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March 29 will mark the beginning of a new era - SPC UNP district leaders

Provincial Council elections for Western and Southern Provinces are round the corner, and all major political parties and some independent groups have filed nominations and are actively engaged in their election campaigns. Since the introduction of the Provincial Council system in the country, these two provinces are ready for the fray for the 7th consecutive term. Both these councils had been under the UNP rule only once (in 1988) and since then both had been under SLFP led UPFA rule for over 20 years.

Ashoka Dhanawansa de Silva Sirisena Wijewickreme Somapala Ekanayake

The UNP group leader of Galle District Ashoka Dhanawansa de Silva started his political career as a young student supporter of the political campaign of former parliamentarian Norman Vaidyaratne in Balapitiya electorate. He became an active member of UNP student union, Eksath Samavadi Shishya Peramuna and later held various positions of the Front. He was elected to the Southern Provincial Council in 1991 and from 1993 upto date he has represented the SPC at every successive election. He has been nominated as the group leader of the Galle district for SPC elections of 2014 and the Sunday Observer had a brief interview with him to ascertain the political situation in the province and his program of work in the run up to the election and the chances of winning the district for the party. Excerpts:

Q: Your party leader had reposed high confidence in you by appointing you as the team leader of the district. How do you hope to meet this challenge and prove your mettle at the forthcoming elections?

A: Yes, my party leader and the nomination board have correctly identified the most suitable candidates for the district and I have been assigned to lead the team. I do not consider this as a very big challenge as I possess all the qualifications to be the leader in the district. As a dedicated UNP activist I know practical politics from pasting posters right upto discharging duties and responsibilities as the chief minister quite satisfactorily.

All our team members are actively engaged in their propaganda activities and we have unanimously decided to muster support for the party rather than running behind preferential votes. We have already launched our political campaign visiting from house to house and educating the people about the present political and socio-economic situation in the country.

Q: How about the major development projects already carried out by the government in your Province?

A: Over 90 percent of people are heavily burdened with the high cost of living and lack of essential commodities. Health and education are the two important attributes of a nation. Unfortunately our Southern Provincial administration had failed to address the issues of these two vital sections during the past number of years. In this backdrop it is not difficult for us to win the PC elections.

Matara district UNP candidates are led by the former Opposition Leader of the Southern Provincial Council Sirisena Wijewickreme who had created a record by having won at all the previous PC elections since 1988. He had started his political career as the private secretary to the former deputy minister Keerthi Abeywickrema in 1977 and functioned in the post till he entered PC in 1988.

Q: Your party had reposed lot of confidence in you having appointed you as the leader of the Matara district for the forthcoming PC elections. How do you hope to meet this challenge?

A: Yes, as the most senior councillor, and the immediate past Opposition Leader of the Southern Provincial Council, our party had very correctly appointed me to lead our team. With my long years of experience in Provincial politics and the present socio-economic situation in the country and with the tug of war among the others for the chief minister's post, it is not difficult for us to mobilise the masses against the present rulers and win the Matara district for our party.

Don't forget the fact that the Southerners have always begun the political campaigns to change governments in power in the political history of the country. We are quite confident that Southern PC election results on March 29 will mark the beginning of a new era.

Q: But your own party people say that there is no unity among your party front-runners and it's not possible for you to challenge this strong government?

A: That was the very reason for us to remain in the opposition for so long. Now we have sorted out our internal problems and everybody is working hard to put the party back in power shedding petty differences. The Government has realised it and that is why they still try to tarnish the image of your party exposing minor issues as major conflicts to demoralise our grassroots level membership.

A lot of UPFA activists have now joined us saying that there is no future for them under the present leaders.

Former UPFA stalwarts such as Justin Galappatti, local government member, his son Tharaka Galappatti and former Opposition leader of the Matara Municipal Council and another strong personality who had done a great service to the area and expected UPFA nomination are also backing our election campaign along with a large number of former UPFA supporters with the firm intention of defeating the UPFA administration of the Southern Provincial Council.

Q: The Government had already executed a large number of development projects in the Southern Province. So in this backdrop how could you say that you could defeat it?

A: Though the government had executed development schemes, people have not been adequately benefited by them.

Tea cultivation in the province has been very badly affected due to lack of good fertiliser and there are also lots of problems with the fishing community with regard to their produce and the distribution.

The biggest problem the ordinary people are confronted with today, is the unbearable high cost of living. Prices of all essential commodities have skyrocketed and the income of the average man remains same driving him from frying fan into the fire.

All our candidates are aggressively involved in the election campaign exposing all these shortcomings of the government and we hope to present our program of work to the voters and I am pretty sure that we can topple the southern PC on March 29.

Somapala Ekanayake, the UNP team leader of Hambantota district is a seasoned politician from the Southern Province who had worked with former parliamentarian of Tangalle electorate Jinadasa Weerasinghe. He has represented the district as a Provincial Councillor continuously since 1993 and had rendered a great service to the Southern Province.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer, he said that the Southern Province at present has been badly neglected by the rulers and people are undergoing immense hardships with high cost of living. He said the majority of the people are innocent peasants living in remote villages of the district whose main livelihood is based on agriculture.

Fertiliser, agricultural chemicals and even the agricultural equipment have gone up in price making the life more and more difficult for the farmers. There is a substantial percentage of registered voters in the district who do not have a plot of land of their own.

During the previous UNP regimes lands were given to people in the area under the Mahaweli scheme and their economy was strengthened.

He said that the United National Party being in the Opposition for the last number of years had rendered a great service to the people in the Southern Province under the district leadership of Sajith Premadasa. We have provided self-employment opportunities to a substantial amount of people with Sajith Premadasa's funds.

Southern Provincial Council had been under the UPFA rule for well over 20 years now but no productive project or systematic program of work has been launched to alleviate the suffering of the downtrodden of the area.

Ordinary people are riddled with innumerable problems such as health care facilities, education for children, agricultural requirements and with ever increasing high cost of living.

When asked about the election campaign he said that the team members are working quite cordially and aggressively to win the district for the party to prove that Southern Province always take the initiative to change the government in power.

Ekanayake said that their party activists have to face various problems with the police in the area in their propaganda activities.

Police do not allow us to set up our legitimate temporary offices and sometimes they do not even allow us loudspeaker permits to conduct election rallies. But with all these constraints we are quite confident of our victory at the forthcoming elections, said Ekanayake.

 

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