Elpitiya: Small poll, big impact | Sunday Observer

Elpitiya: Small poll, big impact

Polling Booth
Polling Booth

The ground was still wet from heavy but brief rains that hit the area the night before. Friday dawned upon Elpitiya,(a small town tucked away in the Southern Province), cloudy but not grim. Excitement was mirrored on the faces of Elpitiya residents as they made their way to polling booths to vote at a minor but significant election.

Delayed by many objections, deliberations and a court order the Elpitiya Pradeshiya Sabha (PS) election was finally held last Friday (11). As forecasted by various political analysts, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) secured all 17 electorates of Elpitiya marking a landslide win.

Results

The SLPP recorded 23,372 votes (while their main opponent the United National Party (UNP) secured only 10,113 votes. The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) which recently joined hands with the SLPP for the upcoming Presidential election received 5,272 votes. Thus SLPP, UNP and UPFA obtained 17, 7 and 3 seats respectively. Meanwhile, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) received 2 seats out of Pradeshiya Sabha with 28 seats, throughproportionalmethod.

Results were, however, as expected by the voters. Masonry worker O. P. Dharmasiri, 49, from Ambana (an electorate in Elpitiya) said on Friday morning that the party represented by a Rajapaksa member will win.

“People here vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa and simply not the candidate from their village. Did you see the posters they had on display? All of them had the face of the former president depicted next to their own,” he said.

So, Elpitiya PS election, this year, is not just focused on only the future of Elpitiya but also on the result of the upcoming and much larger event- the Presidential Elections.

Lahiru Madusanka, a 25 year old worker at a construction site in Colombo visited his hometown Elpitiya this Friday only to cast his vote. “Mahinda Mahattaya gave us many things. Because of his development we got job opportunities. He also developed roads in our villages and also the main bus stand of Elpitiya town” he said.

Lahiru had lost his daily wage as well as a monthly allowance for visiting Elpitiya on Friday. “I lost more than Rs. 7,000 from my paycheck for this day-off. But I really wanted to come and vote for Mahinda Mahattaya” the younger commented. National Coordinator of The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence, Manjula Gajanayake told the Sunday Observer that the results of the Elpitiya PS election is crucial to determine the result of the Presidential because Sri Lankan voters normally ‘gravitate towards a trend’ and Friday night’s released results play a psychological role on how people would vote during the next election. “That is why the Elpitiya elections were called an ‘entry point for a mega victory’,” he added.

The Elpitiya PS election was postponed after the Supreme Court issued an interim injunction, on January 30, 2018, preventing it from being held after the Democratic United National Front (DUNF) filed a petition challenging its nominations list being rejected. The rest of the local councils in the country were elected on February 18, 2018.

Then Returning Officer of Galle District Somarathna Vidhanapathirana issued a gazette extraordinary following the Supreme Court order to the Election Commission to hold the PS election after accepting nominations of the DUNF.

This small town, that remained insignificant, till the PS election drama unfolded has always been a SLFP garrison and only lost to the UNP in the 2002 local government (LG) polls. In the previous LG polls in 2011 the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) secured 10 seats with 58.54 per cent of votes, while the United National Party (UNP) got four seats with 30.59 per cent votes. An Independent Group won one seat on the council.

Elpitiya has always been a strong SLFP and leftist base and has only being won by the UNP in the 1982 Presidential election (Bentara-Elpitiya electorate) and the 2002 local government elections in recent history. Even on those occasions the UNP failed to pass the 50 per cent mark of the total votes.

However, the SLPP won Elpitiya this year, by 56.31% of votes noting a downhill compared to a 58.54 per cent win that the Mahinda Rajapaksa government secured at the ElpitiyaPradeshiya Sabha election in 2011. However, SLPP and UPFA combined has received 69.01 per cent votes in the latest poll. In the meantime, the UNP has also gone down from 30.59 per cent in 2011 to 24.37 per cent in 2019. This week 53, 384 voted for their desired party at 47 polling centere across 17 electorates giving the winners a leg-up in the upcoming Presidential Elections. Five parties (UNP, UPFA, JVP, DUNF and SLPP) fielded 155 candidates in total for the 28 seats. According to Local Government Election laws, 17 members are elected by voters and others chosen based on the Proportional Representation system.

Voters say

M. A. Ariyasiri, a DUNF candidate, stood next to his motorbike as voters made their way, some on three-wheelers and most by foot- the elderly accompanied and aided by the young- to a polling booth in Ambana.

Ariyasiri was happy that the court finally gave a ruling in favour of them. “We are contesting under the DUNF ticket because we were not given the opportunity by the UPFA,” Ariyasiri said. He was not selected to contest under the UPFA slogan. “If I lose this election or not, I will support Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential election,” he declared. Meanwhile, just as the elections unfolded Chairman of the National Election Commission (NEC) Mahinda Deshapriya who visited Elpitiya told the Sunday Observer that the Election Commission had taken every measure to hold a peaceful voting. “We have no difference between the Presidential election and Elpitiya local government election. In both events, franchise is the most important factor” he commented.

Police security in each polling station was also beefed up as the NEC put in place a mechanism to count the votes at each station. Several mobile police squads were patrolling the area.

Elpitiya has had its fair share of grievances over the years. Underdevelopment, need for proper garbage disposal and employment for the youth remains few of its shortcomings.

JVP candidate M. M. Sisira Kumara, who was contesting for the first time, said there is also a need for a few candidates who will over-see if the PS work was free from ‘corruption’. “If at least three to four JVP candidates are chosen we can ensure that the PS is functioning well,” he said. Even though Kumara was certain that his party would not win Friday’s election, the JVP succeeded in bagging two seats on the proportional basis in the final result. Roshima Lasanduni, a nursing officer attached to the Elpitiya Base hospital told the Sunday Observer that poor transport facilities in the area is needed immediate attention of the Elpitiya Pradeshiya Sabha-elect.

“All parties came to our houses and organised small meetings. They promised a lot of things. However, the lack of public transport is the most tiresome issue we face” 29-year-old Lasanduni commented.

As the voting concluded at 4.00 p. m, the voter turnout had reached 70 per cent. Other than for a few complaints about candidates and voters intimidating others to support a certain party, the voting concluded peacefully. A police officer who was on duty removing posters said these complaints were not unusual in the area.

Pix – Ranjith Asanka 

 
 

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