Kurunegala, his best bet

Print edition : August 07, 2015

The Kurunegala electoral district in the North Western Province of Sri Lanka has hogged the limelight with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa deciding to contest the coming parliamentary elections from the district. Ninety-eight per cent of the district’s population of 16.36 lakh lives in rural areas. Women outnumber men with a population of 8.5 lakh.

Kurunegala has a rich history. It was the capital of the country in the 13th and 14th century.

In terms of social indicators, the district’s performance is quite impressive, although it has a high percentage of people living below the poverty line (http://www.statistics.gov.lk/poverty/

PovertyIndicators2012_13.pdf).

According to the 2012 data furnished by the Department of Census and Statistics on its official website, the district’s literacy rate (of the population aged 10 years and above) is 96.5 per cent . Its infant mortality rate declined from 17.4 per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 9.6 in 2010 (http://www.statistics.gov.lk/PopHouSat/VitalStatistics/Indicators/IMR.pdf). The maternal mortality rate (MMR) was 33.5 in 2012 against the national average of 37.7. However, districts such as Vavuniya, Nuwara Eliya and Kandy recorded much lower MMR. (http://www.health. gov.lk/en/publication/AHB-2012/Annual%20

Health%20 Bulletin%20-%202012.pdf).

But for those engaged in electoral politics, the “comfort factor” matters the most. During the presidential election in January, Kurunegala was one of the 10 electoral districts in which Rajapaksa got more votes than his rival Maithripala Sirisena, although the latter went on to win the election. “Kurunegala has a large number of ex-servicemen,” political commentator Lucien Rajakarunanayake said.

Given the fact that it was during the tenure of Rajapaksa that the government scored a military victory in 2009 over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the composition of voters in the district must have provided the “comfort factor” for Rajapaksa’s choice of the district in his bid to enter Parliament. As the third largest electoral district in terms of the strength of electors, Kurunegala will provide Rajapaksa a better chance of getting the highest number of preferential votes. This may not be possible in Gampaha and Colombo, which are ahead of Kurunegala.

T. Ramakrishnan

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