Lankan govt denies using state resources to skew election
December 13 2014 12:04 AM
Keheliya Rambukwella
Keheliya Rambukwella

Sri Lanka’s government has denied allegations made by a group of independent monitors that it is using state resources to give an unfair advantage to President Mahinda Rajapakse who is running for an unprecedented third term in next month’s election.

The seven observer groups, some of which are funded by foreign non-governmental organisations, on Thursday raised concerns that the ruling party was exploiting public services and employees and that the police were ignoring complaints.

“These are wild accusations. If there is a basis for those allegations, they should take action,” government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana rejected charges that police were biased towards any candidate, adding: “There can be delays, but we totally deny inaction and the allegations.”

Rajapakse, president of the Indian Ocean island state since 2005, had been expected to win re-election easily until the emergence last month of his former health minister, Mithripala Sirisena, as the opposition’s common candidate to challenge him.

The International Crisis Group, an independent conflict-prevention organisation, said in a report this week that the unexpectedly strong challenge had raised the “likelihood of election-related violence and fraud in an increasingly authoritarian political context, where all state institutions are under the tight control” of
Rajapakse.

S Ranugge, executive director of Transparency International Sri Lanka, one of the monitor groups, told reporters that the ruling party had been using state schools, offices, vehicles and public transport to gather crowds for campaign meetings.

“There is an unprecedented abuse of state resources and employees for the election by the ruling party,” said Keerthi Tennakoon, executive director of Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE), another of the groups.

The observers said that police had not acted on complaints brought by opposition supporters of election-related violence despite video evidence and had been over-zealous in dealing with complaints from Rajapakse supporters.

The Lawyers Collective, a rights group made up of lawyers, said separately in a statement it was shocked by poll violations that included using the defence establishment and bribery.

Large cut-outs of Rajapakse have been erected across the country, in contravention of the election law, and state-run television provided live coverage for his first election campaign but not that of his
challenger.

“There are election rules and regulations. If they believe there are violations, they can go to the relevant authority, which in this case is the election commissioner,” Rajapakse’s spokesman, Mohan Samaranayaka, said.

Elections chief warned state-run television networks yesterday not to broadcast programmes supporting President Rajapakse.

Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said he had received complaints from independent monitors that the state networks were openly campaigning for Rajapakse ahead of the January 8 election.

“This is a serious hindrance to a free and fair election,” the commissioner said in a letter to state broadcasters.

Sri Lanka’s two state-run broadcasters have the widest coverage in the nation of 20mn people.

The commissioner also asked the stations to seek his advice before broadcasting politically sensitive material and warned that station bosses should take personal responsibility for any transgressions.

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