Integrity of Elections in Sri Lanka Endangered, Says Freedom House

Washington

As Sri Lankans go to the polls as a unified nation for the first time in more than two decades, Freedom House is deeply concerned about electoral misconduct and Sri Lankan authorities’ flagrant disregard for the rule of law.
 
The election on January 26 will be the first time since the recent end of the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in which the entire island may fully participate in elections. In the days leading up to the election, there have been reports of increased election-related violence, as well as allegations of electoral malpractice related to voter registration and electoral lists. Local and international watchdog groups have made allegations about the misuse of state-run media and other resources to favor the ruling party candidate, including a directive by President Rajapaksa to mobile phone companies to send SMS messages to their customers in support of his campaign. Additionally, there is considerable concern about the ability of displaced citizens in the war-torn north—approximately 100,000 of whom remain in the camps —to take part in the elections.
 
“The inclusion of all Sri Lankans in the political process is critical to the country’s democratic progress and to prevent a return to armed conflict,” said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House. “In the days remaining in this election process, we strongly urge the Sri Lankan government to live up to the democratic ideals that it professes and to do its utmost to minimize electoral violence, enforce the rule of law, and foster access to all aspects of the process by independent media.”
 
Despite slight improvements in political freedom resulting from the end of the long-running conflict, Sri Lankans continue to experience significant human rights violations. The government has not yet demonstrated a capacity to address grievances arising from the internment in squalid conditions of several hundred thousand displaced civilians for much of the year. There has also been increased hostility toward journalists and nongovernmental organizations, including the limitation of access by these groups to the camps where many remain.
 
Sri Lanka is ranked Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House’s survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2009.
For more information on Sri Lanka, visit:

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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