Opposition parties grumble about 8-weeks to WPC polling day

The UNP and SLMC yesterday strongly protested at the eight-week gap between nominations and polling in the Western Provincial Council election to be held on April 25 accusing the government of attempting to exhaust them and their resources before the polling.

They demanded that the polling day be advanced to April 4 but got no positive response.

These opposition parties alleged that the government was adopting a strategy of holding individual Provincial Council elections instead of completing them all together on one day because this would better enable them to concentrate resources in one area rather than many.

Additional Elections Commissioner W.P. Sumanasiri said that the law required the holding of a poll between five to eight weeks of the notice of election. The polling day has been decided taking into consideration intervening Sinhala and Hindu New Year.

Asked whether there had been this long gap between nomination and polling earlier, he said "Yes" but could not cite an example from memory.

UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake said that his party had informally discussed the matter of advancing the polling day with the Elections Commissioner as well as Minister Susil Premajayanth who is the General Secretary of the UPFA.

UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya had also spoken to the JVP’s Propaganda Secretary Vijitha Herath about this matter.

He said that UNP plans to raise this matter formally at a meeting of leaders of parliamentary parties. He argued that many voters registered in the Western Province would visit their villages for the New Year holidays on April 12-13 and may not be back in time for voting.

Premjayanth said that Attanayake had telephoned him and suggested that the polling date be changed.

"I did not say very much as this is a decision of the Elections Commissioner which we must all abide by,’’ he said. "The Commissioner would have thought over this matter carefully before fixing the date. It cannot be changed and there is no valid reason for doing this," he said.

JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe said that once the Elections Commissioner had fixed a date, there was no point objecting but the SLMC’s General Secretary M.T. Hassen Ali said he could not understand why the Commissioner had left a eight-week gap between nominations and polling when normally the polls are held six weeks from nomination.

"One does not know whether this was the Commissioner’s decision or he was directed by the government which has all the resources and began campaigning early," he said.

"Everybody could see the posters, cutouts, banners and other propaganda material displayed all over the Western Province even before nominations closed."

Hassen Ali accused President Mahinda Rajapakse of trying to present himself as a neutral and fair person by directing candidates not to display campaign photographs of themselves with the president one day before polling day.

"What was the use of all that when the requirement was already violated?", he asked.

He predicted that soon after the WPC elections the government would call for PC elections in the Uva and Southern Provinces "and almost paralyze us before calling a snap general or presidential election."

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