Pohottuwa blooms among disgruntled Sinhala farming community in Ampara; loyalty to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa for defeating LTTE still evident     Former LTTE cadres and Muslim women in Batticaloa take up challenge of vying for public office in this historic poll for women; people with us, says ITAK  It’s late evening in the village of [...]


People gutted by war, drought speak out

Local Government elections:Eastern Province

 Pohottuwa blooms among disgruntled Sinhala farming community in Ampara; loyalty to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa for defeating LTTE still evident   

 Former LTTE cadres and Muslim women in Batticaloa take up challenge of vying for public office in this historic poll for women; people with us, says ITAK 

It’s late evening in the village of Ambagahawella in Ampara. A group of supporters of T.A.Swarna Latha, a candidate for the upcoming Local Government elections from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the breakaway faction of the SLFP, have gathered in her humble home.

ITAK candidate Chandra Devi: Former LTTE cadre all geared to play a proactive role in the development of Batticaloa

Three years of living under the ‘yahapalanaya’ government has done little to dent their strong support for former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. In fact, the failure of the Government to reach out to this predominately farming community has helped loyalists of the former president to consolidate their base among the largely Sinhala community here.

Reeling under a prolonged drought coupled with a fertilizer shortage, the farmers feel abandoned by a government that they accuse of paying lip service to good governance while doing little on the ground to improve the lot of a disadvantaged community.

“The ‘yahapalanaya’ Government came to power shouting from the rooftops that the Rajapaksa regime was corrupt; but now we can see that this Government is far worse,” said K.D.Nissanka Kumara (49).

He is among a large number of farmers in the district whose paddy crop has suffered due to two years of drought, now aggravated by the failure by the Government to deliver the much needed fertilizer on time.

“There were some excesses by president Rajapaksa, I agree. But we got our fertilizer on time and there was development in our areas back then,” he said.

But the real reason they support the former president and denounce the present one has less to do with economic hardships and more to do with their loyalty to the man whom they credit with the defeat of the LTTE.

That loyalty, they say, will not shift to anyone else, even if it means abandoning a political party they have supported for decades.

“The entire country might go in another direction, but we in Ampara will always vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa,” said R.G.Dhanapala (65), another farmer in the area.

Their nostalgia for the Rajapaksa regime is not difficult to understand, given that their villages were subject to regular attacks by the LTTE, with bomb blasts and massacres being a regular occurrence during the 30 year- long war.

Batticaloa: ITAK General Secretary, K. Thurairajasingham

These areas where support for the former president continues to hold sway, will be the first electoral test for President Maithripala Sirisena, since his election three years ago.

The upcoming Local Government (LG) elections have pitted supporters of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) against their own party workers, with the SLPP backed by the former president having an edge over the SLFP.

Swarna Latha served four years in the Namal Oya Pradeshiya Sabha as an elected member from the Untied People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). She is one of the women candidates in the Eastern Province (EP) contesting the LG elections under the new electoral system which makes it mandatory that 25 percent of all nominated candidates be women.

Her decision to go with the Rajapaksa faction and contest under the Flower Bud (pohottuwa) symbol instead of the SLFP is based on her belief that Mahinda Rajapaksa is the rightful heir to the policies of the SLFP.

“It is President Rajapaksa who safeguarded the policies of the SLFP and also developed our areas. This is why I want to contest from the Party he is supporting,” she said.

The former Vice Chairman of the Ampara Municipal Council (MC), Chaminda Sugath, is among several SLFP supporters who have decided to switch their allegiance to the SLPP.

“We were among those worst affected by the war. We have not forgotten the days of bombs and barricades. We cannot forget the service that President Rajapaksa did by ending the war,” he said.

There are few visible signs that an election is due in four weeks. Posters adorned with the faces of candidates are hardly visible, while campaigning is restricted largely to house-to-house campaigning. In the three districts in the Eastern Province–Ampara, Batticaloa and Trincomalee, around 1.1 million voters will go to the polls on February 10.

These LG elections are a landmark as they are the first since a 25 per cent mandatory female representation was introduced by law. This has opened the door for many women to come forward to contest, and women from all three communities have taken up the challenge.

Niluka Suriyananda (39) is contesting for the Senanayakapura PS in the Ampara District from the UNP. “The UNP has been in the forefront in getting more women into politics, so when I was invited to contest from the Party, I accepted. This will give a voice to women in politics. I want to help the youth who are into drugs, give them employment and uplift downtrodden women in the area,” she said.

Niluka Suriyananda contesting for the Senanayakapura PS in the Ampara District from the UNP


In Kattankudy, a deeply conservative Muslim area in the Batticaloa District, A.G.S.Naleema- (38) is contesting as the candidate from the Muslim National Alliance (MNA), a proxy for the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress (SLMC) for the Urban Council (UC) there.

A last minute hitch over sharing seats in the UC led to the breakdown of an alliance that the SLMC and the United National Party (UNP) were trying to forge to contest the area together. “We did not have enough time to register the SLMC to contest the poll so we are contesting through a sister party, the MNA,” said Shibly Farooq who is leading his party‘s campaign in the area.

For Naleema, a mother of three, vying for public office is a new experience which she has embraced with enthusiasm.

“As a Muslim woman, I had to convince my husband and the extended family to allow me to contest. I want to be a role model for other Muslim women and let them know that women can make a difference. Women should come forward and enter public life because women can talk to other women freely regarding the problems they face,” she said.

Naleema who has O/L qualifications has worked for several years in the Samurdhi Youth Association in her area–which has given her confidence to face the LG elections.

“I belong to the lower socioeconomic group and hence I am able to understand their problems. If elected, I will be able to help them in many ways,” she said.

Her children aged 13, 9 and six and her husband, a three wheeler driver too have been supportive.

“They are all happy that I have come forward to contest the election and I am confident that I can set an example to other women, “she said.

For the Muslim community in the EP, the euphoria over the election of President Maithripala Sirisena to office in January 2015 has long since evaporated. But despite their dissatisfaction with the present government, they don’t see a return to power by the former president,

Naleema: As a Muslim woman, I had to convince my husband and the extended family to allow me to contest

“After President Sirisena won in 2015, the people were expecting a new era that would find remedies to all their problems. But this has not happened with members of the UNP and the SLFP who run the Government being more interested in building their own party’s strength than in solving people’s problems,” said Shibly Farooq of the MNA in Kattankudy.

Despite the disenchantment, Farooq does not see the return of former President Rajapaksa as an answer to their problems.

“The Joint Opposition (JO) is shouting about the bond issues saying the government is corrupt, but it is due to what the last regime did that the country is in this state.

They spent colossal amounts on building ports and airports, and left the country heavily indebted; which is why people are still suffering,” he said.

For the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) it’s their first foray into the LG elections under the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) umbrella and first attempt in over two decades to capture power at local level.

“The people are with us. In Batticaloa, the ITAK has a good structure to contest the poll. We have to share some of the seats with our coalition partners who will contest under the ITAK symbol. It is our party that can fulfil the aspirations of the people,” ITAK General Secretary, K. Thurairajasingham said.

For an area still recovering from a prolonged war, these elections are another demonstration of the people’s commitment to keep faith with the ballot.

“People realise that extremism is not the way to winning rights. They see non-violent political means as the way forward. We were also partners in the government change, and since then our questions are being addressed step by step. It’s true people are not satisfied with the pace of movement but they are hopeful that with the introduction of a new constitution, many of their issues will be resolved,” Mr. Thurairajasingham said.

ITAK’s candidates for the coming poll are an interesting mix that includes social workers and ex-combatants.

Among them is Chandra Devi who, along with her husband, spent close to a decade as members of the LTTE and left only after the two decided to get married. A mother of four, Chandra Devi is also a social worker in the area, working as a Samurdhi officer and as a member of the Rural Development Society in the Manjanthoduvai division.

It's a hard life: Farmers supporting SLPP candidate in Ampara T.A. Swarna Latha gather at her humble home

“There has been little development in our areas ravaged by the war. Everybody sees the impressive Batticaloa Telecom building on the main road and think the area has been developed. But once one gets off the main road, one can see the neglect and how things remain untouched since the war ended,” she said.

Chandra Devi is keen to get elected so she can play a more proactive role to resolve the unemployment problem among the youth in the area, develop roads, and encourage single women and war widows to take to self-employment by facilitating them with loans and the necessary training.

Another ITAK female candidate Lakshmi Rajani Jeyprakash (37) said that the three-decade- long war has left their areas with no female leadership. “Fifty two per cent of the population in the country are women. We had the first woman Prime Minister in the world. But still women are reluctant to enter politics,” she said.

Rajani welcomes the move to allocate a quota for women and said having women in politics will facilitate other women to come forward and talk about the various problems they face. “There are things women cannot or do not want to discuss with men, as men will not understand them,” she added.

Having studied at the Batticaloa Hindu College, her knowledge in politics so far has been text book-based having taken up political science for her Advanced Level examination, but years of working as a social worker has honed her skills to take a more active role in politics. “I see a need for strong female representation. The 30-year war has made us strong and we can meet the challenges we have to confront in the political sphere. Be it better street lighting, an efficient drainage system, children’s clinics and parks or upgrading cemeteries, all of which come under the purview of the local authorities, she said.


In the Tricomalee District where 272, 822 registered voters are set to vote with all the main parties including the UNP, SLFP, ITAK, SLPP and SLMC vying to take control of the LG bodies there.

Residents here said that there is a great deal of nepotism in the selection of candidates by all parties contesting the poll in the district. “There are friends, relations and neighbours of politicians who are in the fray and people are unsure of whom to vote for, ” a resident said.

Trincomalee District being the bastion of TNA leader R.Sampanthan, the older generation is determined to vote for the Party, calling him the leader of the Tamils, while the youth are questioning what he has done for them.

Whatever the outcome of this election, the ground has been set for a historic election– the first under a mixed system Westminster (First-past-the Post) and Proportional Representation (PR system) as well as the first to guarantee women a substantial representation in each Local Government body.

(Additional reporting by Wasantha Chandrapala in Ampara)

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