The Sunday Leader

Battle For Preferential Votes Forecasted In Kurunegala

By Nirmala Kannangara and Camelia Nathaniel in Puttalam and Kurunegala
Pictures by Lalith Perera

Although there has not been much election related violence reported from Wayamba in the run up to the Provincial Council election as at last week, opposition political parties and the people in the province expect more violence after September 1st when active election campaigning kicks off.

According to them, violence will escalate mainly in the Kurunegala district since there is a race for the most number of preferential votes within the UPFA camp.

“While former Chief Minister (CM) is trying to safeguard the number of preferential votes he obtained last time, a second candidate has already embarked on a campaign to get the most number of preferential votes to boost his image in the party.

He knows for certain that in the event he fails to top the preferential votes it will be a humiliation for him. Since he topped the preferential votes in the Kurunegala district at the last general election from the UNP, he has to get more votes to show the people that he is still a popular figure in the district and his crossover has not hampered his political future.

In addition to all these, the third party is trying to top the list,” a UPFA supporter on condition of anonymity told The Sunday Leader.

According to him, the battle between candidates will intensify in the days ahead and added that thuggery, intimidation and even killings could be expected in run-up to the election.

“It may not be as bad as the infamous Wayamba election, but we still expect more trouble in the province during the last two to three weeks. According to the number of violence related incidents reported in the province, Kurunegala is the worst and other than minor incidents there have been no major incidents reported from Puttalam district,” he added.

Meanwhile election monitors Peoples Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) and the Campaign for Free and Fair Election (CaFFE) are also of the view that election violence will increase in the weeks to come.

Director PAFFREL, Rohana Hettiarachchi said that there were hardly any allegations levelled against the UNP or JVP in the two districts and added that there are many reported incidents where public property has been misused by politicians at national level. “Soon after the nominations were handed over we wrote to the Elections Commissioner asking him to take prompt action against the government ministers whose family members are contesting the provincial election,” Hettiarachchi said.

According to him, eight cases against misuse of state resources have been reported from the Kurunegala district while shooting, intimidation and threats also have been reported from the district.

Meanwhile a government official in the Kurunegala district on condition of anonymity said that the Nikaweratiya electorate in the Kurunegala district was the most violent area as at last week and added that a mini battle field could be expected in Nikaweratiya on September 21.

“How many incidents have been reported so far in this area and how many cases have been inquired by the police? What has the Election Commission done to stop the ongoing Deyata Kirula mobile services which violate election regulations?” said the sources.

He further stated as to how government officials are engaged in campaign work in the guise of development work. “We came to know that the Asoka Theater which belongs to the Divisional
Secretariat Puttalam has been given for a UPFA party office. Why can’t the particular Divisional Secretary take action against such a move? Does that mean this government officer too is biased?” he queried.

Meanwhile election observers have raised concern as to how the Election Commission has allowed UPFA candidates to insert another politician’s picture in their posters even though this has been strictly prohibited by the Elections Commissioner himself.

“In Nilantha Wimalaweera’s posters, prominence has been given to his uncle Ananda Sarath Kumara. The poster further says ‘Ananda wenuwata Nilantha’ (Nilantha instead of Ananda).
When each candidate is allowed to have just one party office in each electorate, there are many UPFA party offices in Anamaduwa that display Indrani Dasanayake’s pictures. These are all illegal party offices but surprisingly the police do not take any action against the UPFA candidates but only against the opposition candidates,” said the sources.

Meanwhile, Kingsley Peiris said that he was disgusted to note how the Puttalam police raid opposition party offices in the district to check whether they have obtain election department approvals for party offices. “I am not involved in politics but I hate discrimination. I have seen how the police intimidate supporters of some parties. They go and check the legal documents of each opposition candidate’s office but not a single office of the other candidates.

These candidates in the Puttalam district openly flout election laws by traveling in vehicles with garage numbers and in vehicles that carry the national emblem. The police turn a blind eye to these. One candidate is going about in a vehicle with a garage number and another travels in a government vehicle that carries the national embalm. One uses a Pradeshiya Sabha cab to bring meals for his supporters. Notwithstanding that his pictures are fixed to all the backhoes used for road construction work,” said Peiris.

When queried as to why the Elections Department has failed to take action against the conversion of the police post in the central bus stand in Puttalam into a UPFA party office, Additional Election Commissioner Puttalam Sumithchandra said that it is not a UPFA party office but only a SLFP office.

“Since the SLFP is not contesting this election we cannot force them to shut down the office. When we were informed that there were posters of UPFA candidates we instructed them to remove them immediately. Since they have followed our instructions we have no issue with the SLFP office in the bus stand,” said Sumithchandra.

When asked as to why the Elections Department has failed to stop the on-going Deyata Kirula mobile service in the province where low income people have been promised houses with tiled roofs and houses also, all of which are election gimmicks, Sumithchandra refuted the allegations.

“This is an annual event and who says it was targeted at this election. If candidates are not allowed to get involved in these mobile services, there is nothing wrong with going ahead with the planned programmes. It is not an election violation,” he added.

District Secretary Puttalam, M. Kingsley Fernando was asked as to when he released Rs 10 million for each ruling party member in the Provincial Council, and he replied that it was two months before the Council was dissolved.

When asked as to why all 12 UPFA members were given Rs 10 million each just before the Council was dissolved, Fernando said that it was for development work. “Since the province needed more development work, the Ministry released Rs 120 million. Why are you questioning this allocation? This money was not given for election work but for development work. This money is being utilized to develop the province. This was not targetting the election but routine work,” he added.

Meanwhile UNP Organizer for Hettipola in the Kurunegala District Sidath Bandara accused two UNP Pradeshiya Sabha members of trying to vandalize his party office in Hettipola on August 18.

“They had come in six vehicles – four garage numbered vehicles and two other vehicles bearing registration numbers PC 8364 and KU 6378. They had threatened the owner of the building with death if he did not ask me to vacate the building. I blame them for this but the police are yet to arrest the two people whom I have named and the two vehicles. All our supporters have been threatened and if things continue this way our supporters will stay away from casting their votes and then this would not be a free and fair election,” said Bandara.

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