Election monitors, including the People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) and Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE), have released statements calling on the Elections Commissioner and police chief to take action to stop the violence in the Uva province of the country.
“Opposition offices were set fire and gangs are reported to be moving about, armed with guns,” the CaFFE Executive Director Keerthi Tennekoon told reporters. Several bullet casings have also been recovered from some of the attacked offices.
“For about six hours on August 24, violent groups had attacked all the major opposition parties, but so far not a single arrest has been made,” the CaFFE Chief added.
The Moneragala District in the Uva Province is a ruling party stronghold and is expected to be hotly contested in the September 20 provincial election battle.
Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya has told local media that he has written to the Police chief, requesting police security be increased in the area but opposition parties remain skeptical.
“This level of intimidation and violence deny opposition politicians the chance to contest on an equal platform,” opposition party Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna General Secretary Tilvin Silva told reporters.
The latest provincial council elections are to be held in Uva, inland from the south-eastern coastal belt of Sri Lanka, which is traditionally a strong vote base for the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Experts as well as the general public in Sri Lanka believe provincial polls are simply a testing ground ahead of Rajapaksa calling for a presidential or parliamentary election in early 2015.
Uva is Sri Lanka’s second last populated province and traditionally economically stagnant. However, since the end of Sri Lanka’s three-decade war in 2009, it has benefited from a tourism boom with nature parks drawing massive crowds.
It is also at the edge of massive development projects, largely funded by China, in the Southern Province. Centered on a 1.2 billion U.S. dollar Chinese funded port and 290 million U.S. dollar second international airport, the adjoining Southern Province has seen the construction of new highways, convention centers and railways.
Experts believe it will be interesting to see whether the average voter feels that economic dividends have trickled down to the neighboring Uva. As with all provincial elections, voter turnouts are expected to be low.