UNP poll-axed by UPFA
UNP continues downhill
JVP a spent force in WP
Western double standards to the fore
UK FM put in his place
In predictable form, the Western Provincial Council (WPC) election resulted in a resounding victory for the ruling party. The UPFA laid claim to 68 seats in the WPC, having won more than 1.5 million of total votes polled. The UNP, having won 688,253 votes, were able to gain only 30 seats. The JVP, with its total of 56,384 votes, got one seat each from the Gampaha, Colombo and Kalutara Districts. With 49,388 votes, the SLMC obtained two seats in the Council. The Democratic United Alliance (DUA) got 11,970 votes and obtained a single seat in the Council, from the Colombo District.
The UPFA, therefore, managed to raise its number of seats in the Council from 59 in the election held in July 2004 to 68. The UNP, which held 39 seats in the Council in the 2004 election, were reduced to 30 seats. The SLMC was reduced to two seats from four in 2004, while the Mano Ganesan led Western Peoples’ Front (WPF), which had a single seat in 2004, managed to win three seats by allying with the UNP. It is unique that all three candidates fielded by the WPF managed to obtain seats at this election.
The JVP, however, faced the worst defeat at this year’s election. Having obtained 21 seats in the Council in 2004, by virtue of their alliance with the ruling UPFA, the party has been reduced to just three seats in the new Council. It was a good indication of the JVP’s standing within the country’s political circle. The JVP’s breakaway faction, National Freedom Front (NFF) led by former strongman Wimal Weerawansa, meanwhile, managed to gain three seats in the Council as well, after having contested under the UPFA banner. The NFF had fielded six candidates in all, three from each of the Districts polling on April 25. In the Gampaha District, Dr. Neluk Mallawa managed to win a seat, while in the Colombo District, cinema star Roger Seneviratne obtained a seat. Although the other teledrama actor fielded by the NFF, Lal Kularatne, was unable to win enough votes to get a seat from Kalutara, it is learnt that party leader Weerawansa has already discussed the possibility of awarding Kularatne the bonus seat won by the UPFA for winning the District.
Both JHU candidates contesting under the UPFA banner, Udaya Gammanpila and former DIG H.M.G.B. Kotakadeniya managed to win with large numbers of Preferential votes from the Colombo and Gampaha Districts respectively.
Also under the UPFA banner, Communist Party candidate Mahesh Almeida and MEP candidate Salochana Gamage both managed to win seats in the Council.
Disabled soldiers fielded as UPFA candidates in all three districts also managed to win a large number of Preferential votes. However, only one minority candidate fielded by the UPFA was successful at the election. Petroleum Minister A.H.M. Fowzie’s son, Nawzer Fowzie was elected, but most of his votes came from areas with a high Sinhala demographic. Although Fowzie Junior managed to obtain a significant number of Preferential votes, it is interesting that none of the other Muslim and Tamil candidates were successful under the UPFA ticket in any of the three districts. Although the UNP list included several Tamil and Muslim candidates, only a few of them were able to make the cut, and that too, only from the Colombo District. UNP member Dr. Jayalath Jayawardane is reported to have stated that, the UNP’s relative success in Colombo was due to the large numbers of Muslim and Tamil people resident in the Colombo District.
It was this massive competition between UPFA candidates that resulted in so many spats between factions of the same party during the polls campaign. Realising that the Preferential vote war was becoming a tad too hot to handle, President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced that, the party would choose its CM based on the number of votes received, making it fair game. The President added that, the party would also focus on the candidates with the most seniority and with the most experience within the party. Neither Sumathipala nor Silva were able to fulfill the seniority criteria stipulated by the President, although both were very clearly going to receive large Preferential votes. In the end, it was Ranatunga who managed to get the largest number of Preferential votes overall, with 186,603 votes. As a result, President Rajapaksa faced no problem whatsoever, in choosing his CM for the WP.
The President summoned Ranatunga to Temple Trees on Monday (27) evening. After congratulating Ranatunga on his resounding victory at the election, the President asked him to prepare to be sworn in as WP CM, and also advised him to find a suitable auspicious time to hold the maiden session of the new WPC on Monday (4). As Ranatunga was leaving Temple Trees, he saw Reginald Cooray waiting in the hall for a meeting with the President. After the two new Councilors finished congratulating each other, Ranatunga told Cooray that, he had been asked to swear in as CM. Cooray congratulated his younger colleague and then walked in for his meeting with the President. Cooray, reportedly, requested the President to give him a ministry in the WPC, but the President responded that this would be decided by the party’s Central Committee.
Only West can kill civilians in War-on-Terror
The Army is continuing its operations to save the 20,000 or so civilians still trapped within the ‘No Fire’ Zone (NFZ) south of Puthumathalan. Terrorist sympathisers in the West have been demonstrating, demanding that, those governments intervene to secure a ceasefire, in order to save the lives of Prabhakaran, Pottu Amman, Soosai and others now trapped in the NFZ. However, these campaigners have been claming that, their protests are aimed at saving the innocent civilians.
These protestors have now started to become violent. Already, they have attacked the Sri Lankan and Indian High Commissions in London. They first attacked and damaged the Sri Lankan Embassy in Oslo and then, attacked the Consul General’s office in Toronto. Several business places owned by Sri Lankans in France and Australia, were also attacked. Though Britain and Canada have banned the LTTE as a terrorists organisation, its supporters openly demonstrate carrying the Tiger flag, while law enforcement officials in those countries look the other way.
In the meantime, international pressure, especially, from Western nations and India has intensified, for the Sri Lankan Government (SLG) to call for a ceasefire.
Meanwhile, the Government did not grant permission to a team of envoys that UN Secretary General, Banki Moon expected to send to Sri Lanka on a humanitarian mission. The government has told Banki Moon, through John Holmes, that any foreign representation is unnecessary, since the security forces are in the process of liberating the civilians currently held by the LTTE.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is among key world leaders who wish to bring about a ceasefire between the SLG and the LTTE. Brown spoke to President Mahinda Rajapaksa on April 27. Earlier, he had wanted to send his special envoy, Des Brown, to Sri Lanka, but the President didn’t agree to that request. This time around also, Gordon Brown had spoken to the President, in order to gain the concurrence of the President to send an envoy and a delegation. The President informed him to send Foreign Secretary David Miliband and a delegation comprising of MP’s from the Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband had spoken to Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, before undertaking his mission to Sri Lanka. Here, Bogollagama had informed Miliband that the main priority of the SLG is to save the civilians currently held hostage by the LTTE in the NFZ. He also explained to Miliband that, the LTTE has not taken any action to release these civilians.
Last Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Dr. Bernard Kouchner arrived in Sri Lanka. The Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt was also scheduled to come along with them. However, the Foreign Ministry had informed him not to join this visit, but to come in May. Bildt who was not impressed by what he considered a personal affront, was to complain to the European Union. He even complained that, the Sri Lankan Embassy in Luxemburg had not given him a visa.
However, Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona said that there was no visa request to the Sri Lankan Embassy in Sweden. He also added that, the Foreign Minister has invited his Swedish counterpart to visit Sri Lanka in May. Sweden, meanwhile, recalled its Ambassador in Sri Lankan for consultations. A diplomatic crisis has now arisen between Sweden and Sri Lanka, due to these developments.
Despite the absence of their Swedish counterpart, both Milliband and Kouchner continued with the programme scheduled in Colombo. Having arrived here on Wednesday (29), the two Foreign Ministers went straight into a meeting with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, Secretary Palitha Kohona, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Health Secretary Dr. Athula Kahadaliyanage and Commissioner General of Essential Services, S.B. Divaratne and other Foreign Ministry officials. The meeting was held at the Foreign Ministry in Fort. The meeting turned out to be a stormy one, after an exchange of words occurred between the British Minister and the Defence Secretary.
The ‘row’, as described by British newspapers, took place, when Minister Miliband, during the meeting, was trying to persuade the SLG to declare a ceasefire, to allow civilians trapped in the fighting, a chance to leave. According to sources, the British Foreign Secretary raised the issue of aerial bombardment and artillery fire, and accused the Government of continuing to use both tactics, despite giving an assurance on April 27, to the effect that, the use of all such weapons had ceased. When accused by the Defence Secretary that he was trusting reports of the BBC, which was prejudiced against the SLG, Miliband countered this, claiming that, his information was coming from inside the NFZ. Defence Secretary Rajapaksa then lashed out at the Minister, and told him in no uncertain terms that Miliband was relying on false propaganda disseminated by the pro-LTTE forces, because any information coming out of the NFZ was clearly being manipulated by the Tigers. The meeting was later described by the British High Commission in Colombo as an “open and frank exchange of views, where strong opinions were aired” – diplomatic language to say the discussion had been quite stormy, overall.
Following the meeting, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa, in an interview with Britain’s Daily Telegraph, denounced his meeting with the two foreign ministers as ‘a waste of time’. Secretary Rajapaksa, told the newspaper that Miliband had interrupted him during their meeting.
“Maybe it’s his way, but I don’t mind his attitude or his ways. My issue is the present situation and why he should interfere in these things. That’s what I told him. People in this country approve of what the President is doing. A leader must listen to the people in his own country, not the foreign minister of the UK,” he reportedly told the Daily Telegraph.
Miliband and Kouchner also visited the IDP camps in Vavuniya, and then travelled to Embilipitiya for a meeting with the President. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in Embilipitiya for the Walawe River Left Bank Restoration project, and was only able to meet with the two Foreign Ministers at the remote town. Following their meeting with President Rajapaksa, the two Foreign Ministers came back to Colombo, and left the island on the same day. In an interview with the BBC, aired after his visit to Sri Lanka, the British Foreign Secretary, speaking from an IDP camp in Vavuniya, said that, the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary had confirmed there will be absolutely no more heavy shelling, and said that, this must be put in to practice. He added that, it was a stop to the fighting that the EU and the G8 have been calling for. “At the moment, the civilians are trapped by the LTTE terrorist organisation that is stopping them leaving this so called NFZ, but the Government has obviously got responsibility that it needs to live up to as a democratic member of the United Nations, applying the rules of international humanitarian law,” he told the BBC.
With international pressure being stepped up and the Sri Lankan issue being taken up unofficially at the UN Security Council on Thursday (30), the coming days will prove crucial for the ruling administration. They will have to finish the final phase of their war against the LTTE or face more intense pressure from the world community in the near future if the conflict and the terrible humanitarian conditions are prolonged indefinitely