United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Chief Ministerial Candidate Sashindra Rajapaksa was having a nap in a chair at the Moneragala District Secretariat when he received a call from his uncle President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sunday morning.
His security officer picked the mobile phone, and brought it to him to answer the President who was on line. Jolted out of his nap, he answered the phone.
The President asked, “How is the result?”
Mr. Sashindra Rajapaksa replied, “Preferential votes are to be counted at ten more centres. At other centres, it is finalised. I am leading the list.”
Yet, there was a drop in votes polled by him this time.
The President responded saying that he had assumed this result, and therefore, there was nothing to wonder. Apparently, he was referring to the drop in the number of votes polled by the UPFA though it won.
He asked his nephew to wait for his return to take oath as the chief minister for the next term.
The UPFA, for the first time since 2005, saw its popularity plummeted when it heard the results of the Uva Provincial Council Election. The party, headed by the President, narrowly won the election, but saw its vote base eroded to an unexpected low level in the Badulla district in particular, and to a lesser extent in the Moneragala district.
"The UPFA, for the first time since 2005, saw its popularity plummeted when it heard the results of the Uva Provincial Council Election. The party, headed by the President, narrowly won the election, but saw its vote base eroded to unexpected low level in the Badulla district in particular, and to a lesser extent in the Moneragala district."
The results sent chills down the spine of the government ministers though they publicly uttered something else, even belittling the achievements of the opposition. The Uva Provincial Council went to the polls on Saturday, and for the UPFA, it was more than a Provincial Council election. For it, the election served as the bellwether for a snap presidential election, slated to be announced either in January or March, next year.
Therefore, any setback at this election will not bode well for the UPFA.
The pre-poll surveys suggested the opposition would mount a stiff competition in the Badulla district. It was against the backdrop of the main opposition United National Party (UNP) fielding young, charismatic candidate Harin Fernando to oppose UPFA’s Sashindra Rajapaksa, the nephew of the President and the son of Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa.
Welimada, Passara and Badulla were the three electorates projected to be disadvantageous to the UPFA. So, new strategies were laid down targeting these electorates, and in the Passara area alone, there were several openings of fully equipped school buildings with science laboratories and language labs during the campaign trail, and the President attended most of them along with the candidates in the fray. As an electorate with a concentration of estate Tamils, special arrangements were made as vote catching gimmicks, regardless of them being in violation of the election law. Finally, the UPFA was able to win this electorate with a sizeable margin, but it lost both Welimada and Badulla as expected to the UNP.
The UPFA was astonished to notice the defeat at the Hali-Ela electorate in the Badulla district, as it was not predicted by the opinion polls conducted.
The government ministers, who wished to remain anonymous, said though it expected its victory margin to be narrow, it never expected such an unprecedented drop of percentage points.
"The party’s Working Committee met at its headquarters ‘Sirikotha’, on Monday evening. The party’s National Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe announced, right at the commencement of the meeting, that the rank and file of the party wanted every member to act in unity, to regain its past electoral glory"
In the aftermath of this election; the government ministers, particularly the leaders of the parties in the UPFA, were analysing the situation to ascertain where the party went wrong in the run up to the polls. The lack of coordination among alliance partners, the failure to field new charismatic candidates, the miscalculation of the ground situation, and the absence of cohesive approach among the candidates during the campaign trail were seen by some of the ministers as the reasons for the setback.
The President, who was currently in New York to attend the UN General Assembly Session, contacted the key members of his Cabinet over the phone and discussed the matters concerned. Upon his return, he was slated to call for a meeting with all concerned for a review of the situation.
The President, himself, campaigned for this election, and he spent the last five days of the campaign trail in the Uva Province, addressing political meetings and rallies.
The UPFA retained the Uva or the South-Eastern Provincial Council by securing 19 out of 34 seats in the Uva Provincial Council; a drop from 25 seats it held in the outgoing council. Upcountry People’s Front, which had one seat in the previous council, contested together with the UPFA under its betel leaf symbol this time. But, its member Aravinth Kumar, who served in the previous council, lost this time. Therefore, the actual reduction of seats for the UPFA can be interpreted as seven instead of six.
The UNP almost doubled, and it won 13 seats. The JVP won two seats. The UPFA had 25 seats previously. The drop in votes and in the number of seats compared with the previous election in 2009 for the ruling party was much significant.
In Moneragala, there was a drop to 58 % from 81 % in 2009.
The Tamil vote base in the Badulla district appeared to have split between the government and the opposition this time. This had happened despite the UPFA trying to get it in en-bloc, by accommodating three main estate sector Tamil parties on board. Senthil Thondman, the nephew of Livestock Development Minister Arumugam Thondaman polled over 30,000 votes as the highest to be obtained by a Tamil candidate on the UPFA list. UNP Tamil candidate A. Velauthan also polled a similar number, making it possible to conclude that the three main Tamil parties –Ceylon Workers Congress, National Workers Union and Upcountry People’s Front- failed to ensure the Tamil vote base in en-bloc to the UPFA. The UPFA’s loss of three electorates in the Badulla district has also been engineered by the Muslim voters who harbour dissent against the government over recent incidents. These are the three electorates with concentrations of Muslims in the district, and their participation in the election has been to the detriment of the UPFA.
Buoyed by the increase of its vote base, the UNP hurried up action to appoint a few more office bearers so that it could position itself, in view of the snap Presidential Election. The party’s Working Committee met at its headquarters ‘Sirikotha’, on Monday evening. The party’s National Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe announced, right at the commencement of the meeting, that the rank and file of the party wanted every member to act in unity, to regain its past electoral glory. Therefore, he said he would be appointing a set of new office bearers.
“Unity is the aspiration of party men. If anyone is not willing to act in unity, please let us know. Then, we can tell it to the people who support us,” he remarked.
No one responded to him in this respect, and thereafter, he proposed the name of MP Sajith Premadasa to the post of Deputy Leader, which so far remained vacant. After it was agreed upon, Colombo district MP Ravi Karunanayake was proposed to the post of Assistant Leader, previously held by MP Joseph Michael Perera . Actually, Mr. Perera resigned from his post just the same day to make way for a new appointment.
Besides, the party’s Moneragala district MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara accepted the post of senior vice president. In fact, this post was offered to him six months ago. Finally, on Monday, he consented to accept it after being nominated by the leader. Ratnapura district MP Thalatha Athukorale was nominated to the new post of Secretary-Elections.
Party’s Kurunegala district MP Akila Viraj Kariyawasam was the new Deputy General Secretary.
Addressing the meeting, MP Premadasa, the new Deputy Leader, said he would act for the future electoral success of the party. Recalling how his father the late R. Premadasa, as the then deputy of the party, worked hard for the victory of the late President J.R. Jayewardene, he would make even a greater contribution to elect Mr. Wickremesinghe as the President at the next election.
The latest move has instilled optimism in the minds of the UNP Working Committee members, and they now look to a future laden with electoral success, after being in the opposition for the last 20 years, barring the two year period between 2002 and 2004.
The party had a special thanksgiving for Harin Fernando who propelled the party to a new height, rekindling fresh hopes. A special cake was cut on the occasion to celebrate this electoral success.
Prior to the Working Committee Meeting, Mr. Premadasa participated in a meeting on community water projects in the parliamentary complex, called by the Water Supply and Drainage Minister Dinesh Gunawardane.
When Mr. Premadasa was about to raise a question at the meeting, Minister Gunawardane remarked, “We learnt that you were going to be the deputy of your party. So, we entertain your question.”
Mr. Premadasa, in what appeared to be an aspersion on the minister, said, “No, I am trying to be the deputy of the government.”
MR for Sri Lankan style English pronunciation
At the Cabinet meeting last week, Education Minister Bandula Gunawardane discussed his proposal to improve the English language teaching in the country. He described his plan to address the dearth of English language teachers. For that purpose, he is planning to recruit 10,000 Advanced Level qualifiers as teacher assistants to be trained as English teachers through a modern online programme coordinated by the National Institute of Education.
For that, these Advanced Level qualifiers should have at least a credit pass for English at their Ordinary Level Examination and a normal pass for the common subject called ‘General English’ at the Advanced Level Examination.
Then, Environment and Renewable Energy Minister Susil Premajayantha said students from the Colombo schools were capable of pronouncing English with a better accent, and therefore, it would be difficult for rural students to compete with them. Therefore, he stressed the need to improve their English pronunciation style.
The President was not in favour of this idea. Instead, he said it was an idea inherent with those harbouring a colonial mentality.
“We have to develop our standard of pronouncing English. We should not be bothered so much about pronunciation. We can pronounce in our own way. In the world, different nationalities speak English in different accents. Here, people are worried to make mistakes in English. They are not worried to make mistakes in other languages. This is the colonial mentality,” he said.
Most other Ministers argued in support of the President, and among them, was National Languages and Social Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara.
Bandula –Wimal clash over land
A clash is simmering between Housing Construction Minister Wimal Weerawansa and Education Minister Bandula Gunawardane over a plot of land in the Homagama area. The land belongs to the National Housing Development Authority, an institution coming under the purview of Mr. Weerawansa’s Ministry.
Yet, Minister Gunawardane asked for it to set up a National College of Education to produce teachers required for teaching the subjects coming under the Technical Scheme for the G.C.E. Advanced Level Examination. However, Mr. Weerawansa said he wanted that land to implement a housing scheme. Minister Gunawardane, apparently, had not given up his struggle to take the land from Mr. Weerawansa. He remarked in Parliament, “I hope Mr. Weerawansa will donate this block of land to me.’