Thursday, February 05, 2009

Wayamba : UPFA rides the wave

War victories become deciding factor though people face economic hardship

By Kelum Bandara and Padma Kumari

From the sun-soaked fishing villages of Puttalam to lush coconut groves in Kurunegala, each political party involved in the Wayamba Provincial Council election is  taking time to reflect on the long campaign as the February 14th election date now draws closer .

In the furthest corner of the Puttalam district, the weather remains sunny as in other parts of Wayamba, and posters of the candidates of all hues have sprung up on the trees, walls and poles. Yet, people living in the coastal villages are not in a sunny mood at all since they have to grapple with a myriad of problems pertaining to their livelihood, especially in the fisheries industry. For the marginalized  fishermen, their earning is sufficient only for their daily survival.It was D. Lakshman of Kappaladi, Kalpitiya who shared these  sentiments  to  Daily Mirror. Lakshman, a father of one child was preparing his fishing nets to be laid in the deep sea later in the evening.

"We have no sophisticated fishing vessels, and are dependent on big businessmen for them.  So, we are compelled to sell our fish harvest to them, not at a price determined by the market conditions but by them. We are always poor as a result," he said.

Like most other rural villages, his village is also to be provided with electricity facilities. The access roads are to be repaired. The politicians have made promises at numerous occasions to address these issues, but the problems still remain unnoticed

Suddenly, a toothy, triumphant smile appeared on his face when we directed a question at him on the   war situation. Lakshman who introduced himself as a floating voter became exuberant when commenting on the war.

"As far as what we see and hear through the media, the war is being brought to a successful completion by the government. We salute them for it," he said while his fellow villagers approved his words in unison.

The military gains are obviously the foremost element in determining how voters will cast their ballot at the upcoming election. Capitalizing on the situation for electoral gains, the ruling UPFA candidates straddle the fence on this issue in Wayamba while the opposition-the UNP and the JVP have sought to appeal to voters on economic and special issues. Yet, the two parties do not forget to give the credit of the military victories to the security forces. 

The SLFP-led coalition has ruled the Wayamba Provincial Council for the last two terms, and the people have reservations about its competence in tackling general issues, confronting the province, ranging from education to road development. This time,such issues have taken a back seat of their  campaign trail with the war victories being the most politically advantageous thing in their stock.

The wide media coverage given to the successful war on terror seems to have drilled national feelings into the heads of the people of all sectors. The campaigning, as a result, has become a cakewalk for the UPFA, and the UNP and JVP is seen finding it extremely difficult to the counter the government's propaganda machinery driven by political orators such as MPs Wimal Weerawansa and Ministers Dr. Rajitha Senaratne. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has also addressed a few election rallies adding extra vigour to the campaign.

The impact seems to have shaken even the permanent vote bank of the UNP which is generally considered inflexible come what may.

Another fisherman B. Teepan Perera of Kappaladi is one such person who said that he is eagerly waiting to vote for the betel symbol on February 14, for the first time in his over fifty-year old life. The reason is the government successfully cornering the LTTE to a small territory in the North. He is optimistic that  terrorism will be eradicated very soon making room for the posterity to live in peace and harmony. 

Puttalam is an agriculturally productive area with paddy and vegetable   being cultivated lushly on its fertile soil.  It is so fertile that farmers grow vegetable varieties such as cabbage, beetroots and onions, which are usually cultivated in the cooler climes of Nuwara-Eliya.  Using the drip irrigation system to water the tender vegetable plants, farmers of Kalpitiya and Norohcholai in the district are hard at work as usual nowadays. This election has little bearing for these hardworking people depending on noone for theri livilihood.

But, they have a message to convey to the policy makers at this election. It is the high fertilizer prices. Unlike paddy farmers, vegetable growers are not entitled to any fertilizer subsidy.

"We have to pay Rs. 5000 for a bag of fertilizer which is issued at a subsidised price of Rs.350 for paddy farmers. It is very expensive for us.  There should be fair play in this case," said C.P. Earvin Michael   who grows guava as a commercial crop in his home garden.

Philip Edward is also a fisherman from the same area having different political views under the present circumstances. In addition to fishing, he runs a dry fish stall.

"This country has been governed by both the SLFP-led alliances and the UNP. But, no progressive economic policies have been implemented ensuring social equity. So, I chose to vote for the JVP," he said wiping  the  perspiration on his forehead.

Among the outgoing members of the Wayamba Provincial Council, some have earned a reputation for the efficient delivery of public work in the electorates. People, at the same time strike a note of criticism    on the others for breaching promises.

A UNP MP who crossed over to the government and became a deputy minister has also become unpopular among the fisherfolk. Fishermen allege that this deputy minister sold the fishing vessels for them at Rs. 50,000 despite them being a donation from a certain NGO to be distributed among tsunami victims in the south. According to people, it is alleged that he has pocketed some money through this fraudulent exercise.

Apart from basking in the glory of military victories, people say, the politicians are expected to resolve the most grievous issues confronting them. People noted that a few wealthy fishermen use certain fishing nets called 'Surukku' in their own jargon to get big catches resulting in  a drop in the marine fish population available for small fishermen to harvest.

They demand a ban on these fishing methods.    They also ask for a subsidy from the government for fuel and other fishing equipment so that they would not depend on businessmen.

In the meantime, people in Kurunegala are busily gathering their paddy harvest. Some farmers have already finished the task and issued their produce to the market.  The political parties generally try to   score brownie points on the issues such as the low prices of the agricultural prices. But, for the opposition, there seems to be no such issue prevailing currently in Kurunegala, one of the largest paddy cultivating districts in the country.

A paddy kilo of the Nadu variety fetches Rs. 36 in the market today, and the samba variety Rs.40 in the area today.

"It is a satisfactory price for the farmers under the present circumstances. So, farmers have not been affected by the present high cost of living. Even a casual labourer can get Rs. 600 for a day now," said S. Mahinda, a paddy trader from Nikaweratiya.

His views were asserted by A.P.S. Aloka Bandara, a housewife of a farmer family of Kirindigolla, Nikaweratiya. She said that her family did not have any hardship in their simple lifestyle due to earning money from the reasonable paddy prices.

"We earn a quite a lot of money by  paddy farming. We supplement our income by growing corn, chilli and vegetables as well," she said.

The fertilizer subsidy and the high paddy prices in recent years seem to have boosted the farmers' economy in Wayamba. People belonging to all the communities have started cultivating paddy lands which had remained barren for a number of years in areas like Wariyapola.

Along the Wariyapola- Chilaw road, there lies one such stretch of paddy land close to the Hettipola town in the Panduwasnuwara electorate. S.L.M. Deen is a Muslim farmer who has cultivated  paddy in his field after five years this time, reaping the harvest proudly."Because of the fertilizer subsidy, we   are able to grow paddy today. We cultivated this land after five years," he said  pointing to the labourers working on his field.

While the labourers  harvest the paddy , he was squatting on the trailer of a lorry along with a few of his friends.   They were gossiping on the elections to the Wayamba Provincial Council when we suddenly dropped in from our vehicle to ask for their views.

It was obvious that the extreme rhetoric of the ruling party   politicians had gone well with the masses during the end of the campaign trail. Deen is in a triumphant mood over the military victories and vowed to vote for the betel symbol.

Even for those who do not own paddy lands, the cost of living is not a critical issue. Most people in the electorates such as Kuliyapitiya, Panduwasnuwara and Wariyapola own at least one acre of coconut land. A coconut cultivation of one acre provides at least 700-800 nuts for a month. The wholesale coconut price is Rs. 15 -15.50 a nut today and people can easily get a satisfactory amount to make ends meet in a village where necessities are limited  compared to urban life.

The war is the main election plank of the UPFA which is an amalgam of various political parties, and it is slated to get votes in abundance. The party has launched its campaign according to a well-strategic plan, and its orators have struck the emotive chord of voters capitalizing on the fame of the military achievements.A vote for the betel symbol is a vote for the liberation of the country from the terrorism is the slogan forced down the throat of the ordinary voters in Wayamba. After a long trek down the camping, the UPFA has made headway, and is likely to return to the council with a thumping majority since the government is at the peak of its popularity today.

Yet, there is tough competition among the the UPFA candidates for the highest number of preferential votes in both Kurunegala and Puttalam. This time, there is no official announcement on the chief ministerial candidate. Late Minister D.M. Dissanayake's wife Indrani Dasanayake is telling the voters in the Puttalam district that she will be made the chief minister in case she gets the highest number of votes. Former Wayamba opposition leader Asoka Wadigamangawa who crossed over to the UPFA and is contesting the election on its ticket is also drawing the similar line.

Former Chief Minister Athula Wijesinghe carries out his campaign saying he will be the chief minister for the next time as well. The campaign is hotting up in this manner with several candidates vying for the chief minister's post. The tussle among the UPFA candidates for preferential votes is also strong because several ministers have put forward their kith and kin for the election.

Pics by Samantha Perera


Wayamba : UPFA rides the wave
Daily Mirror - Colombo,Western,Sri Lanka
It was D. Lakshman of Kappaladi, Kalpitiya who shared these sentiments to Daily Mirror. Lakshman, a father of one child was preparing his fishing nets to be ...


No comments:

Post a Comment

Use this space to express your opinion about this post.Please do not use explicit words or links to other web sites or blogs. Including such prohibited things will result in not publishing your comments in the Blog.

Owners of this blog bears no responsibility for the ideas and opinion expressed by the numerous readers of this web site.

Best Pay Per Click Program with Minimum Payout Threshold