by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
In a significant political development, strong grassroots pressure exerted by the Tamils of Sabaragamuwa province has led to political parties representing the interests of Up Country Tamils sinking their differences and uniting to contest the forthcoming provincial council polls by submitting a combined list of candidates under the symbol of cockerel.
Three main parties of the Tamils of recent Indian origin known generally as Up country or Hill country Tamils (Malaiahaththamilzhar) namely the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), Democratic Peoples Front(DPF) and Up Country Peoples Front (UPF)will be contesting the Sabaragamuwa polls under a common symbol and common list of candidates.
The decision to do so was brought about mainly by the strenuous efforts of grassroots organizations of Tamils in the Sabaragamuwa province who prevailed upon the political parties to refrain from contesting separately so that the Tamil people in the region would gain representation in the Provincial council.
Acceding to the popular sentiments of the people the political parties in a rare demonstration of unity have agreed to submit nomination papers for the districts of Kegalle and Ratnapura under the CWC symbol of cockerel with a common list of candidates from the CWC, DPF and UPF.
The nomination papers will be officially submitted to Elections department officials in districts of Kegalle and Ratnapura on Monday July 16th 2012 at auspicious times. The list for Kegalle district will be submitted at the auspicious time of 10. 30 am while the Ratnapura list will be submitted at the auspicious time of 2.30 pm
The nomination papers with lists of candidates was finalized formally on July 14thduring auspicious periods of time.
The 44 member Sabaragamuwa provincial council consists of 42 elected members and two appointed as bonus seats to the party polling the highest number of votes.Of the elected councilors the Ratnapura district has 24 and Kegalle 18.
Parties or independent groups contesting are expected to nominate a list of 27 names for Ratnapura and 21 for Kegalle district in terms of election laws.
It is learnt that of the 27 nominees for Ratnapura district the CWC will have 14,the DPF 11 and UPF 2. Of the 21 nominees for Kegalle the CWC will have 11, the DPF 9 and UPF 1.
It is estimated that there are 130,000 Tamils in Ratnapura district and 102,000 in Kegalle district. Although the population of Tamils entitle the community to have over 80,000 votes ,the voter figures are much lower due to a large number of people being unregistered.
Currently the actual voter figures are estimated to be between 50 to 55,000 with Ratnapura having around 35, to 38,000 and Kegalle the remainder.
On this basis it is expected that two from the united Tamil list could be elected from Ratnapura and one from Kegalle.
It is however uncertain as to how lage the Tamil voter turn out could be as in the 2008 Provincial polls only around 16,000 Tamils voted though about 46,000 were registered.
Of these DPF candidates got around 9,000 while the CWC and UPF candidates got 5,000 and 1500 respectively.
Sabaragamuwa Tamil political activists however hope that there will be a larger voter turn out this time because of the perceived Tamil unity and combined list of candidates.
The noteworthy feature of the combined list is the fact that this unity cuts across Government and opposition lines. The CWC and UPF are part of the UPFA govt while the DPF is aligned to the opposition.
It is learnt that CWC leader and cabinet minister Arumugam Thondaman had explained the circumstances under which his party was combining with opposition parties to contest to President Rajapaksa and obtained his consent.
The Sabaragamuwa Provincial council has for long been denied adequate Tamil representation due to fragmentation of Tamil parties and the submersion of Tamil votes when contesting on the major party tickets.
Since the Tamils are a small minority in the province the votes obtained by Tamil candidates are not enough to get commensurate representation as councilors. The Sinhala candidates with larger numbers of preference votes get elected at the expense of Tamil candidates
The Tamil votes help expand the overall tally of votes of parties like the UPFA or UNP but fail miserably to ensure Tamil winners.
The problem is further exacerbated by the fragmentation of meager votes available due to competing Tamil parties.
Although the late Sabaragamuwa CWC stalwart ADM Rajan has been provincial councilor he was nominated as a bonus seat member.
The lack of adequate elected Tamil representation has led to the community being affected in areas of employment,education, housing,transport and health etc.
It is this state of affairs which led to concerned Tamil grassroots organizations of the Province to exert pressure on the Tamil parties and compel them to forge common bonds of unity for the Provincial polls in the interests of the people.
This popular demand more or less forced the Tamil parties to come together and form a common front for the Sabaragamua provincial polls.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org