“Wherever they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too” - Heinrich Heine
The above saying by the German poet reminds us that violence can spread rapidly and ultimately cost human lives. Similarly, the recently concluded presidential election recorded instances of violence.
Violence began to emerge on November 16; election day itself. It started when unidentified gunmen in Thanthirimale opened fire on a bus convoy carrying Muslim voters from Puttalam to Mannar. “No casualties were reported,” Manjula Gajanayake, National Coordinator of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) said. He added the same group was stoned at 6.30pm when returning from voting. A 54-year-old woman was hospitalised as a result.
The CMEV recorded 45 election-related incidents between November 16 to 22; slightly less than the 51 incidents reported during the same period in 2015. Of the 45 incidents reported island-wide, 23 were assaults, 10 were intimidation or threats, four were damages to property, five were other election offences and two were related to illegal campaigning.
No casualties were reported. The same group was stoned at 6.30pm when returning from voting. A 54-year-old woman was hospitalised as a result
After the elections, road signs in Tamil in Panadura, Kerawalapitiya and Dehiwala were vandalised or removed. Tamil Progressive Alliance MP Mano Ganeshan denounced these acts and tweeted: “Beginning of another dark era? Or an act of Mischief makers? The Panadura UC Chairman Nandana has lodged an entry (sic) with the police & promised to redo Susantha Mawatha Tamil scripts. Sri Lanka is constitutionally Trilingual. Maroon or Green, let’s build Trilingual Srilankan (sic) nation”.
The accused were granted bail on grounds it was a minor assault and not an election-related incident
According to the CMEV on November 16, J.P.D. Jayarathne of Deekirikewa in Kuliyapitiya received death threats from four Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) supporters who burned a fish kiosk in front of his house. A complaint was made and police brought the situation under control. The police are yet to provide the CMEV report which provides further information regarding the incident.
Meanwhile, the CMEV reported on November 17 that W.M. Sriyani Manel and her son Nadeesh Yasintha de Alwis of Dodamgoda, Mathugama had been assaulted by SLPP supporters S.M.D Roopa Malkanthi, Nilanthi de Alwis, M.S. Dulaj Kumara and M.A. Prabhashana Mallawarachchi who lit firecrackers in front of Manel’s house. Manel and Yasintha were hospitalised. The accused were arrested and later released on bail. Speaking to Daily Mirror, a local official said the injured had been discharged from hospital and the accused were granted bail on grounds it was a minor assault and not an election-related incident. They will be produced in court on 22 January next year.
The CMEV recorded 45 election-related incidents between November 16 to 22
On November 17 at 6pm in Habaraduwa, 54-year-old NDF Local Councilor Mallika Padmini was assaulted with a helmet by two cyclists. She was admitted to the Gonnagahahena Hospital and later transferred to Karapitiya Base Hospital. Padmini informed CMEV that she could identify the attackers and the Ahangama Police is investigating the incident. But they are yet to reveal the political party with which the suspects have links.
On November 18 at 4pm, NDF supporter Vishwa Kumara was assaulted by SLPP supporters Wimal Rajapaksha, Ananda Rajapaksha and Nishantha Jayasooriya at Thunisgalawatte Gomaraya Estate. Kumara made a complaint against the suspects and a case has been filed before the Teldeniya Magistrate.
On November 17 between 6.30 and 7pm NDF supporters assaulted SLPP supporters in Madirigiriya and five persons were hospitalised. Hingurakgoda Police arrested two suspects and presented them in court. They were later released on surety. The incident occurred during an SLPP victory ceremony. Hingurakgoda police are conducting further investigations.
The CMEV further noted that there was a tendency among minorities to remain silent or be reluctant to complain when their religious places or boutiques were damaged or set ablaze. The loss of damages is usually born by aggrieved parties. The CMEV noted that this highlighted the insufficiency of election laws to control such violence. The authorities had ignored their duties in this regard, CMEV added. Speaking to Daily Mirror, Gajanayake said that since such post-election violence was not taken seriously and police action was lethargic, the CMEV had written to the Acting Inspector General of Police (IGP) regarding such incidents.
After the elections, road signs in Tamil in Panadura, Kerawalapitiya and Dehiwala were vandalised or removed
Speaking to , People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi said that compared to the 2010 and 2015 elections, post-election violations had drastically reduced during the last election. PAFFREL reported 27 incidents of post-election violence up to 25 November.
On November 18 SLPP supporters celebrating victory were threatened by NDF supporters in Pallama Kalu Kale junction in Anamaduwa. When SLPP supporters had tried to complain to the police, they had been assaulted.
Compared to the 2010 and 2015 elections, post-election violations had drastically reduced during the last election. PAFFREL reported 27 incidents of post-election violence up to 25 November. Violence mostly spread through social media and did not go to the extent of physical violence
Hettiarachchi said that violence had mostly spread through social media and PAFFREL had formed two groups to monitor social media activities related to election violence. “Violence mostly spread through social media and did not go to the extent of physical violence,” he said. Violence promoted on social media had the potential to escalate to a physical level, which fortunately didn’t happen. Compared to past elections there was less room for the supporters to engage in election violence. According to Hettiarachchi propaganda was less and therefore not much violence had taken place on ground level.
On a positive note, Hettiarachchi, said that the 2019 Presidential Election had comparatively a less use of polythene and cut-outs. He opined that the political culture had changed due to the police, Election Commission and candidates themselves not encouraging the use of polythene and cut-outs.