Presidential, Parliamentary poll dates finalised this week?
  • Presidential elections on Jan.22-2010?
  • Gen. Fonseka starts political work - Acquires building for office
  • UNF, JVP holding talks on COP
  • Pro-Mangala websites attack anti-UNF UNPers
A week which will certainly be decisive for Sri Lanka’s politics begins today. The reason is that both the Government and the Opposition are set to take far reaching vital political decisions during this week.

The participant- party members at the SLFP National Convention held at the Khettarama stadium last week, chanted in unison that they wanted a Presidential election. Most members in their enthusiasm raised both hands to express their consent for a Presidential Poll. However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa avoided announcing a decision. After receiving the tumultuous responce to his question on which election they wanted first, the President told the exuberant members that he would make his decision after consulting the Party, adding that he hoped that the Party would endorse the wish of the membership.

President Rajapaksa held a discussion with the SLFP’s district organisers and the electoral division organisers at Temple Trees on November 17. At this meeting the President discussed at length on how they should conduct electioneering at the district and electoral division levels. “Your Excellency, which election do you propose to hold first?” the organisers kept asking the President in a refrain. “We hope to hold an election very early. I shall let you know on time which election would come first,” was the President’s non-committal reply.

Presidential election on Jan. 22, 2010?
Nevertheless, the President has already told a few ministers very close to him that he would hold the Presidential election first. According to a senior minister, the tentative date of the Presidential election is January 22, next year.

Meanwhile, a well informed government source said that President Rajapaksa would dispatch a formal letter calling for a Presidential poll to Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake tomorrow.
It is relevant to recall in this context, that the United National Front last Monday called on General Sarath Fonseka not to resign from the post of Chief of Defence Staff until the announcement of the Presidential poll. Implicit in this request was the message that the President would not hold the Presidential Poll first, given the challenge of a Common Opposition Presidential candidate in formidable General Sarath Fonseka. Their ploy was to induce President Rajapaksa to go for a General Parliamentary election first.

Meanwhile, on November 9, General Fonseka sent a letter to President Rajapaksa seeking retirement with effect from December 1. President Rajapaksa promptly acceded to General Fonseka’s request by granting him permission to retire with immediate effect. President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga sent him the President’s reply on November 12.

Gen. Fonseka begins political activity
Fielding questions by media personnel following the parade of honour accorded to him on his retirement at the Army headquarters, General Fonseka said that he would announce the course of action he would embark on, within the next 24 hours. But so far he has not made any announcement on his future plans.
However, according to informed sources, General Fonseka has already begun his political activity. He has acquired a building close to Royal College in Colombo 7 to house his political office. He is also reportedly conducting negotiations with several political parties as well.

Dialogue between UNF & JVP
The UNF and the JVP are now holding talks on fielding a Common Opposition Presidential candidate. UNP’s General Secretary Tissa Attanayake disclosed for the first time that his party is conducting negotiations with the JVP at a media briefing held at the official residence of the Opposition Leader on November 15. He also said that the discussions were continuing in a bid to sort out their differences on certain issues.

Meanwhile, JVP’s Parliamentary group leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake told a media briefing on November 16, that his party was planning to field a Common Opposition Candidate at the upcoming Presidential election, and that candidate is a non-JVPer who would be acceptable to all other opposition parties, adding that they were having talks with other political parties in the Opposition to arrive at a consensus on the candidate to be fielded.

UNP leader Ranil Wickremesnghe has laid down 10 conditions which the Common Opposition Presidential candidate is required to fulfill in the event of his being elected.
Some of these conditions are that he should take necessary measures to:
* Present in Parliament an amendment to the Constitution within 30 days of his election,
* Repeal provisions vesting immunity in the Executive President,
* Appoint the Constitutional Council after reactivating the 17th amendment within two weeks,
* Scrap the Executive Presidency within 180 days,
* Release the youth of the North under detention,
* Resettle the IDPs in their original homes without further delay,
* Create an office of Executive Prime Minister,
* Dissolve Parliament, appoint a caretaker government and make him its Prime Minister and
* Offer Ministerial portfolios to the TNA and the JVP as well in the proposed caretaker government.

JVP to lay down four conditions
The JVP is also planning to set four conditions for the Common Opposition Presidential candidate to abide by. According to these conditions he is required to take necessary action to scrap the Executive Presidency, establish the Constitutional Council to make way for the appointment of the five independent commissions under the 17th Amendment, resettle the displaced persons now in relief camps in their original homes, and expedite the legal process in regard to the youth now being held under the Prevention of terrorism Act.
JVP leaders Somawansa Amarasinghe and Anura Kumara Dissanayake are playing a lead role in conducting negotiations aimed at reaching consensus on a Common Opposition candidate. Anura Kumara had held a series of discussions with Mangala Samaraweera in this connection in the recent past.

According to JVP sources, Anura Kumara is expected to wrap up the negotiations with the UNF by the end of this week with a view to presenting the final outcome at the party’s Central Committee shortly.
JVP’s trade union leader Parliamentarian Lal Kantha had said recently that the Common Opposition Candidate acceptable to them must be an apolitical figure who would contest under a symbol which does not belong to any major political party.

Elections Commissioner rejects registration application of new party
Accordingly, JVP Parliamentarians Lakshman Nipunarachchi and Dimutu Abeykoon submitted an application for registration of a new political party to the Elections Commissioner last week. However, the Elections Commissioner rejected the application as the registration of new political parties has been suspended until January 2010 in terms of the provisions of the Elections Act 2008.

General Fonseka perusing the conditions
General Fonseka these days is reportedly studying the conditions presented by Ranil Wickremesinghe and the JVP. “He is not happy with some conditions and he has decided not to make a public announcement until making a hard decision on his stand with regard to the conditions he is required to uphold,” sources close to the General said.

General Fonseka to carry out a contract?
The conditions set by the UNF and the JVP boil down to a contract that General Fonseka is required to execute. For instance he is required to abolish the Executive Presidency and appoint Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister within six months. Political analysts and legal experts are skeptic about the possibility of translating the conditions binding on the Common Opposition into practical terms. The abolition of Executive Presidency requires a two thirds majority in the Parliament. But in the present Parliament, government commands a majority of 44 members. Another negative factor is: would the people want an Executive President for mere six months? Would he be able do anything good and worthwhile for the people within such a brief period? People would think he is a mere `contractor’ bound to do others’ bidding! People may recall that at the 1982 Presidential election, late Mr. Anura Bandaranaike told an SLFP election rally in Balangoda that the party’s candidate Hector Kobbekaduwa was merely carrying a contract and once he was elected he would hand over the Presidency to Ms. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Anura’s public announcement that devalued Kobbekaduwa’s candidature greatly contributed to his defeat at that election. It is quite obvious that General Fonseka would have to suffer the same fate that befell Hector Kobbekaduwa if he comes forward to carry out a contract for the opposition parties!

Suppose General Fonseka failed to fulfill the conditions he pledged to honour after being elected, what would be the fate of the sponsors? Wouldn’t it be political suicide for the UNF and the JVP if they were left high and dry? Would an Army officer elected President, turn a democrat? Would JVP’s Lal Kantha and Udul Premaratne be permitted to stage noisy protests, strikes and picketing under his rule?

Meanwhile Gen. Fonseka is under pressure from intellectuals and patriotic Lankans. Many intellectuals and patriots here and abroad who are holding General Fonseka in high esteem for the role he played in annihilating the LTTE, have been highly disturbed by the speculation that their hero is going to enter politics. They have begun appealing to the General through e-mail and Press statements not to compromise his reputation and public image by entering politics.

UNP records briefest Working Committee session
The UNP’s Working Committee met last Thursday. Despite the Committee being expected to take a series of vital political decisions, the meeting did not last for more than 15 minutes. At the very outset the party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe announced the appointment of Ranjan Ramanayake as the party’s Ratnapura district leader. Ranjan replaces Talatha Atukorale.

At this stage Johnston Fernando had queried whether General Fonseka was being sponsored as the Common Opposition Presidential candidate. Ranil Wickremesinghe had replied that no hard decision had been taken regarding a Common Opposition Candidate and they would decide on a candidate only after the official announcement of the Presidential election.
S.B. Dissanayake in a quick rejoinder had said that he was willing to come forward as the party candidate and he was prepared to enter the fray.

Ranil Wickremesinghe had replied:”We can discuss that after the election is announced.” Soon after, he had called it a day and left the meeting. A Working Committee member told this writer that none of the several important items on the agenda could be taken up for discussion as a result of the unexpected end to this meeting.
Later in the day S.B.Dissanayake had had a lengthy discussion with the party leader at the opposition leader’s office at Cambridge Terrace.

S.B. an unhappy man
S.B. Dissanayake has been unhappy over the manner in which party affairs were being conducted by the leadership. He had earlier openly expressed his opposition to forming an alliance including a group led by Mangala Samaraweera. He had later severely criticised the affairs of the UNF at a meeting with SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem and DPF leader Mano Ganesan. Playing the peace maker, Karu Jayasuriya had later had a discussion with SB at the former’s Amarasekera Mawatha residence to sort out the matters. On being briefed on S.B. Dissanayake’s grievances by Karu Jayasuriya, Ranil Wickremesinghe had sent for SB twice with no positive response. S.B. Dissanayake also boycotted the UNF leader’s visit to Kandy to hand over the policy document to the Mahanayakes of the Asgiriya and Malwatte chapters. SB’s visit to Cambridge Terrace on Thursday was in response to Ranil’s third request.

When reached by curious journalists, S.B. Dissanayake had declined to make any comment on his present stand in the party, saying that he had made a vow not to talk out of turn. SB had reportedly rejected a suggestion made by some well meaning Nayake theras and Ministers that he joins the government. According to sources close to SB, he had categorically told those solicitous about his political future that he was determined not to leave the UNP.

Pro-Mangala websites attack anti-UNF UNPers
Meanwhile, several pro-Mangala websites have begun a campaign to vilify anti-UNF UNPer such as Johnston Fernando, Lakshman Seneviratne, Rukman Senanayake, S.B.Dissanayake, and Talatha Atukorale. One website carried a story saying President Mahinda Rajapaksa had invited S.B. Dissanayake to function as the manager of his election campaign, and that the President had promised SB the premiership after the election. Another website said that the President had directed a state bank to write off a loan taken by Lakshman Seneviratne. Yet another website reported that General Sarath Fonseka had been asked to vacate his Baudhaloka Mawatha official residence before November 22 Sunday. However, the President had asked the General to continue to occupy the official residence until he finds alternative accommodation. Another report said that the General’s security had been reduced to an 8-member detail. However, the Defence Ministry had said that he had been provided with a 125-strong security which includes 10 military commandos.

UNF leaders meet
The leaders of the constituent parties of the UNF, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mangala Samaraweera, Rauff Hakeem and Mano Ganesan met at the opposition leader’s Cambridge Terrace office last Tuesday. The UNF at this meeting had reportedly decided to field a Common Opposition Presidential candidate acceptable to both UNF and the JVP. They had also decided to discuss the manifesto of their common candidate at the next meeting.

Meanwhile, SLFP (M) leader Mangala Samaraweera told a Press briefing on Thursday that the opposition would field a common candidate at the Presidential election and they had already received nominations in respect of 10 hopefuls. Mangala, who avoided making any reference to General Sarath Fonseka on this occasion, assured the Press that their common candidate would be made known at a briefing to be held within 24 hours of the official announcement by the Elections Commissioner.

Ranil launches his book `Anagata Abhiyogaya’
Ranil launched his 30- page book `Anagata Abhiyogaya’ (The Challenge of the future) at the Kollupitiya Valukaramaya last Thursday. On this occasion, he presented the first copies to Ven. Galaboda Gnanissara Thera and Ven. Bellana Gnanawimala Thera. Ranil has advocated in his work as an imperative the need to implement a long-term policy plan which should continue at least for 25 years in a row, irrespective of the government that comes to power in the interim. He has also held a brief for the creation of office of an Executive Prime Minister and vesting powers in the President to oversee the implementation of national policies and the proper functioning of the legislature.

Re-settlement of IDPs
The most formidable challenge that the government had to face following the victory over the LTTE was the task of resettling about 280,000 people displaced by the hostilities in their original homes. These displaced people now are being sheltered in 26 refugee camps including the ones at Manik farm and Chettikulam. Government has so far resettled about 58,000.civilians in their homes. Initially government had to face numerous difficulties in providing them with their basic needs, accommodation, food and safe drinking water, sanitary facilities and health care. Government at the outset did not allow the NGOs and representatives of political parties to visit the IDP camps, which drew flak from the UNP, TNA, and Human Rights organisations like Human Rights Watch. As the situation began to improve, government acceding to a request, granted permission for 10 Tamilnadu legislators to visit and inspect the refugee camps in Vavuniya. The strident hue and cry over displaced Tamil civilians being raised in Tamilnadu, ceased after the 10 State Assembly members on their return home, explained to the people there the real situation prevailing in these camps.

Recently government allowed a group of TNA Parliamentarians as well to visit the refugee camps in Vavuniya. TNA Parliametarians Sri Kantha and Sivanathan Kishore later commended the government’s efforts to resettle the displaced people and expressed satisfaction at the facilities provided for the IDPs. Meanwhile, government last week relaxed travel restrictions on the A 9 road. In these circumstances, there is now a growing understanding between the government and TNA. A once pro-LTTE TNA has now turned round to the democratic way of thinking. They are busy holding negotiations with other Tamil parties with a view to forming a political combine for the purpose of contesting the coming elections. TNA MP Sivanathan Kishore called on President Rajapaksa at Temple Trees to offer him his birthday greetings, marking a landmark in growing rapport between the government and the YNA.

Zurich confab of Tamil-speaking political parties
A group of leaders of Tamil and Muslim parties left for Zurich in Switzerland last Thursday to attend a conference organised by the Tamil Information Centre-based in London, to a discuss a solution to the protracted ethic problems and also other problems faced by both Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka. A number of Tamil and Muslim political parties had been invited to participate in this conference which is to conclude today. Eastern Province Chief Minister Sineshathurai Chandrakanthan (Pillaiyan), SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem and Mano Ganesan were among the political party leaders who left for Zurich to attend the conference. Well known journalists D.B.J.Jeyaraj and S. Manoranjan were the coordinators of the conference, according to informed sources.

There was widespread speculation at the time of this edition going to Press that the participants of this conference would discuss the question of whom the Tamil and Muslim parties should support at the upcoming Presidential election here.