Jan 18, 2018

Sri Lanka election authorities obstruct Tamil meeting “discussing politics”

In an apparent effort to suppress public criticism of Sri Lanka dragging its feet on constitutional reforms, election authorities have unsuccessfully tried to ban a public meeting with international participation in the Tamil speaking northern town of Jaffna.

In letters sent to administrators of two venues, election officials have demanded the banning of a conference organised by the Tamil Peoples Council (TPC) in the run up to the local government polls to be held on 10 February.

The TPC meeting to discuss constitution reforms was initially planned to be held in the University of Jaffna with Professor of Law at the National University of Singapore Muthucumaraswamy Sornarajah as a key speaker.

Sri Lanka election commission has requested university authorities not to allow a political meeting to be held in the Jaffna campus.

“Political discussion is likely to be beneficial to certain parties and damaging to others,” says the letter to Jaffna university vice chancellor by Director General Elections, RMAL Rathnayake, dated 12 January.

As soon as the organisers shifted the event to the Veerasingham hall away from the campus, election officials have resumed their attack.

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No political content

The Jaffna elections office had written to the venue management a day before the scheduled meeting, that there should be “no political conferences during election time”.

“It is your responsibility to ensure that meetings with political content is not allowed,” says the District Presiding Officer T Vethanayagam in a letter to the secretary of the Jaffna District Cooperative Society on January 15.

Despite repeated obstructions, the public meeting had gone ahead with senior figures from diverse Tamil political parties attending.

Addressing the gathering TPC co convener slammed the moves by the election commission as an attempt to suppress political discourse.

"No structure including the election commission that calls itself democratic has got any right to make such demands," said Kumaravadivel Guruparan.
Nearly two weeks ago, freelance journalist Kusal Perera had complained to the election commissioner of the President and the Prime Minister both violating election law including using state media outlets for their respective party propaganda.

However, the journalist says that he is yet to recieve a response.JDS is not aware of any action taken by the election commission against either the president or the PM.

Democratising the state

The elections commission was set up alongside other commissions soon after the present government came into power in 2015.

In many international assemblies including the UN, Sri Lanka representatives have hailed the establishment of new commissions as a move to restrict the powers of the executive president and democratise the state.

Tamils have been increasingly expressing their displeasure at the government for dragging its legs on devolving power through a radical overhaul of the constitution.

- Athula Vithanage