The Special Report1st October 2000
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By Anthony David & Chris KamalendranIn contrast to the interest in elections elsewhere in the country, the polls campaign in the strife-torn north and east is muted by security concerns. With death threats from the LTTE looming over candidates, rivalry among armed groups at its peak and uncertainty among civilians due to escalating fighting, gloomy conditions prevail in the region.
About 350,000 voters in the Northern and Eastern provinces live in the 'uncleared areas' or areas dominated by the LTTE.
The Northern province consisting of the Jaffna, and Wanni electoral districts will return 15 members — ten from Jaffna and five from Wanni. The Eastern province comprising the Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara districts will return 15 members — four, five and six respectively.
In contrast to previous elections, all main parties, including all Tamil parties, are contesting these provinces.
Among the parties is the Sihala Urumaya which is canvassing for votes among Tamil people. On Thursday the party at a news conference for Tamil journalists explained its motives for contesting the north.
"We are not a communal party. Anybody can join us. Next week we will be going to Jaffna for the campaign," National Organiser, Malinga Gunaratna said.
Another highlight of the northern campaign is that several big wigs, among them former North East Chief Minister Varatharaja Perumal, PLOTE leader Dharmalingam Siddharthan, EPDP leader Douglas Devananda, EPRLF leader Suresh Premachandran, All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) leader, S. Vinayagamoorthy, TELO President N. Srikantha and TULF's Vice President V. Anandasangari, are in the fray from the Jaffna district.
The UNP's list is led by Colombo based businessman, K.Maheshwaran and includes journalist Sri Gajan.
With 20 political parties and five independent groups contesting the north, the question whether a single party could gain a large representation boggles many.
The situation remains largely the same in the rest of the Northern Province and the eastern province.
But EPDP leader Douglas Devananda who has been spearheading his campaign from Jaffna for the past three weeks said he was confident that his party would retain the nine seats which it had won in 1994.
The EPDP is under fire from other parties which accuse it of engaging in malpractices.
"The EPDP prevented us from visiting certain areas in the north, particularly the islands," TULF's Anandsangari said.
So far the LTTE, the main actor behind the scene, has not made known its stance on the elections to the Tamil population. However, the Sangiliyan group known to be an LTTE front, has issued leaflets in Jaffna warning "political stooges who fled Jaffna when the people were suffering' that they were in trouble. The threat is obviously aimed at those who were not present in Jaffna during the past and have now returned to Jaffna.
But what has been disturbing is that several photographs of key Tamil party candidates were found in the possession of a suspected LTTE cadre who was shot dead by the security forces.
In the Wanni electoral district — made up of the Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Mannar administrative districts — the campaign is confined to the Mannar and Vavuniya towns as most of the areas are 'uncleared'.
The PA, UNP, PLOTE, TELO, SLMC, JVP, Sihala Urumaya and the Puravesi Peramuna are among 10 political parties and independent groups contesting the district from where five members will be returned to Parliament.
The PLOTE appears to be the favourites but with more parties in the fray, it may not be as successful as it was in 1994 when it won three seats.
The people of the area who depend on agriculture and fishing — two areas which have been affected by the security situation— for their livelihood would vote for the party which would free them from their squalid conditions.
The Trincomalee district comprises three electorates — Mutur, Trincomalee and Kantale — and returns four MPs. At the 1994 elections two MPs from the UNP and one each from the SLMC and the TULF were elected.
The three electorates consist of areas where voters do not have easy access to polling booths.
In Trincomalee, 17 political parties and six independent groups have fielded candidates.
Former police officer and ex-MP M.K.D.S. Gunawardana is heading the PA list while Sunil Shantha Ranaweera, a former MP and ex-director of the Hingurana and Sevanagala sugar factories, leads the UNP.
The JVP list is led by Vimal Piyatissa.
The chief EPDP candidate for Trincomalee, Thangarasa Pushparasa, says he believes that no Tamil candidate will be successful because the Tamil votes will be split among various Tamil parties
PLOTE organiser Singh–araja Jesuthasan says his party is not contesting the district because it does not want to split the Tamil vote and weaken Tamil representation in parliament.
Northeast Governor Ashoka Jayawardana speaking from his office at 'Orrs Hill' (Uvar Mallai) in Trincomalee town said he was giving his maximum support to the election staff to ensure a free and fair election.
"The situation in the Northern and Eastern provinces is different from that of other parts of the country. This is the only area where there are cluster booths as some people live in uncleared areas. This is a huge burden on the GA (District Secretaries) who are conducting elections," he said.
In the Batticaloa district the main contest is turning out to be between the UNP and the TULF. A sense of uncertainty prevails over the National Unity Alliance (NUA) led by M.L.A.M. Hisbullah as a result of questions being raised over the legality of its list.
At stake in Batticaloa are five seats for which 21 political parties and independent groups have entered the fray. In 1994. the TULF secured three seats and the UNP and the SLMC one each. The TULF is facing a tough competition from other parties this time.
The PA also has fielded candidates in the Batticaloa district, weakening its chances and that of the NUA.
The PA in Batticaloa suffered an early blow when its candidate Chelliyan Perimpanayagam, a former mayor, was shot dead by a suspected LTTE cadre.
Prince Casinader, a former TULF MP for Batticaloa district who is contesting under the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) banner, says the chances for moderate political parties in gaining representation are higher than the support for the ex-militant groups contesting the district.
Mr. Casinader, a former educationist, says he believes that Tamil political parties would have been able to get better representation in Parliament, had they contested under one banner.
TULF MP Joseph Pararajasingham says he is confident the TULF will perform better than last time.
The parties are conducting house-to-house campaign in the town and in areas where the LTTE dominates indirect campaigning is going on.
"During the Presidential election campaign there were people who came in from areas controlled by the LTTE and voted in the areas where the Army had control. They made use of the cluster polling booths," a resident in the area said.
But during the Presidential elections most of the votes from the Eastern province, including those from the uncleared areas went to the UNP, but this trend cannot be expected this time as several Tamil political parties are in the fray.
People's interest in elections has caught up in the last week following campaigns by Tamil parties that if the voters do not take part in elections the chances of having more Tamil representatives would be slim.
The sudden death of SLMC (NUA) leader and Minister M. H. M. Ashraff has upset the campaign in the Ampara district. The PA has fielded a strong list of candidates in alliance with the NUA. Mr. Ashraff, the main candidate, has now been replaced by his widow Feriyal. But a problem has cropped up as people in the area called for a replacement from the east.
Some say the chances of the PA gaining better representation in Ampara has been reduced with the death of Mr. Ashraff. But others say the party would gain sympathy votes.
The PA's list also includes Deputy Minister A. Weerasinghe, ex-MPs Athaullah and U.L.M.Mohideen.
The UNP led by former minister P. Dayaratne includes M. M. Muthapha, a former SLMC organsier and Cegu Issadeen, a founder member of the Muslim Congress.
The TULF list was declared null and void after a Tamil group petitioned court over its legality as it had not been signed by the secretary of the party. As a result, the EPDP which is contesting as an independent group, has gained support in the district.
The JVP, Sihala Urumaya and the Puravesi Peramuna are among the other parties which are contesting the district.
Six MPs will be returned from the Ampara district to Parliament .
The UNP will have to give a tough fight to retain its three seats in Parliament.
The contest in the north and east is being keenly watched by both the
PA and UNP which may have to depend on minority parties to form a government.
In the agricultural heartland of the country, the North Central province parties vie for farmers' vote
Farmer in the fray
By Sunil Jayatilleke, Chandani Kirinde and Hasitha Premaratne
With all major political parties promising a better lot for the farmers after the elections, their future prosperity will lie with those whom they choose to elect as their representatives to Parliament for the next six years.
The farming community makes up nearly 90 per cent of the districts of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa and the problems affecting them are the main issues on which all political parties contesting in the area are concentrating on to win votes.
With the low prices that the paddy harvest is fetching the farmers became a national issue a few months ago when a hunger strike undertaken by them made the government promise to buy their produce at Rs. 13 a kilo. But this promise is yet to materialise. Presently paddy is being sold at Rs. 8 to Rs. 9 a kilo, many farmers say.
Where the government has arranged to purchase the paddy at higher prices, there are allegations that only the produce of those who are supporting the PA was being bought.
The opposition UNP is cashing in on the disillusion among the farmers and has promised in its election manifesto to buy paddy at a fixed price and give the farming community a better deal.
The JVP has in its manifesto promised that the party would give priority to agricultural development and make it mandatory for the state to purchase all produce of the farmers by opening up village level buying centres. The party has also pledged to restore the ancient tanks to provide better irrigation facilities.
Despite the promises of the politicians, nature has been cruel to the farmers of the area too as heavy rains have prompted them to sell off their paddy produce at low rates in fear the produce would be spoilt.
W.M.Wimalasena (46) a farmer in Alankulam in the Anuradhapura district said that farmers were suffering due to poor prices as well as the heavy rains.
"We have to spend for fertiliser, hired workers, the seed paddy and other essentials, so eventually we end up selling the produce at a loss," Wimalasena said.
He added that people had no time to waste on politicians. "We will go the polling booths on October 10 and vote for whoever we feel like," Wimalasena said.
The Sunday Times team that visited the area found that people had lost interests in the elections due to their struggle to make ends meet. However politicians were more than enthusiastic with blue flags and decorations dominating the Anuradhapura town. All buses belonging to the Rajarata Bus Company were also decorated in blue and pasted with posters of government candidates.
Lal Kantha, a JVP candidate in the Anuradhapura district said his party was assured of winning a seat from the area.
"We are being threatened and intimidated by the PA politicians as well as the police who are working hand in hand with them," he said.
Additional Elections Commissioner of the Anuradhapura district Chandraratne Pallegama admitted they were getting ready for the elections amidst many difficulties.
"Government vehicles are being used by powerful politicians in the district for election work. We are having a shortage of vehicles to use for official purposes," he said.
Mr.Pallegama said he had informed the Elections Commissioner about the shortage and requested 14 vehicles. However, they received only four.
He said the vehicle shortage has caused a security lapse when delivering polling cards to the post offices, he said.
He said they have identified that the potential for election violence only in about 60 polling booths out of the 396 in the district but officials were determined to hold a free and fair poll despite all the odds stacked against them.
The political race seems to be neck-to-neck in the province between the ruling party and the UNP.
But the campaign there too has been marred with allegations by opposition parties that the PA candidates were abusing vehicles and manpower belonging to the Mahaweli Authority for electioneering.
"We have the numbers of 27 Mahaweli Authority vehicles that are doing election work for a leading government candidate," said R.K.Indrananda, a JVP candidate in the Polonnaruwa district.
He said that Mahaweli Security Organisation
(MSO) officers who have been issued with firearms were using these weapons
to intimidate opposition candidates and the Police have said they are helpless
to crackdown on them as the weapons issued to the MSO are not registered
with the police.
DIG of the NCP Padmasiri Liyanage said no formal complaints had been lodged with the Police regarding the possession of unauthorized weapons and if any such complaints are made, they will act.
"The PA and the UNP are the main troublemakers in the NCP. However election violence has been limited to minor incidents such as assaults and intimidation. He said of the 74 complaints made so far, investigations into 70 were completed.
Most of the opposition allegations have been levelled at the Mahaweli Development Minister Maithripala Sirisena who is contesting from the Polonnaruwa district.
He denied all allegations of election violence by his supporters and said he was entitled to use the Mahaweli vehicles in his official capacity.
"The UNP used Mahaweli vehicles and resources a hundred times more than the PA during the 1994 elections. I have been given armed security men as there is a LTTE threat to my life," Mr. Sirisena said.
The prominent candidates in the NCP include the 21 year old son of the Chief Minister of the NCP Berty Premalal Dissanayake, Duminda who is the youngest candidate in this year's election.
There were allegations from the UNP, JVP and some PA candidates that the Chief Minister's efforts to ensure his son's victory with the highest number of preferential votes was coming in the way of holding a free and fair poll.
Mr. Dissanayake admitted that he was using state vehicles for the election
campaign but said this was the case in all the other provinces as well.
A group of ninjas with clean-shaven heads who operate in the night have evolved as a result of the fight for the preferential votes among the PA candidates.
It is alleged they are henchmen of the NCP chief minister Berty Premalal Dissanayake and even the Police fear this dreaded young group of men.
Sub Inspector Abeysinghe of the of the Police unit monitoring election violence said there were rumours of the existence of the ninja group but a formal complaint was yet be made against the alleged members. "We have not encountered any such persons during our nightly patrols but there have been four cases of assault by an unknown group of persons reported to us", he said.
The chief minister denied the existence of such a group and said the whole thing was concocted by a rival member of his own party to bring his good name into disrepute.
"The Talawa Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman was asked by an ayurvedic doctor
to shave his head as part of the treatment for a skin ailment. Some of
his supporters too had shaven their heads subsequently as a gesture of
support for him. That is how these rumours about a ninja group started
circulating," he said.
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