Campaign-related violence escalated across Sri Lanka ahead of next week’s elections as President Mahinda Rajapaksa fights an unexpectedly tough battle to remain in power, poll monitors and police said yesterday.
The Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) monitoring group had received 1,073 complaints since campaigning began in December. CaFFE’s media unit said 105 of the complaints were of election related violence while the 924 others were about election law violations. It said the increasing violence was well organised and targeted the opposition. “We are seeing a trend of increasing violence,” CaFFE director Keerthi Tennakoon said. “The violence is well organised. It is almost always directed against the opposition’s campaign.”
According to the People’s Action for Free and Fair Election (PAFFRE), an independent election monitoring group, it received 612 complaints related to violations of election laws. PAFFRE’s Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi said 85 percent of the complaints came with substantial evidence. Members of both the ruling alliance and the common opposition front were flouting election laws, he added.
Police had received a lesser number of complaints.
Maithripala Sirisena, narrowly escaped a stone attack at a political rally on Friday night, and 20 of his supporters were injured. Mobile phone footage of Friday’s stoning at the opposition rally shared on social media showed people trying to cover their heads and duck as stones were thrown from a nearby multi-storied building. Police spokesman Rohana said two men were arrested and they were looking for four more suspects. On Saturday shots were fired at a rally in Aralaganwila near his home town of Polonnaruwa.
The attacks came hours after Sri Lanka’s External Affairs ministry warned the European Union not to interfere in Thursday’s elections after Colombo-based ambassadors urged the government to ensure peaceful polls—a sentiment echoed by UN chief Ban Ki-moon in a separate statement earlier this week.
With the election campaign getting heated up daily, more crossovers are expected in the next 72 hours from the main contesting parties. The opposition said several heavyweights of the ruling party, who hold cabinet portfolios, have agreed to join the Common Opposition before Monday. They are expected to show up at the final election rally of the Common candidate Maithripala Sirisena, which will take place on Monday.