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Politics

 


 Main parties still mull nominations

  • Mixed reactions on UPFA’s resounding WP victory
  • Humiliating defeat for 5 UNP organisers
  • Poor show by govt, JVP, coalition partners

In the government’s rapid march towards capturing the final bit of territory laid claim to by the LTTE, it has had to ward off severe international pressure on the side.

Even as the Des Browne affair that has left Britain decidedly red-faced, after the Sri Lankan government flatly refused to accept him as Britain’s special envoy to the island was unfolding, other moves were underway at the United Nations in New York. The Mexico representative in the UN attempted to bring a resolution against Sri Lanka. However, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, H.M.G.S. Palihakkara moved swiftly to mobilise Russia and China, and explain Sri Lanka’s point of view to representatives of those two countries. As a result, Russia and China moved against Mexico, and prevented the resolution from being tabled.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa meanwhile in a telephone conversation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, invited him to visit the island and see for himself the facilities the government had set up for the IDPs fleeing the fighting in the Wanni. The UN Chief declined the invitation on grounds of a tight schedule, but said he would send the UN’s Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes to Sri Lanka in his stead.

Holmes, the centre of controversy the last time he visited Sri Lanka, arrived in the island on Thursday and met with Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona, Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. That day Bogollagama hosted Holmes to lunch where the head of the ICRC in Colombo, Leader of the TULF V. Anandasangaree, Head of the WFP and the Ambassadors of the Donor Co Chairs were also present. Here Sir Holmes reiterated that the UN was aware of the situation in Sri Lanka, and called on the LTTE to release the civilians held by them.

Holmes who also met President Rajapaksa, visited Vavuniya on Friday accompanied by Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, to observe at first hand, the facilities provided to the IDPs.

Resounding victory

The resounding victory of the UPFA at the recently concluded Provincial Council elections, has been interpreted by analysts in different ways. Many analysts believe that this is a wholehearted endorsement of the people of the war effort. Others claim it is a victory for President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The main theme of the government at the elections, was the military operations in the north. It was apparent that the people did not care much about the UNP slogans such as the economic crisis, increasing cost of living and corruption. It was clear from the very beginning that the UPFA did not face any challenge at this election.

Journalists reported that in some areas of the north western and central provinces, even a green flag of the UNP was not seen. The reason for this seems to be that except for S.B. Dissanayake, there were hardly competent candidates representing the Opposition. It is a telling fact that five UNP organisers in the Central Province were defeated at this election. UNP Galagedera organiser, former Diyawadana Nilame Niranjan Wijeratne, Hewaheta organiser, former MP Rupa Sriyani Daniel, Nawalapitiya organiser Nirupa Karunaratne, Teldeniya organiser D.M. Karunaratne Bandara and Ududumbara organiser Dinesh Kapukotuwa, failed to garner enough preferential votes to enter the Council.

Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who was touring the Maldives during the election campaign, met up with visiting Maldivian President. Later he also participated at a rally organised by small tea estate holders. It was only on February 2, that the UNP leader had started campaigning for the central and north central Provincial Council elections. UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake and Lakshman Kiriella who were put in charge of this election, spent most of their time in Colombo. They conducted press conferences from Colombo. S.B. Dissanayake carried a lone campaign in the hills. UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya was one of the few UNP stalwarts in charge of this campaign who worked tirelessly over the last few months. In contrast, President Mahinda Rajapaksa personally supervised the election campaign. Excellent orators like Wimal Weerawansa, Rajitha Senaratne, Champika Ranawaka and Hemakumara Nanayakkara were prominent on the campaign trail and the state media. Their eloquent speeches on the war victories were engraved in the minds of the people.

Grand Opposition Coalition

The UNP recently set up a grand opposition coalition to contest against the government. The other constituents in this coalition include the Western Peoples’ Front led by Mano Ganesan, the SLFP Mahjana Wing, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the United Socialist Party led by Siritunga Jayasuriya, and the United Left Front led by Wickremabahu Karunaratne. However only the SLMC and the WPF contested under the symbol of the elephant at the Provincial elections. SLFP M Leader Mangala Samaraweera left the country, effectively staying away from the election campaign. He is yet to return to the island.

It is reported that another reason for the SLFP M to withdraw from the election fray is the fact that former Kurunegala provincial councillor Upulangani Malagamuwa was not given nomination.

Another factor which is apparent from the election results is the humiliating defeat of some coalition partners of the government and the JVP. It was seen that the UNP had won more votes than the Ceylon Workers Congress and the Up Country People’s Front in the Nuwara Eliya District. Similarly the Jathika Hela Urumaya and the National Freedom Front were resoundingly defeated. Though the JHU expected victories in the North Western Province the party could not secure a single seat. The National Freedom Front also expected to make a good show in the Central Province. However the party managed only a single seat from the Nuwara Eliya District.

The JVP managed to get a single seat from the Kurunagala District. The party’s chief ministerial candidate could only get 2191 preferential votes. Due to the contribution made by Wimal Weerawansa the President is reported to be considering giving his party a bonus seat from the Kurunagala District.

Though it was previously believed that the proportional representation introduced by J.R Jayawardene’s 1978 constitution, would favour smaller political parties, the recent elections have proven that wrong. Many of the smaller parties have faced humiliating defeats at successive elections.

The electorate had not voted for candidates from the JHU and the NFF who contested under the UPFA. From this it is apparent that the electorate had voted for President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Relatives

Another feature of the election was that a number of relatives of incumbent ministers had made it into the provincial councils. Premitha Bandara Tennakoon son of Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon was elected in Matale with the highest number of preferential votes from the District. Dilum Amunugama a relation of Minister Sarath Amunugama, Ananda Aluthgamage a relation of Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage and son of former defence minister Anuruddha Ratwatte, Lohan Ratwatte were elected from the Central Province. Brother of Minister Anura Yapa, Chandana Yapa and Manjula Dissanayake, wife of Minister Salinda Dissanayake were elected from the Kurunegala District.

The results of the Central and North Western Provincial elections will have an impact on the future provincial elections in the Western, Southern and Uva Provincial Councils.

Only four days remain for the handing over of nominations for the Western Provincial Council Poll. Though several parties are expected to contest this election, none of the main parties have handed their nominations yet.

However those who expect to contest from the UNP and the UPFA have started their poster campaigns. In the Colombo District a party can only nominate 46 candidates, out of which 43 are elected. However over 100 expectant candidates have started their election campaign.

By last Wednesday the main party of the UPFA, the SLFP had finalised its list of candidates. The final list of the UPFA is delayed, since the nominations of the rest of the coalition partners have not yet been finalised.

The JHU is expected to nominate Attorney at Law Udaya Gammanpila from the Colombo District, Thebuwana Piyananda from the Kaluthara District and retired DIG, H.M.G.B Kottakadeniya from the Gampaha District.

The National Freedom Front is expected to nominate teledrama actor Roger Siriwardene from the Colombo District, another actor Lal Kularathne from Kalutara and Cyril Ederamulla from the Gampaha Distrcts.
Meanwhile the JVP has nominated its former provincial counsellor Varuna Deepthi Rajapaksa as its Chief Ministerial candidate.

Though the UNP held interviews on the 17th for those who sought to get nominations, the party is yet to finalise its list.

The SLMC meanwhile has decided to contest independently at the Western Provincial Council election although it is a member of the opposition coalition. When the party’s high command met on Thursday, many party seniors pointed out that the SLMC stood a better chance with the Muslim vote if it contested alone. SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem was keen to contest under the UNP ticket, but he eventually had to bow to the will of the majority at the meeting last week.

Ganesan is also expected to make a decision as to whether his party will contest alone, after he returns from his trip to India on February 24.

Name

Be that as it may, neither of the two main parties, the UPFA or the UNP are yet to name its Chief Minister candidates for the Western Province. UPFA sources however indicate that their candidate is most likely to be former Sri Lanka Cricket Chairman and proprietor of the Sumathi Publishing Group Thilanga Sumathipala. Sumathipala has already bought airtime on the radio and on television, and commenced his campaigning. Reginald Cooray has also requested the nomination as the government’s Chief Ministerial candidate, and has even been interviewed for the position. However, it is learnt that Cooray has been informed by the UPFA leadership that he will not be the party’s choice.

As for the UNP, former WPC Opposition Leader Kithsiri Kahatapitiya has requested to be appointed its Chief Ministerial candidate. However it is quite unlikely that he will be the UNP’s pick for the position.

Last week Minister Dinesh Gunewardane was in a dither because the General Secretary of his Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, attorney at law Piyasena Dissanayake, had requested a nomination to contest under the SLFP ticket at the WPC poll. Dissanayake had obtained membership in the SLFP and also sat for an interview with the party’s nominations board. The MEP receives one nomination to contest under the UPFA ticket at the WPC election. The party’s pick for this nomination was its Deputy Chairman, Somaweera Chandrasiri. It is believed that this is the reason Dissanayake decided to join the SLFP.

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe last Wednesday paid a visit to Dharmadasa Banda who was receiving treatment at the Nawaloka Hospital. Banda was among the 17 UNPers who crossed over to the government with Karu Jayasuriya in 2007. However, he has since told confidants that he is unhappy with the ministerial portfolio given to him by the government. It is believed that Wickremesinghe who has been intent on winning back some of the dissidents for some time now, was hoping to woo Banda back into the fold by visiting him during his illness. It will be recalled that Wickremesinghe employed a similar ploy when his Deputy Leader Jayasuriya was in hospital, the result of which was that Karu Jayasuriya rejoined the UNP a few weeks later.

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