Only when you see it with your own eyes can you sometimes get a handle on how deep rooted ‘abuse of power’ is even at the local level by the Governing Coalition
We were at a polling booth right outside Bollagala Maha Vidyalaya, a 30 minute drive across the Kelani River to the Sri Lanka Parliament, at 12.45pm. A gang of about 60 hired thugs arrived in 10 vehicles with the Chairman of the Biyagama Pradeshiya Sabha, Ganepola, who had previously left the UNP to join the UPFA seeing the pecuniary advantage in so doing. There was another turncoat, Saman another PS member in the gang, and some in the rabble were known to us. Their aim was to intimidate the election officials, and stuff the ballot boxes with votes. They would not dare do so in the presence of the local MP who was also known to them, so after a while they left, only to return after we left, beat up some of the UNP elderly voters and candidates and attempt to stuff votes.
They had already stuffed votes in Makola. That poll was subsequently cancelled after protests by the UNP candidates. When a voter comes to the booth he gives his name and membership number and if the ID card tallies with the membership name, is given a ballot paper to cast a vote. The thugs, armed with the membership register, give a name and number, some may be of deceased members, and demand that an ID is not necessary and cast a vote for a name on the list. The election officials in fear of their jobs or other pressure give in and permit this free for all. In some cases when the aggrieved party complains, then he is threatened and some of the violence was as a result of that. In fact at the Makola polling station, we arrived minutes after the ballot stuffing had taken place, without any shame, and we transported an injured person to the Kiribathgoda hospital for first aid, as he was hurt trying to protect his father and took the blow meant for the father.
On this first hand experiences of what happened in a minor poll, one gets an indication of the level to which this administration would go to prevent losing. It was apparent that the UNP would win, so this was the process to stop it. All the elections yesterday where there was no ballot stuffing and intimidation, the UNP won! That in itself is an indication of how difficult it is to instill Democracy in the mindset of an autocratic regime, hell bent on ruling forever using whatever means at their disposal.
The MP who I was accompanying promptly wrote a letter of protest to the relevant election official to cancel the poll, with copies to the President. Let us see the result
For more detail on the reason for the Poll; Yesterday, Saturday, 28th January 2012 were the elections at a number of the local coop societies (they run the coop city stores and low interest loan schemes) in the Biyagama divisional secretariat area. They were held after a lapse of many years and the Governing party wanted to do this on the QT without due process, but the UNP got wind of it and demanded that the Elections be held under the rules. Nominations were on Saturday 21st January, by 10am and in some of these the nomination papers were grabbed by the goons of the Chairman of the Biyagama Pradeshiya Sabha and in those areas, the Governing party nominees (9 on the Board) were elected unopposed.
The Co-Ops are vestiges of old socialist (now almost defunct) ideals of local people joining a cooperative to help each other in purchasing essentials at low cost and obtaining emergency loans when in need. The voting is by the members only, and the membership is essentially elderly people, as few young people have joined these societies in the recent past. Many on the membership roster are now dead, and the roster has not been updated to remove them! In essence the 40 or so Co-Ops have between 500 and 1500 members, and each elects 9 to the Board and these elected officials then elect the main Co-Op office bearers for the Divisional Secretariat Division. As these are local organizations, they really should not get too political, except that people vote on political lines but it should be restricted to the local level, meaning the few streets in the area that comprise the coop for that area.
The intervention of gangs hired by the local Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman is in itself an embarrassment for the local people who live in homes that have different political affiliations. If an elder of the UNP candidate list is beat up by the gang, how can his UPFA neighbor with whom he has very cordial relations, explain this embarrassing event over which he took no part nor agrees with. The UNP wanted an impartial ballot with the membership free to vote for whoever they wanted. The ruling party Elected Politicians fearing they would lose, affecting status, used intimidatory tactics to put fear not just on their opponents but also the election officials who were sent by the Department of Elections, and the Police who were also sent to the polling booth to ensure order.
The incumbent President MUST take full responsibility for the culture of impunity with which his nominees elected and appointed act under his Administration. The example has been set from the top in condoning acts of violence and intimidation. Even the PS Chairman implicated in the murder of the British tourist was permitted to Chair the meeting of his PS, in the President’s own home town. The “Buck” really stops with him to preserve Democracy, not further his ‘Dictatorship’!