UPFA firing from political bunkers

Gampaha where the opposition says government misusing war victories for party gain
Leon Berenger reporting from the Gampaha district, Pix by Gemunu Wellage

The allegation: UPFA candidates and their supporters in the Gampaha district are misusing to the maximum the security forces’ successes in the northern war front in a bid to boost their chances at the upcoming polls for the Western Provincial Council.

The evidence: Those who visit the district can see for themselves. As the UPFA candidates inGampaha makes hay while the sun shines over the Wanni, a hapless opposition is left seething with rage.

From posters and pandals to cutouts and hand bills, UPFA polls literature depict ‘war heroes’ along with candidates’ smiling faces, in an apparent bid to draw the attention of the public and perhaps send home a message known only to themselves.

Chanda bunkers like the one shown in this picture dot the Gampaha district, says the opposition.
National flags flying alongside party flags

Most of these candidates may never have met these war heroes personally whose images in glossy print adorn their campaign material which are distributed, and in some cases thrust on the populace while the opposition shouts itself hoarse -- all to no avail.

UNP candidate Ananda Amarasekera charged that some UPFA candidates even disrespect the national flag by depicting it along with their party symbol on posters and leaflets. “The national flag belongs to every citizen of this country, irrespective of one’s caste, creed, race, religion or party affiliations. However, by placing the national flag along with their party symbol, the UPFA was making a claim that the flag belongs only to them,” Mr. Amarasekera said.

He alleged that UPFA big wigs along with their supporters were employing strong-arm tactics in preventing the opposition from displaying any kind of propaganda material while they blatantly violate election law. “They would come at night and just tear off all that has been put up earlier in the day,” he said.

Mr. Amarasekera said UPFA supporters had also erected what looked like military bunkers near their cut-outs and other propaganda gimmicks, thus politicising the war for party or personal gain.

“The UPFA’s campaign strategy shows that they are exploiting the battlefield victories achieved by the valiant men and women who are fighting a ruthless terrorist outfit. The authorities must get their act together and bring an end to this shameful political circus,” he said.

Mr. Amarasekera said these campaign bunkers were posing a threat to people’s security as criminal elements or terrorists could make use of them after dusk. Scoffing at these bunkers as “Chanda bunkers”, the JVP’s frontline candidate, Waruna Rajapakse, claimed that scores of such structures dotted the Gampaha district.

Ananda Amarasekera Waruna Rajapaksa

He said his party believed that UPFA bigwigs got the Civil Defence Unit personnel erect these bunkers, telling them that they were to be used by paramilitary forces. “However, no paramilitary officer is seen using these bunkers. Instead they are being used by UPFA candidates for propaganda purposes,” Mr. Rajapakse alleged.

“The ‘war heroes’ are the pride of the entire nation, not just of the Government. Those who have laid down their lives in safeguarding the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity come from families that support different political parties which include the UNP and the JVP,” he said.

Those who were using the security forces’ sacrifices for political gain were opportunists, Mr. Rajapakse said adding that these politicians would not talk about the plight of the soldiers, especially the economic conditions of their families. “In some houses, there is no place to keep a coffin,” he said.

The JVP candidate also said that while the UPFA tried to make political capital out of the war, his party’s election campaign focused on a pledge to improve the education and health standards of the district.
“Most state-run hospitals in the district have no medicine except for panadol and saline that are supplied free by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Apart from that, almost everything else has to be bought by patients from outside pharmacies. This only helps fatten the medical mudalalis,” he said.
“The public schools are already in the doldrums with some 128 schools being closed down in the Western Province due to lack of proper facilities and trained staff or irregular transfers stemming from political interference.

“The Government has no answer to these serious national issues, yet it calls for elections and is ready to dump billions of rupees into an exercise that is not needed at this hour. They could instead use the money to improve the education and health sectors of the province,” he said.

Elle boss hits homerun with sports bat

A UPFA candidate from Kandana is talking politics through sports and his message is hitting home, winning him the support of the youth, who make up a sizeable part of the electorate.

Nihal Jayewardene

Nihal Jayewardene is the president of the Sri Lanka Elle Federation, but his pledge does not cover only elle. It encompasses all popular sports, including soccer, cricket and rugby. “This is a peaceful way of getting the message across to the people of all political hues, because the youth is the future and sports is a way of disciplining the mind and body and this is essential for anyone who enters politics,” Mr. Jayewardene explained.

“Kandana is a pre-dominantly Catholic electorate and with a strong UNP following. But I have been able to change the thinking of those on the other side of the political divide to some extent,” he claimed.

Mr. Jayewardene said he wanted to introduce cricket to all schools, both big and small, because this sport was now the ‘in thing’ and could help a youth obtain a good job even if he did not excel in his studies.

“Many mercantile firms are keen to employ sportsmen and women, since it adds to their reputation,” Mr. Jayewardene said. He said his campaign also focused on improving the district’s education sector which had suffered due to lack of funds.

JVP says alleged Spittel land swindlers find refuge in government

The JVP has alleged that two UNP members of the Biyagama Pradeshiya Sabha have crossed over to the government side to avoid being arrested on corruption charges stemming from a questionable land sale and the illegal removal of earth from state land.

Asoka Ranwella, a frontline Gampaha district JVP candidate at the April 25 Provincial Council elections, charged that the two men had profited from the sale of a 50-acre land belonging to the R. L. Spittel family.

R. L. Spittel, a pioneer surgeon in Sri Lanka during the British colonial period, was an anthropologist, wildlife conservationist and author, and he was known for his efforts at championing the rights of Veddahs.

The two politicos are alleged to have persuaded a close relative of the Spittel family to sell the prime land to a leading finance company, which was planning to sell it at a higher price after dividing it into small plots, Mr. Ranwella claimed.

However, the finance company was prevented from selling the land after President Mahinda Rajapakse ordered an inquiry, following protests from the people and politicians.

“Now that the alleged culprits are on the Government side, people who protested over the land deal are disappointed. The JVP, however, is pondering legal action against the two men,” Mr. Ranwella said.

According to Mr. Ranwella the two men are also alleged to have dug up state land using council machinery and sold the earth to property developers, leaving large and deep pits open.

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