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This is my Nation


Southern PC elections

Saving the best for the last

One does not have to be astute to predict the outcome of the Southern provincial poll. One reason for having this particular election last is because this is President Rajapaksa’s home turf. If at all, the margin of victory could possibly be greater than that recorded in Uva, the relatively urban areas of Galle and Matara notwithstanding. This ‘saving the best for the last’ strategy could be the perfect launching pad for presidential and general elections for the President

It wouldn’t be quite true to say that the results of the Uva Provincial Council (PC) elections were not surprising. Even though victory for the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) was widely expected, the huge margin of the win was unexpected, not least of all to the hierarchy of the Alliance.

It is worthwhile to review the statistics in brief: The UPFA polled just over 418,000 votes amounting to 72% of the vote, while the major opposition party, the United National Party (UNP) polled a mere 129,000 votes, or 22%.

The rout of the UNP was all the more apparent in the Moneragala District: The party polled a dismal 16%, 15% and 14% respectively, in the Wellawaya, Moneragala and Bibile polling divisions, calling into question the concept of a so-called UNP ‘base’ vote, hitherto estimated at around 30%.

Indeed, even in the Badulla District, previously reputed as a UNP stronghold, the party managed to record a 30% vote only in the polling divisions of Badulla (34%) and Uva Paranagama (31%), while in the other seven polling divisions, the percentage vote was 26% or less.

In fact, the UNP would do well to reflect on one blunt statistic in comparison to 2004: The actual number of votes by the party in both the Badulla and Moneragala Districts has dwindled from 119,000 to 98,000 in Badulla and from 48,000 to 30,000 in Moneragala. This is despite the natural increase in the number of voters over a five-year period.

This decline in the UNP’s popularity is all the more noteworthy, since the Badulla district is home to many big guns of the UNP: The Seneviratnes of Mahiyangana, the Lokubandaras of Haputale and the Samaraweera’s of Welimada to name a few. Apparently, such lineages do not count for much now, in a political landscape that has changed drastically over the past few years.

It is a fact that these elections were the first to be held after the Armed Forces crushed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and that, some of the gloss of that victory - often attributed personally to the political leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa - has rubbed off on the Uva voter, who would have felt it was his bounden duty to express his gratitude with a cross against the betel leaf.

Nevertheless, one cannot deny that the results of the poll will have a snowballing effect: It demoralises the opposition both at a national and grassroots levels, disillusions potential financiers and sends a powerful message to the middle level leadership, that they should cross the political divide, if they wished to reap quick political dividends, instead of resigning themselves to a long, long period in the opposition.

As for the President and the UPFA, the ‘road map’ to ensuring victories in the subsequent elections has already been drawn up: The Southern provincial poll will be next, while the presidential and general elections will surely follow before the end of the first half of 2010, with polls in the Northern PC also possibly sandwiched in between.

One does not have to be astute to predict the outcome of the Southern provincial poll. One reason for having this particular election last is because this is President Rajapaksa’s home turf. If at all, the margin of victory could possibly be greater than that recorded in Uva, the relatively urban areas of Galle and Matara notwithstanding. This ‘saving the best for the last’ strategy could be the perfect launching pad for presidential and general elections for the President.

For the UNP and the now distant ‘third force,’ the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), problems abound. The UNP finds itself to be a party in the wrong place at the wrong time: It consistently advocated a peaceful resolution of the conflict with the LTTE right until the tail end of the war, believing that the Tigers could never be militarily routed.

As a result, the State media mercilessly portrayed the UNP as being LTTE sympathisers in cahoots with the international community and NGO fraternity. The ‘traitor’ label has stuck at least in the eyes of the average voter from the majority community and therein lies the problem: That perception will not change in a hurry, no matter how much the UNP tries to pay homage to war heroes now.

Contesting election after election, pitted against the might of government resources and the State media is to fight a losing battle, and losing is all that they have been doing. It will be noted that, with each successive election at the provincial level, the gap between the UPFA and the UNP has been widening, and only more of the same can be expected at future polls.

Already, we have heard the likes of Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva speaking of the possibility of a two-thirds majority at the next general election. A few months ago, such a suggestion would have been pooh-poohed out of sight, because of its near impossibility under the proportional representation system. Now though, the UNP must surely be fearing such an eventuality.

While the UPFA juggernaut rolls on with victory at future elections virtually assured, it must be noted that a strong and vibrant opposition is also a pre-requisite for a healthy democracy. But then, only a minority of voters would factor that in deciding where to mark their cross on the ballot paper.

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