It was not just the CoL | Daily News

It was not just the CoL

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s assertion that it was the cost of living which proved decisive in the outcome of the just concluded local government election is valid to a point, but it was not the only reason. Speaking to journalists at Temple Trees, on Friday, Premier Wickremesinghe said the reason for the UNP’s loss at the elections was its inability to reduce the cost of living. The high prices of essentials such as coconuts and other frequently used commodities affected the final results, he stated.

True, the general talk in the market place was the soaring prices of essential commodities. A coconut fetching Rs.100 was astonishing indeed. So was the staple rice which ranged from Rs. 95 to 120 per kilo. People were frequently heard muttering curses after doing their purchasing. It was poor consolation to the public to be told that the severe drought and floods were the reasons for skyrocketing prices of rice and vegetables.

Urging the public to visit supermarkets to purchase commodities at cheaper prices too was laughable. The peasants living in far flung villages enduring hardships where they have to trek miles to collect drinking water in earthenware from dried up rivers and streams could not by any stretch of the imagination expected to go to plush supermarkets.

Yes, the cost of living played its part at the election, but not the decisive part. There were a multiplicity of factors that made the voters react the way they did. Matale district UNP MP Ranjith Aluvihare has stated that the biggest thing that had an impact in his area (and also other farming districts) was the fertilizer subsidy. “That money did not go into the farmers’ accounts properly. On the other hand, we could not provide seeds on time. Sixty percent of the people in this country are farmers. As a result, the farmers used their vote against the government.” He also said that problems such as school uniforms, the fact that students were deprived of the Mahapola Scholarships, issues regarding textbooks were not resolved properly.

There was also a general air of drift in the government. There was a tangible perception that it was not in control. Crises were allowed to happen, and, by the time solutions were found, the damage had already been done. A fine example is the week long fuel shortage in the country. Had proper precautions been taken the crisis could have been averted. The frustration of motorists and the public at large was clearly given vent to at this election where the crisis was brought afresh to the minds of the public by the Joint Opposition.

The frequent strikes and protests by students and the inconvenience and hardship this caused to the public due to traffic jams, and, the government’s ineffective response, also went a long way in convincing the public that it was not in control. The all too frequent doctors’ strikes also took a heavy toll on the government which was seen as impotent.

The Yahapalanaya government also committed hara kiri by slashing the Samurdhi payment to a large number of recipients, inviting their collective wrath upon it. The huge majorities scored by the pohottuwa in the rural hinterland was indicative of this.

The Treasury bond issue, if ever it had an impact, was confined to cities and towns, where the more sophisticated were those likely to have discerned the subject. Though the UNP won the Colombo and Dehiwela Mt Lavinia Municipalities, it lost heavily in places like Moratuwa Maharagama, Homagama and Kaduwela which showed that the JO had effectively driven the topic into minds of the public in the metropolitan. Too little too late was done by way of damage control. The UNP was painted into a corner by not only JO, but also its alliance partner.

That it failed to prosecute any of the big time crooks of the former regime also had its fallout, with the public refusing to believe in the charges made against the Rajapaksas, prior to January 8.

Conflicts within the ruling alliance too had its impact. Certain policy decisions taken by the UNP were overruled, or, countermanded by the President, showing the Greens in poor light. Even budget decisions were overturned, betraying poor judgement on the part of the UNP Finance Minister.

Strident voices raised over the “sale of national assets” repeated ad nauseam was not countered effectively by the UNP speakers. So was the alleged invasion of Indian nationals to the country through the signing of the ETCA which was a constant refrain with the saffron brigade.

The UNP also failed to highlight the positive measures taken by the government to alleviate the hardships of the public. It did not speak at all on the drastic reduction of the prices of essential drugs, or, the benefits derived by the public as a result of sharp reduction in the fuel prices. The fact that the final installment of the Rs 10,000 salary increment to public servants was granted to them in January was not spoken of at all. Instead its speakers dwelt on topics that were Greek to the public, especially in the villages. 


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