Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his band of pohottuwites are urging the public to consider the upcoming LG election as a referendum against, among other things, the Yahapalanaya government's move to divide the country. No longer are the derelict roads, unattended garbage piles, and general decay and disorganised state in the towns and villages attributed to the delay in holding LG elections, by the Joint Opposition stalwarts. Nor has the denial of the democratic right of the people due to the non holding of elections for over two years important any longer. All this has taken a back seat in the campaign of the pohottuwites who are urging the public to treat the upcoming elections as a referendum to protest the government's move to bring in a new constitution to divide the country. The single most important issue now is to save the country from being divided, and, for this, the JO is asking the public to register a protest vote against government candidates at the LG poll.
This was re-iterated at the maiden rally of the pohottuwites at Kadawatha on Saturday. Addressing the rally, Mahinda Rajapaksa urged the crowds to treat the poll as a referendum to show their anger against the government which is set to bring in a new constitution to grant Eelam and is selling national assets. True to form the pohottuwatites, as is its wont, sought to impress the TV audiences with the large crowds which has now became a pattern at rallies addressed by the former President. It will be a familiar sight in the coming days where the TV channels faithful to Rajapaksa will dutifully focus on the crowds at Mahinda rallies - notwithstanding that these are the same crowds that are being transported to all the JO rallies addressed by Rajapaksa through the incentive of buth packets, money and hooch as was evident the other day where some of the attendees were hugging terra firma sprawled in different poses and in different states of inebriation, as was captured on TV.
The pohottuwites who are trying to put up crowd shows to influence the voters fail to realize that this was the same scenario at the last Presidential Election as well. Massive crowds were bussed into all meeting venues and the bills of the SLCTB in this connection have not been settled to this day. Unprecedented crowds swarmed Polonnaruwa, the home turf of the Common Candidate, at the main rally addressed by Rajapaksa wherein the latter proclaimed from the stage that it was the biggest crowd ever to have gathered at the historic Polonnaruwa. Rajapaksa lost the seat by a majority of 30,000 votes. So much for crowd attendance at political rallies. Even in 1977 Sirima Bandaranaike drew the largest crowds but conceded a five sixth majority to JRJ.
Be that as it may, Rajapaksa may exude a unique charisma to draw in massive crowds to see him speak at rallies. But he will hardly be the focus at the LG poll where the voters will vote for individual candidates based on their popularity in the area. That is why all the parties in the fray have gone to great lengths to present popular figures as candidates at this election, as with all other LG elections in the past. In such a scenario Mahinda Rajapaksa will be the furthest from the minds of the voter who will be drawn to elect their apey miniha or gamey miniha. Local Government elections are also usually fought on local issues where larger national issues hardly have an impact on the villager, whatever Mahinda Rajapaksa and his cohorts urge the voters to do. There are also instances where voters don't vote on party lines at these elections but cast their ballot for individuals based on their popularity. Threats of a division of the country will be furthest from the minds of the village voter at this election.
Besides, we have travelled that path before. The Eelam bogey was drummed up loud at the last Presidential Election too by Mahinda Rajapaksa and Co. Popular actress turned politician and Rajapaksa camp follower Malini Fonseka, who campaigned assiduously for the re-election of MR, brought with her a Sri Lanka map to media briefings, which showed the North and East marked in the Eelam colours and warned the public of an imminent division of the country should Rajapaksa lose the poll. This did not work at the Presidential Election and it is doubtful whether it will have any currency at a Local Government election. There is no reason to believe that a shift in the mind has taken place in the voter during the last three years to suggest that a victory for the government at elections held for Pradeshiya Sabhas Municipal Councils and Urban Councils would result in the division of the country. That is assuming this subject figures at all in the mind of the voter whose main focus, no doubt, will purely be on who can provide them good roads, proper drinking water facilities and efficient clearance of their garbage.
Daily News, January 10, 2018