be the deciding factor
In the mainly Sinhala,
predominately rural areas the topic of discussion is the
successful war against the LTTE. In these areas are found many
fathers, sons, relatives or friends are either serving with the
security forces or having been injured or killed in the
fighting. As far as the PC system is concerned they have yet to
feel its benefits even though it has been in existence since the
late 1980s. The general opinion appears to be that only those
who get elected to this body are benefited. Moreover the
majority of the people have their own day-to-day problems that
need urgent attention than to be concerned about a PC election.
Rohan Abeywardena and L.B. Senaratne
The ordinary people of the Central Province have no stomach for
a new Provincial Council Election and this is quite visible when
we toured Kandy, Matale and Nuwara-Eliya Districts that make up
the province early this week.
Unlike in past elections hardly any election-fever or any of the
resulting violence and tension is evident in the Matale and
Nuwara-Eliya Districts. Gone are the defacing of public places
and private walls with poster warfare not only among rival party
candidates, but even among candidates belonging to the same
party for the sake of preferential votes. The only visible signs
are a few posters pasted mainly on electricity posts and
isolated cutouts of candidates seen here and there.
In the mainly Sinhala, predominately rural areas the topic of
discussion is the successful war against the LTTE. In these
areas are found many fathers, sons, relatives or friends are
either serving with the security forces or having been injured
or killed in the fighting. As far as the PC system is concerned
they have yet to feel its benefits even though it has been in
existence since the late 1980s. The general opinion appears to
be that only those who get elected to this body are benefited.
Moreover the majority of the people have their own day-to-day
problems that need urgent attention than to be concerned about a
The atmosphere in the Kandy District is however very different
with the election-fever fast catching up. It might be due to the
theatrics and the drive of one single man who has evoked
interest in the poll by being provocative. He is the UNP Chief
Ministerial Candidate contesting from the Kandy District,
Dissanayake Mudiyanselage Sudu Banda, better known as S.B.
His latest announcement to voters this week is the raising of a
jungle fighting force (kele hamudawa) to fight election violence
from the government side. When questioned by the The Nation what
evidence he has of the government unleashing election violence,
he trots out two vague cases concerning his supporters. One is
that of a couple both teachers from Galagedera and who are
allegedly facing arrest on false charges and another incident
where a vehicle was deliberately set on fire to frame one of his
men, but luckily for the man he had an alibi in a police officer
who knew the man was elsewhere when the incident happened.
UPFA Chief Ministerial Candidate Sarath Ekanayake, an engineer
by profession and by all accounts said to be an honest and clean
politician, is clearly no match for a street fighter like SB. He
simply puts up his hands saying he is not even aware of any such
Mr. Ekanayake retorts that he had never resorted to such tactics
in his entire political career. “In the 2004 PC election there
was not so much as a scratch on a single individual or any
damage to property. My rival in my electorate Ududumbara at the
time was the formidable UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake,
but there were no incidents,” he said.
In the 2004 general election, they managed to beat the UNP
General Secretary Tissa Attanayake in Ududumbara by a margin of
some 3000 votes, without any reportedly violent incidents in the
area and which resulted in Attanayake moving out of the
“There is no fight here. So they are trying all types of
tactics,” said Mr. Ekanayake.
All indications are that his own party hierarchy is not
wholeheartedly behind Dissanayake. May be no one can blame the
party for the lack of enthusiasm shown; for he wastes no time in
telling at any given opportunity that his true ambition is to be
the President of Sri Lanka and even be a dictator in the
Mr. S.B. Dissanayake has a knack for mesmerizing his audiences
with his rhetoric and a flow of words accusing the central
provincial government and the UPFA led administration of the
last Council. At his many pocket meetings which runs to dozens
in any given day, he belts out a well rehearsed stream of
accusations which are clapped up by die hard UNPers. His
campaign bandwagon too must be the biggest with bands,
firecrackers and more than a dozen vehicles, including those of
at least two other candidates campaigning with him.
The government however, most probably due to increasing
vociferous tactics of Dissanayake, is not taking any chances,
knowing well it is fielding a weak and virtually the same team
that was in power in the PC since the last Provincial Council
election here in 2004. The result is that as in the recent PC
elections held in the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces,
President Rajapaksa is being used by the UPFA as the trump card.
The President is quite visible in this campaign with his
photographs adorned on all decorations put up by UPFA candidates
in the three districts, along side their own.
Strangely photographs of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is
almost non existent in the party campaign posters or cut outs.
Mug shots of Dissanayake are seen on UNP election decorations
accompanying photographs of other party candidates.
This scenario sits very well with Dissanayake’s ambitions of
becoming the President. Especially in the Kandy District, to a
stranger, it looks as if it is a straight fight between the
President Rajapaksa and UNP National Organiser S.B. Dissanayake.
Mr. Dissanayake boasts that he had beaten the President in at
least four encounters within the SLFP and the PC election would
not be any different. His argument is that the government team
is weak and is unable to keep up so the President has entered
the campaign inviting everyone into the President’s House to win
over their support.
When it was pointed out that he might be antagonizing some
people by repeatedly proclaiming that he wants to be the
President of the country, Dissanayake said he was not trying to
be the next President as he was fighting to make Ranil
Wickremesinghe the next President.
He readily admitted that being provocative was an advantageous
tactic at his disposal and said he had this vision of being the
leader of this country for a long time. “I wanted to be the
Sakvithi (Universal) Monarch from my school days and I am in no
hurry. Fate will decide.” When it was pointed that there were
not many UNP heavyweights campaigning with him, Dissanayake
readily retorted, “I told big shots not to come with me.” Being
a man with a big ego may be he is not comfortable with other
While Dissanayake shouted out claims that the previous PC
administration had not given even a hundred jobs and had not
built a single road, while the Rajapaksas were robbing the
country with 107 Ministers, the UPFA Chief Ministerial
Candidate, Sarath Ekanayake, countered that in every village at
least one road had been concreted, while carrying on with other
development work amidst a costly conflict in the North. As for
jobs, in the teaching sector alone 6500 graduate teachers had
been recruited to overcome the teacher shortage in the province
and not a single of those appointments was made on political
The Kandy District is undoubtedly the key battle ground in this
contest with the largest number of candidates to be elected.
Kandy District 30, followed by 16 from Nuwara-Eliya and 10 from
Though Dissanayake talked in terms of winning a landslide, to
most observers it is mere wishful thinking. At the last PC
election held here in July 2004, the JVP contested as a member
of the UPFA and the CWC and the Up-Country People’s Front was in
alliance with the UNP. The result was that UPFA won two
districts - the Kandy District was won by the UPFA with 244,595
votes to UNP’s 202,264 votes and the seats were split 16 to 14
and Matale District was won by the UPFA with 92,510 votes as
against UNP’s 69,309 votes, dividing the seats 6 to 4.
The UNP in alliance with the main Up-country Tamil parties won
the Nuwara Eliya District with 138,572 votes as opposed to
89,192 votes garnered by the UPFA. The final overall tally in
the province was UPFA 30 seats, including two bonus seats and
the UNP 26 seats.
In the present elections the JVP is contesting alone and the JVP
breakaway group, the National Freedom Front is with the UPFA and
one of the JVP elected members in the last PC elections from the
Nuwara -Eliya District, who crossed over to the NFF is also
contesting on the UPFA ticket this time, in addition to other
NFF candidates. The CWC, the Up-Country People’s Front and
another estate group led by Arulsamy are also contesting under
the UPFA this time. With the main Up-Country Tamil parties with
their captive voter bases contesting under the UPFA will
certainly ensure its victory in Nuwara-Eliya.
One of the key charges levelled against the Government campaign
by Dissanayake is that it is badly divided. “Their biggest
meeting at Norwood couldn’t gather alliance partners on one
stage. Three key partners were not there. “Only CWC Leader
Arumugam Thondaman and President Rajapaksa were there. There was
no show by Up-Country People’s Front Leader Chandrasekeran and
Mr. S.B. Dissanayake, the UNP and other candidates are of the
opinion that as a result of such in- fighting among Tamil
parties, coupled with almost unprecedented economic woes facing
estate workers they would easily turn those votes in UNP’s
CWC team leader in the Nuwara Eliya District, Radha Krishnan
dismisses UNP claims that any rift between them and UPFA would
drive the voters to UNP. “If there is any rivalry, that is
democracy in practice, but the votes will remain in those
parties, he asserts emphatically.
About the non-presence of other Tamil parties at the Norwood
meeting, the CWC group leader said it was purely their show and
they had not invited the other Tamil parties, who were competing
for votes with them.
Mr. Radha Krishnan said it was true that their founder leader
Saumyamoorthy Thondaman had trained their people to mark their
vote for the elephant, “but today we have educated our people
that elephant will not come to power and therefore to vote for
the betel leaf and unlike those days estate youth are educated.
He said under this government the estate sector had got many
gains by way of concreted roads, new school buildings, improved
health facilities, electricity to line rooms and most
importantly jobs. In the last few years more than 200 had been
recruited to the police force from among estate youth, 101
Gramasewakas, 3178 teachers, 350 postmen and 500 language
facilitators to serve in government departments and institutions
to assist estate workers who come to these institutions to
obtain their services.
“We have explained all these gains to our people. Besides, most
of the UNP Sinhala voters in these areas we spoke to said they
would now vote for the UPFA because of the success of the war,”
The CWC group leader, while praising Dissanayake as a capable
politician and a friend, said they being a minority party knew
of their limitations despite the fact they made up about 52
percent of the population in the district and following the
guidelines laid down by their late founder Leader Saumyamoorthy
Thondaman, they would always align with the party in power in
order to get help for their long-neglected people.
He also said they had no illusions about grabbing power, because
they understood the significance of places like Kandy in the
culture of this country. “Unlike the East, where the Chief
Ministership went to Pillaiyan, we cannot expect such things
here,” he said however adding that unlike the last time when the
JVP had the deciding vote with nine members to their own eight,
this time they will be the deciding factor with the JVP expected
to be beaten to a very low position.
JVP group leader in Nuwara Eliya Michael Aculas de Silva is a
hard worker and is quite at home working with Tamil youth and
fluently speaking their language having grown up among them.
Michael has no illusions about his party’s chances with some in
the party breaking away to form the NFF. From the three seats it
won at the last PC poll, he said they now expected it to come
down to two as one of their former elected members is now
contesting on the UPFA after having joined the NFF.
Born and living among members of both communities, Michael is
quite aware of their problems and needs, especially those at the
bottom rungs of the society. He met us while supervising
community development projects in three villages situated in
parts of the former Olefant Estate. Here we noticed both Tamil
and Sinhala youth were working with him in these projects or
come seeking his advice.
He charged that Up-Country Tamil leaders like Arumugam Thondaman,
who moved about like a Maharaja would not enter a line room let
alone have glass of water from a worker’s quarter, but the
JVPers were there taking part in all aspects of estate life and
this has helped to open the eyes of the estate workers towards
“The high cost of living coupled with reduction of work days to
three per week due to stagnant tea market, are issues the estate
workers can no longer bear,” the JVP District Leader said
explaining that earlier they were paid Rs 221 per day if they
worked 20 days a month and Rs 275 per day if they worked 25 days
a month, but now they were reduced to working no more than 15
days a month. In the same period the price of wheat flour, their
staple diet, had shot up to Rs 78 per kilo from Rs 24 and
kerosene which they use for both cooking and lighting had shot
up to Rs70 per litre.
The district leader of the JVP who has already carried out Rs.
3.3 million worth of community projects in Shanthipura, Olefant
Estate, where we met him, is hopeful of grabbing at least one
per cent of the estate Tamil vote this time. And instead of just
criticizing those at the helm, Silva also offers solutions to
problems faced by the people there. According to him instead of
primarily relying on tea, which is dependent on global vagaries,
the authorities should look into areas like reopening and
developing seed potato farms as at present 90 per cent of the
seed potato requirement of the country is imported. At present
only six seed potato farms are operating and those too at
Another area for development he suggested was the cut-flower
industry, which is ideal for this district. But he lamented that
instead of growing all the flowers we need, the country was
importing as much as 65 per cent of its requirement.
UNPers in the district too charged that estate workers were
badly hit by the reduction in the number of days they are
offered work. “They had no time to cook rice, so all they make
is a simple roti or ate bread. But a loaf of bread is at least
Rs35”, complained UNP Mayor of Nuwara-Eliya, Chandra Lal
The Mayor said the unemployment situation there had also
exacerbated, as a result of estate youth who were earlier
employed in Colombo and elsewhere returning to the estates
because of the stringent security measures they are subjected to
in other areas.
“Unlike the CWC, which uses up worker membership fees for the
personal benefit of their leaders, the UNP was there to serve
the estate workers with offices in all estates along with the
party youth and women’s clubs. Arumugam Thondaman talks so big,
but 80,000 estate workers are still without identity cards. The
party has become so unpopular with estate workers, it is now
running behind Sinhala voters,” Karunaratne said.
UNP candidate G.M.M. Piyasiri said they were not worried about
CWC and Up-Country People’s Front being with the UPFA as without
either of the parties the UNP had won the 1999 PC poll
single-handedly. Besides this time they are contesting with the
UNP Ravindran Ganeshan, the brother Western People’s Front
Leader Mano Ganeshan, who had been a sitting member of the
Central Provincial Council for 16 years and a former UPFA
sitting member Sathasivam Digambaran, who even served as a
In Matale we met several office bearers of the 151 member
Traders, Association of the Dambulla Economic Centre, which
handles bulk of the country’s vegetable and fruit wholesale
A certain powerful UPFA politician is accused of extorting Rs
200,000 from each of these traders to fund the party campaign,
but its General Secretary I.G. Wijenanda, Treasurer A.M.G.T.
Abeyratne and Committee Members P.G.S. Ariyaratne and M.A.
Wimalasena said in unison that it was a preposterous charge.
They said their members belonged to all political parties and
being businessmen had dealings with all parties. The person who
levelled the allegation lived in the adjoining property to the
Dambulla Economic Zone but didn’t even know the number of
wholesale commission agents operating there.
Being commission agents, whose objective was to buy and sell as
fast as possible the highly perishable items they were dealing
with, were not in a position to amass mass wealth to throw such
huge sums into political campaigns. Most of all their
commissions are a fixed rate and cannot be adjusted as they wish
as key Government sector institutions are there in person to
check any abuses, they said.
Matale District appears to be the least interested in the poll.
Even on nomination day when more than a thousand vehicles of
various party candidates and their supporters converged there,
everything had ended peacefully with the police doing an
But here we found people generally talking very favourably and
openly of the security forces victories and handling of the war
by the government in general. Even the formidable Aluwihara
family seemed very much subdued in their campaign work.