December 12, 2014 / 12:22 PM / in 3 years

Sri Lankan government denies using state resources to skew poll

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s government has denied allegations made by a group of independent monitors that it is using state resources to give an unfair advantage to President Mahinda Rajapaksa who is running for an unprecedented third term in next month’s election.

A man cycles past St. James Church and a poster of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa which reads "May you live a long life" in Jaffna June 6, 2014. REUTERS/Nita Bhalla

The seven observer groups, some of which are funded by foreign non-governmental organizations, on Thursday raised concerns that the ruling party was exploiting public services and employees and that the police were ignoring complaints.

“These are wild accusations. If there is a basis for those allegations, they should take action,” government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana rejected charges that police were biased towards any candidate, adding: “There can be delays, but we totally deny inaction and the allegations.”

Rajapaksa, president of the Indian Ocean island state since 2005, had been expected to win re-election easily until the emergence last month of his former health minister, Mithripala Sirisena, as the opposition’s common candidate to challenge him.

The International Crisis Group, an independent conflict-prevention organization, said in a report this week that the unexpectedly strong challenge had raised the “likelihood of election-related violence and fraud in an increasingly authoritarian political context, where all state institutions are under the tight control” of Rajapaksa.

S. Ranugge, executive director of Transparency International Sri Lanka, one of the monitor groups, told reporters that the ruling party had been using state schools, offices, vehicles and public transport to gather crowds for campaign meetings.

“There is an unprecedented abuse of state resources and employees for the election by the ruling party,” said Keerthi Tennakoon, executive director of Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE), another of the groups.

The observers said that police had not acted on complaints brought by opposition supporters of election-related violence despite video evidence and had been over-zealous in dealing with complaints from Rajapaksa supporters.

The Lawyers Collective, a rights group made up of lawyers, said separately in a statement it was shocked by poll violations that included using the defense establishment and bribery.

Large cut-outs of Rajapaksa have been erected across the country, in contravention of the election law, and state-run television provided live coverage for his first election campaign but not that of his challenger.

“There are election rules and regulations. If they believe there are violations, they can go to the relevant authority, which in this case is the election commissioner,” Rajapaksa’s spokesman, Mohan Samaranayaka, said.

The Election Commission declined to comment, but a senior official at the commission who asked not to be named said: “Aggrieved parties can go to the courts.”

Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Nick Macfie

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