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The Sunday TimesFront Page

23rd March 1997



PM & President
Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike is helped down the steps of the Nittambuwa polling centre by her daughter, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, when they came to cast their votes on Friday. Pic. by Lakshman Gunatilleke


Resounding victory for PA

The People's Alliance scored a resounding victory in Friday's local government elections, amidst cries by opposition parties of wide-spread rigging of ballot boxes, thuggery and intimidation.

According to official results released yesterday afternoon 194 of the 238 councils were won by the ruling PA while the UNP won only 43 councils though it retained control of major cities like Colombo and Kandy.

Close finishes were seen in many of the councils with the turnout being 77 percent almost the same as in the Presidential polls in 1994.

Counter claims of statistical victories were made by the PA and the UNP. The PA said it had won 151 councils from the UNP but the UNP pointed out that President Chandrika Kumaratunga's PA obtained only around 48.9 percent of the votes compared to 62 percent in the 1994 Presidential polls.

The UNP at the 1991 local elections won 194 councils including nine of the 10 Municipalities. The SLFP, the major partner in the PA had in 1991 won only 37 councils including one municipal and two urban councils.

The National Security Council decided to impose an island-wide curfew on Friday night and extended it till Saturday afternoon in a bid to prevent any post-poll violence, following reports of political tension especially in the Gampaha district and the southern province. The curfew was reimposed at 9 p.m. and was due to be lifted at 5 a.m. today.

In Negombo for the first time in 50 years the UNP lost control of the municipal council, while the PA also took control of Matale, Dehiwala and the new municipalities of Moratuwa and Kotte.

UNP, MEP and JVP cry foul

By Roshan Pieris and Shyamal Collure

Opposition parties yesterday charged that authorities turned a blind eye to election violence and malpractices, preventing them from gaining more ground with the UNP describing the polls as amassive electoral robbery.

UNP General Secretary Gamini Athukorale described Friday's local government polls as a massive 'electoral robbery accompanied with force, threat and violence committed under the Chandrika Kumaratunga regime.'

Mr. Athukorale said numerous acts of violence were committed on UNP supporters and candidates from the handing in of nomination papers to the end of voting in a bid to secure the 62% mandate it got at the Presidential Election in 1994.

"These acts reached a zenith on election day. Supporters and politicians of the PA stormed polling booths and chased away our polling agents even those of other political parties. Officials and election observers too were driven away. They resorted to rigging of ballot boxes on a mass scale thereafter. There were also instances where ballot boxes were destroyed along with their contents. The law too was not allowed to prevail", the General Secretary charged.

"Over 70 incidents of this nature have already been reported. Despite all these undemocratic acts, the government has not been successful in securing its 62% target. This clearly shows how the people have assessed the government," he said.

MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena who was widely proclaimed as the emerging leader of a third force but failed again to win a substantial vote in any council, was outraged by what had taken place.

"From the beginning we in the opposition were hardly given a chance. This campaign has been full of violence with blatant violation of election laws. It seemed to us that the Elections Department was ineffective if not defunct. There was no free or fair election", an angry Mr. Gunawardena said as results showed the MEP falling far short of expectations.

The other contender, the once proscribed Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna fared much better than the MEP, gaining a few seats in several councils. But JVP leader Tilvin Silva also was an angry man yesterday.

"We have grown and gained a great deal in recent months and at Friday's polls. But we are disturbed over the manner in which our members and polling agents were harassed or intimidated.

We were denied the opportunity to exercise our full democratic rights and what took place is a sorry indictment on the government", Mr. Silva said as results showed the JVP emerging as a third party.

TULF leader M. Sivasithamparam who had made a dramatic last minute call for the minorities to support the PA said his party was encouraged by the resounding victory of the PA in rural areas of the South and other Provinces. "At grassroot level at the Pradeshiya Sabhas and the like, the people at this election showed their preference for the PA. The PA has even done well in towns.

"The fact that most of the rural votes went to the PA shows that the average Sinhala man and woman looks at the political package offered by the government in a positive manner and without prejudice. The MEP was badly defeated at this election. It showed that the MEP's virulent attacks on the devolution package are not supported by the Sinhala people by and large. Even the UNP said that it also stood for a political solution to the ethnic problem but the government was more emphatic about it, and showed more keenness in its approach," Mr. Sivasithamparam said.

PA triumph stuns its Secretary

By Arshad M. Hadjirin

PA Secretary D.M. Jayaratne said yesterday the alliance victory reflected the confidence the people had in the government, despite it not being able to fulfil most of its 1994 election pledges.

"The people have rejected the UNP's opposition to the government's effort to bring about peace and solve other issues. They understand that the country is facing a massive task of carrying on a war which has consequently slowed down all other progress," he told The Sunday Times.

He said the government would now be able to attract more foreign aid and investment, as a high degree of confidence would now be placed on the PA government by foreign countries.

Mr. Jayaratne quashed allegations by the UNP which accused that the elections were rigged and held under unfair circumstances surrounded by violence. "In fact it was the UNP which created inconvenience to our members," he said but admitted that his party men too were reportedly involved in violence.

Mr. Jayaratne said a special meeting would be held this week to decide who would head each of the councils the PA had won.

Karu takes Town Hall against the tide

By Roshan Peiris

The soft spokesman businessman, diplomat Karu Jayasuriya who has emerged from virtual political obscurity to become the Colombo City's First Citizen pledged yesterday he would work to build the capital that future generations would be proud of and serve all people irrespective of race or religion.

Mr. Jayasuriya who led the UNP in defence of its Colombo bastion and held it despite a countrywide swing towards the ruling PA said he wished to end confrontational politics and work with co-operation with the Kumaratunga administration to build a better Colombo for all.

"We acknowledge the decision of the voters of Colombo with deep humility and gratitude for giving us victory in the Colombo city.

"I am proud our party conducted the campaign in Colombo peacefully and with dignity. We did not attack the government as such nor did we insult or attack any rival personally.

"Our campaign was focused on the present and the future and we did not bother about the past," Mr. Jayasuriya told The Sunday Times in the afterglow of his triumph.

"Also in our campaign we concentrated on projecting the new vision and aims of our leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

"We humbly sought the views of the voters, their needs and their aspirations. We went from house to house telling people we were prepared to learn from the past, make amends and correct ourselves where necessary. We projected ourselves as a new and disciplined party and the voters by their response have indicated they also want an end to confrontational politics," Mr. Jayasuriya said.

Colombo's new Mayor-elect said the elections were now over and he hoped all parties and all people will co-operate in bringing about a clean administration and implementing positive policies for the common good of all.

"I look forward to receiving the co-operation of President Kumaratunga, the government and members of the Municipal staff to build a better city of which future generations will be proud of," he added.

Ex-Mayor K. Ganeshalingam, who defected from the UNP and led a PA-backed independent group in the prestige battle for Colombo said he had done his best for the city but now he bowed to the will of the people.

He said he felt the city could have been better served if a PA-backed administration had been elected. But he still hoped there could be co-operation above party lines to provide a better service for the people.

Mr. Ganeshalingam who led a coalition of several parties and campaigned strongly for minority votes declined immediate comment on whether the Tamil and Muslim communities in the city had adequately responded.

Polls at a glance

Total number of Councils:      238
PA                             194
(7 Municipal Councils, 20 Urban Councils and 167 Pradeshiya Sabhas)
UNP                             43
(5 MCC, 11 UCC and 27 PSS)
Independent Group                1
Votes polled and overall percentage
PA around 3.4 million   48.9
UNP around 2.8 million  41.2
JVP                      3
MEP                      1

Voting trends for the PA and the UNP from August '94 to March '97

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