International

Kurunegala district could aid Rajapaksa’s comeback

Ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa launching UPFA’selection manifesto by presenting copies to Buddhistmonks in Colombo earlier in the week. Photo: T. Ramakrishnan  

A tough electoral fight is emerging between the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and the United National Party (UNP) in Kurunegala, where former President and UPFA nominee Mahinda Rajapaksa is trying his luck to recapture power.

One could get this impression from interactions with a cross-section of people in the Kurunegala electoral district, which comes third at the national level in terms of voters’ strength, following Colombo and Gampaha.

Rajapaksa’s popularity

Located in the Northwestern Province, Kurunegala has 12.66 lakh voters and returns a total of 15 Members of Parliament. On August 17, people will vote for electing 13 MPs and on the basis of votes polled by political formations, the remaining two seats will be allocated.

Gunavati (86), a resident of Millawa here, makes no secret about her preference for the former President. She says that it was during his regime that she became a beneficiary of several welfare measures. Two young women in the area too say they will vote for the UPFA as their families have been traditionally supporting the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which is the leading constituent of the UPFA.

But, the opinion is not uniform. Janaka Ratnayake, a young insurance executive from Mawathagama, says people had supported Maithripala Sirisena in January as the utility of Mr. Rajapaksa was over. “This mood has not undergone any dramatic change since then,” he feels.

Mr. Ratnayake points out that Maithri, as the President is popularly called, enjoys a high degree of goodwill and yet, this benefit will not go to the UPFA though the President heads the Alliance for all legal purposes.

W.M.D. Wendrakoon (about 60), says he was not convicted by Mr. Rajapaksa’s decision to contest from Kurunegala, instead of his home district of Hambantota. Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, SLFP general secretary and one of the UPFA’s nominees in the district, says two other districts — Galle and Ratnapura — were considered. Finally, the choice fell on Kurunegala, which is bigger than the other two.

Bonus seats

Further, given the former President’s “popular standing” here, the UPFA will be able to net the bonus two seats, Mr. Yapa hopes. One more reason that does not go unnoticed is that Kuruengala is one of those areas where Mr. Rajapaksa netted more votes than Mr. Sirisena in the presidential elections. Besides, the district has a large number of ex-servicemen.

In the 2010 Parliamentary elections, when tide was in favour of the Rajapaksa regime, the UPFA got 10 seats and the UNP five. This time, this mix is bound to witness a change.

Unemployment a major issue

Kurunegala is one among those regions which have been facing negative net migration rates over the years. In 1981, the rate was minus 18.6. Three decades later, it is minus 20.6, according to a document published by the Department of Census and Statistics on the 2012 Census of Population and Housing.

Lack of employment opportunities is a serious problem here, says M.P. Ariyadasa Navaratne, a senior citizen of the Kurunegala town. Younger generations have no interest for farming even though rice, the country’s main staple food, and coconut are cultivated in a big way, he says.

The United People’s Freedom Alliance has, in its manifesto, dealt with the farm sector elaborately. The United National Party says it will bring Volkswagen to set up a manufacturing facility in the area.

Minorities

Though the district is not known for a significant presence of ethnic minorities in the overall population of about 16.2 lakh, Muslims account for 7.1 per cent; Sri Lankan Tamils 1.1 per cent; and Indian Tamils 0.2 per cent, according to another official document published in 2014.

An activist, Ziyad Mohammed, says there is no institution to provide technical education to those who have studied in Tamil medium of instruction. Another grievance of students of the Tamil medium is that they are not able to pursue up to “A” level as the choice of subjects is extremely limited.


Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 5:59:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/kurunegala-district-could-aid-rajapaksas-comeback/article7489764.ece

Next Story