Calls 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 Disanayake.

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. Dissanayake.

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 now.

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 states:
“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 office”
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 December.

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 it.

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 these days

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 the LTTE.

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 Lankan IDPs.

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.