Colombo MC Jewel In The Crown, Kandy, Dehiwela – Mt Lavinia Close Behind
“ It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong”: Voltaire
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has but two foes left. The accountability that the international community is seeking on allegations of war crimes during the final stages of the conflict, and of course, the economy. The first, he could wriggle out by mustering support from nations who would themselves be under the radar on similar charges sometime or the other, but the second he would have to depend on his vision and execution. It could remarkably be interconnected.
No short cut there and the scorecard will be reviewed at election time – General or Presidential. The Colombo Municipal Council Elections scheduled for October will be a test not only for Rajapaksa but for Ranil Wickremesinghe too. For Rajapaksa it will be a mid-term test but for Ranil and the UNP it will be an eligibility examination.
The Colombo Municipality encompasses five parliamentary seats. Colombo North, East, West, Central and Borella. The total vote count would be in the region of four hundred thousand. Three hundred thousand of the six hundred thousand people who live within this area are confined to one thousand five hundred tenements spread around this former capital city, which all but in name functions as the financial capital of the island. Real estate prices in Colombo are the highest in the land. This city yet employs the largest labour force and white collar workers. It is by far the intellectual hub and of course most of the state administrative structure is housed within its confines. The schools, hospitals, hotels and restaurants, considered to be the best in the island are also situated within the city and therefore the lure of those seeking to avail of these facilities into Colombo is natural and large in number.
UNP dominates Colombo
The UNP has been the dominant party holding power in nearly all the elections, bar a few. The SLFP as is the practice, has been able to wrest control of this municipality only when the incumbent UNP mayor defected and that too when the parliamentary power was held by them – A. H. M Fowzie and K. Ganeshalingam to name two. The other instance was as way back as 1954, when Dr N. M. Perera held the mayoralty on behalf of the LSSP. The list below shows the calibre of men that held office from 1940. This column will leave it to the readers to judge for themselves the quality of those who held this most prestigious position in the “good old days”. The people did even vote for a three wheel driver who contested as an independent because they could not vote for the UNP.
Former Mayors of Colombo
• A. E. Goonesinha, 1940
• George R. De Silva, 1943
• R. A. De Mel, 1944-1946
• R. F. S. De Mel, 1945, 1947–1948
• Kumaran Ratnam, 1950
• S. Sellamuttu, 1951
• C. T. Grero, 1952-1953
• T. Rudra, 1953-1954
• N. M. Perera, 1954-1956
• V. A. Sugathadasa, 1956-1957,1963–1965
• M. H. Mohamed, 1960-1962
• M. Vincent Perera, 1965-1966, 1970–1973
• Jabir A. Cader, 1966-1969
• A. H. M. Fowzie, 1974-1977
• B. Sirisena Cooray, 1979-1989
• M. Hussain Mohamad, 1989-1991
• Ratnasiri Rajapakse, 1991-1994
• K. Ganeshalingam, 1996-1997
• Karu Jayasuriya, 1997-1999
• Omar Kamil, 1999-2002
• Prasanna Gunawardena, 2002-2006
• Uvais Mohamed Imitiyas 2006…
From a Three Wheeler to an SUV
The last named Uvais Mohamed Imitiyas became mayor due to a twist of fate. The UNP list forwarded through Milinda Moragoda (he was with the UNP then) with the assistance of Mohammed Maharoof was rejected by the Elections Commissioner. The reason? The age entered against a young aspirant candidate in the UNP list was found to be incorrect. There being no time for redress the UNP was compelled to support the Independent Group of Uvais Mohamed Imitiyas. With the support of the UNP, Imitiyas, a three wheel driver, became the Mayor, in other words, the first citizen of Colombo. Strangely, the UNP did not take any action against those responsible for the fiasco. Imitiyas was jostled to change sides which he eventually did though not by overt means leading to a Special Commissioner in the form of previous mayor Omar Kamil being appointed. Imitiyas is presently at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Seoul, Korea, employed as a driver.
Omar Kamil himself a former UNPer who switched allegiance to the SLFP, had returned to the island after a stint as an ambassador to a middle eastern country. Though he switched sides he conducted himself more than adequately during his period as Mayor and the City heaved a sigh of relief when he was appointed Special Commissioner. The UPFA has made a blunder by not appointing him as the Mayoral candidate since city dwellers are aware of his honest and diligent approach to public service.
The battle of the Two M’s
The UPFA has done well nevertheless, in the appointment of former Justice Minister Milinda Moragoda who is a formidable candidate. Gone are the days when persons who held higher office (in this case as a Minister) stepping down to seek power for the sake of being “in the ring”. The UNP though riddled with factionalism in recent times found common ground to nominate M. J. M. Muzammil to head the list in Colombo. Muzammil, who ran successfully under the UNP banner at the last Provincial Council elections conducted an innovative campaign. His posters plastered all over the city walls had a simple but effective message which holds true even today. His message said, “ Number 1 UNP Karaya” Muzammil. Nevertheless, even with such a campaign it was Rosy Senanayake who topped the list with Muzammil getting 31,202 preferences.
Minorities hold the key
The ethnic break up of the voters in Colombo City makes interesting reading. Fifty percent of the voters belong to the minority communities and the UNP has more often than not appointed one from the minority community to the position of mayor. The breakdown of registered voters is shown below.
Colombo North – 88,525, Colombo Central – 137,214, Borella – 59,727, Colombo East – 66,866, Colombo West – 40,753. Colombo Central has the largest voter base and the Muslim community within this electorate makes a significant impact on the overall results. Close behind comes Colombo North and Colombo East where the Tamil community has the majority. The UNP has always had the nod from the minority communities in Colombo, but this election will bring a different equation into play.
The decision of Mano Ganeshan to go it alone through the Democratic Peoples Front with the tacit backing of the Tamil National Alliance is significant and may favour the UPFA by default. Added to this the SLMC is also going it alone though Shafeek Rajabdeen may not garner similar support from his community unlike Mano Ganeshan. However with Mohammed Maharoof crossing over to lend his name through the UPFA this factor could be somewhat mitigated. Maharoof was an ardent supporter of Milinda Moragoda and delivered a preference vote in his favour at earlier parliamentary elections when both of them contested through the UNP in the Colombo District. When Milinda crossed over to the UPFA (reasons behind the shift have not been hitherto disclosed) he lost out at the ensuing parliamentary polls garnering only 24,296 preferences well below the minimum requirement of 40,000. Note that Mohammed Maharoof remained in the UNP and he too was unable to get in.
History favours the UNP, but…
Glancing back at the previous elections results may show that the UNP is the favoured party to secure the Colombo Municipal Council once again. As stated in this column, the UNP was able to defeat the UPFA at the 2006 municipal elections even though their list was rejected by backing the Independent Group led by Mohammed Imitiyas. But with the infighting that is festering within the party the die hard UNP voter has stayed aloof at recent elections allowing the UPFA to have an easy ride. Whether this sentiment will prevail at this election is too premature to guess at this point in time.
The 2002 elections to the Colombo Municipal Council was won by the UNP comfortably. Prasanna Goonewardene brother of Dinesh Goonewardene was appointed as the Mayor. Prasanna Goonewardene was a senior officer at the UDA before he contested.
Total Registered Voters - 416,276
Total Polled - 247,416
No of Seats - 53
UNP - 136,845
Seats - 32
PA - 38,002
Seats – 8
SLMC - 26,315
DWC - 13,147
Seats - 3
JVP - 9967
Seats - 1
Independent - 4298
Seats - 1
Sihala Urumaya - 2836
Seats - 1
The 2006 Elections to the Colombo Municipality was when the UNP list was rejected. Though the margin was narrowed between the UNP and UPFA the Indepenedent Group backed by the Greens won.
Total Registered Voters - 395,914
Total Polled - 214,960
No of Seats - 53
Independent Gr 3 - 23
UPFA - 57,158
Seats - 14
Independent Gr 4 - 17,480
Seats - 4
West: Peoples Front - 16,068
Seats - 4
Dem Unity Alliance - 8106
Seats - 2
Others incl JHU - 6
The Rajapaksa Factor
Given the above the UNP could be lulled into thinking that the Colombo Council would remain theirs and theirs alone. The sweeping electoral victories of the Rjapaksa regime after the elimination of the LTTE is recent history and Colombo is not immune as the Provincial Council elections proved. The difference is that the five electorates involved have stood firm despite odds with the UNP. The Mano Ganeshan and SLMC factor taken into consideration could change history. The final battle would be between the two profiles of the lead candidates and their campaigns. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has led the way in beautifying the city and it is beginning to show. It is disturbing though, to hear that those in shanties and tenements would be moved out from the city to far off places like Avissawella. The social fabric that involves all the residents of a given locale must be kept in their known habitats or in the vicinity as they perform some economic activity, be it in the form of labour or service to the middle and upper classes. Their children attend schools in the vicinity and stand a chance of a better life by being close to improved facilities. They are an integral part of Colombo society and should not be evacuated. Both candidates have pledged to give them better facilities within their locales. Time will prove.
Kandy and Dehiwela-Mt Lavinia race
Close behind the tussle for Colombo are the Kandy MC and the Dehiwela- Mt Lavinia MC polls. Both like Colombo have also been bastions of the UNP. The Dehiwela–Mt Lavinia Municipal Council has around 125,000 registered voters and the current Mayor Sunethra Ranasinghe is once again seeking re-election through the UNP. Her former Deputy Mayor Dhanasiri Amaratunge had crossed over to the UPFA and will be their nominee for the top job.
The 2002 Municipal polls gave the UNP 18 seats and the PA 9 with the JVP getting 2. At the 2006 elections the UNP was able to retain power of this Council getting 15 seats. 3 less than the previous time, with the UPFA grabbing 10 improving their performance by one seat. The Peoples Liberation Front won 3 seats and the JHU a solitary seat.
The Kandy Municipal Council brought to the surface the squabbles in the UNP. Ranil Wickremesinghe offered the Mayoral stakes to Mayantha Dissanayake but he was not interested. Though Ranil spoke to him at length Mayantha resisted going against a relative but more so as he did not wish to get into another election with the UNP in disarray. Pushed thus to find an alternative solution Ranil appointed former Diyawadana Nilame Neranjan Wijeyratne instead.
Neranjan was the former organiser of the UNP for Galagedara. A far cry from the likes of Harendra Dunuwille, the UNP has their work cut out here. The UPFA has refrained from naming a candidate for the Mayoral stakes and will appoint the candidate who polls the highest preference at the election.
An absorbing month lies ahead for the candidates but the people are weary having encountered several elections that came to pass in the recent months. The government has had a stunning run save for the drubbing in the North and East and the Colombo hub will be the icing if they are able to secure it.
As for the UNP it is all or nothing. Colombo city is their last bastion. Whether Ranil Wickremesinghe remains the leader of the UNP, or Karu, or Sajith takes over later, becomes academic if Colombo falls. The Rajapaksas’ will not let go…till thy kingdom comes. Or has it come already?