Local elections for Batticaloa and surrounding areas will be held on Monday, March 10th, 2008. The LTTE lost military control of the East last year and these will be the first elections in the region presided over by the Government. One hundred and one local posts are open for election and shortly after the close of the nomination period a group of international election monitors, invited by the Government as neutral observers, certified the overall situation around Batticaloa as suitable for free and fair elections. Having heard reports to the contrary directly from people in the region, a group of local public interest organizations undertook an independent visit.
As documented in their joint report, these members of civil society talked with a broad range of people and groups in the election areas. Rather than tranquility, they encountered a climate of fear and heard a disturbing range of human rights violations. These problems seemed to chiefly arise from a tenuous security situation between the various paramilitary in the region who are each backing their own fields of election candidates. At the press conference for the report, the members of the independent visit recommended that the scheduled elections be suspended until the paramilitaries are completely disarmed and additional safeguards ensured. Along with attendance by local and international media, politicians, and diplomats, the state intelligence agency also inquired about those who had organized the report and press conference.
In the wake of this challenging report a number of canidates came forward to the Election Commission with complaints about the violent threats they faced. The international monitors also took notice of additional complaints and issued another report which suggested reforms partially reflecting the joint civil society recommendations, but not calling for a cancellation of the elections. Despite, or perhaps because of, the increasing questions about the elections, the Government summarily denounced the joint civil society report as a nefarious effort to suppress citizens’ political freedom to vote and slander the ruling government in foreign affairs. What motive these representatives or civil society as a whole would have for such alleged intentions was left unclear. Whatever the impact of the present elections, it remains doubtless that a free and fair future will only be possible though sustained, committed effort on the part of both government and society, but cooperation seems in short supply.
Posted By Adam Nord (Sri Lanka)
Posted Mar 9th, 2008