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From mini to major

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The Elpitiya Pradeshiya Sabha election last Friday saw the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) sweeping to an overwhelming victory, winning all 17 Wards and securing 17 of the 29 seats in the local body. This predictably led to the SLPP predicting a significant victory for their presidential candidate on 16 November.

Five main political parties, namely the SLPP, United National Party (UNP), United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Democratic United National Front (DUNF) contested the PS election, which took place across 47 polling centres amid tight security.

The SLPP polled 23,372 votes (56.31%) of the total valid votes cast, while the UNP finished a distant second with 10,113 votes (24.37%), giving them seven seats. The UPFA secured 3 seats after polling 5,273 votes (12.7%). The JVP secured 2 seats with 2,435 votes (5.86%).

The breakdown has fueled already vibrant speculation on how the vote will go at the presidential election, which is now just about a month away. The SLPP has grown in confidence since a Memorandum of Understanding was reached between it and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), further unifying the largely Sinhala Buddhist vote block. Politicians representing the Pohottuwa have been quick to point out that if this does indeed happen around the country, then it would be possible for their candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa to get 50% and one vote needed for an outright victory.

SLPP members have also been quick to dismiss their main rival United National Party’s presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa, insisting that his candidacy does not translate to greater change within the UNP, whose power structure remains largely unchanged. It is clear that Premadasa will have to walk the talk and ideally outline clear measures that could be implemented if he wins to ensure that there is genuine anti-corruption measures implemented. In an ideal world this would be included in his policy manifesto as Premadasa dwelt on it during his inaugural rally as well.

His loyalists have also pointed out that Elpitiya has traditionally been a zone where the UNP has not fared too well. In such an instance getting the pulse of the vote at a Presidential Election where there is far more diversity than what was on offer in Elpitiya would be difficult, they argue. This statement is not without truth, but it also underscores that the UNP and its coalition parties will have to intensify campaigning and build a platform that will capture the imagination of voters enough to give them a second shot. The well-trodden argument that they are better than the Rajapaksas may not be enough.

A third indication from the Elpitiya results is that the JVP has failed to make a dent in the votes of the SLPP. This is hopefully not an indication that credible alternative political forces that have emerged to run at the Presidential Elections will not be similarly dismissed. If Sri Lanka is to genuinely evolve beyond the two party system, 16 November would be a good time for the public to show whether an alternative has serious traction.    

The Elpitiya PS Election had been delayed since February last year, after the Supreme Court issued an interim injunction preventing the poll, when the DUNF filed legal action due to the non-recognition of its nomination papers. The fact that it has now been held and the people given the chance to use their franchise is a positive one.

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