Sights and sounds of LG polls campaigns in Negombo

Claims and counter-claims of candidates ring the air while constituents dance to a different tune
By Leon Berenger in Negombo

It’s all happening in the coastal town of Negombo as the forthcoming October 8 Local Government (LG) elections draws close. Contestants from all sides of the political divide say they will win, with nobody willing to be a loser.

While the Opposition claims that the ruling party has done little to improve the infrastructure of the town and its environs, the government says otherwise. Leading the pack for the main opposition United National Party (UNP) is a former police officer turned businessman- Royce Vijitha Fernando, who has vowed to sweep the board.

Residents say municipal authorities have done little to clear this mess, which is a breeding ground for mosquitoes

“The relevant authorities responsible for governing Negombo are steeped in corruption and other malpractices, while they continue to take the hapless constituents to the cleaners. This has been the case for many years now,” Mr. Fernando said.

The government campaign is being handled by the Lanza family, with 32-year-old Dayan Lanza the main mayoral hopeful for the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). Dayan is the younger brother of Nimal, a former mayor and currently an influential regional politician who has been handpicked from the top to handle the election campaign in Negombo, and towards this end, the government is pumping millions, Mr. Fernando charges.

“The abuse of state machinery is visible everywhere, while the police and the elections authorities have opted to ‘look the other way’, for fear of losing their jobs. That is the situation that prevails in Negombo today,” Mr. Fernando added.

However UPFA’s Mr Lanza says, “We will win Negombo with a majority of 15,000 votes, and in the process, grab 17 of the 26 seats on offer. Towards this end I am ready to bet any sum of money”.
“We will complete all projects by next year. Nobody can say that we did not do any work. We are in the process of putting the finishing touches to the country’s best bus terminal in the heart of town.

“This project, that cost an estimated Rs 270 million, is equipped with a shopping complex, rest and bathroom facilities, restaurants and even two mini cinemas where people could take time off while waiting for a connecting bus, or if they have missed the scheduled one,” Mr. Lanza boasted.
“Over the past few weeks, we have laid concrete on some 1,000 inner roads that were in a bad condition. In addition, some 150 main roads were recently carpeted with tar.

The new bus terminal coming up in the centre of the town. Pix by Saman Kariyawasam

“The opposition queries the source of the funds for such projects, but never appreciates the work that has been done. But the people understand and appreciate what we do and they will vote for us,” he said.
Politicians will make various claims, but the Sunday Times learns that there are many issues that the people are confronted with.

Mary Swarna, 45, a resident of Upalama Mawatha who, along with scores of other families, live alongside a stinking and stagnated canal had their own tale of woe.

“The Municipal authorities have done nothing to clear this mess, which is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The authorities do not care. They make occasional visits, spray some chemical into the area and then vanish, not to be seen again for several months, and this is supposed to be a top tourist destination,” she said.

Ajith Karunaratne Mary Swarna UNP’s chief candidate Royce Vijitha Fernando UPFA chief candidate Dayan Lanza

Ajith Karunaratne, a local businessman and a resident of Kurana, told the Sunday Times that, while the work done by the authorities should be appreciated, there are, however, some loose ends that must be attended to without delay.

“Negombo town is only slightly above sea level and as a result waste water stagnates in several hollow areas, unable drain out into the ocean. These stagnating ‘ponds’ of waste water are not only ugly sights, but are breeding grounds for various diseases,” he charged.

However, he said that the work carried out- the bus station for one example, must be appreciated, irrespective of political affiliations.

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