ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 2, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 40

It’s polls time for the butcher, the businessman and the fisherman

By Chris Kamalendran

Armed policemen are seen in every nook and corner of Batticaloa and its surrounding areas in readiness for next week’s local polls. Some of them are tasked with providing security to reluctant candidates who include butchers, businessmen and fishermen.

A popular figure from Kulawady, 65 year old former TULF Batticaloa Municipal Council member and small time businessman S. Asirwatham had been approached by an independent group to contest the polls, but he had turned down the request. In spite of saying no, his name had been included in the nomination papers and as he is a close associate of a candidate of a main political party in the independent group, he had eventually given his consent.

Poll cards being distributed

He was soon given police protection, but his family left home fearing that the policemen providing security may come under attack thereby endangering their lives too. Mr. Asirwathan eventually requested that police protection be withdrawn as he wanted his family to return home.

In Kalawanchchikudy, a butcher turned candidate who was provided similar security found to his dismay that his regular customers were not turning up at the meat stall as they feared attacks by rival groups. He later gave it all up and came to Colombo.

The policemen providing security also sometimes find themselves in awkward situations. Last Tuesday a fisherman candidate from Aryampathi had left home for an election campaign in the Kallady area with his two police bodyguards when on the way he was informed by other fishermen they had found a large catch of prawns in the lagoon. He immediately decided to head to the lagoon and engage in his profession till four in the evening, forcing the policemen to provide security while he caught his prawns. In another instance police were seen providing security to a labourer turned candidate who was busy colourwashing a building.

As the Batticaloa Municipal Council and eight other councils go to the polls in nine more days, security has been further tightened after a suicide bomb attack claimed the lives of two TMVP or Pillaiyan group supporters last Sunday. The bombing came a few hours before Pillaiyan himself was due to set out campaigning.

Many candidates who have been given police security now have second thoughts as their movements have been restricted and they fear for their lives. The two main groups vying for power to the nine councils are the TMVP and the Independent group backed by the PLOTE, EPRLF and EPDP. The TMVP is contesting under the UPFA ticket for the Batticaloa Municipal Council.

Johnson Deelepkumar, an undergraduate contesting under UPFA ticket for the Batticaloa MC was seen distributing leaflets printed in green and when he was asked why he said the TMVP does not agree with all of the UPFA policies. Many of the lay people are wary of the polls and they view the two main parties as armed groups still carrying weapons with them.

For the people the main issues surrounding the polls other than the security situation are the authorities’ failure to reconstruct the roads which are in a bad condition and non availability of drinking water. The presence of some 30,000 displaced people from the east still languishing in refugee camps is another major issue. Though, some of the displaced are from Mutur, in Trincomalee, the problems of the displaced affect the Batticaloa area as well. One of them is the issue of employment as many of them living in the camps go in search of employment to Batticaloa town.

The Mayoral candidate from TMVP Edwin Silva Krishnanandaraja, a former hardcore member of the LTTE and in charge of the education sector told The Sunday Times that they hope to make a change in the district by winning the elections.“The mandate given by the people to the parliamentarians in the area were misused by the members and they have been spending most of their time in European countries. We are not going to run away from this area but stay and give our maximum services to the people. We will not miss this opportunity, otherwise the council power will go to the wrong hands. The people are already suffering and we do not want them to suffer more,” Mr. Krishnandaraja said.

From the main independent group two mayoral candidates are vying for the top post--EPDP member Kandiah Arumalingam, a former Provincial Council member and ex-Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman and EPRLF member Rasiah Thurairatnam, also an ex-provincial councillor and former Pradeshiya Sabha member.

Meanwhile the local group monitoring election violence, the PAFFREL, has filed a Fundamental Rights petition seeking the disarming of all groups in the East. However during the past week hardly any group including the TMVP were seen moving around with weapons in Batticaloa, though some of the TMVP members were seen concealing their pistols in their T-shirts and moving about.

At least 27 incidents of election related violence have been reported so far and among the serious incidents have been three killings. In one instance a volunteer teacher was forced to contest elections and when he refused he was shot dead close to his home. The other two deaths were caused by the suicide bomber who exploded himself when he was about to be checked by two TMVP cadres.

In another incident armed groups of the TMVP prevented their rival candidates reaching the Kalwanchikudy area to canvass. For the march 10 poll 270,471 voters are eligible to vote to elect 101 members.

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