Rebuild from bottom up

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2018-02-13

Any way you look at it, the newly formed Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has scored a thumping win in the Local Government elections.

The SLPP won 231 out of 340 LG authorities winning massively in rural Sri Lanka, primarily in the Sinhala dominated south.

Eventually, the SLPP gained a little over 4.9 million votes which was 44.65 per cent of the votes cast in this poll. Their nearest rival was the United National Party (UNP) which appeared to hold on to its urban base winning just 34 councils and gaining 3.6 million votes or 32.63 per cent of the votes cast.

The alliance of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United People's Freedom Alliance came, a distant third, winning just 1.48 million votes. The party even lost President Sirisena's home turf, Polonnaruwa to the SLPP.

In some Provinces such as Sabaragamuwa and Wayamba the SLPP won every council, both urban and rural.

The UNP's biggest achievement was a resounding victory in the Colombo Municipal Council getting a massive 130,000 votes and propelling Rosy Senanayake to be the first woman Mayor of the country's oldest and biggest Municipality.

The election was dubbed a "referendum" on the performance of the Unity Government and obviously the people have given a huge thumbs-down to the administration.

Although there was no increase in the number of actual votes that Rajapaksa gained when compared to his losing bid for the Presidency in 2015 when he was beaten by Maithripala Sirisena, it is clear that the former President's opponents have lost considerable ground.

Initially there was some concern among the public that with this win, new alliances will form in Parliament, and there would be a new government perhaps led by Rajapaksa.

But at his first victorious press conference the former President said he was in no hurry to become the Prime Minister and that has quieted speculation.

He appeared to brush aside speculation that he would try to attract SLFP members now in the Cabinet to form a Government of his own.

However, he has called on President Sirisena to dissolve Parliament and call a General Election.

Sirisena is not permitted by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution to dissolve Parliament until mid-2019. The only way Parliament can be dissolved before that is for the House to pass a resolution to do so or the fall of the Government through the loss of a Budget vote.

But Rajapaksa has vowed to keep up the pressure on the Government to step down and called on the media to create public opinion in support of fresh elections.

That means there will be uncertainty in the country that may impact investor confidence.

In the meantime, the Unity Government is in need of some deep soul searching.

There is widespread dissatisfaction among the members of the coalition that was formed in 2015 to defeat Rajapaksa's autocratic rule because the current Government has failed to pursue alleged crimes committed by members of the previous administration.

There is also concern that the Government appears dysfunctional because it has failed to achieve even some simple tasks.

While that can be the national situation, the newly-elected Councils must get down to the task at hand which is running the local bodies efficiently in a manner that will benefit the ordinary citizen.

Most local bodies are not serving the taxpayer as the very basic services are not carried out properly,

Garbage collection is not done on time, causing pollution and the danger of the spread of diseases including Dengue.

Streets are not cleaned and the maintenance of storm drains is dismal. Urban areas such as Colombo get flooded for the slightest bit of rain as a result.

Another major issue that bothers citizens is the widespread corruption in local government, where getting the simplest
permit or anything done needs bribes to be distributed among officials.

Rajapaksa's slogan during the campaign was to "rebuild the nation."

The best way he can do so is to make the lowest layer of Government efficiently run by honest people who will do their best to serve the public.

That way he can rebuild from the bottom up.

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