The Uva Provincial Council elections are now over, but the aftershocks still remain in some areas. Residents in several areas are still recovering from the cut-throat polls campaign and the post election violence that took place during the last few weeks. The atmosphere in the Hali Ela area in Badulla was thick with tension following [...]


Uva has spoken: Who and what tipped the scales?


The Uva Provincial Council elections are now over, but the aftershocks still remain in some areas. Residents in several areas are still recovering from the cut-throat polls campaign and the post election violence that took place during the last few weeks.

The atmosphere in the Hali Ela area in Badulla was thick with tension following a clash between the two main party supporters after the election results were announced. Road blocks have been set up and uniformed men with fire arms stood on guard. No one goes unnoticed under the watchful eyes of the area people.

The men at the three wheeler stand on the road side observe the activities in the area. Even in the town, no one openly talks of the election results, especially if he or she was a known UNP supporter for fear of being assaulted. In the estates the situation is much more relaxed. Removed from the mainstream communities, go about their business.

In Moneragala, the strong hold of the UPFA, banners thanking UPFA supporters sporting larger than life pictures of Chief Ministerial Candidate Shashindra Rajapaksa are everywhere in the town. Here the situation is more

mobs attacking Harin Fernando’s vehicle. Pix by Palitha Ariyawansa

relaxed, with only one or two uniformed men standing guard.
During a tour of what was once the campaign trail, we tried to find out why the UPFA support base had eroded and the UNP base increased.
Most said it was the escalating cost of living that tipped the scales.

“He (Shashindra Rajapaksa) has done nothing for Badulla. There is no point in renovating the roads if our economic issues have not been sorted,” Thakshila Sanjeewani (43) mother of two from Pinarawa, Badulla said.

Having worked as the ruling party’s deputy chairman in Pinnawala for several elections Ms. Sanjeewani switched her loyalties to the UNP during this election hoping for a better tomorrow, she said.

“The living expenses are high, the people in the estates cannot afford to even have one suare meal a day. How can we afford to eat, a kilo of rice is

Television grabs of post election violence in Badulla

Rs. 86? How can a labourer afford it? Even a person who works in the government cannot bear living expenses,” Ms. Sanjeewani said passionately.

K. Sumanasena (49) from Haliela area agreed, adding that the lack of interest of the authorities regarding their plight pushed many away from the ruling party.

“We don’t have water in this area, no proper roads. Most of the people in this area don’t have proper jobs. But no one coes to help us. We have been supporting the UPFA for generations. Although I voted for the UPFA my relatives actively supported the UNP.”

Many also said the lack of employment opportunities for youths was another reason for many to vote against the UPFA this time. With more than 20 percent of the population below the national poverty line in Moneragala, the second highest in the country, lack of employment opportunities was a key decisive factor. Badulla was no different. Coming from a minority community largely ignored by politicians Ramesh Rajah, (22) said he cast his maiden vote for the UNP. Mr. Rajah and a number of his friends actively took part in canvassing for UNP candidate Harin Fernando, hoping for a better tomorrow for his community, he said.

Sumithra Kulathunga

The robust personality of Mr. Fernando, on whose shoulders the UNP campaign gathered momentum, attracted young voters, F.L.Ahamed, (34) a vegetable businessman from Badulla said.

“Even my daughter who was voting for the first time and her friends were taken up with the TV debates he took part in,” he said.
Others opined that his campaign also touched racial and religious concerns. The few posters which still remained on parapet walls in Haliela showed Mr. Fernando in conversation with a group of young children representing different communities.

“There was a feeling among our Muslim community that the violence in Aluthgama was state sponsored and that if they could stop terrorism why couldn’t they stop this. So, many UPFA supporters turned against them,” a young male voter from Haliela, who didn’t want to be named for personal safety said.

Ranjith Gunawardena

“We didn’t even vote for the Muslim Congress this time, we supported the UNP. Even the UNP spoke of this issue and said how we were being isolated,” he said.

The UNP preferential vote count showed that the UNP campaign was mainly centred around Mr. Fernando. He gained 173, 993 votes compared to the 30, 457 votes that Velayudan Rudradeepan who came second from the UNP

Thakshila Sanjeewani

list garnered.

“I never supported any party but the UPFA. But this time I voted for ‘Harin Mahattaya,” Sumithra Kulathunga (68) from Pinrawa, Badulla said, showing that the candidate gained not only the youth vote.

As a last ditch effort, the UPFA had resorted to salvage some votes through election favours which included the distribution of goodies, electric irons and even cash. In the Passara area estate workers were gifted an electric iron and Rs. 1000, a day before the elections, the Sunday Times learnt.

In Moneragala too drought relief had been distributed hurriedly a day before elections. This was in addition to the goodie bags, sarees, and even big canopy umbrellas that were distributed.

“The UPFA gained its votes mainly by spending money for the campaign including what they called ‘drought relief’. They were distributing Rs. 2500 till 12 midnight on the 19th. Even I got the drought relief. They gave everyone,” Ranjith Gunawardena who made a living by producing and selling cement bricks in Moneragala said.

UPFA supporters also resorted to fear tactics, charged R. M. Jayawardana, Moneragala district JVP candidate and organizer.
“When they realized that even the goodies were not going to get them the votes, they started fear-based tactics,” he said.

The situation was similar in Badulla. Many UPFA supporters had threatened UNP supporters verbally in the run up to the elections. Violence peaked the day after elections when results were announced. UNP candidate Harin Fernando was attacked near the counting station in Badulla. A few sporadic clashes took place while two provincial reporters who were on election coverage were beaten up with one sustaining serious injuries. According to police, since the elections were announced they received 98 complaints to date, out of which 22 were reported after polling closed. Sixty eight individuals were arrested in connection with the complaints received before the 20th and 19 more were arrested for post election violence.

Contrasting campaigns ‘cutomised’ to project a sensitive candidate won the day

Harin Fernando, who polled a record 173,993 Preferential votes at the Uva Provincial Council election, attributes his victory to his all inclusive, broad election campaign, while acknowledging that it was indeed an individual driven campaign.
His decision to resign from Parliament and take up the cause for the party, was considered a great sacrifice by his supporters, he said.
“The UNP campaign was centred on my campaign, focusing on the slogans, logos and marketing of my campaign, naturally people rallied around me. I even got support from Colombo.”
His campaign was driven by the support he received from the youth. The campaign had infiltrated into the community so well that even children’s toy cars had his campaign sticker pasted on them.
His ability to speak all three languages also gave him an advantage over the others, he claims.
“No major marketing company did the campaign, it just came together”


Anura Vidanagamage, who polled the highest votes in Badulla, claims that their victory was due to the mega development carried out in the Badulla district.
“We gave electricity connections to about 95 per cent of households in the district, and have carpeted almost all the roads. This is why we got so many votes to the UPFA.”
He also acknowledged that the UPFA has to take stock of the situation and adopt corrective measures in places where they have gone wrong.
The UNP did not have any advantage over the others at the beginning of the campaign. Badulla residents were disappointed over not having a chief minister from their district, which is what the UNP used to their advantage, and campaigned on that basis.
The fact that Harin resigned from Parliament to contest, and the union between Sajith and Ranil also attracted a lot of votes for the UNP.
“The loss of two seats in Badulla also worked against the UPFA campaign,” he said.

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