The battle is on for the North Central Province (NCP) with both the government and opposition parties throwing virtually everything they have into it while polls-related violence continues to tick on at a frightening pace.
The signs of violence could be noticed in many places -- from the outskirts of the Polonnaruwa district to Anuradhapura, with the police being accused of doing little to arrest this trend.
|From L to R:UPFA, UNP and JVP campaign offices attacked in Anuradhapura and Medirigiriya. Pix By Athula Bandara
The main opposition United National Party (UNP) and the Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) are already up in arms and crying foul even before the first ballot is cast and jointly they are accusing the ruling United People’s Front Alliance (UPFA)’s chief candidate for the present state of affairs.
Bearing the major brunt of the violence, intimidation and threats is the JVP, a one time staunch ally of the UPFA which has decided to go on its own – a move many see could benefit the UNP.
However, despite all the threats and related violence the JVP remains undeterred and has vowed to carry its message home even though it may irritate the government and even the main opposition.
The UNP is also having its own share of problems but at a much lesser level when compared with the attacks on the JVP.
The party’s chief candidate, Major General Retd. Janaka Perera, compared the NCP with Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe won the recent presidential elections under highly questionable circumstances.
Maj. Gen. Perera blamed the NCP situation on his chief rival, the incumbent Chief Minister Berty Premalal Dissanayake.
Mr. Dissayanake must shoulder the blame for the ongoing violence and threats aimed at the opposition, he said adding that the police had been forced to be mere onlookers.
The former General who is known for strict discipline both in and out of uniform vowed to clean up the province once elected as the Chief Minister.
He said the first priority would be to restore law and order irrespective of party affiliations adding that nobody would be above the law. “To have a democratic administration, first there should be proper law and order. What we are witnessing in the NCP at present is a dictatorship and this should change,” he added.
He said the role of the police at every level in regard to the elections was highly questionable and the party had decided to carry on its activities without police assistance. “Apart from taking any action, the police are even reluctant to record a simple statement fearing reprisals from within the department,” he said.
Opposition activists also charged that apart from countless malpractices the UPFA was also using dubious methods to draw in public sector employees to beef up its campaign.
They said that in one particular case some 1000 teacher trainees were summoned to Anuradhapura to participate in a special course. But on arrival they were informed to join the government propaganda teams if they were to be made permanent in their positions.
As is the case in almost all elections whether at provincial or any other level the authorities have suddenly found the time and money to upgrade the infrastructure networks like roads and other public utility facilities while promising jobs for the jobless, a reduction in the cost of living and an end to the bloody ethnic conflict.
The government’s Chief Ministerial candidate Berty Premalal Dissanayake rejected opposition allegations saying the UNP was planning a massive destructive campaign in the province ahead of the elections.
He alleged that on Thursday night a UNP mob shot and damaged a PA propaganda office at Jaffna Junction in Anuradhapura to provoke UPFA supporters and thereby cause mayhem.
He said there was a limit to patience, and would not be able to control party supporters if such intimidation continued.Ironically Mr. Dissanayake too blamed the police for inaction saying that they had already made some 25 complaints but still there were no inquiries.
The ground reality for the moment is that the two main contenders are drawing equal support and are pitched in a neck-and-neck race. Mr. Dissanayake’s support comes mainly because he is from the area while the former general attracts voters with his charisma and gallantry on the battlefield.
State land for votes?
The Deputy Chairman of a local Council in the Polonnaruwa district has offered state-owned land to viallgers in return for their votes in favour of a pro-government candidate the UNP charged this week.
UNP organsiser for the SriPura District Sanatha Kumara Kulawardene alleged that hundreds of acres of prime land owned by the Forest Department-bordering the Rankethagama Wewa were being distributed to farmers and others.
The Forest Department had earlier spent a lot of money to plant thousands of turpentine trees . Now encroachers have begun felling these trees and selling some of it as firewood, Mr. Kulawardene charged.
He charged that the Deputy Pradeshiya Sabha chairman was doing this to support his Chairman who is contesting the PC elections, hoping he could become the next chairman.
Daily threats, attacks: JVP
The bells are tolling for the JVP as they press on with their campaign for the forthcoming polls although they have been forced to bear the brunt of violence, intimidation and threats allegedly from pro-government activists.
The JVP has had several of their campaign and party offices smashed and in some cases even torched, buntings and flags torn out and destroyed, posters smothered with grease and ceaseless intimidation and threats by telephone and other channels.
The party’s Chief Ministerial candidate R.K. Indrananda believes they have been targeted for attack after it was decided to go it alone at the polls, a move which the government feels could benefit the UNP .
He said that a day does not pass without some kind of threat or violence aimed at the party and its supporters. “Despite several appeals and complaints to the police there has been little or no action from them which is a dangerous and frightening development as the election date nears,” Mr. Indrananda said.
“The situation is such, that party activists now take shifts round the clock to maintain vigil at the party and propaganda offices which should not be the case during elections in a democracy,” he said.
Commenting on the Mangalam Master issue he said this too was a disturbing development and accused the government of supporting this candidate purely to intimidate and threaten innocent voters and opposition party activists.
“There will be zero freedom during voting in the areas this TMVP member is concentrating on, as the people will be too frightened to go against him. The TMVP member is also known to operate several mini camps in areas such as Muttugala, Karapola, Thiruchena and Surawilla and his supporters are armed to the teeth,” Mr. Indrananda added.
UNP set for large scale mayhem: Berty
The ex-Chief Minister for the North Central Province (NCP) Berty Premalal Dissanayake hit out at his chief opponent former General Janaka Perera saying his rival was planning mass-scale mayhem ahead of the forthcoming polls to be held on August 23.
Mr. Dissanayake said Mr. Perera had brought many dubious characters from Colombo to the NCP with the intent of stirring up trouble and violence and later blaming it on his supporters. He added that the UNP was planning to influence the election results using subversive methods, but the end result would be a huge loss to them where they will have to pack up and leave keeping the local supporters behind.
He vowed the former General a humiliating defeat in the NCP saying it would be his political waterloo, adding that the JVP which is covertly supporting the UNP would see more red after the 23rd.
Opposition need not fear me: Mangalam Master
A former Tamil Tiger militant from the eastern town of Batticaloa is seeking to create history by contesting the forthcoming NPC elections -the first Tamil to do so in this pre-dominantly Sinhala province.
Mangalam Master as he is known hails from the Batticaloa district and is a member of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) the break away faction of the LTTE and is asking for votes in the NCP on the People’s Alliance (PA) ticket.
The former militant has set up office at Manampitiya, in eastern Polonnaruwa amidst allegations from the opposition that he has been brought in by the government to intimidate voters ahead of the polling day.
Speaking to The Sunday Times Mangalam Master said that the allegations made by the opposition were totally false and misleading and pledged to carry out his campaign in a clean, fair and democratic manner.
Speaking through an interpreter he said that there was a large concentration of Tamils living in the province and he was depending on their votes as well as those from other communities including the Sinhalese to get elected.
“I have spread my campaign deep into Sinhalese and Muslim territory and the response is very good. To do this I do not need to carry firearms or use other undemocratic methods,” he said.
“The opposition need not fear me as I have already shunned all types of violence, and entered mainstream politics like my friends and colleagues in neighbouring Batticaloa district,” he explained.
I will bring back law and order: Janaka
The UNP has called in a retired Army General to take on the Government’s heavy weight-Berty Premalal Dissanayake at the forthcoming hustings in the North Central Province (NCP) and Janaka Perera is promising a fight to the end with a pledge to bring the hot seat to Siri Kotha.
Mr. Janaka Perera a once decorated war hero and Sri Lanka’s former ambassador in Australia and Malaysia has pitched camp in Anuradhapura from where he is spearheading his campaign against many odds in a tightly contested race for the Chief Ministerial position.
The former General said the government had thrown in all its machinery to boost its candidate, misusing state vehicles, buildings and institutions, public sector employees and a servile police. He alleged even a mass murderer had been brought from the east to intimidate innocent voters.
“I never give up. In fact difficult situations such as this only help me to move forward and crush the opponent,” he said.
He said the government and their agents have to some extent succeeded in creating a fear psychosis among the people with threats and intimidation because they are already jittery knowing that the end is near. “Law and order must be restored if democracy is to survive” Mr. Perera further said.
He lashed out at the police saying they were behaving like tamed pet poodles and have practically closed the door on the rising number of election-related complaints brought in against the government candidate and supporters.
Mr. Perera also claimed that the state had persuaded a former Tamil Tiger rebel- Mangalam Master to enter the fray from the Polonnaruwa District with the intent of intimidating the Tamil and Muslim community to vote his way or face dire consequences.
“This man is a mass murderer responsible for the slaughter of nearly 600 policemen in the East and hundreds of Sinhalese and Muslim civilians who were butchered on his orders in the Polonnaruwa-Batticaloa border areas several years ago. He does not scare me, nonetheless his presence in the province is a sad day for democracy,” the former general said.
Almost every other household in the NCP has given a son or a daughter to the police and security forces and Mr.Perera was convinced that he had the support and backing from at least ninety per cent of them.