of women candidates will adversely affect politics.

Executive Director, Campaign for Free and Fair Elections ( CaFFE) Ranjith Keerthi Tennakoon told the Sunday Observer that the biggest issue faced during the LG election was that some Muslim clergy were campaigning not to vote for female candidates. It is mandatory to have female candidates. When a set of people campaign and ask the people not to vote for female candidates, it is a clear violation of the rule and affects the whole electoral system.

So if the women were not voted in, it would affect the final results of the Councils. On the other hand, if females are not elected from the Ward level, definitely the additional list will go to the females. So, the people have to identify and understand this. It is not the average Muslim, but a few fundamentalist groups that are engaged in this. In Sri Lanka, from ancient times, we have had female rulers. In our culture, females are also a part of the governance structure. It is discriminatory if a group of people are against women.

Asked on what action can be taken to overcome such issues, Tennakoon said, the people have to act in a civilized manner so that they would understand that such treatment of women candidates will not help politics. Tennakoon said, female candidates contested in 10 percent of the Wards in a particular electorate and political parties often put forward their female candidates against very strong male candidates.

In most cases, e.g. females have to compete against the former chairman of a local council or an extremely popular figure. The situation will also strengthen the perception that women can’t successfully contest against male candidates.

JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake told the Sunday Observer, the harassment of women exists not only within politics but is a common phenomenon in society. It is only one form of pressure put on women that we see through political movements, today. As for the JVP, we have always fought for the equal rights of women in society and even within the party women’s groups are given equal responsibilities as their male counterparts. The JVP does not differentiate on gender, unlike other male dominant political parties.

In the LG elections, 8,293 members would be elected to 341 Local Government institutions, of which 25 percent are mandatorily women. This is going to be a significant change in the LG bodies, although much attention has not been focused on this fact in the political arena. At present, women participation in LG bodies is just 2 percent - about 92 women in a total of approximately a 4,000 member local government system. Under the new electoral system, the number of female representation in LG bodies is expected to increase up to nearly 2,200. Although women obtained equal rights through the universal franchise in 1931, this is the first time that women are getting into mainstream politics in a male domain. Some election monitoring organizations commented, they believe corruption will significantly be reduced with the increase of female representation in LG bodies.

A mixed electoral system will be followed wherein 60 per cent of the members will be elected based on First Past the Post system while the rest will be on Proportional Representation (PR) according to the number of votes polled. There are some exceptionally talented women leaders at local level, a prominent woman Mayoral candidate being Rosy Senanayake who contested as the UNP Mayoral candidate for the Colombo Municipal Council.

During the LG election campaign, it was evident that the campaigns were dominated almost exclusively by men. There were reports that some women candidates were intimidated by their male counterparts.

A noticeable incident was reported from Wellawaya where a women candidate was physically assaulted and hospitalized. In another incident, sexual assault on a female candidate was reported from the Welikanda area, recently. The only such complaint of sexual abuse during the election, the Welikanda Police commenced an investigation into the incident.

According to Police, a female candidate contesting the upcoming local government elections was alleged to have been sexually assaulted by an individual. The incident had occurred on Friday last week, around 5 pm in the Kuda Pokuna area in Welikanda, following which a complaint was lodged with the Welikanda Police by the aggrieved party. The Police say, the suspect has been identified as a political supporter of the victim and has now fled the area. According to Police Spokesperson SP Ruwan Gunasekara, the victim was later admitted to hospital. In addition, a woman candidate in Mullaitivu had been abducted and many threatening telephone calls and harassment reported in the Vanni. Election monitors had urged the Government to take immediate action against attacks on female candidates in the LG polls fray. They said, some of the female candidates had been physically abused. The Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) and the People’s Action For Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) told the media that some of the candidates had also been sexually abused. There had been attempts in Thambuttegama, Anuradhapura and Welikanda, Polonnaruwa, to sexually abuse female candidates. Incidents of assaulting female candidates were reported from Nuwara Eliya, Galle, Wellawaya and Polonnaruwa. In addition, in Puttalam, a young child of a candidate was threatened by supporters of a rival political party.

However, overall election related violence during the LG election campaign has drastically reduced, thanks to the Election Commission and the Police. The main political parties, the SLFP, UNP and SLPP said, women candidates are highly represented in their electoral lists and that they have encouraged women to actively engage in politics.

However, all major parties turned the LG election into a ‘national election’. The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has described the LG elections as a referendum on the Government.

According to Election Commission sources, they had received complaints from both, female and male candidates. Character assassination via social media, abusive phone calls and use of abusive language against a candidate were the main categories under which female candidates had filed complaints. 

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