Election monitors expect a low turnout when nearly ten million Sri Lankans go to the polls on Thursday (March 17) to elect representatives to 235 local government bodies. As the low-key polls campaign draws to a close midnight tomorrow, the ruling UPFA remains confident it will retain the majority of seats in the local bodies, while opposition parties are hopeful of making gains too.
The Elections Department has announced that election propaganda activities should cease by 12 midnight Monday and party election offices closed by Wednesday.
A noticeable feature of this election has been the lack of enthusiasm among voters with many of the meetings held by the ruling party as well as other opposition parties not attracting large numbers, Keerthi Tennakoon of the election monitoring body Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) said. Voter apathy was likely to contribute to the low voter turnout on the day of the polls, he said. What has been predicted is a turnout of about 55-65 per cent which is the usual case at local government polls, People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) Executive Director Rohana Hettiaratchchi commented.
The elections will be held to three Municipal Councils, 30 Urban Councils and 202 Pradeshiya Sabhas, while elections to 66 bodies have been postponed due to Writ Applications being filed in the Court of Appeal on the rejection of nomination papers. Elections to Puthukudiyiruppu and the Maritime Pattu Pradeshiya Sabhas in the Mullaitivu district have been postponed as people have not been resettled due to continuing demining activities.
With the war victory euphoria, prevalent during the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in January and April last year somewhat lessened, all constituent partners of the UPFA from the President downwards have driven home the point that while members will be elected to local bodies, the results would not bring about a change in government. UPFA General Secretary Susil Premjayantha said that the ruling party would hand down the 19th election defeat to the UNP under the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe by winning Wednesday’s poll decisively.
Another senior UPFA member Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said the people would vote for the Government because of the war victory and the benefits they have gained from major development programmes undertaken by the Government.
Deputy Leader of the main Opposition United National Party (UNP), Karu Jayasuriya said his Party was confident of securing control of many of the councils. The UNP campaign has mainly focused on the escalating cost of living. “The mood of the people has changed a lot since 2008 and the UNP is gaining popularity,” he said confidently.
The Janatha Vimukthi Party (JVP) too is hopeful of gaining victory in several LG bodies. “We are contesting under the Bell symbol and we have seen a lot of enthusiasm from the voters.
They want to show their displeasure with the government’s wrong doings and at this election they will show that by voting against the UPFA,” JVP Parliamentarian Vijitha Herath said.
A five party alliance is contesting for the local authorities in the north and east under the Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi (ITAK).
Elections to many of these bodies are being held after more than 15 years. Here too there is little keenness among voters who are grappling with post war problems.
Election violence has continued to the run up to the polls with at least three intra-party rivalry killings being reported. Both PAFFREL and CaFFE have recorded incidents of abductions, damage to party offices and assaults since the campaign began.
“It is disappointing to say that other than saying that Police have been directed to act against election law violators, the Elections Commissioner has been ineffective in dealing with the problem,” Keerthi Tennakoon of CaFFE said.
Both election monitors and opposition political parties have alleged that the failure to appoint both the National Police Commission (NPC) and the Public Service Commission (PSC) as provided for under the 18th Amendment to the Constitution which was approved by Parliament in September last year, is an obstacle to holding a free and fair poll.
Meanwhile special security arrangements have been made for the elections.
Secretaries of several political parties who met Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayaka on Friday were told that the Army as well as STF personnel would be deployed in areas identified as violence- prone, on election day.
UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayaka said they have identified Kelaniya, Hambantota, Tissamaharama and Beruwela as four potentially violence prone areas and the Commissioner has agreed to pay special attention to them.
He has also agreed to allow a representative of each party to accompany the ballot boxes to the counting centre from the polling booths to prevent any irregularities taking place on the way.
Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police Gamini Nawaratne said the Police have been entrusted with the main security arrangements adding that measures have been put in place to ensure a free and fair election.
North and East: Chance to vote after 15 years, but little interest
In the north and east, voters will have the opportunity to elect representatives to local authorities in several districts including Mullaitivu, Mannar, Vavuniya, Ampara, Trincomalee and Batticaloa. However, residents of 16 local government areas in Jafffna and three in Kilinochchi will not be able to vote due to cancellation of polls in these areas on the action filed in the Court of Appeal by the ruling UPFA following their nominations being rejected by the Elections Commissioner.
In the Ampara and Trincomalee districts too polls in several areas have been posponed due to pending litigation.
The Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchci (ITAK) which is hoping to emerge victorious in the north and east is contesting as an alliance of five parties with TULF leader V.Anandasangari as well as DPLF leader Dharmalingam Siddarthan joining in.
“We carried out our campaign in all these areas and we have encouraged voters to come forward and vote for us,” ITAK parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran said.
Voter apathy is more prevalent particularly in the north where people are still grappling to adjust with the post war scenario. During a recent visit to several areas in Kilinochchi the Sunday Times noted that many residents were unaware of the candidates contesting the polls. The absence of posters of candidates as well as party offices except a lone JVP office in Kilinochchi was in sharp contrast to the high profile campaigns in the rest of the country.
Rohana Hettiaratchchi of PAFFREL said his organisation was conducting voter education programmes in Vavuniya, Mannar and Mullaitivu districts. “ The people in these areas are voting after nearly 15 years and have to be educated on aspects such as the necessity to carry a valid identification with them when going to the polls as well as on how to mark a ballot paper,” he said.
Ministerial thugs attack UNP candidate
The vehicle belonging to the UNP’s Dambulla UC candidate Tissa Bandara Herath came under attack by supporters and security personnel of Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon, it is alleged.
The attackers carried knives, poles and stones but the UNP members were able to escape unhurt and fled the area.
A compliant has been lodged with the Dambulla police.