A ‘trial run’ of vital
These elections will be an interesting benchmark for both the
ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and for the main
Opposition party, the United National Party (UNP). They offer the
parties the opportunity to test the electoral waters before the general
elections which are due early next year. That the UPFA wishes the
provincial polls to be a ‘trial run’ for the general elections is
abundantly clear. Therefore, a closely contested poll - at least in the
Central Province - is on the cards
is never a dull moment in politics in this country and last week was no
exception. As the rest of the country was celebrating the dawn of the
New Year, the dates for the Provincial Council polls were announced and
President Mahinda Rajapaksa effected a minor cabinet reshuffle.
The cabinet reshuffle was needed because Karu Jayasuriya had returned to
the mainstream United National Party (UNP) some weeks ago, leaving the
vital portfolio of Public Administration and Home Affairs vacant. That
was filled by another former UNP stalwart, Sarath Amunugama who had held
the same portfolio earlier. His Investment Promotion portfolio was
filled by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa.
That the reshuffle stopped there and fell short of a full scale overhaul
of ministerial portfolios, indicate that President Rajapaksa does not
wish to upset the Government’s apple cart just yet, not with Provincial
Polls looming in six weeks time, on Valentine’s Day.
These elections will be an interesting benchmark for both the ruling
United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and for the main Opposition
party, the United National Party (UNP). They offer the parties the
opportunity to test the electoral waters before the general elections
which are due early next year.
In previous provincial polls, the UNP gambled with picking big-name
politicians as the chief ministerial aspirants: Rauf Hakeem, Janaka
Perera and Ranjan Ramanayake. None of them won and now the party appears
to be in two minds: S.B. Dissanayake is leading the Central Province
team but the relatively lesser known Shamal Senerath will head the party
list in the North Western Province.
Apparently the party was not in a position to inveigle any of the big
names into the fray-and these included Gamini Jayawickrema Perera and
Sajith Premadasa. Premadasa obviously sees himself destined for greater
heights in the national stage and doesn’t wish to chase the tough
prospect of heading a provincial administration.
S.B. Dissanayake’s case is of course different. Dissanayake is an
ambitious man and is not shy to say so too. Recently, he declared that
people flock to hear him speak, and said he was confident he would
become President of the country one day.
Despite such lofty predictions the reality is that right now he is in
the political wilderness, out of Parliament on the grounds that he was
absent for more than three months, and striving to regain the limelight
that he was so used to once, as the virtual Number Two of the Chandrika
But this is exactly why the Central Provincial Council elections will be
all the more interesting. The Central Province has historically been UNP-friendly.
Dissanayake has a point to prove: he has the resources to launch an
effective campaign, and take on the might of the government- and he has
guts to go ahead with it, no matter what.
This must be put in the context of Dissanayake’s present political
predicament. He has been very critical of the manner in which the UNP
has conducted its recent election campaigns, and there is a section in
the party which believes that Dissanayake is a destabilising influence
on the UNP. They wouldn’t suffer a lot of heartbreak to see him lose,
even if it were to cost the party the Central Provincial Council.
The Central Provincial Council poll is therefore likely to be hotly
contested, bearing in mind that much has happened since the ruling
party’s easy victories in the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces.
In the North West of the country however, it would hardly be a level
playing field, and the odds are stacked against the UNP. The word
Wayamba entered the lexicon as a synonym for the worst ever election
malpractices at a past provincial poll, and this highlights the poor
foothold the UNP has in the region. Ironically, leading the Peoples’
Alliance campaign against the UNP at that infamous election, was none
other than S.B. Dissanayake!
The UNP’s problems at Wayamba are compounded by the fact that there are
very few big names in the UNP camp from this region, and therefore it
will be an uphill task for the party to launch an effective campaign.
But this is a problem the UNP will have to confront and counter in many
areas of the country in the run up to the general elections next year.
Therefore, the quicker they come to terms with this issue and take
remedial measures the better it would be for the party’s fortunes. Or
else, it runs the risk of being an ‘also ran’ in Sri Lanka Freedom Party
Of course, the UPFA cannot afford to be complacent. The recent-and yet
unresolved-standoff between the government and the Supreme Court over
fuel prices left the ruling party with a lot of egg on its collective
face, earning negative public sentiment in the process. This is not the
best strategy to work towards an election, and that is probably why the
government was keen to introduce a ‘mini budget’ with a host of price
reductions at the dawn of the New Year.
That the UPFA wishes the provincial polls to be a ‘trial run’ for the
general elections is abundantly clear. Therefore, a closely contested
poll - at least in the Central Province - is on the cards, and the
coming weeks will surely be interesting, if not entertaining.