We will win if all’s free and fair
With the campaigning for the May 10 historic Eastern Provincial Council elections winding down, Arsaratnam Sasitharan, UNP’s chief organizer for Batticaloa District and main candidate for next Saturday’s election, speaks to The Sunday Times of the difficulties the UNP/SLMC alliance members have faced during the campaign and what the alliance hopes to offer the people of the east.
Q: How would you describe your campaign experience so far?
A: We are mostly on a house-to-house campaign and we had to face many problems from the Pillayan group. Those campaigning for me in Vakarai were particularly affected with some of them even being threatened with firearms. Even in the Paddiruppu electorate we face the same difficulties, but the voters are enthusiastic and support us. But they are also afraid to speak out against armed persons. They are afraid of the Pillayan group.
Q: The UNP has been complaining about intimidation of voters as well as candidates. How is this affecting your campaign?
A: Against this backdrop of intimidation it is difficult to get people to work for you. I began my campaign with 14 people but now I am left with only seven. In 2000 when I contested parliamentary elections, I had 150-200 people going about with me on campaign work. But this time Pillayan’s men have warned those working for me that they would have to face the consequences after the elections. Our party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has sent 600 to 700 people--including ministers, MPs and provincial council members and local council members, to Batticaloa from all areas of the country to campaign with us.
Q: Have you taken up this issue--which is a violation of elections laws-- with the authorities?
A: I have lodged several complaints with the police and election authorities but there is little they can do they say. The government is also a party to all this, so no action is being taken.
Q: Have you taken up the matter directly with Pillayan or members of his group?
A: I have spoken with Pillayan. However he assures that there is nothing to worry and if anything crops up I could complain to him. I have told him that he creates the problems and in the same breath tells me to make any complaint to him. As the leader of the group he can stop such acts if he wants to.
Q: What do you have to say about allegations regarding the misuse of state property?
A: One of the UPFA candidates is blatantly using state vehicles for his campaign. On Thursday I made a police complaint that the Katankudi town had been decorated with blue flags as well as cuts-outs, which is a violation of election laws. But I don’t think any action has been taken to remove them.
Q: Why should the people vote for the UNP/SLMC alliance?
A: The government has done little to reduce the soaring cost of living as well as failing to address the problems of the Tamil-speaking people. The government may have rid the east of the Tigers but they have been replaced by another armed group and the people are fed up. Our party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is popular among the people here. They feel he is the only person who can alleviate their problems. They refer to the UNP reign from 2002-to 2004 as a honeymoon period, but now all they know is suffering.
Q: Are you confident of winning the election?
A: If we have a free and fair election I am 100 per cent sure we will win. We will have six members-- two Muslims and four Tamils from the Batticaloa district.
Q: On the provincial basis, what is your analysis?
A: We will win definitely. We will get nine seats in Ampara, six in Trincomalee and another six in Batticaloa.