By Upul Kumarapperuma –
An opinion is currently in the making that the results of the Uva Provincial Council elections would be decisive for future political trends of the country. The UPFA Government thinks that the victory margin of Uva PC elections will be instrumental in deciding the future political strategy and election strategy of their alliance, while opposition political parties also believe that the results of the Uva PC poll would be a key deciding factor for the future power transition in the island.
The issue is whether the Uva PC elections will be the pilot project for a regime change at the next national level election.
The exercising of one’s franchise at the forthcoming PC polls will then be considered as an expression of interest towards a specific political trend. The law which governs elections ensures the rights of holding free and fair elections. The definition of a “free and fair election” should be much broader than its literal meaning. The law states that the exercising of the Franchise should be free of inducement or interference or any other form of intimidation.
There are certain factors vital for exercising the franchise of a free society. However, some of these factors have not been taken into account to define the term “free and fair”.
The financial independence of a society or a person is a key factor in navigating the society or the person in a specific direction, and it is instrumental in negating the political dependent culture which is sustained by poverty. Financial independence is decided by certain factors, namely access to education, the smooth functioning of the state mechanism and consistency of the public policy and its implementation systems, opportunities for employment, industries and entrepreneurship, etc.
The Uva Province is categorized as an under-developed area and the levels of poverty, education and health are well below the standard index of the country. The income of the considerable percentage of the population of the province is less than US$ 2 per day, which is the poverty index introduced by the World Bank in 2005.
Agriculture is the main source of income in both Monaragala and Badulla districts. The Monaragala district is situated in the dry zone of the country and the annual rain fall of the area is limited to four months, namely September to January.
The factors essential for agriculture are water, land, fertilizer, labour and technology. Considering the Monaragala district, the first three key factors come directly under the control of the State.
The following factors are relevant to consider the degree of independence of the industry in the area:
The irrigation system and water distribution for farming is directly controlled by the State.
The lands in the Monaragala district are privately owned, used by government grants or government permits and unauthorized occupation. A considerable portion of lands utilized for cultivation are either unauthorized occupation of State lands or State lands with license.
The fertilizer is provided to farmers at subsidized rates according to the Mahinda Chinthana programme.
There is no proper policy or mechanism to purchase agricultural products from the farmers and the purchasing prices are mainly decided by the buyer.
Undoubtedly the aforesaid factors result in the maintaining of a smooth relationship between the farmer and the State in order to receive an uninterrupted service from the State in relation to these factors.
The farming labour force is also dependent on this system and their job security depends on the smooth relationship of their masters and the State.
The main employment generation industries in the Badulla district for lower middle class society are the tea industry and agriculture. The labour force that is engaged in the tea industry has been historically incapacitated by the political power of their trade unions. Such a labour force is incapable of getting rid of that pressure due to the issue of job security and other various reasons that could affect the root of their lives. As for the agriculture industry in Badulla, one could say that the majority of the farmers in Badulla are free of land and water issues. However, the government is in control of determining certain policies related to the agriculture industry such as the import tax of potatoes.
Considering all these factors, which are connected to the agriculture industry in the area, the farmer is tied to the State by the multi-threaded rope, where each and every thread of the rope tightens him with different motives. Therefore the concept of economic independence is not a pertinent concept to the Uva farmers and their livelihood is purely dependent on the pleasure of the State.
It is the control vested by the State on the economy of the Uva province, albeit being empowered by the agriculture industry, that differentiates the Province from most of the other areas of the country.
Since the economy of the area is under the direct control of the state, and that control has incapacitated society in various ways, the population of the Uva province could be lethargic in responding to the political trends of the country.
The election result of the Uva Province would not therefore be the criterion for the future political trends in the country and the population of the area would never be the changing force of the present political culture of the country. Also, a similarity cannot be seen between the Uva PC polls and the Southern PC elections held in 1993.
Hence, the result of the forthcoming provincial council election will not be the decisive political turning point of the country.