An influential party of Buddhist monks warned Tuesday of violence during Sri Lanka’s upcoming presidential election, two weeks after it defected from the coalition government.
The JHU, or National Heritage Party, said it feared President Mahinda Rajapakse’s regime would resort to violence as it tried to cling to power.
The warning came as a private election-monitoring group said there had already been several incidences of pre-election violence and accused police of inaction.
“This election has the potential to be one of the most violent,” said the JHU’s Udaya Gammanpila, a former provincial minister. “As the campaign picks up, so will the violence.”
The JHU has just three seats in the 225-member parliament, but the monks are considered influential among the country’s majority Buddhist community.
The party campaigned for Mr Rajapakse to become president in 2005 and backed his re-election in 2010, but ditched him last month over governance issues.
On Tuesday the party entered a pact with the main opposition candidate, Maithripala Sirisena, who has promised to “restore rule of law” if he wins the January 8 poll, which Mr Rajapakse called two years ahead of schedule.
The private election-monitoring group Campaign for Free and Fair Elections says there have been at least eight serious polls-related incidents since Mr Rajapakse called the election two weeks ago.
“About half a dozen people have been admitted to hospital and many more had been hurt in clashes unleashed by government supporters,” CAFFE director Keerthi Tennakoon told AFP.
“The unique feature is that police have failed to arrest a single person in connection with these attacks although CCTV and photographic evidence had been provided on the perpetrators,” he added.
Police have said they are investigating.
Almost all Sri Lanka’s elections of the past decade have been marred by campaign-related violence, including assassinations and bomb attacks.
Mr Rajapakse remains popular with voters from the Sinhalese majority after he won a 37-year war against Tamil separatists in 2009, but critics say he has become increasingly authoritarian.
He called the snap election after his party suffered a sharp drop in support, losing over 21% of the vote in September’s local elections.
Mr Rajapakse’s party has also seen a series of defections in the past two weeks, and he is struggling to avoid international censure over claims his troops killed 40,000 Tamil civilians in the bloody finale of the fighting.