May 10: All eyes on the east
As the campaigning for the eastern provincial council election reaches its final lap the two main political parties seemed to be heading for an evenly contested poll next Saturday.
With three more days of campaigning left, the two main parties the UPFA and the UNP were seen stepping up their efforts to reach the 982,721 electors spread out in the three eastern districts – Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara.
Enthusiasm among voters is at its peak with over 80 percent casting their votes in the postal voting concluded early this week.
While the UPFA is banking heavily on voters showing their gratitude to President Mahinda Rajapaksa's efforts in providing leadership for the recapture of the eastern province from the Tiger guerrillas the UNP is banking on the insecurity that still prevails due to activities of the Pillayan group.
Government ministers from the south who are backing provincial council candidates are camping in the east and promises of developing the area are flowing. Lamp posts soon to be put up were being unloaded in large numbers with assurances that more areas would be given electricity. Metal was also being unloaded with promises of developing roads.
The opposition in contrast was going about talking to the voters about the insecurity in the east with the Pillayan group reigning in the region.
The UNP has been complaining that the presence of the Pillayan group was hampering its campaign activities especially in Tamil populated areas where armed Pillayan group members were holding sway.
"Our concern is that some of the voters in the interior areas of Batticaloa will be afraid to cast their votes due to the presence of the Pillayan group a UNP campaign manager said.
On the other hand he said activities of the Pillayan group had turned Tamil voters away from the UPFA due to atrocities committed by the group including abductions, ransom demands and intimidation.
In the Ampara electorate, the UPFA appeared to have an edge over its opposition with a series of development programmes being launched in the area during the past few weeks and security being beefed up especially in Sinhala- dominated areas. But in the rest of the district the two main parties appeared to be on an even keel.
In Trincomalee the UNP is carrying out a strong campaign. The main thrust of their campaign is the displacement of civilians, the majority of them Tamils from the Sampur area, which the government has now declared a high security zone in readiness to set up a coal power project. SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem who is spearheading the UNP campaign from Trincomalee has also been carrying out a strong campaign in the Muslim populated areas, while the UPFA campaign is being conducted mainly around the Kanthale area which is also a stronghold of the JVP.
However, the JVP's internal split appears to have caused a set back to the party's campaign, although area organisers remain optimistic that their vote bank remained intact.
The large number of people who are displaced and do not have national identity cards has been a concern for the contesting parties. Voters have been allowed to substitute their NIC with a photograph certified by the Grama Sevaka and endorsed by the Assistant Government Agent (AGA). However, this could lead to impersonation too. In addition any identity card issued by a government department with a photograph will also be accepted.