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10th January 1999

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Wayamba Elections

  • New voters hold the key
  • Campaign van linked to robbery
  • Women's NGO to monitor polls
  • CBK will take tough action against violence
  • Gamini seeks extra security
  • Sound of silence for UNP meetings
  • Polls chief gets tough
  • Kongahage's 9-hour ordeal inside police station

  • New voters hold the key

    By M. Ismeth and Dilrukshi Handunnetti

    The hot topic these days is obviously the upcoming Wayamba polls. Capturing the campaign scenario in the province, this article puts together various aspects of the elections to give the readers a better picture of the goings on there.

    Claims and counter-claims are being made by the two main parties in the Wayamba elections that they would win the polls, but observers say it will be the 100,000 odd newly registered voters in the province who would be the deciding factor.

    The party that could get the support of 84,649 newly registered voters in Kurunegala and 17,863 in Puttalam, who together form 7.5 percent of the votes in the province, will form the next administration in Wayamba, these observers say.

    At the 1994 general election, the PA polled 367,036 votes in the Kurunegala district while the UNP got 332,547. In Puttalam, the PA got 147,571 votes and the UNP 125,645.

    Citing these results, PA sources say they could win the elections but UNP sources say that for them to win the elections, they require just 7% from the new and the swing votes.Polls fever hits Wayamba

    For the greens — not the UNP — the campaign trail is environmental unfriendly.

    Environment Minister Nandimitra Ekanayake has called for a ban on the use of polythene, especially for decorative purposes, as it is an environmental hazard. He said he hopes to bring in legislation shortly in this regard.

    The entire province is splashed with buntings, ticker tapes and posters of candidates in various colours with blue being dominant. The UNP, we are told, has given strict instructions to its members not to make wasteful expenditure on extravagant decorations and propaganda blitz as that would not bring in any votes.

    The environment cause apart, both main parties are doing their homework, studying the ground stiuation through methods ranging from reports allegedly prepared by some intelligence officers to surveys carried out by their own teams.

    Party sources say a report submitted by PA's electoral co-ordinating officers has indicated the ground realities in the Kurunegala district are not favourable to the PA.

    The escalating cost of living, the additional burden as a result of GST, irregular privatisations, the crisis over the Norochcholai power plant and the lack of development activities at grassroots level are some of the reasons the report identifies for the dwindling support for the ruling party, sources said.

    Both parties have thrown everything into the campaign with senior politicans being assigned electorates for the campaign.

    One salient feature in the PA campaign is the conspicuous absence of Ministers Anuruddha Ratwatte and S. Thondaman who is away in India for six weeks, despite his pledge to campaign for the PA after his ministry votes were defeated in Parliament.

    The absence of Anura Bandaranaike in the UNP's campaign trail has given rise to speculation that he has been sidelined by the leadership.

    Bimal Ratnayake, JVP's chief ministerial candidate, said the people are disgusted with violent politics which is hindering a peaceful campaign. He said a party survey had shown that they would win about 8 percent of the votes, especially the floating votes.

    Reports last week talked about a PA-JVP coalition in Wayamba after the polls.

    But Mr. Ratnayake said they had only expressed willingness to support a PA administration in the NWP.

    Supporting the PA in the campaign is the United Lalith Front which has split up over the very issue of backing the PA.

    MP Kesaralal Gunasekera said he was confident that his party's support for the PA would contribute to the ruling party's victory in the province.Meanwhile, the UNP has compiled a record of political violence allegedly committed by PA supporters.President Kumaratunga at a meeting in Wayamba

    "President Kumaratunga has been executing a systematic programme of intimidation of UNP members and media personnel through violence including murder, repression and coercion," a UNP statement said.

    More than 50 incidents have been recorded in the list of pre-election violence in the immediate past.

    The PA has charged the UNP has been making false complaints or blowing incidents out of proportion to tarnish the ruling party's image among the voters.

    Campaign van linked to robbery

    By Sunny Samarasinghe

    With two weeks to go for the Wayamba elections, a candidate's publicity vehicle has been linked to a robbery, police said.

    The van used by an… armed gang who robbed Rs. 12,000 from a petrol shed near the Anuradhapura Malwathuoya bridge last Friday is said to be the same van which was used for the campaign work of a Puttalam district candidate.

    Police arrested the gang from Nochchiyagama along with the van. Anuradhapura and Nochchiyagama police are conducting further investigations.

    Women's NGO to monitor polls

    A women's NGO has come forward to monitor the Wayamba elections. They invite all women to be a part of their team.

    The NGO, Business and Professional Women Sri Lanka, has organised a seminar on Saturday at the Public Library auditorium where the programme and the monitoring system will be discussed.

    Janaki Gunawardene, President of the NGO, told The Sunday Times they invited women from all walks of life to join them in monitoring a free and fair election.

    "If the elections are not free and fair we will move a resolution that it be declared null and void," she said.

    CBK will take tough action against violence

    President Chandrika Kumaratunga declared that she would take tough action against those who violate election laws during the campaign for the North Western Provincial Council.

    "I will not hesitate to remove a minister if he has violated election laws," she told a PA rally in Naththandiya on Wednesday.

    The President called for a peaceful election campaign and said that even the UNP had the right to contest elections in a free and fair manner.

    "We have given that democratic right. We will not engage in terror campaigns. I will not pardon anybody engaging in any of these activities," she said.

    "We are introducing education reforms through which it will be possible to bring a better education that can secure good jobs for people in the villages.

    "The largest item of expenditure in hospitals is the money spent on caring for those who are ill due to excessive drinking. It was due to the weakness in the education system that children took to guns and bombs. There is a section of people who take drugs.

    "These are things which happen to the misfortune of the nation.

    "We are formulating a policy to create a good health system. These things are being done not for the sake of robbing the people. or to fill somebody's pockets," she said.

    Gamini seeks extra security

    By Shelani de Silva

    Following death threats and alleged police inaction regarding opposition complaints, Police chief Lucky Kodituwakku has told the UNP's chief ministerial candidate that he could lodge his complaints directly to him.

    The Sunday Times learns that Mr. Kodituwakku has given this assurance when UNP's chief ministerial candidate Gamini Jayawickrema Perera requested him to provide additional security for him, fearing a threat to his life

    Mr. Perera told The Sunday Times he had briefed the IGP on the violence and the manner in which the police carried out their duties.

    The IGP had asked Mr. Perera to lodge any complaints personally with him so that immediate action could be taken.

    "The IGP told me that all police officers had been asked to carry out their duties impartially. I also told him that the UNP would take legal action against police officers who refused to entertain complaints," Mr. Perera said.

    He said he also handed over a letter to the IGP detailing the numerous death threats and the presence of several gang leaders in the province to perpetrate violence.

    A copy of the letter was also handed over to the Commissioner of Elections by the UNP General Secretary Gamini Atukorale last week.

    Sound of silence for UNP meetings

    In a move that is allegedly favouring the PA, the opposition says it has been deprived of holding its final meetings at places of its choice due to police action.

    Chilaw and Kurunegala police have turned down the request by the UNP to use loudspeakers on the grounds the PA is also holding its meeting at a venue nearby.

    The UNP had booked a location known as 'Polapitiya while the PA had reserved two venues — the Maliyadeva grounds and the Maliga grounds.

    Citing reasons for the refusal to use loud speakers, R.H.A.S. Ranasinghe, Kurunegala ASP, in a letter to UNP's chief Ministerial candidate Gamini Jayawickrama Perera has said since the distance between the venue chosen by the UNP and the PA was only 400 meters, it could lead to a disturbance of peace between the two sides.

    The letter also says the use of loud speakers at the UNP rally was denied because the venue selected by it was too small. Moreover providing security to a number of VIPs including the opposition leader could be a problemand the main Kurunegala-Dambulla and the Kurunegala -Kandy roads could get blocked if themeeting was held there, the ASP has said.

    However permission for the use of loud speakers has been granted to the PA meeting nearby, opposition sources point out.

    Polls chief gets tough

    Amidst rise in polls-related violence in Wayamba, Elections commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake has warned he would not hesitate to declare the polling at any booth null and void if there has been reported thuggery, intimidation and undue influence.

    Mr. Dissanayake told independent polls observers, including members of PAFFREL, a leadinig polls monitoring body, that they should promptly report any violations of election laws, The Sunday Times learns.

    Kongahage's 9-hour ordeal inside police station

    By our legal correspondent

    Sarath KongahageOpposition UNP Parliamentarian Sarath Kongahage, in the centre of controversy over an incident in Kobaigane last week, accuses top PA members of interfering with police work and virtually handicapping police officers with thuggery and intimidation.

    Mr. Kongahage, who was in the midst of a nine-hour political battle inside the Kobaigane police station, relates in this interview, his side of the story.


    Q: State media have accused you of being involved in causing damage to the house of a political opponent when you went to Wayamba to campaign for the UNP. How do you respond to it?

    A: It is a blatant lie.

    Q: Then why are you silent and why have you not responded to this allegation?

    A: I have discussed this matter with my lawyers and we will file action for defamation. I wish to add that up to now no complaint has been made that I have attacked a house. If this information was true and there was a complaint against me for attacking a house, the Police could have easily arrested me. I had to take refuge at the Police Station and was virtually kept as a hostage for nine hours.

    Q: If there was no act of violence on your part, why were you kept at the police station for nine hours?

    A: We are at the receiving end of political violence and thuggery unleashed on us by the PA, and we have been instructed by our leader not to confront them but to report matters to the police.

    Q: That you went to the Kobeigane police station with your security personnel shows that there was some incident where you had to go to the Police Station in response to a complaint made against you by PA supporters.

    A: This is a canard spread by the state media. There was no complaint against me or my two security personnel at the time we went to the police station. We had been told by our leader to conduct house-to-house canvassing in the villages and educate villagers, instead of having massive meetings. This process was highly successful. The government knows it won't get even 30 percent of the votes in Wayamba. Thus PA supporters are unleashing violence.

    Q: If it was a peaceful house to house canvassing campaign in a village why did the PA supporters accuse your security personnel of shooting at them?

    A: Last Monday, our candidate Subasinghe Jayasundare and I were at a village of Gurugoda in Kobeigane. We visited several houses and ended our campaign around 2 p.m. The last house we visited was at a dead-end. The candidate and I turned our vehicles back. Then I saw a man armed with a sword running towards the vehicles. I saw the candidate getting out of his vehicle, and I also alighted from my vehicle fearing the man with the sword would attack the candidate. My security personnel too got down from the vehicle along with me, and we went towards the candidate's vehicle. The man who was charging turned back when he saw my security personnel, otherwise he would have attacked the candidate and damaged the vehicles.

    I admonised the man and Mr. Subasinghe identified him as Weli Wickrama.

    Q: But the state media allege that your security men fired at the villagers.

    A: My security personnel are police officers attached to the Ministerial Security Division. The security personnel provided to me are directly under SSP Director of the Ministerial Security Division (MSD). They have been trained to use their weapons only when there is a threat to the life of the person they are protecting.

    Q: Then why was the complaint made against you and your security personnel?

    A: After this incident, I thought I should make a statement at the Kobeigane police station. We went there and when the candidate was making his statement a gang of about 75 people armed with knives, iron rods and other dangerous weapons stormed in.

    A PA member pulled out a pistol and aimed it at our candidate's head inside the Police Station. The mob came inside the Police Station and Weli Wickrama, against whom I now know that there are about five complaints held me by my neck and tried to stab me.

    Thanks to some brave police officers, I was saved. The PA council member recognised me and told the gang not to attack as I was an MP.

    Q: There was some reference to Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle who is supposed to have said that he came to the Police Station to settle the matter, but you refused a settlement.

    A: When the mob was creating pandemonium inside the Police Station, the Police officers, a majority of whom I would say were independent and not politically partisan, could have dispersed the mob, but one senior officer appeared to condone the action of the mob.

    A tyre of my Jeep was cut. All these events took place inside the police station. Lawyer Dhammika Gammarachchi from the Kurunegala Bar who came to the Police Station to perform his professional duties was intimidated and the tyres of his vehicle too were deflated. But the police at the behest of PA politicians did not take any action. In the meantime ASP Tennekoon who arrived at the scene on the request of the OIC, as he was unable to control the mob, brought in reinforcements from nearby police stations and was able to push the mob out of the Police Station premises. It is unbelievable that a mob armed with weapons was allowed to come inside the OICs room.

    Q: What about Minister Fernandopulle trying to settle the dispute?

    A: Mr. Fernandopulle came to the police station and shouted at the ASP and demanded the IB. He went through the complaint of candidate Subasinghe. Then he reprimanded the ASP for having controlled the mob and threatened to transfer him. At that time the candidate had already made a complaint to the effect that the PA member had tried to kill him by pointing a pistol at his head. Having learnt the serious nature of the complaint, Mr. Fernandopulle wanted Mr. Subasinghe to withdraw the complaint. That would mean that candidate Subasinghe would have made a false complaint.

    Q: Don't you think it was prudent at that moment to advise Mr. Subasinghe to withdraw the complaint and settle the matter?

    A: If I advised the candidate to withdraw the complaint and if they made a false complaint that my security personnel shot, I would have been in double jeopardy — I would have withdrawn a complaint and they would have lodged a complaint that my security personnel had opened fire.

    Q: What proof do you have to show that your security personnel did not shoot?

    A: The inquiry was withdrawn by ASP Tennekoon at the instance of Minister Fernandopulle and handed over to SP Wilfred Mahanayake, who inspected the weapons of my security personnel in the presence of a PA Pradeshiya Sabha member who was one-time a sub inspector of police. It was proved here the guns had not been fired. He submitted this evidence in court. The ammunition issued to the security personnel by the MSD was intact and this too was reported to court.

    Q: Then why did the police move for a remand of your security personnel?

    A: When they found that the T56 rifles were not fired they invented a story that a third person had fired a shot in the air and collected the used empty casing from the ground, and the Police moved for a remand of the security personnel until they find the third person.

    Q: But have not you been issued with another T56 rifle?

    A: The T56 rifle that was issued to me was snatched by a member of the Presidential Security Division (PSD) on the day I was attacked; on the day of the funeral of the mother of my beloved leader Vijaya Kumaratunga. If there was a third person unseen by me and others, it must be a ghost of one of the PSD people who would have used that rifle at the instance of some one in the PSD.

    Q: Why did they concoct such a statement against you?

    A: Mr. Fernandopulle and others know that if there is a free and fair election the PA can never win. The only way the PA could win is by terrorising the people who are independent and devoid of political loyalties. The people have become poorer during the past four years and have no prospects of a better future other than by ousting this government. Therefore, the PA knows that this is the last opportunity to show to the world that they are well entrenched in power. so they want to win this election by hook or crook, legal or illegal, fair or foul means.

    Q: But did not the UNP remain in office by using the same methods?

    A: I have been an active member of the SLMP and closely moved with my beloved leader Vijaya Kumaratunga. I contested the Central Provincial Council as the Chief Ministerial candidate and ended up as the Leader of the Opposition of the council. At that time the UNP wielded tremendous power, but I or the other candidates of the SLMP feared only the electoral strength of the UNP but never feared the UNP might.

    We fought an election with the UNP at the peak of its power. Not a single candidate was subjected to the type of terror the PA is now unleashing on the UNP and the JVP in Wayamba.

    I am sure no Government can rig elections and stay in power. This was quite evident by the reaction of the officers of the Kobeigane Police Station (except one officer) where the ASP downwards were trying to enforce law and order irrespective of the tremendous pressure brought to be bear on them by pistol wielding and gun-trotting supra VVIPs of the PA.

    As a result ASP Tennekoon had been transferred with immediate effect. Very soon the PA will have to sack all Police officers and appoint their henchmen to man police stations.

    Even if the PA rig this elections and win, it cannot do so at the General Election. I am sure the people will come out openly and publicly protest against the gun-culture. This is happening in Jaffna and it will happen in the South when the people realise that their elected representatives are nothing but representatives of the underworld.

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