LG polls: UNP distraught over ward demarcation, in predicament to foster party unity

28 October 2015 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}



The local authorities’ election, tipped to be conducted in March next year, would hold political relevance to the two main parties in repositioning themselves and charting their future political course. Currently, both the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) are engaged in consensus politics and share responsibilities in the National Unity Government. Cohabitation is primarily intended for a term of two years, and the way after would depend upon its success.

Yet, the local election, set to be conducted in the interim period, would be a political test for the SLFP and UNP to gauge their standings in the electorate.  In the political battle at the proposed election, the two parties, as announced, would contest separately against each other, despite their unity in sharing responsibilities in the central administration. 
President Maithripala Sirisena is expected to give leadership to his SLFP at this election against the UNP which is the central political force that ensured his ascendency to presidency in January this year.

UNP perturbed over criterion followed in creating wards

Both the parties have started preliminary political work for contesting separately, instructing their organizers to set the stage to get a political hold over the local authorities. The election is to be conducted under a new system -- a mix of the First Past the Post and the Proportional Representation Systems. The electoral wards have been demarcated in conformity with the laws introduced by the previous rule to provide for the new electoral system at local polls. But, the UNP is distraught over the criterion followed    in the demarcation of the boundaries of the wards. The party believes that the territory under each local authority has been divided into electoral wards, with boundaries purportedly determined to dilute its blocs of votes at village level. 

The UNP has sought to address its concerns by redoing some demarcations where it has been subjected to injustice as it believes.

President struggles hard to foster SLFP unity ahead of LG polls

Ahead of the election, the UNP is perturbed by such loopholes whereas the SLFP is embroiled in yet another predicament in attempting to foster unity within the party.   President Sirisena, who took over the party after assuming presidency, is virtually entrusted with the responsibility to ensure its victory over the UNP. For that purpose, Minister of Social Empowerment S.B. Dissanayake, dubbed in the past as the ‘chanda mesima’ (vote luring machine)    has been assigned to reorganize the party in view of the local polls. But, the effort has hit a snag  as the traditional political  allies of the SLFP, do not support  the idea of the President’s loyalists to  participate in the election under  its ‘hand symbol’ casting aside the familiar betel symbol of the party- led political front  called ‘the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). 

These allies, though small in nature, are parties to reckon with due to their strength in shaping public opinion against the UNP. So, for that matter, the UPFA finds it hard to disregard these parties. Alongside,  a herculean task lies in the hands of the present SLFP leadership in the decision on the accommodation of these parties as they are loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and, in fact, have initiated a ‘Bring Back Mahinda’ campaign.  Decision making becomes even harder as an SLFP section has also thrown their weight behind these parties. 

SLFP allies vow to form separate front

In the event the SLFP takes a firm stand to contest under its hand symbol, these allies- National Freedom Front (NFF), Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), Democratic Left Front, Communist Party and Lanka Sama Samaja Party(LSSP) - have vowed at a meeting to form an alternative front with the inclusion of  the SLFP section loyal to MR.   

At a recent SLFP meeting chaired by the President as the leader, the issue cropped up. The President stressed the need for unity to brace up for this election.  But, SB Dissanayake, as a matter of concern for him, said the unity looked unrealistic as long as a section of the party yearned for a separate front.   The meeting heated up with verbal exchanges among the participants after SBD referred to Gampaha district MP Prasanna Ranatunga, and accused him of conniving with clandestine political activities against the SLFP interests.  A furious Ranatunga snapped back saying, “You could not get yourself elected at the General Election.  How can you lead the party to victory then?

Despite being defeated at two successive elections, MR has a following among the rank and file of the party at grassroots level.  As a result, the accommodation of his loyalists is considered important for the SLFP to aspire for victory. As indicated by the results of the April 17 election, people had chosen, in most cases, the candidates who stood in solidarity with MR during his trying time after the electoral defeat in January.   Given it, attempts are   underway to lure MR-loyalists into the fold.  But, they have second thought. They are concerned whether they   will be overlooked in the appointment to key posts in the local authorities    after the election even if they perform well in delivering votes. Fear is genuine as even some candidates, defeated at the last parliamentary election, were nominated to Parliament on the National List merely for the fact that they switched allegiance to the present SLFP leadership. 

Only two parties with no parliamentary representation invited to APC

The President called for the All-Party Conference recently. For the meeting, two parties which do not parliamentary representation have been invited. They were Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka’s Democratic Party and the LSSP of Prof. Tissa Vitarana. SF has been invited given his importance in bringing about reconciliation among the communities, as the commander who led the military to a crushing defeat of LTTE terrorism. Prof. Vitarana was invited because of his leading role in past attempts   to evolve political proposals, particularly as the Chairman of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) appointed during MR’s tenure.

Each party was asked to submit its proposals for a political solution within two weeks. 
Former Minister D.E.W. Gunasekara, who spoke on behalf of his Communist Party, said a solution acceptable to both the majority community and the minority communities would only be durable. He opined that any solution, favouring the minorities but antagonizing the majority would not be long lasting. 

Dinesh complains to President on injustices in Parliament

Apart from matters pertaining to a political solution, MEP Leader Dinesh Gunawardane had yet another issue to be brought to the notice of the President.  He complained to the President that the UPFA MPs sitting in the opposition, were discriminated against in the allotment of time in Parliament. The President, in response said  he would not get involved in parliamentary affairs, but agreed to look into it.

Karuna in another political somersault 

Former LTTE warlord in the East, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna, is ready for another political pole vault. After he reneged from the LTTE in 2004, he entered active politics. First, he was involved with the activities of Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP). Yet, he fell out with its leader Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan and joined the SLFP. He was nominated to Parliament on the National List on two occasions. After MR’s defeat at the last presidential election, Karuna’s political significance waned in the next context.  No party took interest in giving him a seat on the National List. 
Left to himself, he has decided to a take new political path by trying to join the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) led by V. Anandasangari. Nonetheless the latter looks sceptical about accommodating the former in his party.  “I have thrown open the doors of my party for anyone to join. Yet, I have not decided whether to accommodate him or not,” Anandasangari said. Karuna was a man of means and affairs in the war context. After his defection from the LTTE, his experience in guerilla warfare was helpful in tracking and ambushing     terrorists.  But, he could not develop a political base of his own in the post-war period in his Batticaloa district, and he paled into insignificance as a result for the mainstream parties.  Alongside, he was accused of wartime atrocities, particularly as the eastern commander of the LTTE. And the present Government committed to probe them had no grounds to give him political space under it.

UNP distraught over UPFA taking over Uva PC

The Uva Provincial Council (UPC) remained under the control of the UNP for a few months. But, after Chief Minister Harin Fernando was elected to Parliament at the August 17 election, the balance of power was altered making the way for a UPFA member to take over the Uva PC as the Chief Minister. The UNP leadership in the Uva electorate is unhappy over it.  Party’s Moneragala District MP and Public Administration Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara criticized the President through innuendo in public.
“The UNP was the main party that elected the President. So, he has a duty to do justice for the party in Uva. Now, the Uva PC has been taken over from the UNP to be entrusted with the UPFA,” Minister Bandara said. 

WPC Chief Minister stripped of Provincial Education Ministry  

Traditionally, the provincial education administration is kept under the purview of the Chief Minister. Yet, newly appointed WP Chief Minister Isuru Devapriya has been stripped of this ministry.  He is reportedly disillusioned over it.  Initially, Provincial Councilor Gamini Tilakasiri was identified for the CM post. But, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike intervened to ensure it for Isuru Devapriya seen as her long standing acolyte. 
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