Hard-fought polls for Uva today

Saturday, 20 September 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Nearly a million people are eligible to vote in an unexpectedly hard-fought electoral contest that will take place in the Uva Province today. Following a furious provincial polls campaign to secure the two Districts of Badulla and Moneragala over the past six weeks, the ruling party will try to retain its big margins of victory while the Opposition seeks to gain ground, particularly in the Badulla District. The decision by UNP MP Harin Fernando to quit Parliament and contest as his party’s chief minister in Uva breathed fire into the provincial election, which until then the UPFA was expected to comfortably secure. The UPFA, UNP, JVP, Democratic Party and several other political parties are competing for 34 seats that are up for grabs in the Uva Provincial Council. The Moneragala District, which saw its number of provincial representatives increased from 11 to 14 ahead of the election, is expected to poll heavily in favour of the UPFA. Energy has been high during campaign season, with the Opposition sensing a swaying of opinion in the Badulla District, which has seen UNP and JVP rallies draw massive crowds. The UNP has gained strongly in the Badulla District, with Fernando’s projection of himself as a strongman in the area and a uniter of a fractured and divided Opposition party. UNP activists are expecting the party to poll well over 40% of the vote in the Badulla District, even if it proves too hard to secure a win. Election officials have already moved into the districts in play in today’s election and are promising a free and fair poll. Some 12,000 Police officials have been mobilised in the Province to ensure election day is peaceful, after the run-up to the election saw a major spike in poll-related violence, particularly in the Moneragala District. The ruling UPFA focused on its development drive in the region in the lead-up to polling day, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa inaugurating several new buildings, schools, public service centres and bridges over the campaign season. Both parties are brimming with confidence about the outcome of today’s poll. All major Opposition parties have focused their campaigns on rampant Government corruption, poor economic management and reigning impunity. In the last provincial council, the UPFA had 25 seats, while the UNP had seven seats and the JVP and the Up Country People’s Front had one seat each.  

 Opposition concerned about polling day mischief

UNP Chief Minister candidate Harin Fernando has expressed concern about a decision by the Elections Department to keep reporters out of the Government Information Department during the transmission of results. Elections Chief Mahinda Deshapriya says the first results will be released by midnight. Standard practice is for television reporters to be stationed at the Information Department, where the results are first transmitted from the Elections Secretariat in Rajagiriya. However, elections officials said this time the results will be transmitted to the studios through email and the official Government news portal, www.news.lk, once they are released. The new system is worrying the main opposition party, which claims there could be a break down in transparency in the transmission process as a result of the decision. “It creates a doubt in our minds, as to why this decision has been made only at this election,” Fernando charged during a news conference in Badulla. He said Opposition parties were already brainstorming to put a joint mechanism in place to protect the ballot boxes throughout polling day and during the counting.