It is not all blue in the Hanbantota District as expected, with the opposition also showing its colours and digging in for a stiff battle with the government side as the up-coming Southern Provincial Council elections entered the home stretch this week.
Unlike in the elections held in other provinces where the opposition presence was near zero, barring the North Central Province (NCP), the situation is very much different in the South with the main opposition UNP and the JVP putting up a challenge and together are confidant of grabbing a sizeable chunk of votes.
A banner adorns the Tangalle Pradeshiya sabha office
A seething opposition is also crying foul, accusing pro-government candidates of serious election violations, ranging from the use of state machinery to other public property as the police and officialdom choose to turn their backs on all that is taking place.
The opposition, particularly the JVP has also been at the receiving end of pre-election violence allegedly unleashed by pro-government supporters and activists and the situation is fast moving towards a tit-for-tat scenario if the authorities fail to arrest the trend.
Independent poll observers have already listed dozens of cases that include assault, threats, intimidation and damage to party propaganda offices and related places.
Keerthi Tenakoon with the Centre for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) said the police should take much of the blame for the ongoing circus. “It is the inactivity of the police that has led to the present situation and this does not read very well,” he said.
“This has always been the case even in the earlier elections held elsewhere in the country, and at the end of the day the government side has the advantage. This should never be the case in a democratic set up,” he explained.
|Ayubowan: It’s Anarkalli
She answers the phone with the traditional ayubowan, and refrains from speaking in English as it may hurt her campaign.
Actress turned politician Anarkalli Akkarasha is learning fast and is confident of winning at the up coming Southern Provincial Council elections.
Barely two weeks into the campaign, she had a heated stand-off with UPFA heavyweight for Galle, Nishantha Muthuhettigama after the latter allegedly intimidated her with the death threats, etc.
Heavyweight or otherwise she took up the matter with the local police and won the first round in courts, while her rival had to languish at least two nights in jail for inflammatory remarks that placed the police in poor light.
Earlier in the campaign she was pelted with sugar buns and booed out of a meeting in Galle after a prominent UPFA hopeful was dropped from the candidate list to accommodate the actress.
However, in a brief interview with the Sunday Times Anarakali said: “These things are expected in politics. I have no hard feelings. At the end of the day, we are running mates for the same party,” she said.
For his part, Mr. Muthuhettigama said the tiny actress was not a threat to him and likened her to a little brat who deserved a kiss on the cheek.
Another independent observer, the People’s Action for Free and fair Elections (PAFFREL) went a step further and filed action in courts citing the same reasons.
In the petition PAFFREL expressed apprehension that the conduct of candidates violate the rights of the registered voter to freely choose between candidates to serve them and thereby their freedom of speech and expression in the exercise of their franchise.The JVP which has a sizable vote base feels the government is jittery in losing too many votes because it will be an embarrassment, since Hambantota is the home base of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“The government is boasting of a ‘one horse race’ at the elections, but at the same time it is attempting to stifle the opposition using various means of intimidation and harassment. It just does not make any sense,” says the party’s group leader Sisira Walathanthri. “Only the other day two of our party activists were abducted and badly beaten up by the security detail of a top minister simply for putting up harmless election posters. This is just one of many other incidents,”he charged.
However, he said, it is a different story when it comes to government candidates. The entire area is decked with their election propaganda material, and in one spot a huge pandal erected across the main road is even guarded by the police. “Where are the law enforcers’? Mr. Walathanthri asked.
The UNP’s heavyweight for the district MP Sajith Premadasa dismissed government claims of a clean sweep at the polls saying his party would prove them wrong after October 10. “I have worked tirelessly for the poor masses in the area irrespective of party affiliations. A large number of voters still have faith in the UNP, despite all the hype from the government side. The people will endorse this loyalty after election day,” Mr. Premadasa said.
Constructions coming up under the “New Hambantota” project
He also blamed the police and the other relevant authorities for doing nothing to stop the violence and intimidation aimed at the opposition. “There is no law and order. It is a circus,” he added.
However, the plus point for the government is the hectic constructions that are currently underway that is going to make way for the “New Hambantota”. Most of it which is being done with foreign aid has nonetheless provided thousands of jobs for the youth in the electorates and it is making the government feel good.
Former Chief Minister for the Southern Province Shan Wijayalal de Silva said the UPFA was confident of capturing some 80 per cent of the vote irrespective of what the opposition was saying.
He denied that the UPFA candidates were behind the violence and other intimidatory tactics, but added that limited incidents usually go hand-in-hand with elections in this country.
“This has always been the case irrespective of the party in government,” Mr. de Silva said. On a personal note he said that he would be re-elected as the Chief Minister.
Health is not wealth, but politics here
One year after the young lady doctor was murdered by a drunken off-duty soldier, the village of Bandagiriya in the Hambantota district is without a proper health care service as the local hospital has shut down owing to the lack of medical staff.
The deserted hospital
Indunil Dissanayake was the lone doctor at the village hospital, but since her untimely death the authorities are yet to find a replacement creating misery for the people of Bandagiriya who are now forced to make the 30-kilometre trip to Hambantota to seek medical treatment even if it was a case of a flu or simple cold.
This means a whole day is required for a visit to the hospital apart from the travel and other related expenses.
The villagers believe authorities are holding back the appointment of a doctor to the hospital as a collective punishment for the killing of the doctor.
“The entire village comprising five Grama Seveka divisions should not be made to suffer for the wrong of one individual. The people loved that doctor, and are still mourning her death,” said K.A. Ariyawathie. What the authorities are doing is not fair by the people, who are mostly poor farmers who cannot afford private medical care, she added.
Commenting on the up coming elections the cadjan weaver said: “My vote is blank” without elaborating
“Now hordes of candidates from different parties are doing the rounds in the village begging for votes but when we bring up the hospital issue there’s deafening silence,” said J. J. Munasinghe, who apparently helped to take the dying doctor to hospital.
Some of the candidates have promised to attend to the matter, but so far little has happened villagers say. “Votes we will give, but first we need a doctor at the hospital,” Munasinghe said.
He added that the 32-year-old doctor was a kind woman who would attend to the sick even at mid night. There were times when she had even offered the bus fare for patients seeking treatment at the bigger hospitals in Hambantota.
Other villagers believe there maybe some political bias in the issue since the area is known to be a UNP vote base. “If that is the case then it is sad because even toddlers are forced to suffer without proper medical attention,” a villager who did not wish to be named said.
Meanwhile Health Services Director General Dr. Ajith Mendis said the matter was purely a provincial issue since the hospital comes under its purview.
Southern Provincial Health Director C. S. Lokuhetti, said arrangements were being made to organize a doctor to visit the hospital at least two days of the week.
“The matter is currently being treated seriously and there will be a solution in the next few days,” he assured.
Powerless as they are on the wrong side!
Some 75 families are apparently being deprived of water and electricity simply because they are on the wrong side of the political divide.
These are the occupants of some 200 tsunami relief houses that were constructed by the Sajith Premadasa Foundation at Siribopura on the outskirts of Hambantota.
The 200 houses are part of a larger scheme of 7,000 homes built by various individuals and organizations for those affected in the 2004 tsunami.
According to residents at the Sajith Premadasa scheme, the authorities are depriving them of water and electricity because of their party affiliations forcing them to live in darkness and at the mercy of wile elephants who roam the area after dusk.
“The water and power lines are just a few metres away from our gate and the connections could be given in a single day, but the relevant authorities will not change their attitude,” charges Mallika Guruge.
“It was only the other day that a wild elephant stormed our kitchen and created havoc late at night. This could have been prevented if the place was lit up. I escaped along with my husband by fleeing to a neighbouring village,” she added.
Saman Keerthi, another affected resident said UPFA candidates had promised to look into the matter provided they change political sides. “This is a damning request. After all we are human beings and equal citizens of this country irrespective of political affiliations. The authorities must do their job and be fair by everyone instead of giving flimsy excuses,” he added.
At present these affected resident’s tap water from friendly neighbours and share the bill.
Sajith Premadasa said he was aware of the problem and was currently working towards a solution. “This is part of the Government’s discrimination agenda,” he added.