Northern Sri Lanka Holds Historic Elections

Community members place posters to encourage voting.
Community members place posters encouraging people to vote in the Northern Provincial Council elections.
Campaign for Free and Fair Elections
Turn-out high following prolonged voter ed campaign
“I’m proud to say that the street dramas brought immense awareness among the people in my village."

On September 21, 2013, residents of northern Sri Lanka cast their ballots as part of an historic event—the first Northern Provincial Council elections. Election Day turnout was extremely high at 68 percent, representing a dramatic increase from previous years despite a very tense electoral environment.

USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives supported the landmark event as the culmination of three years of work helping marginalized, conflict-affected communities in the north. Through partnerships with three local organizations—the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections, the Center for Human Rights, and the Home for Human Rights—USAID helped citizens province-wide to understand why and how to vote, enabled many to acquire the identification documents required to do so, and ensured their trip to the polls would be observed by trained, non-partisan monitors.

Before the vote, USAID funded the election’s largest monitoring program to document and counter electoral misconduct. This effort culminated in the deployment of 868 monitors throughout the province on Election Day, 640 of whom were trained with USAID support. These monitors were present at 99 percent of the polling stations and comprised more than half of all monitors in the Northern province. They noted 48 reports of misconduct, 14 involving violence, and served as a leading source of information for media.

In the weeks leading up to the election, USAID partners organized interactive voter education activities to engage citizens in their own communities. Through street drama performances across 38 villages, USAID disseminated messages to encourage participation and to offset inaccurate information about voting. Meanwhile, 48 community dialogues, 38 youth leadership clubs, and eight district-based civil society roundtables brought together a total of more than 12,000 citizens to learn about the importance and process of voting.

“I’m proud to say that the street dramas brought immense awareness among the people in my village," said  N. Ambikabalan, Grama Sevager (village elder), Umayalpuram village, Kilinochchi district. "Some people who haven’t registered themselves in the voters list registered their names and some people who [are] eligible for voting and don’t have a national ID applied for one. This is a sign that your message of ‘don’t forget to vote’ has reached the community.” 

To further this message, partners distributed printed materials, including more than 100,000 posters, and 50,000 leaflets and bumper stickers. This information campaign was responsive to events. When rumors spread that the government could track how people voted, USAID responded swiftly with a campaign of 8,000 posters reaffirming the confidentiality of voting. 

USAID also used these voter education efforts to publicize and promote a parallel activity for providing identity documents. To vote in Sri Lankan elections, registered voters must present a valid National Identity Card (NIC) at the polling station on Election Day. In the Northern province, this requirement presented a significant hurdle, as an estimated 85,000 registered voters lacked a NIC as of early summer. In response, USAID’s partner organized mobile clinics that processed and delivered more than 21,000 new NICs (as well as thousands of birth certificates and other critical documents)—a number equivalent to roughly a quarter of all Northern province voters registered but without valid ID.

Last updated: January 27, 2014

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