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Home > Tamils - a Nation without a State > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Democracy, Sri Lanka Style > Sri Lanka General Elections 2000 - European Union Observer Team & Real Politick
Democracy Continues, Sri Lanka Style...
Sri Lanka General Elections 2000
European Union Observer Team & Real Politick
"...By calling the elections neither free and fair nor unfair, the EU mission followed a double but tricky strategy... I understand the EU was thus vague to serve the strategic interest of giving stability and legitimacy to the PA-government... In fact, most of the pre-election violence, for example in Anuradhapura and Kandy, was initiated by the PA. And these were not isolated, single cases - one may well speak of some kind of pattern... " - Statement by Cordula Reimann, EU Observer Team Member
1. Comments by Cordula Reimann, Member of Observer Team reported on 7 January 2001
2. Executive Summary of Final Report by European Union Observer Team, 2 November 2000
3. Interim Statement, John Cushnahan, Head of Mission of the European Union Electoral Observation Mission, 12 October 2000
4. Press Release - John Cushnahan, Head of Mission of the European Union Electoral Observation Mission, 13 October, 2000
The Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Island reported on 7 January 2001:
" Cordula Reimann of the Department of Peace Studies, University of
Bradford, West Yorkshire, who was a member of the team of election
observers from the European Union covering the recently concluded
parliamentary elections, in an open letter to the MEPs (Members of the
European Parliament) of all member states participating in the said
exercise, roundly condemned the final report of the observation mission
for "not naming explicitly and addressing the violence organized and
committed by the ruling party, the PA under Chandrika Kumaratunga".
"Many Sri Lankans feel and felt betrayed, especially as the EU did not
explicitly name and address the violence organized and committed by the
ruling party, the PA under Chandrika Kumaratunga.
Executive Summary of Final Report, 2 November 2000
Sri Lanka previously known, as Ceylon is an island of approximately 20 million people, located just off the southeastern coast of India. Occupied by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century and the Dutch in the seventeenth century it became a British colony in 1802. It achieved its independence in 1948. Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted in violence in the 1980’s. Since 1983 there has been a violent conflict between successive governments and the Tamil Tigers who have been seeking independence for the North and Eastern parts of the Island resulting in over 60,000 deaths.
Unlike other countries to which the International Community send Election Observers, Sri Lanka has enjoyed universal suffrage since 1931 and has a long history of changing government through elections. Regrettably past elections have been marred by violence and intimidation most of it attributable to the two main political parties, the Peoples Alliance (PA) and the United National Party (UNP). The Provincial and Presidential elections last year were particularly bad. The problems caused by violence were further exacerbated by serious electoral malpractice. Not surprisingly these factors are undermining the integrity of the electoral process resulting in a loss of faith in the democratic process itself and undermining the legitimacy and credibility of the political system.
It was against this background that the European Commission decided to send a seventy- seven strong team of E.U. Observers to observe the current parliamentary elections over a period of approximately one month. Given the scale of the problems and violence that existed, it was a formidable challenge. By the end of the election campaign, over fifty people had been murdered and hundreds more have been injured and this violence has continued into the post election period.
During the penultimate week of the campaign “suicide bombers” from the Tamil Tigers claimed the lives of 34 people in two bombing incidents.
The remaining victims who were either murdered or injured were casualties of violence between the supporters of the two main parties and on some occasions as a result of internal party rivalry. There was a significant level of violence on polling day itself resulting in at least five murders. The most serious election violence was concentrated in the Central Province region particularly the district of Kandy.
As well as the problems of violence, our observation team witnessed significant abuse of public resources by the government during the campaigning period. This included the use of government vehicles and government employees in the campaigning process, threats to withdraw social security payments and unequal access to government controlled media especially during the concluding days of the campaign.
Although previous elections had experienced major electoral fraud it was minimized in these elections thanks to the integrity and commitment of the Election Commissioner Mr Dayananada Dissanayake and his staff. Although like his predecessors he was a political appointment, he exercised his mandate independently of pressure from the government. He introduced many new measures, which considerably tightened up election procedures, and he also rendered null and void votes and polling stations where there were serious problems on polling day.
In delivering a verdict on the election two fundamental issues need to be addressed. Firstly, did the violence and the malpractice prevent the people of Sri Lanka from exercising their franchise.
Secondly, did these factors distort the election result?
Recommendations are made in the conclusions of the report as to what measures should be taken to prevent a continued reoccurrence of the problems that were witnessed and reported to the EU mission.
However no matter how far reaching these recommendations are, no matter how many of them are implemented, they will have little effect in practice if the main parties in Sri Lanka politics continue with attitudes and actions which undermine the very fabric of democracy itself. In failing to take action to curb the excesses of certain candidates and party activists Sri Lanka’s political leaders are allowing a cancer to eat away at the heart of the Sri Lankan political process.
Interim Statement , John Cushnahan, Head of Mission of the European Union Electoral Observation Mission, October 12
The European Union’s Election Observation Mission to Sri Lanka’s Parliamentary Elections on October 10 issues this statement of preliminary findings.
The EU mission was convened following an invitation by Sri Lanka’s Commissioner of Elections, Mr Dayananda Dissanyakc. The EU Observer Mission has been received very positively throughout Sri Lanka. We have received excellent cooperation from all the election officials, the political parties, the government of Sri Lanka, the police force and the people of Sri Lanka.
Statistical Representation of Teams and Coverage
This statement is based on the observations of election preparations and the campaign by 7 Core Team members for four weeks, 28 long-term observers deployed throughout the country for 3 weeks and 42 short-term observers deployed 10 for days. These observers have come from 14 of the member states of the European Union.
On polling day the observers covered in excess of 400 polling stations in all 22 electoral districts, including Jaflha.
The EU also observed the counting process in centres throughout Sri Lanka.
The Commissioner of Elections
The EU Election Observation Mission has been impressed by the expertise and commitment of the Commissioner of Elections and his staff. The Observer Mission has met with Mr Dissanayake and his officials on numerous occasions to discuss the details of the Commission’s task and we are satisfied that he has taken all necessary steps to conduct this election within the legal framework available to him.
Election Environment and Campaign
The Postal Vote
Some irregularities have been reported about the Postal Vote but it has generally been conducted according to the law.
Use of Government Resources
There has been clear evidence of the misuse of government resources for campaigning purposes throughout the island. This includes the use of government vehicles and other facilities for campaigning purposes.
There is a particular concern, which was also the subject of court action, about the role of the Samurdhi animators in the election process.
There was not equal access for all the parties in the government controlled media, particularly in the concluding days of the campaign following the moratorium on campaigning.
The Close of Campaigning
Certain party activists did not respect the law following the close of campaigning at midnighton Saturday 7 October. Campaign activities of various types were observed in some areas. Campaign Violence
The election campaign has been marred by violence.
The most serious violence to occur since the mission arrived were the two bomb attacks on the PA Rallies in Muttur and Medawachchiya where there was a huge loss of life. Additionally it has to he acknowledged that no normal political activity has been possible in the ‘uncleared’ areas controlled by the LTTE.
During the campaign our observers have reported a worrying level of electoral related violent incidents ranging in seriousness from murder, to shootings, to assaults, to damage to property. They did tend to occur most frequently in a few areas, but happily many parts of the country were free of serious violence.
The most serious violence that occurred on polling day was concentrated in Central Province. in other parts of the country the incidence of violence was neither of the same frequency nor of the same gravity. However, it has to be stressed that violence is unacceptable in any part of the democratic process.
The effective deployment of the police coupled with less aggressive behaviour on the part of the political parties contributed to the lower level of violence in these areas.
Clearly these two factors were absent in the situation in Central Province.
Machinery on Polling Day
Information received from our observers indicated that the administration of the election on polling day was well organised and efficiently conducted with the exception of two factors. Many observers found that the positioning of the voting booths could have prejudiced the secrecy of the ballot. Additionally there was concern regarding the quality of the indelible ink in some places.
in this election it would seem that apart from the areas that have already been identified as a source of major problems, the integrity of the ballot boxes, including the opening and close of poll and their subsequent transfer to the counting stations, has been well protected. A positive new factor contributing to this was the decision of the Election Commissioner to allow party agents to accompany the ballot boxes into the counting centre.
There was universal recognition that the count was conducted professionally and efficiently albeit in circumstances which were occasionally physically uncomfortable.
Active Campaigning on Polling Day
Contrary to the Parliamentary Elections Act, several incidents of political activity were witnessed on polling day.
Our observers during their mission identified areas of particular concern because of the level of violence and dubious electoral practices. Their observations on polling day confirmed our earlier fears. We are not surprised that the Commissioner concluded he had no choice but to annul the election in certain areas.
It is a matter of regret that the selfish activities of some candidates and their supporters, which lead directly to this unhappy state of affairs, have disenfranchised the very people they sought to represent.
We acknowledge the commitment of the people of Sri Lanka to protect the democratic process which they demonstrated by the high turnout on election day.
Press Release - John Cushnahan, Head of Mission of the European Union Electoral Observation Mission, 13 October, 2000
In a statement issued today (Friday 13th) John Cushnahan, Head of Mission of the
European Union Electoral Observation Mission, contradicted the description of
their preliminary assessment by one press report.
"Contrary to one press report, the EU Electoral Observation Mission did not
describe the recent election process as "free and fair".
Given the level of violence,
intimidation and attempted electoral abuse that took place it was not possible
to issue such a verdict. While
a three person observation team (separate from our mission) may have uttered
these words, no such expression was ever used by our 77 strong team.
It is our conclusion that the overall result reasonably reflected the political
intentions of the Sri Lankan people who demonstrated their own commitment to the
democratic process by turning out in such high numbers.
A more detailed analysis of our findings will be submitted to the
European Commission within days.