The Sunday Leader

South: A Closer Battle

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema In Hambantota/Tangalle/Matara/GallePhotos By Lalith Perera

Namal Rajapaksa is all over the South

Apart from the sweltering heat, the heat of the battle among candidates to become stars in their respective districts at the April 8 general election has reached its peak in the South.

The UPFA seems to be in the lead in the South with the UNP led UNF also enjoying a significant support base. But the hero of not so long ago, General Sarath Fonseka seems to have become mostly a topic people speak of with remorse due to his current plight, with little political weight.

The journey from Galle through Matara to Hambantota was quite a colorful one with various posters and cutouts of grinning opposition and mainly governing party candidates staring down upon vehicles passing by.
Not surprisingly election laws seem to have taken a beating in the South with massive banners, posters and cutouts of candidates being displayed right along the coastline.

In fact, the entrance to the Southern Province from the Benthara Bridge is an indication of what lies beyond the river. Massive cutouts of opposition and governing UPFA members are erected at the entrance to the bridge.

And predictably, massive cutouts of the First Son, Namal Rajapaksa, who is contesting from the Hambantota District dominate the environs of Benthara Bridge, an area that comes under the Galle District.

However, unlike during the presidential election period in January when the opposition campaign was almost invisible in the South, this time around the opposition parties like the UNF and the DNA are making their presence felt.

Although not on the same massive scale as the UPFA, individual propaganda material of UNF candidates were visible right along the coastline. While the opposition seems to have some presence in the Galle and Matara Districts, entering the Hambantota District was a whole new experience.

The Presidential home town was nothing but a sea of blue. A carnival type atmosphere prevailed, with Namal Rajapaksa making his formal entry into mainstream politics. He appeared to be working hard and was seen up early and finishing very late. He attended many a pocket meeting and was extremely well supported by the youth in the area. We asked these youth what it is that made them gravitate towards the Presidential offspring.

It was not they claimed, because of who his famous father was: it was more because they could relate to the ‘youthfulness’ of the candidate.  However, with many a development project in the area like the Hambantota Port, the Mattala Airport, the railway extension to Kataragama, the International Cricket Stadium and the assorted spin off projects like boutique hotels, Namal Rajapaksa may well find that his task of creating jobs is rather well facilitated.

Yet, the intra party violence among the UPFA candidates has posed quite a problem to the party’s forward march. Most of the propaganda material put up by UPFA members have been vandalized by fellow candidates.

Many large cutouts of some UPFA candidates, all powdered and plastered with foundation including that of newcomer, actress Geetha Kumarasinghe were mutilated, having been either ripped or spattered with black oil.
The intra party fighting among UPFA candidates has lent some leeway for opposition candidates to conduct their business of campaigning somewhat peacefully — sniggering and laughing at their more ambitious counterparts who are all in a dither  about the outcome of April 8, elections.

No Challenge For The Governing Party — Chamal

UPFA Hambantota District Leader and Ports and Aviation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa said that there is no opposition presence felt in Hambantota.

“There is no opposition. That is our problem when speaking about the general election campaign,” he said when The Sunday Leader caught up with him on the campaign trail in the Getamanna village in Beliatte.

He said that the opposition was quite inactive in the area resulting in most of the UNP and JVP supporters joining the UPFA.

Rajapaksa said the people in Hambantota were supportive of the President and the government as they have confidence in them.

He said the government has managed to launch several mega projects within a short period of time and has also delivered what the people needed. “People needed water, electricity and roads and we have already attended to these matters. That’s the beginning and as a result most of the people have confidence in the President and the government.”

Speaking of the composition of the next parliament, Rajapaksa said he believed the government could get a two-thirds majority. “In Hambantota we have confidence in securing five seats in the next parliament and we are working on increasing it to six. It would then leave one seat for the opposition,” he said.

Rajapaksa expressed confidence in the governing party winning more than 150 seats in the next parliament.
With this majority he said the government could address the main issues highlighted by the opposition UNP and the JVP about the Executive Presidency and amending the existing electoral process. “All these could be attended to when the government gets a two-thirds majority in parliament.”

When asked if the existing government is incapable of doing a good job of work given the comments made by the President on reducing the next Cabinet to 35 ministers to be more efficient, Rajapaksa said it was not about the incapabilities of the current ministers, but the allegations leveled against the current government.

“One of the allegations leveled against the government by the opposition is the expenditure on a large number of ministers. When members from the opposition parties join the government they have to be offered portfolios. This time they are all contesting under the UPFA. Therefore, there would not be a problem when allocating ministries,” he said.

Referring to the increase in intra party violence, especially among UPFA members, Rajapaksa said such clashes could be stopped after amending the current electoral process.

In lighter vein, when asked as to who out of the three Rajapaksas contesting in the area would head the preferential votes list in Hambantota, a smiling Chamal Rajapaksa said that all three of them would enter the next parliament.


Large Force Supporting The DNA – Ajith Kumara

DNA Galle District candidate and former JVP Parliamentarian Ajith Kumara observed that a ‘large force’ has gathered around the DNA led by General Sarath Fonseka.

He said that even people who had not voted for General Fonseka at the presidential election have expressed their support to the DNA at the general election.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader in the midst of a DNA election rally in Galle, Kumara said that the government after forcing its way into winning the last presidential election was now treating the Common Opposition Candidate at the election worse than any common criminal.

“General Sarath Fonseka worked to defeat terrorism in the country and entered politics to serve the people. Today he is being treated worse than a criminal. The court has permitted his relatives to visit him, but even that is not granted by the government.”

According to him, most people have now resorted to engage in “silent politics.” He explained that due to the government actions to suppress media personnel, institutions and politicians, the people have resorted to follow their political beliefs silently.

He observed there is now an anti-government sentiment growing among the people. “During the presidential election campaign when the state media showed pictures of Idi Amin, we said it would be the scenario if the President won the election. The people did not understand it then, but now they do.”

Ajith said the people were also displeased with the actions of most of the government ministers. He noted that the government could no longer market the war to get votes.

“The DNA considers it a priority to establish the fundamental rights for all citizens in the country.

This would mean people from all communities would be given equal rights that were promised after the war ended. It is important that democracy is restored in the country, especially since even the Buddhist clergy are prevented from holding a sangha convention,” he said.

As for election related violence, Ajith said election violence by the government against the opposition at the general election has taken a different form. “The violence has been converted to a high level violation of election laws. State resources and workers are being misused in all areas.”


Mangala Optimistic About Final Outcome

The Sunday Leader caught up with UNF Matara District Leader Mangala Samaraweera last Saturday evening after he concluded the day’s campaign work. He said the opposition campaign has picked up dramatically in the last few weeks.

Samaraweera said there was a great deal of enthusiasm and optimism among opposition supporters, which was lacking at the beginning of the campaign. He explained that the opposition supporters were demoralized after the presidential election and the “so called defeat of the opposition candidate” and the feeling that opposition members are unable to safeguard their votes.

“The people have now understood that the general election has brought them a chance to do what they wanted to do at the presidential election. They know that we are also now wiser and are geared to face any plan the government has up its sleeve to prevent our right to victory,” he said.

Samaraweera said he was optimistic about the final outcome of the general election.

Speaking of the government’s election campaign, he said it was a massive violation of all election laws.

“Although the governing party is campaigning ferociously violating election laws, much of their vigour has been directed at each other.

The bitter infighting in the UPFA has given more space for the opposition to carry out its campaign than during the President election,” he said.

However, Samaraweera said there was a ‘special group’, which is not handled by any of the governing party candidates, is operating in Matara against him and his supporters.

“When the campaign was launched, in one night all my campaign offices and material was destroyed. One of my official’s residence was shot at. Even after the people involved have been identified, the authorities have not taken any action. A high level government official, one of the President’s relatives and two corrupt officials from the Gemunu Regiment are involved in these attacks,” he said.

Referring to the composition of the next parliament, Samaraweera said it would “more or less be a hung parliament.” He said the smaller parties and the minority parties that would be elected to parliament would decide the majority.

“I believe we have the edge as we have the support of the other opposition parties who are now contesting separately. The North and East, I believe would also support the opposition,” Samaraweera said.

Comments are closed

Photo Gallery

Log in | Designed by Gabfire themes