for Presidential poll vault vetoed
• President won’t
bypass democratic means
• Opposition for common candidate
• Tamil Nadu ‘concern’ for IDPs
• India reminds us of its presence
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is thoroughly piqued by recent wild
speculations that he is planning to extend his term of office through a
Constitutional gimmick, rather than face a presidential election. These
speculations even went to the extent of one weekly newspaper last Sunday
carrying it as a news report.
Such a shameful act he had not even thought of, considering the fact
that his popularity with the masses is at its zenith at present, and a
victory at any poll at this juncture is a foregone conclusion. The
President discussed the matter with his closest ministers and finally,
called on Information and Media Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa to
issue a correction to this particular news item.
Minister Yapa’s correction, issued through an official news release,
stated that President Rajapaksa always acts through democratic means,
while safeguarding the voters’ rights. Therefore, he has no intention of
extending his term without facing an election.
The rumours of the President extending his term, without a
presidential election, began to roll following public statements by
Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Janaka Bandara
Tennakoon and North Central Province Chief Minister Berty Premalal
There was even a procession in Dambulla, demanding that the
President’s term be extended without an election. Several Pradeshiya
Sabhas in the region also passed Resolutions to the effect, ironically,
with the support of UNP members. Behind all these actions had been
Minister Tennakoon. Addressing a rally at Kantale, in the Seruwila
electorate, Chief Minister Berty Premalal Dissanayake had vowed to
extend the term of the President without a presidential election. The
chief minister had also boasted that President Rajapaksa would also be
the President for life.
That utterance alarmed the UNP and other opposition parties.
Meanwhile, a group of monks proposed that the next presidential election
should be held without anyone contesting President Rajapaksa.
Kraal in disarray
The UNP reaction was that they would never allow the President to be
re-elected uncontested, and the party would definitely field a
presidential candidate. This position of the UNP was made public by
party National Organiser and Central Province Chief Minister S.B.
The incumbent President’s term is due to end officially on November
19, 2011, but the general buoyancy created in the country by the
unprecedented victory over the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the
world, and the even more popularity that the President gained among the
masses as a result, now points to President Rajapaksa easily clinching
as much as 70% of the votes, in the event a presidential poll is held
Under the Constitution, an incumbent President is empowered to call a
fresh presidential election at any time after completing four years in
office, which President Rajapaksa is due to complete in November, five
months from now.
According to government inner circles, the presidential poll can be
expected either by next December or January. Once re-elected in this
early poll, he can take his oath of office for the second term, after
his first term officially ends on November 19, 2011.
Section 31(4) of the Constitution, as amended by the Third Amendment
“Where a poll for the election of a President is taken, the term of
office of the person elected as President at such election, shall
commence on the expiration of the term of office of the President in
Only the Southern PC poll is left to be announced, out of all due
elections, and the government’s intention is to dissolve the Council in
August and hold the election there in October. Having won all PC polls
held to date, a grand victory in the South too, is quite apparent. After
clinching power in all PCs, a presidential poll announcement might be
made as early as October, and the election expected as early as
Opposition for common candidate
For the UNP, the biggest problem is in selecting a presidential
candidate. Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has reportedly declined to
come forward as the candidate. His stand is that the opposition should
field a common candidate. This is an idea put forth by Mangala
Samaraweera. Samaraweera, recently, even registered a new party “Our
National Front” with the Elections Department. He is also the Leader of
the previously formed SLFP (M) and the National Council.
Samaraweera is working feverishly these days to bring together the
UNP, Western People’s Front, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, United Socialist
Party and his Our National Front, to form a common opposition
organisation. As a first step in this direction, he has already formed
an organisation called the Free Forum, to hold rallies in major towns.
The first rally of the Free Forum was held in Negombo early this week.
It caused some heartburn, as the UNP organiser of the electorate, Joseph
Michael Perera, had not been invited for this important inaugural
meeting. Perera responding to the slight, immediately resigned from his
organisership. Later, through the intervention of party leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe, they were able to get Perera to the meeting.
The common opposition front that Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mangala
Samaraweera are trying to form, however, has already run into rough
weather, with UNP’s leading rebels Lakshman Seneviratne, Johnston
Fernando, S.B. Dissanayake and Thalatha Atukorala vehemently opposing
These rebels had forced the withdrawal of a Draft constitution for
the proposed common opposition front, prepared by Samaraweera, when put
to a top level UNP meeting. Wickremesinghe had got party General
Secretary Tissa Attanayake to introduce the Draft at the meeting.
After the incident, Seneviratne had told a newspaper that UNP Leader
Wickremesinghe would be the party’s candidate at the next presidential
election, and at the one in 2017. But UNP insiders said Wickremesinghe
has not abandoned the idea of finding a common opposition candidate
other than himself.
Tamil Nadu keeps the pot boiling
The Tamil Nadu Government agitation based on Indian media reports
about the failure to resettle nearly 300,000 IDPs in northern Sri Lanka,
in their former places of residence, the refusal of permission to unload
assistance sent to those IDPs aboard the vessel ‘Captain Ali,’ and an
attempt to establish a naval base on the Kachchativu island by the Sri
Lanka Navy, has become a big headache for the Indian Central Government
There was a similar outcry from Tamil Nadu, during the last phase of
the ‘Eelam War’, claiming innocent IDPs were in peril in the ‘No Fire’
Zone. And not only the Karunanidhi Government was then demanding an
immediate stop to Sri Lankan government’s war against the LTTE, but also
its opposition leader Jayalalitha Jayaram and other leading backers of
Since the war ended abruptly, with the crushing military defeat of
the LTTE, they were in search of new issues to take up against Sri
Lanka, and the above ones are the fresh topics they have come up with.
When “Captain Ali” unilaterally arrived in Sri Lankan waters with
assistance for IDPs sent by sympathetic British Tamils, it was not
allowed to unload its cargo, and turned away as it had violated basic
maritime rules. Thereupon, it went and anchored off Chennai. From there,
the Tamil Diaspora in Britain lobbied Tamil Nadu Chief Minister for his
support to send the vessel carrying supplies to IDPs, back to Sri Lanka.
As a result, Chief Minister Karunanidhi phoned new Indian Foreign
Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and pleaded with him to make arrangements
to send the ship back to Sri Lanka. Not stopping at that, he also
dispatched the state’s Information Technology Minister A. Raja to Delhi,
to pursue the matter.
In the meantime, a high level delegation from Sri Lanka, comprising
Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya
Rajapaksa and President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga too arrived in the
Indian capital on Tuesday (23).
The Lankan delegation first held talks with Foreign Secretary Shiv
Shankar Mennon, National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and Defence
Secretary Vijay Singh. Thereafter, on Wednesday, they met Foreign
Minister S.M. Krishna.
Resettlement of IDPs
The first topic discussed with Krishna was the resettlement of about
270,000 IDPs in their former places of residence. Basil Rajapaksa
reiterated and explained that all IDPs would be resettled within 180
days as promised and the Sri Lanka Army was carrying out mine clearing
operations with that in view. The Indian minister assured India’s
assistance for the task.
This was followed by the issue of devolution of power, which is the
next biggest question facing the Tamils of Sri Lanka. From the
beginning, India has requested the full implementation of the 13th
Amendment, as a solution to the problem. Even during the recent Indian
general election, Congress Party Leader Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh mooted this idea.
Lankan delegation’s reply had been that President Rajapaksa hopes to
give an improved package going beyond the 13th Amendment.
With the end of confrontations in the country, a chance has come for
Sri Lanka to plan a new beginning, where all its citizens will see the
dawn of a new future, had been the observation of Minister Krishna.
The Indian Foreign Minister and the Lankan delegation also discussed a
perennial problem facing both countries, the straying of their fishermen
into each others waters, and they reached an agreement on measures
needed to prevent the arrests of such fishermen by each others Navies.
No base on Kachchativu
Recently, there were mischievous reports in the Indian media, of the
Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) establishing a base in the Kachchativu Island,
which was ceded to Sri Lanka by Delhi in 1974.
Agitated by these reports, Chief Minister Karunanidhi made
representations to the Central Government. Opposition leader
Jayalalitha, not to be outdone, called for the repossession of the
island by India. In the process, the two of them waged a war, accusing
each other over the issue.
When Minister Krishna raised this with the Lankan delegation, Defence
Secretary Rajapaksa categorically denied any such move on the part of
the SLN, insisting that no such thoughts had been entertained by Lanka.
‘Captain Ali’ can discharge cargo
Finally, S.M. Krishna broached the issue of the vessel ‘Captain Ali,’
and requested Sri Lanka to make arrangements to send its cargo to the
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa narrating the background to the case, pointed out
that the ship had been dispatched neither giving any notice to Sri Lanka
nor obtaining prior permission. Its original objective had been to go to
the Mullativu sea and unload its cargo there using small boats, and also
using that cover to rescue the LTTE leadership hiding in the NFZ. But
fate decreed otherwise, as, by the time it reached Sri Lankan waters,
the entire LTTE leadership was history. Since the vessel had arrived
without any authorisation, the SLN had arrested the vessel, and after
searching it for weapons, it was turned away.
In deference to the request of the Indian Foreign Minister, the Sri
Lankan delegation, however, agreed to allow the vessel to discharge its
cargo here, and allow the Indian Red Cross to distribute its contents
among the IDPs.