Battle for supremacy
have queried President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s strategy of holding staggered
elections for provincial councils, when it diverts attention and
resources from the Government’s activities not once, but several times,
as the provinces go to the polls, two at a time. But the thinking in the
corridors of power has been otherwise. So far, the ruling United
Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) has been successful in winning all the
provincial polls that have been staged. And although it does cost the
government much in terms of time and resources, it costs the Opposition
Almost obscured by news of military victories in the
theatre of conflict in the jungles of Mullaitivu, the upcoming
Provincial Council elections are gathering momentum in the North Western
(Wayamba) and Central provinces, with only three weeks more for election
Why the Polls are being staged is in itself a question that is being
asked in many quarters. Many have queried President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s
strategy of holding staggered elections for provincial councils, when it
diverts attention and resources from the Government’s activities not
once, but several times, as the provinces go to the polls, two at a
But the thinking in the corridors of power has been otherwise. So far,
the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) has been successful
in winning all the provincial polls that have been staged. And although
it does cost the government much in terms of time and resources, it
costs the Opposition even more.
The Opposition United National Party (UNP), has adopted a strategy of
running ‘big-name’ candidates for the Provincial Polls. As a result, it
is placing a lot at stake in these contests. This costs the Opposition
significantly in terms of finances and resources in these regional
contests-and such resources are harder to come by for the Opposition
than the Government.
More than all this however, it is the snowballing effect that the
Government is aiming at. At each election which the Opposition loses,
the UNP particularly is left demoralised as a set of ‘no-hope
The divisions in the party, both at the grassroots level and at the
national level are reinforced and the image of the UNP takes a
humiliating battering in the eyes of the average voter. At the end of it
all, the disgruntled party worker is left asking how it plans to win a
general election just over a year from now, if this is the party’s
standing in the provinces.
This is what has happened in the Provincial Polls held until now. The
UNP lost in the Eastern province despite convincing Rauf Hakeem to
resign his seat in Parliament and contest. It also lost both in the
North Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces despite fielding Janaka Perera
and Ranjan Ramanayake.
There were some allegations of vote rigging especially in the Eastern
Provincial Poll, but the margins of victory for the UPFA in the North
Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces left the UNP party hierarchy stunned.
It was convincing proof that there was a significant erosion of its vote
base, especially in the provinces where most votes are from rural areas.
The UNP’s comprehensive defeats in these provinces have already had an
impact on the campaign in the North Western province. The party
attempted to inveigle a senior or a ‘big name candidate’ to run for
Chief Minister, but there were no takers-despite feelers being sent to
the likes of Sajith Premadasa and Gamini Jayawickrema Perera.
As such, party insiders say the ‘Wayamba’ campaign of the UNP is
lacklustre and very few are optimistic of launching a real challenge to
the UPFA in the region. The recent military victories in the North have
bolstered the ruling party’s popularity and the UNP’s ambiguity on this
issue has not helped its cause in any way.
The Central province is, of course, a different battleground entirely.
Leading the UNP is the firebrand S.B. Dissanayake, fresh from a jail
sentence and the loss of his seat in Parliament, and attempting to make
a re-entry to national politics.
Dissanayake is never one to mince his words. This was why he was hauled
before the Supreme Court for contempt in the first instance, and he has
launched his campaign in characteristic style saying that he, “will be
President of the country one day”.
Dissanayake is indeed a force to contend with for several reasons. He
has the organisational capacity which other UNP chief ministerial
candidates before him-Hakeem, Perera and Ramanayake-lacked.
He is also a skilled platform speaker, a fact which he is only too aware
of, for he did boast that people flock to hear him speak. More than all
this, he has a point to prove, both to the UNP hierarchy and the
Moreover, the Central Province has traditionally been a UNP-friendly
area. Until recently, its support for the UNP was a foregone conclusion
at most elections. Even at the 2005 Presidential Elections, when most of
the south of the country opted for President Rajapaksa or endorsed his
rival Ranil Wickremesinghe with a slender margin, the Central Province
was one of the few regions to endorse the UNP with a convincing
Therefore, the expectations are that the contest in the Central Province
will be evenly balanced, given the traditional advantage the UNP enjoys
in the region, pitted against the new-found popularity of the Government
in the wake of the recent military successes in the North.
Indeed, the expectations of the UNP leadership are that the party will
win in the Central Province, so that they could point the finger at the
UPFA and tell the country that the ruling party’s bubble has burst. If
the UNP can achieve that, it would also compel the Government to
re-think its strategy of holding Provincial Polls in the rest of the
country, in the Uva, Western and Southern provinces.
But this is easier said than done for the UNP and the coming weeks will
see an intense battle for supremacy in the provinces, even though in
reality a meaningful contest can be hoped for only in the Central