COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) – Sri Lanka’s ruling party plans to instigate violence to keep voters from the ballot box in an attempt to secure victory during the upcoming presidential election, the main opposition candidate alleged Saturday.
The accusation came on the last day of bitter campaigning between the two main architects of last year’s victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels – the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa and former army chief Sarath Fonseka – who are vying for the presidency at Tuesday’s vote.
Election-related violence has marred the campaign for weeks. Five people have been killed and 78 wounded since December, according to a local group tracking the violence.
Fonseka accused Rajapaksa’s party of planning to stir up violence to help it win the vote. “The violence will reduce voter attendance, than the rigging will take place,” he said.
A government spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, denied the opposition’s allegation.
“They know that there is an imminent defeat and this is their usual excuse to cover up a humiliating defeat,” Rambukwella said.
Tuesday’s is the country’s first presidential election since the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels after decades of war. Both candidates have tried to cash in politically on their popularity among the Sinhalese majority for crushing the long-running insurgency.
Some 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed during the 25-year campaign by the Tiger rebels for an independent state for the ethnic Tamil minority in the country’s north and east.
With the race between the two believed to be tight, both have also courted the Tamil minority, who make up about 18 percent of the population and whose members bore the brunt of the bloody conflict. The Tamil vote could be crucial to secure either candidate’s victory. The main Tamil political party is supporting Fonseka.
Fonseka, who was the army chief between 2005 until 2009, also accused the government of publicly using senior members of the security forces to boost the ruling party’s election chances.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, a key opposition leader and a former prime minister, said the opposition will launch street demonstrations if the vote is tainted.
“We will all get onto the street if they are not democratic,” Wickremesinghe said, speaking about the elections.
Sri Lanka’s elections chief, Dayananda Dissanayake, said authorities have taken all measures to prevent voting fraud, and urged security forces to ensure the safety of voters.