B. Muralidhar Reddy

Opposition alleges large-scale irregularities

TRINCOMALEE: The ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which teamed up with the breakaway LTTE faction led by Pillayan, has won the first ever election to the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) by securing 20 of the 35 seats.

The election assumed significance in the wake of the October 2006 Supreme Court verdict declaring merger of north and east as illegal on technical grounds and the success of the military with the help from the rebel Tigers in mid-2007 in wresting territory in the east from the LTTE.

The opposition parties and independent election observers have denounced the Saturday election as “fraudulent” on the ground that the ruling party and the rebel Tiger faction have indulged in large-scale irregularities in several polling booths. There is no response from the Election Commission to the demand by the main opposition, United National Party (UNP) which contested the polls in alliance with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), for a re-poll in identified booths. As per the UNP, there were serious irregularities in at least 80 of the 1,010 booths.

Within hours after the declaration of results President Mahinda Rajapaksa said the people had “given a clear mandate for peace through the defeat of terrorism, the strengthening of democracy and the development of the country.

“The voters of the Eastern Province who participated in this election peacefully and in large numbers have demonstrated their interest in protecting their democratic rights which were denied to them for nearly two decades by the forces of terror; which were restored to them with the liberation of the Eastern Province by the security forces. This election emphasises the policy of the government to create an environment in which all our people could enjoy democratic rights and live in freedom and harmony.”

The immediate task before the President is to choose the chief ministerial candidate. The TVMP led by Pillayan is vying for the job. He has a serious rival in M.L.A.M. Hisbullah, former Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader who defected to the ruling party on the eve of the election.

The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), an NGO, said it had recorded 64 incidents of violence on the polling day. Of these, 48 have been classified as “major”.