Time to play the odds

Thursday, 19 September 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

AS campaigning grinds to a halt and the Election Commission spends a whopping Rs. 10 million of public money on removing posters and cut-outs, there is a collective inhaling as people, both local and foreign, await the north’s decision. Come Saturday, thousands of voters will make their choice for the next provincial council in three regions. While those in the south have garnered little interest, the same cannot be said of the north. While relatives fight party colleagues for votes in an intense battle to come up trumps for personal riches, the issues in the north are far deeper and have graver consequences. Highlighting this, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Chief Ministerial candidate did a U-turn of sorts on comments he made earlier to The Hindu, opining that South India was taking advantage of Sri Lankan Tamils’ problems. After saying Tamil Nadu politicians were hurting rather than helping the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils by using their issues like “a ball in a tennis match,” Wigneswaran and his allies took it all back and “explained” their statements by praising South India’s support. They also glossed over alleged comments made by Wigneswaran praising former LTTE Leader Prabhakaran as a “hero”. Building bridges with the south has also not been helped by the TNA manifesto though Wigneswaran did reach out to the “moderate Sinhalese” in the south. This illustrates the fine line walked by Wigneswaran, which has garnered him criticism from almost every corner. Another reproach is that he is telling people what they want to hear rather than outlining the clear direction of the party and their post-election intentions. This is all the more crucial as campaigning took place under challenging circumstances. The TNA has repeatedly pointed out that the Army is being used for campaigning in the north, going so far as to send a letter to the President last week detailing its grievances.  While local media has been vocal in its condemnation of election violations is the south, there has been comparatively less attention given to the abuse of State resources and conflict of interest displayed by Government officials in the north. It is almost as if the “how” of the northern elections barely counts against its win. The ends justify the means in this instance, it would seem. Be that as it may, President Mahinda Rajapaksa added his considerable touch to the campaigning by touring the former war zone last week, opening electricity stations, addressing rallies, observing development work and crowning his visit with the resuming of train services to Kilinochchi after the lapse of two decades. The writing is clear for the voters: pick UPFA candidates and the money will continue to flow. As the region hobbles back to normalcy, this is a powerful message indeed. As election violations mount, surpassing the 400 mark, hundreds of monitors are dribbling into the country as all parties hunker down for the final playoff. With international attention firmly focused on the outcome and its global image at stake, the Government will be hoping that it did just enough to win or at the very least offset a two-thirds majority for the TNA.