elections in 60 local bodies
could affect voter turnout
focus of political attention has been the local
government elections these past few weeks, but now
the contest between the government and the
opposition for control of the country’s local
authorities has been thrown into disarray due to a
plethora of court rulings.
This week, the Commissioner of Elections postponed
polls to 60 local bodies. His contention was that
there was on-going legal action pertaining to
elections in these bodies and that it would be
prudent to postpone the polls to avoid unnecessary
expenses, if the court were to reschedule the polls.
The opposition parties, the United National Party
(UNP) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) did
not take kindly to this. They argued that the
Commissioner appears to have presupposed the outcome
of the cases and believed he should have proceeded
with election arrangements instead.
In the meantime, the courts were to make their own
pronouncements. Elections to several local bodies
were prevented because of interim injunctions, the
latest being those issued by the Court of Appeal
against conducting polls in 19 local bodies in
Jaffna and Kilinochchi.
Even the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance
(UPFA) – which is desperately trying to minimise the
embarrassment caused by having its nomination lists
being rejected in a record number of councils
through a series of legal proceedings – found the
Minister Keheliya Rambukwella was to say on Thursday
that the UPFA too was ‘confused’ because elections
were being postponed at various times by both courts
and the Commissioner of Elections and asserted that
the ruling party was very keen to have all polls as
The first casualty of all these legal wrangles would
of course be the voter turnout. Sri Lankans are
already suffering from election fatigue, having gone
through a series of provincial polls in 2009 and
presidential and general elections in 2010.
Even at the 2010 general elections, voter turnout
was at an all-time low and many voters would have to
dragged kicking and screaming to the polling booths
at the March 17 polls, distracted as they already
are by the more ‘important’ cricket World Cup.
Even the political leadership of the major parties
do not appear to be that keen to indulge in
aggressive campaigning as they did in 2010 and this
is evident by the sparse campaign appearances by the
top stalwarts of the UPFA, the UNP and the JVP.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, usually someone who
relishes the campaign trail, has not attended many
campaign rallies for the local polls. As
head-of-state that is understandable, given his many
responsibilities, but even other heavyweights of the
UPFA have been conspicuous by their absence.
While some ministers – such as Nimal Siripala de
Silva and Dallas Alahapperuma – have taken the lead
in the campaign, other usually vociferous
campaigners such as Prime Minister D M Jayaratne and
Maithripala Sirisena, for example, have been choosy
in their appearances.
In the UNP camp, Opposition Leader Ranil
Wickremasinghe did engage in quite a bit of
electioneering, but he has flown overseas in the
midst of the campaign, again prompting bitter
criticism from those opposed to him within the
In Wickremesinghe’s absence, Deputy Leader Karu
Jayasuriya has been thrown into the limelight and is
doing a commendable job despite his advancing years,
keeping a punishing schedule. Another who has seized
the opportunity is Wickremesinghe’s rival for the
party leadership, Sajith Premadasa.
Premadasa has upped the ante recently in his
campaign rhetoric, defiantly proclaiming that a
‘Premadasa era’ will dawn for the UNP at the dawn of
the Sinhala New Year, a reference to the April 12
deadline by which the UNP should elect its new party
officials, including the party leader.
This is a new paradigm for Premadasa who until very
recently was fighting shy of formally announcing his
ambitions to be party leader. Now at least, the
gauntlet has been thrown and how Wickremasinghe
responds remains to be seen.
The Premadasa camp, however, received a rude
shock on Thursday when his de facto ‘campaign
manager’ for the leadership battle, Bodhi Ranasinghe
passed away suddenly. Ranasinghe, a former
Wickremasinghe ally, had switched loyalties lately
and was at the forefront of Premadasa’s campaign.
His sudden demise will cause a jolt in Premadasa’s
bid for the party leadership, for Ranasinghe was a
crucial link in wooing Wickremesinghe loyalists and
in attempting to convince them that Premadasa, in
the long run, was a better bet to lead the UNP than
the tried and tested Wickremasinghe.
The JVP, meanwhile, announced this week that it had
taken a policy decision not to forge alliances with
other major parties claiming that on the occasions
that it did so, they had always been taken for a
ride by their erstwhile political bedfellows.
Indeed, the JVP once withdrew its presidential
election candidate Nihal Galappaththi because
Chandrika Kumaratunga promised to abolish the
executive presidency in six months – a presidency
which is thriving and well-entrenched even today.
It also did support Mahinda Rajapaksa’s candidature
for the presidency in 2005 only to be disillusioned
with President Rajapaksa’s support for the itinerant
Wimal Weerawansa and his newly-formed Jathika
Nidahas Peramuna (JNP).
Even the JVP’s alliance with former Army
Commander Sarath Fonseka’s presidential candidacy
was not entirely a bed of roses. Fonseka is now in
jail and the JVP has found it hard to champion his
cause indefinitely and has been in recent times
reluctant to give priority to the former Army
However, it must be noted that the JVP has also
gained from its coalition tactics, most notably at
the 2004 general elections where it entered
candidates on the Sri Lanka Freedom Party-led
alliance and garnered 39 seats in Parliament, a
number far in excess of its popular vote base.
Therefore, the JVP realises that it is crunch
time. With the ruling UPFA having a steamroller
majority in Parliament and a popular President and
the UNP in extreme disarray, it may still not be too
late for the JVP to carve its own niche in the local
political scenario. This is what it is now
With less than three weeks for the polls though, we
may see more legal battles and postponements rather
than campaign rallies. With the cricket World Cup
also becoming more interesting during that period,
the stage is set for a lacklustre and lukewarm
election, despite all the hype.