Night-riders bring polls terror to Kalutara

UNP says violence looms, UPFA says rubbish
By Leon Berenger in Kalutara

Everyone from all political parties is already claiming to have won, even before the first vote has been cast for the up coming Provincial Council Elections in the Kalutara District. As the nominations closed in the district, campaigning got off to a tense start -- with opposition supporters being prevented from putting up flags by an armed mob.

The drunken mob was cheered on by a minister who was present at the scene along with police security squad, UNP parliamentarian Lakshman Ananda Wijeymanne told The Sunday times.
He said two police officers who tried to intervene were manhandled by the mob.

“It was a disgustful act of thuggery and, even more, shameful because the police were reduced to toothless spectators as the rowdies made their day,” Mr. Wijeymanne said. Mr. Wijeymanne said his party feared there would be large-scale violence in the run-up to the April 25th elections.

He alleged that ruling party supporters had warned UNP activists of dire consequences if they try to display party propaganda material in public places. “They have said they will never allow a single green or red flag in the entire district.”

Jittery opposition party supporters have now confined their campaign to tiny pocket and village-level meetings to avoid any conflict with ruling party supporters, with some claiming that the district had not witnessed such a violent beginning to the election campaign.

This was because election campaigns in the district in the past were carried out by respectable people, such as S.A. Cooray and V.L. Wijeymane of the UNP, Cholomondoley Gunawardene of the LSSP and Priyangani Abeyweera of the SLFP, just to name a few. “But now the situation is different with uneducated and corrupt politicos tarnishing the district’s good image,” Mr. Wijeymanne said.

He said the situation would be aggravated by the infighting within the ruling UPFA for preferential votes
Mr. Wijeymanne said the battle between the two ex-ministers who have their base in one electorate was so intense that one of them had threatened the other with violence.

This particular ex-minister, according to Mr. Wijeymanne, is said to be favoured by the “top”. Thus, naturally, there was very little the law could do to arrest this trend, the UNP parliamentarian said.
Asked what the UNP would do to counter the violence, the MP said his party was planning a mass protest in the Kalutara town after the National New Year.

A motorcycle gangster speeding on a Kalutara street in the night

According to other opposition activists, who did not wish to be named, goons brought in from outside are seen in the Kalutara town. Some of these gangsters wearing fully-covered helmets are seen riding motorcycles without number plates.

They claimed that the motorcycle gang was a law unto itself and the gangsters had even jeered at policemen on duty. Dismissing the opposition allegations, Kalutara’s Senior Police Superintendent Ravi Wijeygoonawardene said that if any party was affected, they should have brought the matter up with the police.

Asked about the incidents mentioned by the UNP MP, the SSP admitted that there was a standoff between the supporters of the two main party but denied that his officers had been manhandled by a pro-government mob.

“On the day of the nominations there was a tense stand-off between two political groups and the police moved in quickly to settle the matter. The two groups later dispersed peacefully,” SSP Wijeygoonawardene said.

The UPFA also dismissed the UNP allegations, saying it was a sign that the UNP was jittery in facing the electorate. “The UPFA will score a sweeping victory as the people are with the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration,” UPFA district coordinator Lakshman Pathirana said. “We will win at least 14 of the district’s 20 seats.”

“If the UNP believes that it had been threatened, then it should take the matter up with the police instead of making statements to the media,” said Mr. Pathirana who has been given the coordinator’s job on the recommendation of Nation Building Minister Rohitha Abeygoonawardene.

He said the UPFA’s main strategy was to improve the agricultural sector, which had attracted more people because of the government’s policy of providing fertilizer at a highly subsidized price. Another area, the UPFA would focus would be education with village schools being provided facilities that town schools get.

Wijeymanne blames UPFA for the violence Jayatissa: Govt. misusing the war

Mr. Pathirana said there was no “quick fix” to these urgent problems because the government was also hard pressed for funds because of the war and the global economic crisis. The Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP), meanwhile, warned that the Government was gradually taking the country towards dictatorship.

JVP frontline candidate Nalinda Jayatissa charged that government-backed goons attacked a party office at Horana and assaulted JVP supporters at Badureliya. “This is how the UPFA intends to win the elections, apart from selling the war and the good work done by the security forces in crushing the LTTE terror,” Dr. Jayatissa said adding that the government strategy of making political capital out of the sacrifices made by the security forces would not last long.

“It was the JVP that should get the credit for war victories, because it was this party that campaigned for the abrogation of the so-called ceasefire agreement and even won a court ruling against the temporary merger of the north and east,” Dr. Jayatissa said.

He also said this election and those held earlier were not needed at this time. “It is all a waste of money and the people are fed up with all this. The money spent on these elections could be diverted to areas such as health and education sectors.”

The need of the hour was not elections but a national effort to end the war and provide relief to the masses, Dr. Jayatissa said adding that these elections only served politicians who aspire for perks and privileges.

The JVP candidate said the education and health sectors in the district were in the doldrums with some 52 schools being closed down and several state-run dispensaries reduced to panadol and dispirin clinics.

Dr. Jayatissa also hit out at the choice of candidates fielded by the UPFA and to a lesser extent by the UNP. The lists of both these parties were packed with dubious candidates, some of whom had criminal records, he alleged.

He also lashed out at the government’s suppression of the free media and student activism, saying that the so-called democracy existed in this country only to promote the open economy and the narrow interests of the ruling party.

“This is a farce, and the JVP intends to educate the masses on the real picture before the country ends up like a Zimbabwe where democratic institutions have been razed to the ground,” he said.

Dr. Jayatissa alleged that the circuit bungalow of a local magistrate which was recently renovated at a cost of Rs. 3 million had been handed over to a private individual to operate a restaurant. The money for this renovation was drawn from the former Chief Minister’s budget, he charged.

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