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Opinion: For Sri Lanka's governing coalition, victory is not without loss

Sri Lanka's supposed "free and fair" elections marred by 286 incidents of violence and malpractice, officials said.

A group of women supporters from the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance party sit near a Sri Lankan National flag as they wait for parliamentary candidate results near a vote counting office in Colombo, April 9, 2010. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Reuters)

Editor's note: The author, a scholar and member of Lanka Solidarity, has chosen to write anonymously for security purposes.

On April 9th, the governing coalition, United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), claimed to win a majority of parliamentary seats in the general election on April 8. But their stated victory is not without loss.

When I picture free and fair elections, I imagine traveling to my designated polling center at the hour that best suits my schedule, not at the hour that would be most likely to be less unsafe. I imagine that the polling center would be equipped with the necessary documentation and safety measures so that I could cast my vote without physical or mental intimidation. I imagine that the surrounding areas would be free of any political propaganda or persons urging me to decide in their party’s favor. I imagine casting my ballot without the possibility of being watched, followed or harassed. I imagine feeling neither intimidated nor afraid for my life and going home feeling confident that my vote will be counted fairly and according to democratic principles.

My image is quite different than the reality that took place on April 8, when Sri Lankans voted for their first parliament since the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) recorded 413 election-related incidents of violence prior to Thursday and 286 incidents of violence and malpractice on election day itself. In Central province’s Nawalapitiya, a group of UPFA supporters took the identity and polling cards away from Tamil voters preventing them from voting. In Trincomalee, a mob unlawfully entered a polling center and stole a majority of the ballot papers. As a result of both incidents, a re-poll must take place in Nawalapitiya, and the votes of the Trincomalee electorate have been deemed invalid.

Island-wide election results have yet to be released because of these malpractices. Even so, the governing coalition prefers to celebrate victory rather than reassure the people of Sri Lanka that these violations of democracy will be handled accordingly and with justice.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) in Sri Lanka reports that as of March 11, 2010, an estimated 88,198 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are still living in camps in Vavuniya. On election day, People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) reported that Vavuniya IDPs claimed to receive neither appropriate guidelines to vote nor legitimate means of transport to their designated polling centers. At press, Sri Lanka’s Department of Elections announced that out of the 32,422 displaced voters registered in Vavuniya district, only 20,493 of the votes were valid. Overall, CMEV estimated the nationwide voter turnout to be 50 to 55 percent, the lowest voter turnout recorded in the country since the 1988 presidential elections.