Tight security as 16 million Sri Lankans prepare to vote

Sri Lankan police and electoral officials collect ballot papers and boxes from a distribution center on Friday for their respective polling stations. AFP
Updated 16 November 2019

Tight security as 16 million Sri Lankans prepare to vote

  • Police, civil defense deployed with warning to crack down on protests 

COLOMBO: More than 16 million Sri Lankans will go to the polls to elect the country’s president on Saturday amid heightened security.

About 60,000 policemen and 8,000 civil defense personnel have been deployed across the island while voting takes place, police media spokesperson SSP Ruwan Gunasekara told Arab News.

More than 200,000 government officials have been deployed on election duty as the counting of votes takes place at 43 centers, while more than 125 foreign observers representing the EU and Commonwealth will also monitor the poll.

The government has spent $42 million to implement a secret ballot system for the 35 candidates at 12,845 polling centers, according to Sri Lanka’s Election Commission.

The winning candidate needs to secure more than 50 percent of the vote to assume office. Counting will start soon after the poll ends.

The ballot paper also lets voters pick their three top choices to help determine the winner if no candidate secures the first place by mark.  

“The first results of the presidential election 2019 can be expected by midnight on Saturday,” Mahinda Deshapriya, the Election Commission chairman, said on Friday.

Authorities have also told police to thwart protests during the election silence period that began on Wednesday.

“The commission has no intention to obstruct freedom of expression by blocking any social media, but it might be compelled to do so if the situation becomes worse or uncontrollable,” Deshapriya said.

He said that the commission had written to Facebook asking the platform to remove any paid or sponsored advertisements for candidates.

The Sri Lanka Transport Board will deploy 5,800 buses for election duties, including transporting ballot boxes and officials.

Special bus services will operate from Friday to cater to people traveling to their villages to cast votes.

Al-Sheikh A.C. Agar Mohamed, deputy chairman of All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, told Arab News that it was mandatory for voters to prove their identity when entering a polling booth.

Muslim women who wear the veil have been asked to cooperate with officers by revealing their face to confirm their identity,
he said.

Print and electronic media have been barred from taking pictures of political leaders entering polling stations, Information Director-General Nalaka Kaluwewa said.

However, pictures of President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, former presidents Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya will be taken while casting their vote by official photographers, he said.

The two top candidates are former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa.


Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

Updated 11 min 11 sec ago

Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

  • Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown
  • China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage

HONG KONG: Thirteen prominent Hong Kong democracy activists appeared in court on Monday charged with holding an unauthorized gathering to mark the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the latest in a string of prosecutions against protest leaders in the restless financial hub.
Last month tens of thousands of Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown against students pushing for democracy.
The annual vigil has been held in Hong Kong for the last three decades and usually attracts huge crowds. It has taken on particular significance in recent years as the semi-autonomous city chafes under Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
This year’s vigil was banned for the first time with authorities citing coronavirus measures. At the time local transmission had largely been halted.
But thousands turned out to hold candles in their neighborhoods and in Victoria Park, the traditional site of the vigil.
Police later arrested 13 leading activists who appeared at the Victoria Park vigil.
All appeared in court on Monday to be formally charged with “inciting” an unlawful assembly, which carries up to five years in jail.
Among them are Jimmy Lai, the millionaire owner of the openly pro-democracy Apple newspaper, veteran democracy activists such as Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho as well as young campaigner Figo Chan.
When asked if he understood the charge, Lee invoked the hundreds who were killed by Chinese tanks and soldiers at Tiananmen.
“This is political persecution,” he said. “The real incitement is the massacre conducted by the Chinese Communist Party 31 years ago.”
Some of those charged on Monday — and many other leading democracy figures — face separate prosecutions related to last year’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.
China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage and portrayed the protests as a plot by foreigners to destabilize the motherland.
Earlier this month Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law aimed at stamping out the protests once and for all.
The law targets subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion, with sentences including life in prison.
But its broad phrasing — such as a ban on encouraging hatred toward China’s government — has sent fear rippling through a city used to being able to speak its mind.
Police have arrested people for possessing pro-independence or autonomy material, libraries and schools have pulled books, political parties have disbanded and one prominent opposition politician has fled.
The law bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature and its contents were kept secret until the moment it was enacted.
It empowered China’s security apparatus to set up shop openly in Hong Kong for the first time, while Beijing has also claimed jurisdiction for some serious national security cases — ending the legal firewall between the mainland the city’s independent judiciary.
China has also announced global jurisdiction to pursue national security crimes committed by anyone outside of Hong Kong and China, including foreigners.