Rigging feared in Jaffna 'cluster booths'

[TamilNet, Monday, 09 October 2000, 21:39 GMT]
Jaffna goes to polls tomorrow amidst fears of widespread rigging. Officials at the Jaffna district secretariat said that voter turn out is expected to be low mainly due to the fighting between the Liberation Tigers and the Sri Lankan army in the southern sector of the peninsula.

The majority of the political parties contesting the polls here including the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) and the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO- independent group) alleged Monday that the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), a key ally of the People's Alliance, is bent on rigging the polls to its advantage in several parts of the peninsula tomorrow.

Mr.A.Vinayagamoorthy, the chief candidate of the ACTC in Jaffna complained to the Returning Officer of the electoral district today that forty five thousand votes have been sent to Kayts for distribution whereas there are only thirty five thousand voters in this area. He told the Government Agent of Jaffna who is the Returning Officer that the additional votes could be used for rigging.

Election officials entering a polling station being subjected to body checks, in Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka, on the eve of the Sri Lankan general elections, Monday Oct. 9, 2000.

There will be 425 polling booths in the Sri Lanka army controlled part of the peninsula. Of these 193 will be "clustered booths" meaning that these belong to areas of the Jaffna electoral district which are now under the control of the Liberation Tigers or in the no man's land of the war zone or are encompassed by camps and military base complexes of the SLA.

Observers in the north say that rigging is most likely to take place in the clustered booths because most of the people who have to vote in these will not be able to turn up tomorrow because they are either displaced or live in areas under the control of the Tigers and hence cannot cross the lines to cast their ballots tomorrow. Also, many of the Jaffna voters who were displaced by the fighting between the Tigers and the SLA now live far from the polling centres where these booths will be 'clustered'.

The electoral district of Jaffna formerly consisted of 11 electorates. Of these the area defined by the Kilinochchi electorate is under the complete control of the Liberation Tigers. More than seventy five percent of the Chavakachcheri electorate is also controlled or dominated by them. Some sectors of the Jaffna, Nallur and Udupiddy electorates are either in their control in the no man's land in battle zones. Most voters in the Kankesanthurai (KKS) electorate were displaced due to the expansion of the sprawling Palaly military base.

Mr.M. Nimalraj, the correspondent of the Sinhala popular political weekly, the Ravaya, said "there was a lot of rigging at the cluster booths for Valigamam north (KKS) and Kilinochchi during the 1999 December Presidential elections. Even this time it is going to be difficult to stop some parties from engaging in blatant vote stuffing at these clustered polling booths because there are just two European Union observers and the local independent monitors cannot keep an eye on all such centres".


The TULF, ACTC, TELO (Independent) etc., say that they are unable to send polling agents to some sectors of the peninsula because they fear intimidation and thuggery by the EPDP, particularly in the islands off Jaffna (which formerly constituted the Kayts electorate).

"It is very easy to cast any number of votes in your favour when there are neither election monitors nor polling agents from any other party" said a member of ACTC in Jaffna. He alleged that some senior government officials in Jaffna are tacitly aiding the EPDP.

The fear that the EPDP will rig its way to success at tomorrow's polls emanates largely from the fact that it is a close ally of the PA and that it got the nine seats out of ten at the last Parliamentary elections by thoroughly exploiting the advantage of having all the polling booths in the peninsula proper clustered in the islands which were then under the SLA's control in 1994.

Nevertheless the TULF and the ACTC said that they would be able to get more votes than the ex-Tamil militant groups contesting the elections in Jaffna this time. They said that if the police and the SLA refuse to countenance the activities of the EPDP or any other party that might attempt to rig the elections tomorrow, then their main problems would be solved.


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