Centre for Policy Alternatives on 31 January, 2010

CMEV Briefing: Inability of Authorities to Address the Voter Rights of IDPs and Others in the North

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26 January 2010:
CMEV was informed that approximately 24,000 internally displaced
persons (IDPs) presently living in government run camps and with host
families were also registered on the 2008 electoral register. Out of
this number, 16,000 IDPs applied to cast their vote within the Vavuniya
district while 8,000 were eligible to cast their vote in areas such as
the Killinochchi district at today’s Presidential election. CMEV was
informed by the Government Agent (GA) Vavuniya that 55% of IDPs in
Vavuniya were able to cast their vote with only 8.3% voting in
Mullaitivu district. CMEV was also informed by the authorities in Jaffna
that there was a turnout of 22% in the Jaffna district and 3.5% in
Killinochchi.

CMEV in its Election Day Media Comminque No 3 raised problems faced
in the north and especially those faced by IDPs with regard to voting,
including insufficient identity documents and the authorities failing to
organise transport for them to travel to other areas to cast their
vote. CMEV further notes that concerns of IDPs and returnees toregarding
the exercise of the franchise were raised with the Election
Commissioner and other government officials earlier and proposals
presented to them to address these concerns.

CMEV raises continuing concerns regarding the exercise of the
franchise by IDPs. These are listed below.

  1. CMEV was informed that hundreds of IDPs were unable to cast their
    vote in Killinochchi as a direct result of inefficient transport
    arrangements. For example, in Arunuchalam and Ramanathan camps 300 IDPs
    waited from 6am till 1pm for buses to arrive to transport them to
    Killinochchi to vote. The buses only reached the camps at 1.30pm and the
    IDPs were transported to Killinochchi at 3.55pm, allowing them only 5
    minutes to vote. Unfortunately these 300 IDPs were not allowed to vote
    on the grounds that the polls had closed. CMEV has been informed that
    they have no way of returning to the camps in Vavuniya and are presently
    stranded in Killinochchi without accomodation. This is only one case
    which illustrates the problems faced by IDPs living in Vavuniya with a
    vote in Killinochchi.
  2. CMEV was also informed that IDPs who were promised transport by the
    authorities faced several difficulties in travelling to the cluster
    centres in the Vanni. At the present moment there still remain
    restrictions on freedom of movement of IDPs which have been previously
    challenged by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a constituent
    member of CMEV. CMEV was informed that IDPs were issued tokens for
    transport on election day on the 25th night and early 26th morning. At around 4am on the 26th, IDPs were informed
    through the public address system that they were required to be present
    sharp at 6am at a specific location to board the buses provided by the
    authorities. As a result all those who were eligible to travel gathered
    at 6am to board the bus but were kept waiting for several hours with no
    information as to what arrangements had been made. Only at 10am did the
    first few buses arrive to transport IDPs to cluster centres. The second
    contingent of busses arrived around 1.30pm. During the time period
    between the first contingent of buses and the second, there was no
    information given to IDPs regarding voting procedures.
  3. CMEV monitors further reported that IDPs who were travelling to
    Killinochchi were stopped at the Omanthai check point and checked by
    military which further delayed their travel. This checking seems
    unnecessary when IDPs had left government camps where they are regularly
    checked. They should have been directly transported to the polling
    centres so that they could vote without delay.
  4. There were several cases where IDPs who are presently in camps with a
    vote in Vavuniya had no public transport to polling centres and as a
    result had to walk a distance of around 7km. This is an issue that could
    have been dealt with previously and steps taken to ensure that all IDPs
    who needed transport were provided with it. CMEV was informed that as a
    result of not having adequate public transport, many turned back and
    did not cast their vote.
  5. Further and this is pertinent in the above cited case, IDPs have
    expresed fear of repercussions if they could not show proof of having
    voted after having left camps in order to do so, such as the indelible
    ink mark on the fingers of all those who have.
  6. CMEV received reports that several residing in Jaffna with a vote in
    Killinochchi were unable to vote. This was mainly due to insufficient
    transport arrangements for IDPs and those having returned to Jaffna
    being unable to travel to cluster centres to cast their vote.  CMEV has
    been unable to obtain the exact figure of the numbers involved in this
    regard.

Upon receiving the above complaints, CMEV contacted the GA Vavuniya
and Killinochchi. According to the GA of Vavuniya, 70 buses to transport
IDP voters and 40 buses to transport IDPs within Vavuniya as well as 30
to other areas were deployed respectively. The GA Killinochchi stated
that efforts had been coordinated with officials in Vavuniya and Jaffna
to transport voters. Authorities in Jaffna also confirmed that
arrangements had been organised. Though these measures may have been
taken, CMEV notes that many were disenfranchised as a result of delays
and shortcomings.

Those affected and displaced by the conflict and presently living
with host families and in camps and those returned to areas in the North
and East need special attention. This has been continuously raised by
CMEV and its constituent members. Today’s effective disenfranchisement
of several hundred of those most affected by the conflict needs
immediate attention.

CMEV also raises concern about the security situation in several
parts of the North where explosions took place in the course of election
day which impacted voter turnout. The deterrent effects of the
resulting fear on voter turnout and the inability of many to cast their
vote, has compromised the integrity of the electoral process in the
north.  It is especially regrettable given the imperatives of
reconciliation and national unity in this our first post war election. 
We strongly urge the Election Commissioner to take the necessary steps
to prevent this from occuring in the forthcoming General Election and
stop short of calling for a repoll of the north in this presidential
election because we are not in possession of the exact figure of
effective disenfranchisement.