Saturday, 20 September 2014 00:00
THE election carousel has reached Uva Province, with voters all set to go to the polls today. A whole nation awaits the results that could bring snap presidential polls next year and define the future of Sri Lanka.
Uva, inland from the south-eastern coastal belt of Sri Lanka, is traditionally a strong vote base for the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. However, many have surmised that Badulla will prove a favourable result for Opposition parties, leaving the real battleground in Moneragala. Of late both the main parties have funnelled in massive resources, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa leading the way and campaigning intensely for his nephew.
The United National Party (UNP) has also pushed ahead, showing a much-needed united front in the campaigning. Showing a flair for drama, Democratic Party Leader Sarath Fonseka is using the car he was attacked in by an LTTE suicide bomber as a prop, intending to capitalise on his previous career. Yet, the going has been tough.
Election monitoring organisation Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) says it has received 424 election related complaints by midnight Wednesday, the last day of campaigning before the September 20 Uva Provincial Council election. CaFFE has received 305 complaints from Moneragala District and 100 from Badulla. There were 19 complaints common to both districts.
According to the election watchdog, there were 24 instances of election law violations on the last day of campaigning, including complaints of misuse of public property and using public announcement systems without approval. Other monitors have gathered similar data with Transparency International calling on election officials to act honourably just hours before voting begins.
Criticised for failing to take action during the run-up to the polls, Police will nonetheless be out in force with 21,000 Police and Special Task Force operatives on the ground. Yet, incidents are likely to be at a minimum despite the election’s record as one of the most violent in recent years.
Uva is Sri Lanka’s second last populated province and traditionally economically stagnant. However, since the end of Sri Lanka’s three-decade war in 2009, it has benefitted from a tourism boom with nature parks drawing massive crowds.
It is also at the edge of massive development projects, largely funded by China in the Southern Province. Centred on a $ 1.2 billion Chinese-funded port and $ 290 million second international airport, the adjoining Southern Province has seen the construction of new highways, convention centres and railways.
Experts believe it will be interesting to see whether the average voter feels that economic dividends have trickled down to the neighbouring Uva. The Government also has more to lose as it stares in the face of the United Nations Human Rights Council investigation into not just the last phase of the war but even its more recent actions. Could its perceived tolerance of anti-minority movements cost the ruling party crucial votes, especially in Muslim-dominated Badulla?
As with all provincial elections, voter turnouts are expected to be low, but it should be just enough to gauge whether serous incumbency fatigue has set in and what sort of background will form the political panorama in 2015.
Opposition parties have argued their opponents are fighting dirty because they sense impending change in the tide that has swept the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) time and again to victory at the polls. But has the tide changed at last?