In Sri Lanka, election related violence has caused death, suffering and economic hardship to families and communities alike. Key factors include a daunting polarized political landscape, high stakes and a continued belief that the only response to violence is further violence. The long history of elections has been accompanied by election-related violence. Violence among parties became a common occurrence beginning in the 1960’s and 70’s, and the 1977 general elections saw post-election violence on an unprecedented scale. Inter-party retaliatory attacks soon spread into communal violence between ethnic Sinhalese and Tamil populations. Subsequent changes to the electoral system in 1978 established an open list proportional representation system, in which voters not only select a party but rank candidates on that party list, which has led to high levels of tension and even violence within political parties as individual candidates from the same party compete for votes. In a system in which many political parties appeal to ethnic or religious bases of support, inter-communal tensions have long interplayed with political conflict and in 1983, erupted into two and a half decades of full-fledged civil war.
Sri Lanka finally emerged from the protracted and brutal years of internal conflict in 2009 into a fragile state of peace. While attention has turned to post-war reconciliation and economic development, political violence has continued, particularly around elections, often exacerbated or triggered by unresolved post-war issues. Ethnic tensions and the associated political rivalries inflamed during 25 years of civil war remain pervasive. The war’s legacy of militarization and a proliferation of firearms have left an entrenched “culture of fear,” particularly in the North. The open list voting system, which remains in place, has meant continued violence within political parties. In addition, the absence of a legitimate accountability process for war-time abuses coupled with the erosion of the independence of the judiciary has contributed to a marked culture of impunity around violence.
During the presidential election in 2010 there were numerous violent attacks against candidates, campaigners and political activists. Supporters from the camps of two main candidates were blamed for igniting the violence. The perpetrators included criminal gangs and army deserters who were commissioned to threaten, coerce and even murder politicians and voters alike.
Civil society in Sri Lanka, with election monitoring groups convening as early as 1987, has been trying to address recurring political and electoral violence. While election observation is not recognized by law, Sri Lankan citizens have been permitted to observe most elements of the electoral process at the discretion of the Election Commissioner – although significantly, not the counting and tabulation processes. Citizens have observed with enthusiasm, starting from the 1988 elections. Nonpartisan citizen observer groups carefully documented incidents of electoral violence and identified trends concerning political tension. A range of external communication efforts allowed these organizations to raise public awareness around the issue of electoral violence and elicit timely and appropriate responses to incidents. Between elections, these civil society actors have also engaged in initiatives to try and address the underlying social and systemic factors that contribute to political violence.
The Centre of Monitoring Electoral Violence (CMEV), a local human rights organization fielded several hundred electoral observers across the country. One of their main tasks was to record incidents of electoral related violence. The organization started their monitoring work way before the elections, kept it up during, and continued after. They then disseminated their findings on a regular basis through online portals, such as blogs and Google maps.
Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) was established in April 2008 with an aim to conduct a sustained campaign to monitor and observe elections and to create a broad forum to address issues related to the failure of democratic norms in Sri Lanka. Today CaFFE is a people’s organization, which encompasses members of civil society, lobby community and religious groups, trade unions, members of political parties and opinion makers.
LINK : Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) official website
LINK : Presidential Election 2015: Election Day Violence (CMEV: 2015)
LINK : Presidential Election 2015: Pre-Election Day Violence (CMEV: 2015)
PDF : Election Day Communiqué 1, Presidential Election 2015 (CMEV)
PDF : Press Statement: Conclusion of Polling Day, Presidential Election 2015 (CMEV)
PDF : Press Statement: Post Election Communique, Presidential Election 2015 (CMEV)
PDF : Press Statement: Post Election Communique 02, Presidential Election 2015 (CMEV)
PDF : Top 10 Incidents of Election Violations & Related Violence (PAFFREL: 2014)
PDF : Final Report Election-Related Violence: Provincial Council Elections 2013 Northern Province (CMEV)
PDF : Final Report Election-Related Violence: Parliamentary Elections 2010 (CMEV)
LINK : Sri Lanka: Violence, Intimidation Threaten Vote (Human Rights Watch: 2015)
LINK : Fears of violence following Sri Lankan presidential election (The Telegraph: 2015)