Mannar and Deraniyagala: Two major cases of election-related violence reported | Sunday Observer

Mannar and Deraniyagala: Two major cases of election-related violence reported

Mannar: Trees were felled across the road to prevent voters  reaching the polling station.
Mannar: Trees were felled across the road to prevent voters reaching the polling station.

As Sri Lankan citizens headed to the polls yesterday to elect its 7th Executive President the atmosphere across the country remained mostly calm and peaceful with only a handful of election related incidents being reported.

However, among these were a number of attempts to discourage and prevent voters from exercising their franchise leading to voter suppression in several areas in the country. In one of the first and perhaps the most serious reported incidents on the election day, two buses carrying Muslim voters from Puttalam to polling stations in Silavathurai, Mannar came under attack in the wee hours of the morning before the polls opened. The buses in which the voters were travelling in were pelted with stones and shot at by an unidentified group.

Describing the incident to the media, a driver of one bus said he had slowed down the bus to go over a bridge in the area when he witnesses two burning tires on the road. “As I slowed down we were attacked from the right,” he said, adding that the bus was also shot at. “We sped away realising there was danger,” he said.

The driver said he would be able to identify at least two suspects who took part in the attack.

“The lights of the bus fell directly on them and I was able to see their faces clearly,” he added. According to the Police, the incident that took place in Tantirimale was without any casualties. Refusing to be intimidated and disenfranchised by the incident, the group was able to vote after being escorted by the Police to their polling stations.

Following the incident, it was also discovered that trees had been felled onto the road to prevent buses from reaching their destination.

According to reports these voters consisted of previously internally displaced persons (IDPs) that were driven out by the LTTE from Manar in the 1990s.

One of the Election Commission members Prof. R. Hoole had visited the area after the incident was reported. Meanwhile in another incident where a minority group was targeted, a group of Tamils in the infamous Noori Estate in Deraniyagala had received threats to vote for a particular candidate.

A victim speaking to the media said he had been attacked while returning from the polling station.

“I met one of the suspects and he questioned me asking who I cast my vote for,” he said. According to the victim, the suspect had accused him of voting for another candidate and gone on to assault him.

“They then came to my house and attacked my father with an iron rod,” he alleged. He also said the suspect had attacked his grandmother and brother. “They broke a bottle and stabbed my brother with it,” he said. Speaking to the press after the close of polls, Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapraiya said among the suspects arrested in connection to the incident is the son of a prominent politico and also a murder suspect in the area.

The two individuals who were injured in the incident were admitted to the Deraniyagala Hospital for treatment. The incident had given rise to a tense situation in the area which was controlled by the Police as they assured the residents to vote without fear promising to provide necessary security and protection. Meanwhile independent monitors also reported a number of other incidents of intimidation. In one incident the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) the entourage of the New Democractic Front organizer of Yatinuwara Lucky Jayawardene had arrived at the Welmabada Muslim School polling station and attempted to enter while showing fire arms.

The CMEV also reported that son of former Minister Johnston Fernando were seen attempting to influence voters at the Heelogama Vidyalaya polling centre in Nikaweratiya. CMEV reported that at close of polls at 5 p.m., 196 violations were recorded. The majority of them were reported as incidents of intimidation, attempts at influencing and illegal campaigning.

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