Between the city and the slums. Marine Drive
A lot of the middle class commutes into Colombo from the suburbs. They don’t live in the municipality, so they can’t actually vote. While they certainly have strong opinions about the mayoral race, the strongest voting block is the poor, shanty dwellers that actually live here. Or there if you will.
Colombo, like the heart of any country, pumps a lot of people in and pumps them out. The 2001 population was about 650,000, estimates today are around 800,000. Around 400,000 people commute into the city for work. Indeed, like American cities, Colombo saw the equivalent of white flight in the face of quite insane terrorism. Wealthy people and businesses left the city center and those areas became taken over by shanties and tenements. Now the war is over and people are like, ‘nice land’ but the people that squatted there are registered and they actually take the time to vote.
The CMC is home to approximately 800,000 people. Of them 393,085 are registered voters. Around 50 percent of the citizens live in 122,649 substandard housing units occupying around 11 percent of the land.
These units are clustered into 1,612 settlements. The highest number is found in Mattakkuliya where there are 5,206 units in 36 settlements covering 12,463 Perches. (Rohan Samarajiva [my dad] referencing Lankadeepa stats)
Most of Colombo is poor and beautification projects haven’t reached them, beyond perhaps scaring them. While Colombo commuters have been happy with the road and park developments of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, those people don’t vote. Thus the government candidate for Mayor, Milinda Moragoda, actually has a tough sell. He’s saying that everyone will have a connection through neighborhood committees, that public transit will be designed for circulation within the city, that everyone will have parks and spaces for kids nearby, but that’s still tougher than yelling ‘they’re going to bulldoze your house!’
The thing is, both parties have plans to resettle shanty dwellers into high rise apartments. Projects if you will. Don’t get it twisted, both sides actually support making Colombo city a high density urban region, and the resettlement is being done by the Urban Development Authority anyways.
People are going to get resettled no matter how they vote. A) Because Colombo has to urbanize to scale and B) because these tenements are largely unlivable (called Somalia Watte, Bosnia Watte, etc) and people deserve better. The only question is how. I’m supporting Milinda cause I think he can provide a professional, democratic interface for everyone in the city and actually improve living standards. I think he can also get stuff done by working with the government. I don’t support Muzammil cause Ranil is running the campaign and they can’t do shit.
In the race for votes, however, the UNP is essentially pitching that nothing will change, or at least that they will change nothing. The latter is true, but the former is just a soothing lie. In politics, however, that often works. Milinda is trying to say you’ll be resettled into a better lifestyle, but it’s still a hard sell asking someone to move.
That’s where the vote breaks. For all the debate and discussion among the middle classes, very few of them are eligible to vote, and even fewer actually do. From what I hear, a few people are just opposing Milinda and not supporting anyone. What they’re pitching seems to not voting at all, perhaps because they themselves can’t.
The people that can vote, however, are deciding on completely different issues than we might imagine. It’s much more about trust, ability, sewerage, playgrounds and dengue than beautification projects and Right To Information. The biggest misconception is that Colombo belongs to the commuters and, electorally at least, it actually doesn’t. This Mayoral race has turned out to be so important that I think commuters should be able to vote, but as of this October 8th, they simply can’t.
If you’re wondering, I commute from Dehiwela, but my permanent address is in Colombo. So I can vote. Ballot paper just arrived today.