14 November, 2019

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Wake Up Call Of Elpitiya Local Election

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The victory of the SLPP at the long-postponed pradeshiya sabha election in Elpitiya did not come as a surprise. This had been an area that has consistently supported the SLFP from which the SLPP has taken the larger part. Virtually all local authorities in the Southern Province went to the SLPP at the last local government elections held in February 2018. Therefore it was to be expected that Elpitiya would go the same way. However, the psychological boost to the SLPP of winning this election so near to the all-important presidential election scheduled for November 16 has been high especially given the margin of victory. Visiting the southern hinterland a day after the election victory had been announced we could see SLPP cadres carrying out their house-to-house campaigns. A local civil society activist said that the UNP’s campaigners had still to pay a visit to his area, whereas the SLPP cadres had done three such visits so far.

We visited a school in Gandara where an inter-ethnic peace programme was being conducted for children and their parents with the assistance of local government officials. This had not been easy to organize. The district inter-religious committee had invited Buddhist monks from five temples to the event which was to take place at the Al-Asar Muslim school, but monks from only one turned up. The monks in two of the temples had chided the organisers for their choice of venue. The build up of mistrust between the communities in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks, and the election campaign of the SLPP which emphasizes the importance of national security, would have contributed to this attitude. But the commitment of the civil society activists ensured that a large enough number of Sinhalese children joined the programme where they, together with Muslim children, drew pictures of inter-ethnic harmony together. In doing so they got to know each other better, and so did their parents who had accompanied them.

The children were divided into 5 groups randomly and they worked together regardless of different ethnicities, religion and language to come up with their pictures. The children then presented their artwork together and explained the concept behind it showcasing positive reconciliation thoughts. The local groups involved who collaborated to make the event a success comprised a wide range of both state and civil society and included the Matara district branches of the National Youth Services Council, Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission, Sarvodaya, Transparency International, Gandara Fisheries Society, Gandara Police Station and Community Policing Unit, Matara District Inter-religious committee and National Peace Council. This showed the potential for peace building if the necessary leadership was given.

Weak Communication

A key factor in the heavy defeat of the UNP and its inability of get more than 23 percent of the Elpitiya vote was due to the lack of a systematic political campaign on the part of the grassroots cadre of the UNP prior to the local government election. This was on account of the party’s focus on the power struggle within itself regarding its presidential candidate. The decision to finally field Minister Sajith Premadasa as the UNP’s presidential candidate came just two weeks before the Elpitiya election, by which time it was too late for anyone to reverse the tide. However, it is likely that the candidacy of Sajith Premadasa will at least partly address the deficit that the UNP currently suffers from in the south of the country amongst the Sinhalese electorate vis-à-vis the SLPP. The key factor here is that he is more popular than his party.

Under its current leadership, the UNP has come to be seen as a hands-off party by people at the grassroots level, whose leaders are cosmopolitans who deal with global and policy issues but not with local level problem solving. By way of contrast, Sajith Premadasa is seen as a political leader who cares for the poor and will spend his time with them solving their problems. He has been strengthening this belief in the general population by saying that he will not live in palaces in Colombo but will spend his time in the villages. The mobile presidential secretariat that engaged in immediate local level problem solving that his father introduced when he was president can be expected to make a comeback if the younger Premadasa were to win the presidency. This will address the desire in the electorate for leaders who will care for them and work hard to resolve their problems.

Sajith Premadasa has gone on record saying that it is necessary to promote policies in a way that they are acceptable to the people. One of the main failures of the government has been to communicate its positive initiatives in a way that reaches mass audiences. A school teacher at the Al Asar school in Gandara said that the Suraksha insurance scheme for school children had benefited four children in the school. Two of them had received a sum of Rs 200,000 due to the death of a parent and another two had received a sum for Rs 10,000 for having been sick and in hospital. A local government official who was part of the conversation admitted to not knowing of the existence of this insurance scheme. He attributed this to inadequate communication by the government. This was contrasted with the previous government which excelled in communication though at high cost.

Unifying Pressure

Civil society activists present also explained another problem with the government’s development initiatives. It was that they are not visible, even though they have improved the lives of the people. The most compelling one has been the greater sense of freedom from fear of being victimized by those with power and either punished unfairly or made to disappear. But as this benefit is not visible, it is not seen as being a part of development. A similar issue arises with improvements in the institutional frame of governance as thought the Right to Information Act (RTI) which empowers people to challenge the government authorities at various levels regarding their conduct. An example given was of Samurdhi welfare benefits which had been distributed by government officials unfairly leaving out the more needy persons. The filing of an RTI asking why they were left out often resulted in the inclusion of those who had been left out.

The election result from Elpitiya will serve as a wake-up call to the UNP that it has to regain the confidence of the larger electorate that expected it to deliver on its promises made in 2015 regarding good governance, economic development and national reconciliation. The main lacuna has been in the area of economic development with the economy registering low rates of growth and the poorer sections of the population feeling that they have been standing still while they see others move on. The choice of Sajith Premadasa, with his focus on the poor and on providing housing as the most basic of economic rights, has rejuvenated UNP supporters as witnessed in the massive shows of strength at his inaugural and subsequent public rallies as the official candidate of the UNP.

However, the gap in the south of the country in relation to the SLPP remains substantial and needs to be bridged. In his recent public statements as presidential candidate, Sajith Premadasa has welcomed all likeminded parties and groups to join the New Democratic Front, and said that they will all be treated with respect as constituent parties of the alliance. In one of his recent discussions with local politicians, he specifically referred to wanting President Maithripala Sirisena to join the alliance. The president has taken the position that he will be neutral in this election even though the parliamentarians in his party have all pledged alliance to the SLPP. In the aftermath of the Elpitiya verdict, there will also be pressure to reach out to other presidential candidates who are likeminded in term of their policies in order to close the gap, most notably Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the JVP and General Mahesh Senanayake of the National People’s Movement. Only a maximum alliance of likeminded parties and groups will be able to match the juggernaut of the SLPP.

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Latest comments

  • 5
    1

    JP,
    I agree with your final paragraph completely. I would go even further to suggest to make one of the main campaign item to to introduce reforms so that the nomination process practiced by Sajith is not an unique event; rather, the norm hereafter at all levels within all parties. Such a proposal would make it easy to NPM (Mahesh) and NPPM (JVP) to join hands with Sajith in order to defeat the common enemy.

    I also believe that the organizers of electorates are directly responsible for grass-root voters feeling abandoned by the party. I sent several messages to Harsha regarding this issue (the need & suitable tactics) more than a year ago. I know that Harsh is very active in his electorate but others like Gayantha may have dropped the ball. I’m not a member of UNP but I’ voting for UNP for lack of any other option. I believe that UNP leadership made huge mistake by delaying Sajith’s nomination. I also believe that Sajith must recognize those who stood against his nomination and appoint a reliable campaign managers to those electorates ASAP. Who knows how many in the UNP are following the lead of TNL (TV) to destroy Sajith?

    • 6
      2

      A sound comment by you, DP. And I have read the article.
      .
      A question of sincerity arises in the case of Sajith. That aegrotat degree, and its non-acknowledgement, worries a person like me. Most Sri Lankan’s wouldn’t know what we’re talking about – so they simplify by saying that he has no O. Level. That last assertion may be based on some failure in the distant past, but Sajith has considerable “education”.
      .
      Openness and sincerity? That, I don’t know.
      .
      Now start educating the public, emulating this valiant effort:
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/kumar-david-12-october-2019/
      .
      I hope readers will take a look at that to realise how much we users of English have alienated ourselves from our people who don’t know the language.
      .
      Now, the Ministry of Education has come up with its solution to the problem. All schools to communicate in English for one day a week. What, with neither teachers nor students knowing the language!
      .
      Any language is difficult to learn. I know you to be a decent man D. P. What would you say if I pointed out that one must say “a unique” because the initial sound is “y”? You may get mad at me! This is partly our problem. We humans never hate to admit our own so-called errors. Most of the time, they don’t matter.
      .
      However, unless we, Sri Lankans, change our governance of our country, we’re doomed. I see no light at the end of the tunnel.

      • 1
        0

        Sinhala_Man,
        Thanks for pointing out a grammatical error.

        I don’t see a reason to be pessimistic about the political future. If we could get out 18 A, I believe that SL public could face anything provided the challenges stay within borders. This Gvt has introduced so many avenues to open up the Gvt to the public scrutiny that it will be very difficult for any future Gvts to retreat back to pre-2015 era that easy.

        Same is true about broken promises & corruption. Promises given during election times has to be understood in general terms but voters get disappointed by taking them on face value. They could go astray for unexpected situations beyond local control. For example, 2015 election promises were not necessarily false but, the rise of the $ & oil prices put a heavy pressure on Gvt’s plans. With all these external problems Gvt still had to recover from a huge credit crunch. I expect Sajith to do much a better job.

        About corruption, I don’t believe that it will ever be eliminated completely b’cos cheating is in human instinct. Therefore, the best we can hope for is to have a strong & independent police & justice system to punish the culprits once caught. I believe that the country learned a lot of lessons in 4 1/2 yrs in dealing with white-collar corruptions. Thre reason caused Gvt’s failure to deal with corruptions: 1. Ranil failure to follow up closely on corruption investigation. 2. SLFP ministered efforts to save their friends. 3. Corrupt bureaucracy that existed under 20 yrs of SLFP rule.

      • 1
        0

        Thanks, D. P.
        .
        I’m glad to note the realistic hopes that you have for the future.
        .
        I now see a “mistake” in my own writing: “never hate” when I meant merely “hate”. Oh, and “Sri Lankan’s”. We tiresome schoolmasters make distinctions between errors which have to be checked before the correction is acknowledged, and mistakes which we discover for ourselves.
        .
        Let’s continue to look for positives, instead of nit-picking, as I have done.

  • 3
    3

    Common enemy……..he…….he………

    What do the people think…….?

    • 4
      4

      Helass

      “Common enemy……..he…….he……… What do the people think…….?”

      People think you are not only danger to this entire island but also the entire world. They think you should be locked up along with soman, Eagle Blind Eye, ……………………Dayan, Wimal Windbag Weerawansa,….

  • 6
    4

    Sajith premadasa is streets ahead in many aspects when compared to JR,Gotabaya,Anura ,Ranil,Sampanthan etc etc

    I only hope the sinhalease will give him an opportunity to clean the mess created by the past leaders of this country

    Ranil and Gota look very ordinary when comparted to sajith -I am shocked by his overall superior performance thus far

    • 2
      2

      Mr. Nadarajah,

      Dream on………………..

  • 0
    0

    Once again, it is the leadership issue, period.

  • 4
    0

    who the hell are civil society activists? Do you mean the NGO Kakkas ? Like you. The average person who is paying the price of 5 years of yamapalanaya is not likely to give his vote to Sajith. Allying with JVP murders will not do any good either.

  • 1
    1

    nothing can be done to improve results like the elpitiya one unless ranil resigns from the leadership of the UNP and hands it to sajit premedasa.Until that is done UNP will suffer defeat after defeat.

    • 1
      1

      Shankar, you are spot on, but Ranil is not going to give in because of his belligerence. Also, he is in deep trouble with the bond issue. In CB bond scam did Ranil gain any monetary benefits from his good friend Arjun?
      According to media reports, many lawmakers now in the parliament have received payouts from this scam.
      Either way, SP will be obliged to protect RW if he wins the presidency and if GR wins he will still be protected by the Rajapakses for favors done.
      If GR wins, we can say goodbye to elections for a long time to come,
      and also all monetary fraud cases of the Rajapakses will disappear it would be very likely that Hambantota could become the political capital of Sri Lanka and Colombo would become the business and commercial capital with a share of this going to the south as well.
      Whoever wins the elections, corruption will be in every nook and corner and won’t be easy to eradicate. People are going to still suffer with basic food items skyrocketing by the day.
      Under the circumstances let us hope that there is relief at the end of the tunnel.

      • 0
        0

        abdeen

        sajit has said only if he becomes president bond scam investigation will continue.

  • 6
    0

    Now you see what Ranil has done to the UNP !

    But in Colombo and the so called working committee there are still deaf and blind slaves, mostly old Royalists and their servants.

    When Sajith loses , Ranil will again take over !

  • 2
    1

    Jehan

    I am not sure whether your phraseology is correct. It may not be a wake up call but rather a stamp of approval by the Ignorant Election Commossiner that Gotha is the winner . In other civilised Countries postal ballot results and exit polls are not released untill after polling stations have closed but not in Sri Lanka.

  • 2
    1

    Gota will not get 70% as Pohotuwa predicts. But he will get enough to win and get 51-53% of all the votes.

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