NCP: The Government Better Watch Out

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema and Dinouk Colombage

The North-Central Provincial (NCP) Council election is proving to be an unpredictable battleground, despite history suggesting the UPFA have the upper hand according to Professor Nalaka Fernando (retired lecturer of Political Sciences at the University of Colombo).
“Traditionally speaking the North Central Province has favoured the UPFA, if history is something to go on it appears they will win the province comfortably this time also. However, the current situation in the country could throw a spanner in the works and cause an upset”, he said.
According to Fernando there was very little difference between the 2004 Provincial Council Election and the 2008 election. “In 2004 the UPFA contested alongside the JVP and obtained 22 seats, in 2008 when they contested separated they still won 20 seats.”

Political analysts predict a low voter turnout for the upcoming North Central Provincial Council elections

He explained that a large contingent of the armed forces came from the North Central Province. “Back in 2008 with the war coming to an end this province would have been supportive of the government. This is why there was a voter turnout of over 68% on that occasion, as opposed to 2004 which saw a turnout of just over 50%.”
In 2008 846,000 voters were registered for the election, of that total there were 573,000 that came out to vote. This is in contrast to 2004, which saw only 440,000 turn up to vote of the 850,000 that were registered.
The professor explained that once again in 2012 a low voter turnout could be expected in the North Central Province.
“Many of the voters are farmers; these people have been suffering with the rising cost of living and reduced demand for their produce. However, none of the opposition parties have come to the forefront with alternatives to alleviate the suffering of the farmers. In all likelihood we may see a low turnout as a sign of disinterest on the part of the people in the region”, he said.
Fernando did predict that the SLMC contesting alongside the UPFA may play a telling role in the election.
“Voter turnout amongst the Muslim population in the area has never been high; in 2004 the SLMC contested independently and won a seat. However, with the recent religious tensions in the region it is likely that the Muslims will look to vote for a party that will represent their interests”, he said.
The UNP, while being consistent in the province, has failed to gain ground on the UPFA in the past two elections. In 2004 they won only ten seats, while in 2008 that figure rose to only 12. On both occasions over 50% of the votes went to the UPFA.
He said that the real indicator of the winner would be based on the voter turnout rather than the seats obtained. “If there is a turnout less than 60% the winner would be wise to take that as a warning sign. For a country in a post-war stage voter turnout, traditionally, should be on the rise.”
However, people in the province are lackadaisical over the elections since their issues are hardly addressed by the politicians.
The current issue faced by a majority of the people in the province is the destruction of their paddy lands due to the shortage of water.
With their main livelihood taking a massive beating by the drought, thousands of farmers have been pushed to the brink of poverty while politicians try to woo them with mammoties and promises of compensation.
Among the key issues faced by the people of NCP are the problems in the agriculture sector where farmers face problems in selling their produce, the lack of purified drinking water resulting in chronic kidney diseases and the closure of schools.
Another forgotten sector of the NCP are the villagers in the border villages during the period of the war. The development that is being focussed in the North and East and other parts of the country has not reached these villages.
The candidates at the NCP election would therefore have to make a lot of promises and the people would have to decide based on their previous experiences.

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North Central Province Fact File

Population (2001) – 1,104,664 (5.91% of total population)
Capital – Anuradhapura
Official Languages- Sinhala and Tamil
Gross Regional Product (2010) – Rs. 232 Billion

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Previous Election Results

PROVINCIAL COUNCIL ELECTION – 2004
The United People’s Freedom Alliance (with the JVP) won a total of 279,044 votes giving them
22 seats
The United National Party won 143,700 votes giving them 10 seats.
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress won 14,391 votes giving them 1 seat.
Total number of votes cast: 440,524.

PROVINCIAL COUNCIL ELECTION – 2008
The United People’s Freedom Alliance (without the JVP) won a total of 307,457 votes giving them 20 seats.
The United National Party won a total of 205,284 votes giving them 12 seats.
The People’s Liberation Front won a total of 26,738 votes giving them 1 seat.
Total number of votes cast: 573,552.

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The Main Candidates

Berty Premalal Dissanayake (UPFA):
The former Chief Minister of NCP, Dissanayake has been engaged in politics for over 30 years. In 1989 he was appointed as the secretary of the Kekirawa SLFP electoral committee and was appointed as the Kala Wewa organzier in 1983. He entered parliament in 1994 and was appointed as the Deputy Industrial Development Minister. He was later appointed as the Social Services Minister. Dissanayake resigned from the Cabinet to contest the NCP elections in 1999. He managed to win the NCP for the PA from the UNP and was appointed as the Chief Minister.
“I gave up politics at national level and entered provincial politics in order to work for the people in the NCP,” he said.
Dissanayake is currently a Vice President of the SLFP and a Central Committee member.
He says that since assuming office as the Chief Minister in 1999, emphasis was on the education sector. “There are 786 schools under the Council and I want to provide a solid education for the students since it is such actions that would help the country become the knowledge hub of the region,” he said.
Schools have been provided with computer facilities, science labs and the human resources required to uplift the sector.
He observed that 1,800 irrigation schemes in the province have been developed and the concept of ponds was introduced to help people collect water to be used during the drought periods.
“Following these initiatives, there have been 4,000-5,000 acres of newly developed agricultural land in the province,” he said, adding that the cultivation of corn and soya have also been promoted among the farming community.
By requesting for the holding of the Deyata Kirula exhibition, Dissanayake has managed to get the roads network developed in the Anuradhapura District.
As for the health sector, hospitals in rural areas in the province have been developed to the level of base hospitals.
“Most people in the province are affected by kidney diseases and they had to travel to Kandy for treatment. However, a nephrology unit was built in the Anuradhpura Hospital and kidney patients no longer have to travel to Kandy for treatment,” he said. He noted that purified water is also provided for the people in order to minimize the kidney diseases.
According to Dissanayake, continuing with this work and addressing the current needs of the people in the province would help the overall development of the province.

Kasthuri Anuradhanayake (UNP):
Group leader of the UNP candidates at the NCP elections this year and a lawyer by profession, Anuradhanayake has held the posts of essential services secretary and legal secretary in the party. He contested the Anuradhapura Municipal Council election in 2006 and became the opposition leader of the Council. In 2008 he contested the NCP elections and at the time of dissolution, was the opposition leader of the Council.
Anuradhanayake said that the theme of his campaign for the NCP election this time is “Victory Through Sweat” (Dahadiyen dinamu). “I decided on the theme because the governing party wins elections by using money and power,” he said, adding the NCP that had been under the Alliance rule had robbed monies from the Council.
He observed that the NCP was one of the economically weak provinces in the country and that the governing party had continuously failed the public.
“There has not been any capital investments to the province and not even one factory has been opened for the past few years,” Anuradhanayake said. He explained that out of the schools under the NCP, 72 had been shut down and 62 were to be closed. “The education secretaries to oversee these schools are unsuitable to hold the posts,” he said.
According to Anuradhanayake, the former chief minister does not have a moral right to ask for the people’s mandate for a third term since he has asked the Governor on two occasions to dissolve the council before the end of its term.
The UNP candidate said the NCP is in need of a complete overhaul in its administration. “There is no problem in carrying out this change since there are experienced and capable people who could handle it,” he observed.
“We need disciplined and experienced politicians,” Anuradhanayake said.

Wasantha Samarasinghe (JVP):
A Bachelor in Business Management Accounting from the Kelaniya University, Samarasinghe is a JVP Central Committee member and the group leader of the JVP at the NCP elections. At the age of 36, he is one of the youngest politicians to head a political group at the elections. He joined the JVP in 1995 and was a member of the party’s students’ union. He entered full time politics in 2000 and entered parliament in 2004. He resigned from his parliamentary seat in 2008 to contest the last NCP elections. The JVP won a seat in the Council. However, he was unable to re-enter parliament since the UPFA appointed former LTTE leader Karuna Amman to fill the vacancy. Samarasinghe is now the head of the Inter Company Employees’ Union (ICEU) and the trade unions at the Inland Revenue Department and state banks.
He said the people in the NCP are facing issues in many key sectors like agriculture, health and education.
“The NCP is a predominantly agricultural area, but the farmers are facing serious issues and steps have not been taken to strengthen them. Their problems start from getting water for their cultivations to selling their produce,” he said.
He explained that attention should be paid to renovate the irrigation systems in the area in order to address the shortage of water. “A mechanism should be put in place to increase the paddy purchased by the authorities and paddy should be purchased from the farmers at Rs. 40 per kilo and sold at Rs. 70,” he said.
Samarasinghe said that a majority of the schools and hospitals in the province were under the provincial council.
“A teacher training school should be established in the province to train the teachers and fill the existing vacancies in schools. Primary and secondary schools need to be properly identified and developed,” he said.
Referring to the drinking water issue in the province, he said measures had to be taken to develop the drinking water projects in Kebithigollewa and Kala Wewa.
“Fresh water fishing should be promoted as an alternative livelihood for the people and Thriposha should be given to the families in need,” Samarasinghe said.
He added that town development in the province was carried out in a haphazard manner and some areas even lacked proper sanitary facilities. “The province should be developed in a proper system as it could increase the number of tourists who arrive in the city.”
“Overall, law and order and democracy should be established in the provinces,” Samarasinghe noted.

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