No polling in areas under LTTE: EC

Colombo, September 23:

Voters living in Sri Lanka’s rebel-held northeast will be driven by bus to government-controlled areas to cast their ballots in the upcoming presidential election to ensure the vote is free and fair, the country’s election commissioner said today. Dayananda Dissanayake said he couldn’t provide security at polling stations in areas held by the Tamil Tiger rebels because under a ceasefire agreement, armed government forces are not allowed to enter their territory.

But he said special provisions would be provided, including transport facilities, so that everyone could cast their ballot. “Since security in these areas is a question for me ... I have decided to extend the facility of transport for voters in those areas to assure their fundamental rights of expression,” Dissanayake told reporters at the first briefing since the November 17 poll was announced.

Under the February 2002 ceasefire agreement between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels, no uniformed or armed forces of either side are allowed in the other’s territory. Some 13.3 million people over the age of 18 are expected to vote in the November poll. The election will be a race between the ruling party candidate Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. The Tigers have yet to announce which candidate they will support, although the vote is already being seen as a referendum on whether the government should continue a peace deal with the rebels.

It was on Wickremesinghe’s watch as prime minister that the Norway-brokered peace deal was signed. Rajapakse has been courting support from other parties with promises of reviewing the peace process.