Election Fever Yet To Hit The Gem Country
- UPFA Likely To Win Sabaragamuwa With A Lesser Margin
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema and Dinouk Colombage
Election campaigning by political parties in the Sabaragamuwa Province is yet to hit fever pitch with a few weeks more for the hustings.
The lacklustre campaigns of the opposition parties have given the edge to the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA).
However, political analysts say unlike during the previous provincial council elections, the enthusiasm shown by the people in the province this time is low.
This election, while expected to be won by the UPFA, will not be a comprehensive victory according to Professor Nalaka Fernando retired lecturer of Political Sciences, University of Colombo.
According to him the last two provincial council elections, in 2004 and 2008, showed a pattern of dominance by the UPFA in this region.
“In 2004 the UPFA contested along with the JVP and won 28 seats. In 2008 they contested without the support of the JVP and still they won 25 seats. While another win on this occasion appears likely it may not be as commanding as previous results,” he said.
The Professor explained that during the 2004 election many people thought the UPFA would secure victory due to their alliance with the JVP. However the 2008 election showed that the ruling alliance has a strong support base in the region and those who turn out to vote continue to remain on the side of the government.
Fernando predicted that the United National Party (UNP) would struggle to compete in this election, with the possibility of them losing what little ground they made in 2008. “The internal fighting in the UNP has seen them fail to canvass properly in the region. Many of the party members from the Sabaragamuwa province have been in the centre of the party disputes. I do not expect there to be any great effort on their part,” he said.
Pointing out that the background to the 2012 provincial council election is very different to 2008, he said that in 2012 the main issue is the economy, something that has not been working well for the government.
“In 2008 the war was coming to an end and the government’s popularity was soaring. This time around unemployment and the cost of living has been on the rise in the country,” he said.
The professor went on to explain that however he did not believe the dissatisfaction on the part of the people would translate into a victory for the opposition. “In the past the people of the Sabaragamuwa province have not shown overwhelming support for the UNP, with all their issues it is unlikely that this will change this time around. I predict that the voter turnout for the region will be lower than the last two occasions,” he said.
In 2004 there was a total of 664,080 votes cast while in 2008 there were 854,376 votes cast. However, even though there was a significant rise in the voter turnout in 2008, there were still over 500,000 voters that did not turn up. 1.3 million voters were registered for the 2008 election.
With the growing dissatisfaction with the government and the poor canvassing on the part of the opposition, it appears likely that the UPFA could be victorious in the election. However, voter turnout may be an accurate indicator of the people’s political leanings.
Sabaragamuwa Province Fact File
Population (2001) – 1,801,331 (9.63% of total population)
Capital – Ratnapura
Official Languages – Sinhala and Tamil
Gross Regional Product
(2010) – Rs. 303 Billion
Previous Election Results
PROVINCIAL COUNCIL ELECTION – 2004
United People’s Freedom Alliance (with the JVP) won a total of 398,731 votes giving them 25
seats and two bonus seats.
In the Ratnapura district the United People’s Freedom Alliance won 213,619 votes and 15 seats
In the Kegalle district the United People’s Freedom Alliance won 185,112 votes and 11 seats
The United National Party won a total of 235,232 votes giving them 15 seats in total
In the Ratnapura district the United National Party won 119,681 votes and 8 seats
In the Kegalle district the United National Party won 115,551 votes and 7 seats
The total number of votes cast was 664,080
PROVINCIAL COUNCIL ELECTION – 2008
The United People’s Freedom Alliance (without the JVP) won a total of 472,789 votes
(55.3%) and 25 seats in total
In the Ratnapura district the United People’s Freedom Alliance won 260,218 votes (55.2%) and 13 seats
In the Kegalle district the United People’s Freedom Alliance won 212,571 votes (55.4%) and 10 seats
The United National Party won a total of 346,321 votes (40.5%) and 17 seats in total
In the Ratnapura district the United National Party won 191,996 votes (40.7%) and 10 seats
In the Kegalle district the United National Party won 154,325 votes (40.3%) and 7 seats
The People’s Liberation Front won a total of 19,068 votes (2%) and 2 seats in total
In the Ratnapura district the People’s Liberation Front won 9,703 votes (2%) and 1 seat
In the Kegalle district the People’s Liberation Front won 9,365 seats (2.4%) and 1 seat
The total number of votes cast was 854,376 (95%) andof this 47,297 (5%) votes were rejected.
Former Chief Minister of the Sabaragamuwa Province, Herath has played a role in politics both at national and provincial levels. He first entered politics in 1994, a year later he was appointed Deputy Minister of Housing and Construction.
In 1999 he was appointed Rural Industries Development Minister. In 2004 he resigned from Parliament when he contested the Provincial Council elections. He has held the post of Chief Minister of Sabaragamuwa from 2004.
Herath was unavailable for comment.
A. A. Wijethunge:
A businessman by profession, the UNP’s chief ministerial candidate for Sabaragamuwa has been engaged in politics since 1975. Commencing his political career as the head of the party’s electoral committee in Ratnapura, Wijethunge has been a member of the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council since its inception in 1988.
“I’m the only provincial councillor to be elected to the council for five consecutive terms,” he said.
Wijethunge was also a parliamentarian between 2001 and 2004.
He said that his election campaign is focussed on eradicating corruption and fraud in the provincial council.
He explained that he would work towards the upliftment of the health and education sectors and develop the rural road network to improve connectivity among areas in the province.
“The farming community is faced with the constant problem of finding a market for their goods. Even entrepreneurs in the gem industry are faced with many problems. I will address these issue,” he added.
Wijethunge noted that he was the first Housing Minister in the province to introduce a housing plan.
A graduate in mass communication from the Kelaniya University, the JVP group leader for the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council election has been engaged in active politics for 18 years.
Ratnayake was a member of parliament for 10 years and is now the party’s Kegalle District organizer and a member of the JVP Central Committee.
The 42-year-old politician said his party is looking at giving leadership to the people by agitating from every sector in the country.
“People representing many sectors are now engaged in agitating against the government, but they lack proper leadership,” he said.
He explained that the main reason for the government to call for premature provincial council elections was to deviate and suppress the people’s agitations.
“The Sabaragamuwa Province has been ruled by the governing party for three consecutive terms and the province now records the second highest poverty level and has a relatively low literacy rate of 87%,” Ratnayake said.
He noted that the JVP would work to stop the fraud and corruption and give leadership to the people in their struggle for justice.