Columns - From the Sidelines

LG elections and the story in numbers

By Lasanda Kurukulasuriya

With the local government elections being staggered over several months this year, and some having been held in previous years, it is difficult for analysts to get a grip on the overall picture presented by the outcome in the various electoral districts. Elections to local bodies within districts too have been held months apart. Since these numbers often tell a story in themselves and can point towards electoral trends, an attempt is made here to put some of the pieces of the jigsaw together.

Out of a total of 335 LG councils, 234 were elected in March 2011. An unprecedented number of nomination lists were rejected at this election owing to various irregularities. Writ applications were filed in the Court of Appeal, and elections to these councils could not be held. The 65 local council polls held in July 2011 represented these cases. In the final phase now scheduled for October 8 elections will be held to 23 councils. Also to be taken into account are the Jaffna Municipal Council election and Vavuniya Urban Council election both held in 2009. The majority of Batticaloa district’s local councils were elected in 2008. So there are five sets of LG polls to be considered in arriving at the overall picture.

LG elections to all local bodies in the North and East have now been held, with the exception of the Kalmunai MC in Amparai district, and two Pradeshiya Sabhas in Mullaitivu district which reportedly cannot be held as mine clearing is incomplete. The picture in the North and East is of special interest since citizens in these parts had not been able to exercise their vote for well over a decade owing to LTTE diktat. In Batticaloa the 2008 LG election was held after 14 years.

Nomination lists for LG elections displayed at the Rajagiriya Elections Office

In Jaffna where elections to 16 local councils took place in July, the time lapse is probably closer to two decades. In the North and much of the East it is only now after the defeat of the LTTE that it has become possible to have some idea of the priorities of the people, as reflected in electoral preferences. Local government elections are a good indicator in this respect as they deal with grassroots issues.

The picture that emerges in the North at the conclusion of local elections in that province is one dominated by the TNA (Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi). In Jaffna it won 13 out of 17 local councils, with the remaining four going to the UPFA and its allies. Of these, UPFA’s partner the EPDP predictably won three in their traditional stronghold in the islands off Jaffna. The Jaffna MC went to the UPFA in a solitary election held there in 2009. In Kilinochchi two out of three were won by the TULF led by V. Anandasangaree (former MP of that district) and one went to the TNA.

In the Wanni again the TNA was a clear winner with four out of five councils in Vavuniya, four out of five in Mannar, and both councils in Mullaitivu (that have been held so far). The Vavuniya Urban Council election, which was held at the same time as the Jaffna MC election in 2009, also went to the TNA. This gives the TNA a total of 24 councils out of 32 in the Northern Province, two to the TULF, and six to the UPFA. This contest has been virtually a straight fight between the TNA and government. Voter turnout was generally over 50% in the Jaffna district (except in the case of Jaffna MC in 2009 where turnout was just 22%).

In the Wanni the voter turnout was over 50% in Mannar and a little below 50% in Vavuniya and Mullaitivu.
The Eastern Province presents a different voting pattern from the North, with the UPFA dominating in all three districts. Here too the elections were staggered. While most councils in the East had last held elections in 2006, in the case of Batticaloa, nine out of 12 council elections were held in 2008, so those elected are still in office. The government-aligned TMVP took eight of them with the UPFA winning the Batticaloa MC. This year the UPFA also gained control of Koralpattu West PS, Kathankudi UC and Eravur UC in Batticaloa (to which elections were last held in 2006). It thereby consolidated its local-level hold in Batticaloa, the only Tamil-majority district in the Eastern Province.

In Trincomalee too the ruling UPFA holds the majority with 10 out of 13 councils. The TNA won three councils (including Trincomalee Urban Council).

The politically volatile Amparai district presents the most complex picture, with control over its 19 local councils being split among five parties. The UPFA won eight, the TNA four, The SLMC four, The National Congress two and the UNP one. Voter turnout in the Eastern districts was mostly over 70%. The Lahugala Pradeshiya Sabha in Amparai was the solitary win the UNP managed, out of all 76 councils up for grabs in the North and East. The UNP did not contest in two councils (one each in Trinco and Kilinochchi) and boycotted the elections to nine local bodies in Batticaloa held in 2008. With those exceptions, it fielded lists of candidates for all the rest, but secured little more than a seat here and there. This is indeed a pathetic showing for a party that considers itself to be ‘minority-friendly.’

The notable feature of the upcoming set of LG elections in October is that most of them – 17 out of 23 are for Municipal Councils. Of these the Colombo Municipal Council will no doubt be the most hard fought and keenly observed contest. This is a constituency where Tamil and Muslim voters are believed to be in the majority. With its traditional support base among minorities eroded the UNP could now be in danger of losing this, its ‘last bastion,’ which it controlled for some 50 years.

The writer is a senior freelance journalist

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