(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) –Sixty two candidates had been arrested by the police so far while several of them are liable to lose their seat, even if they win, in the event they are found guilty. Further they could lose their voting rights for up to seven years, according to the police, Police Spokesman SP Ruwan Gunasekara said.
Convening a media briefing at the Police Headquarters in Colombo yesterday, the Police Spokesman said the Police had taken all measures to ensure a safe, fair and peaceful election today.
“All police deployments pertaining to the election had commenced by last afternoon and over 65,000 police personnel have been deployed for election duties.
“Around 42 police divisions have been engaged in election duty and by 07.00 am yesterday police mobile patrols had commenced their surveillance duties. Over 3000 mobile units have been deployed while each mobile unit will be on duty at polling centers, covering every polling centre,”the Police Spokesman said.
In addition, he said the armed police officers assigned to each polling station were also dispatched yesterday. “Two police officers are assigned to each polling station, who have also been issued instructions to maintain law and order at any cost. One police officer from each polling station was assigned to escort the ballot boxes to the respective polling stations. By last evening all polling booths had received the ballot boxes.
The two police officers assigned to each polling station will be on duty from 07.00 am to 04.00 pm and thereafter while the votes are being counted as well. In some instances the ballots of several polling stations will be counted at one location while in others the counting will be done individually,” he said.
Adequate police protection has been provided to the counting centers through their mobile units and where required, STF personnel will also be deployed, Gunasekara said, adding that further STF and CSD personnel will be deployed for duty outside polling stations with the authorization of the Elections Commission.
Door to door campaigning banned
All door to door campaigning was banned from Wednesday night while seven persons who had disregarded this order had been arrested during the past two days. However, the Police Spokesman said this was a relatively low figure compared to previous elections. He said the comprehensive security measures implemented by the police was instrumental in keeping the number of incidents to its minimum.
Further the Police Spokesman said no one will be allowed to congregate within a 400 meter radius of any polling centre adding that it is also an offence to act in a manner that will hinder the duties of the election officers at these centers.
He noted that no one under the influence of liquor, either within or in the vicinity of the polling stations, will be permitted. In such instances, the police have been instructed to arrest such persons and charged under the election laws and the penal code under joint charges. Further if the intoxicated person was accompanied by a certain candidate, he/she too will be charged.
Gunasekara noted that last Thursday too another person was arrested for trying to bribe a voter to obtain his vote.
No photographs or videoing within polling centers
The Police media Spokesman stressed that taking photographs/selfies or videoing within the polling centers is strictly prohibited. He said even all media institutions were required to obtain prior written permission from the Election Commission prior to taking photographs either inside or outside the polling centers.
Therefore, he discouraged anyone from engaging in such photographing or videoing and warned that anyone found to break this law would be arrested and charged. The equipment used for photographing or videoing would also be confiscated and produced in court as evidence.This offence, he added comes under LG election ordinance.
Meanwhile, the Police Spokesman thanked the media for being the catalyst that took the message of the police to the people in ensuring a peaceful and incident free election. He said in addition, the candidates and their supporters too had assisted the police in maintaining a free and fair election and said they expected today’s elections to sail through smoothly, thanks to the combined efforts of all.
Violations and arrests made so far
SP Ruwan Gunasekara noted that from the date of nominations, a total of 640 election related complaints were received by the Police.
“Of them the majority were threats and verbal abuse amounting to 158. In relation to the 640 complaints, 136 arrests were made by the police. Of them 25 were candidates contesting the election. In addition the police had conducted 191 election related raids and the majority of these offences were regarding the illegal display of posters. Pertaining to such incidents, 127 raids were conducted. Through these raids the Police had arrested 372 persons of whom 37 were candidates,” he said.
Accordingly, 62 candidates were arrested in relation to election violations. Of them there are some who are liable to lose their seats and voting rights if found guilty in court. “These candidates are facing charges of bribing and exerting undue pressure on people for their votes etc. Several of the arrested persons are still in custody while the rest were released on bail. All candidates that were arrested in relation to flouting election laws so far have been released on bail.”
He further noted that all 65,000 police personnel deployed for election duties would continue their duty through Sunday, February 11 and the IGP will decide on whether they should be deployed any further, depending on the post election situation.
Responding to a media query with regard to Police using minimum force to bring a situation that might arise, under control, he said there is nothing called minimum force, but the police would not hesitate to take whatever measures required to ensure peace and law and order is maintained.