|Rajapakse goons fingered over Sri Lanka poll threats
Sri Lanka's military harassed and intimidated ethnic minority Tamil voters and candidates during the maiden local elections in the former war zone, foreign observers confirmed today.
Sri Lanka’s army, navy and the air force are under the purview of Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse, the brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, whose regime is notorious for intimidation and murder threats against opponents and journalists. Yet another female journalist fled the country with her family recently. Her home was broken into by army deserters.
The opposition Tamil party won a landslide victory in weekend elections for a regional council in the north. President Rajapakse's United People's Freedom Alliance won just seven seats in a humiliating defeat.
The four-member monitoring team from the Commonwealth said turnout was high for the election at 68 percent, AFP reports.
“The role of the military in the electoral campaign was consistently described to the mission as a significant obstacle to a credible electoral process,'' the Commonwealth secretariat said in a statement.
“We learned that opposition candidates and their supporters, as well as voters at large, faced instances of intimidation and harassment, and that the freedom to hold campaign meetings and openly interact with the electorate was restricted.’’
The election was held amid international pressure for President Rajapaksa's government to share power with Tamils four years after the Tamil terrorist group the Tigers were eliminated.
The statement comes as dozens of world leaders are set to attend a Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Colombo in November.
A group of South Asian election monitors said it was “dismayed'' at the army's actions during the election, with residents complaining that plain clothed army intelligence officers were stationed outside polling booths.
On the eve of Saturday's poll, a Tamil candidate was forced to flee after dozens of armed men surrounded her home in Jaffna.
“I am 101 percent sure the army was involved in that attack,'' N Gopalaswami, a former chief election commissioner of India and head of the South Asian monitoring team, said.
The military has denied it was involved in intimidation.
Despite the reports of harassment, the Tamil National Alliance won 30 out of the 38 seats to the council.