A bhikkhu among 11 Presidential hopefuls
  • President participates in a series of official functions ahead of election campaign
  • General Fonseka attends functions organised by the UNP and JVP
  • Lal Kantha brings another ‘Sarath’ to the scene
  • Abolition of executive presidency within 180 days practically impossible

The date fixed for filing of nominations for the upcoming Presidential election is only three days away. By now the cash deposits on behalf of the two main candidates running for the Presidency, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and General Sarath Fonseka have already been made.

Several other prospective candidates from recognised political parties too had made their cash deposits with the Elections Secretariat by last Friday. They are Siritunga Jayasuriya (Eksath Samajavadi Pakshaya), M.B.Thaminimulla ( Okkama Rajawaru - Okkama Wesiyo), J.A.Peter Nelson Perera ( Sri Lanka Progressive Front), Dr Wickramabahu Karunaratne (New Left Front), Sarath Manamendra ( Nava Sihala Urumaya), P.D. P.S. Liyanage ( Sri Lanka Labour Party) and Ven. Battaramulle Seelaratana Thera (Janasetha Peramuna). Wijaya Dias of the Socialist Equality Party also has announced his intention to contest.

TNA yet to decide
The TNA which had been holding a series of discussions on how they should participate in the upcoming election had not decided up to the time of writing this column to field a candidate of their own.
A group of TNA MPs led by M.K.Shivajilingam are adamant that the party should field a candidate. In fact, Shivajilingam had announced while in Tamil Nadu that he would come forward as a candidate if the party decided not to enter the fray. Meanwhile, the retired Supreme Court judge K. Vigneshwaran is being mentioned as a possible TNA candidate.

The present indications are that there will be at least 11 candidates in the running for Presidency.
MR attends official functions ahead of campaign trail
President Mahinda Rajapaksa these days is participating in a series of official functions across the country ahead of taking the campaign trail in earnest. The President last Wednesday unveiled the victory monument at the Nanthikadal lagoon in Puttukudiiruppu where LTTE supreme leader Prabhakaran and other top leaders met their Waterloo. The President who made use of this visit to meet the army officers and soldiers stationed in the Vanni, later proceeded to Settikulam to meet the IDPs in the camps and study the conditions at the camps at first hand. On his way back, the President visited the Madhu church and participated in a service to obtain the blessings of Our Lady Marada Madhu.

General Sarath Fonseka off the mark
Common opposition candidate General Sarath Fonseka is already in the thick of the fight attending numerous functions organised by the UNF and the JVP. The General last week addressed the JVP trade union activists at the Solis hall at Nawala. and their UNP counterparts at Sirikotha. Last Wednesday he addressed a women’s conference jointly organised by the JVP’s Samajavadi Kantha Sangamaya and the UNP’s Lak Vanitha organisation at the Jeyewardene Centre in Colombo. General Fonseka, on his arrival for the conference was received by Lak Vanitha leader Rosy Senanayake and Samajavadi Kantha Sangamaya leader Samanmali Gunasinghe. Several UNP and JVP leaders were present at this conference. This was the first UNP-JVP joint function that General Fonseka attended after being `baptized’ as the Common Opposition Presidential candidate.
The leaders of the UNP and JVP are these days planning to put up an impressive grand show at their maiden joint propaganda rally to be held in Kandy on December 18.

The General’s statements create ripples
Certain statements relating to the ethnic issue and economic policies that General Fonseka had made at media briefings and public rallies in the recent past have created ripples in the JVP and certain other political parties.
General Fonseka announced at his main media briefing that if he were elected President, he would go beyond the 13th Amendment in working out a solution to the ethnic problem. He had repeated this statement in an interview he had with the well known Indian magazine `The Outlook’.
Asked to comment on economic policies which he proposed to implement, the General had said that he would implement UNP’s economic policies as they were acceptable to him The JVP leaders have taken exception to these policy statements by the General which had caused them much concern.

EPDP expresses solidarity with Mahinda
EPDP leader Douglas Devananda told a recent media briefing that his party had decided to back President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Presidential election as the latter had agreed to meet 10 demands put forward by the party. He added that one of the 10 demands is a solution to the national issue which goes beyond the parameters of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Promptly reacting to Devananda’s statement that the President had agreed to meet his 10 demands, including the solution to the ethnic problem, the JVP leaders held a media briefing and asked President Rajapaksa to immediately reply to Minister Devananda’s statement.
However, the JVP is observing a studious silence over the statement made by General Fonseka that he would go beyond the 13th Amendment to provide a durable solution to the ethnic problem.

Reason why General Fonseka made controversial statements
It is quite obvious that General Fonseka said that he would implement the UNP economic policies in a bid to win over the business community. However, this has raised the hackles of JVP activists. It was not long ago that the JVP and its trade unions were up in arms against the 2002- 2004 UNP government when it carried out a series of economic reforms like privatising the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation, breaking the oil distribution monopoly held by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation by securing a second actor - the Indian Oil Company, curtailing recruitment to the public sector and handing over certain public enterprises to the private sector. If General Fonseka were to implement such measures in case he was elected, how could the JVP leadership assuage party activists who would surely read the riot act?

Ranil stirs a hornet’s nest
UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at the outset had told the `Udayan’ newspaper that General Fonseka once elected would take necessary measures to abolish the Executive Presidency and dissolve Parliament paving the way for a caretaker government, adding that he would be the Prime Minister of the proposed caretaker government and the JVP and the TNA would be offered ministerial portfolios in that government.
Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement incurred the immediate wrath of the JVP leaders and Parliamentarian Lal Kantha publicly took the UNP leader to task for making the statement.
UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake hastened to make amends by announcing soon after that his leader Ranil Wickremesinghe would not accept the premiership of the proposed caretaker government which would continue until a new Parliament is elected, without a Prime Minister.

Lal Kantha brings another`Sarath’ to the scene
Meanwhile, JVP’s Lal Kantha compounded the confusion saying that they will introduce another apolitical figure as the Prime Minister of the newly elected parliament hinting that former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva would be their `other Sarath’.

Bemused UNP members face an uncertain future
Lal Kantha’s statement has spawned many more questions for the the UNP’s rank and file. If an outsider were appointed the Prime Minister giving way to JVP pressures, in the event of the joint opposition winning the General Parliamentary election, what would be the fate of the UNP? Where the party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe would be placed? Given this scenario, the UNP members ask whether they would be able to get anything done by an apolitical Prime Minister.

Can Executive Presidency be abolished within 180 days?
Meanwhile, there is big question mark hanging over General Fonseka’s pledge to abolish the Executive Presidency within 180 days. Is this a practical proposition? According to legal experts in Constitutional law, the scrapping of the Executive Presidency is not something that could be done in a month or two.
The abolition of the Executive presidency involves a long complex process. When the new President is elected, Parliament should be dissolved making way for holding a Parliamentary General election. The new parliament should convert itself into a Constituent Assembly. It has to seek the views of the political parties civil society organisations and the people who would make representations individually. The draft Constitution to be prepared later should be presented in Parliament and adopted with two thirds of the members voting for it. Once adopted by Parliament it should be presented to the people for their approval at a Referendum. This shows that it is practically impossible to abolish the Executive Presidency within so short a timeframe as six months.

Is General Fonseka prepared to become a figurehead?
UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and the JVP leaders say that their plan is to replace the Executive President with an Executive Prime Minister answerable to Parliament. Is the Executive Prime Minister is to be appointed following a general election held according to the party system? Or is he to be elected direct by the people at a separate election? Neither UNP leaders nor those of the JVP have provided a clear answer to these questions.
There is another question that begs an answer. Is there a possibility of mustering a two thirds majority in Parliament to ensure the passage of a Constitutional amendment? It is the country’s experience that no single party would succeed in securing such a landslide as to get a two thirds majority in Parliament under the present Proportional Representation system.

Both Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mangala Samaraweera said at the inception that General Fonseka would become a nominal President with the appointment of the proposed all powerful Executive Prime Minister accountable to Parliament, under the new Constitutional amendment.
However, addressing the JVP trade union conference, General Fonseka categorically stated that he did not look forward to becoming a ceremonial President and he should have powers in keeping with his office.
The problems that the joint opposition is destined to face will take shape only after the next Parliamentary election. It is conceivable that the JVP contesting in league with the UNF will win some seats in Parliament. They could win 39 seats at the last General election because they contested under the UPFA banner. They know that they would win only two or three seats if they go it alone. It would be a great victory for the JVP to win more seats by contesting under the joint opposition banner. However, once they win the seats in Parliament, they would quit the government to stage customary strikes and protests.

If perchance General Fonseka is elected President, he would be able remain in office for the full term. The UNF and the JVP have come together, not because of their mutual love or agreements on policy matters, but because they share the objective of defeating President Mahinda Rajapaksa at any cost. So they have sunk their differences for the time being. Once General Fonseka is elected, the bond that holds them together will snap and they will go their separate ways. Therefore, General Fonseka, if elected, will have to face the real problems from the day he becomes President.

SB takes centre-stage
S.B. Dissanayake from the very inception was opposed to the party decision to field General Sarath Fonseka as the common opposition candidate. He was already an unhappy person in the party given the failure on the part of the party leader to delegate necessary powers to him as the party’s national organiser. Therefore, for SB, the decision to field the General as the common opposition candidate was only a case of adding insult to injury. Meanwhile, National Lawyers Association President Upul Jayasuriya had put down S.B. Dissanayake’s name also as key speaker at the meeting of the association which General Fonseka was to attend as a guest of honour. SB had become furious when he later learnt that Ranil Wickremesinghe had deleted his name as a speaker from the agenda of the meeting.

S.B.Dissanayake along with several other ministers crossed over to the UNP in 2000 when he could no longer tolerate the insolent attitude shown by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Minister Mangala Samaraweera. SB believed that it was Mangala who was behind filing a case against him for contempt of court, taking advantage of a remark he made while addressing a `Vap Magula’ ceremony at Unawatuna in Galle and Mangala received Chandrika Kumaratunga’s support in this regard. SB was later handed two years in jail. Ranil Wickremesinghe had not cared to offer SB a seat in Parliament from the national list after his release.

An unhappy SB later looked on with disgust when Mangala succeeded in getting the UNP to team up with the opposition alliance after becoming a close confidant of his party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Disgust and keen disappointment SB was feeling further increased when he learnt former President Ms. Kumaratunga, who had expressed his solidarity with the opposition alliance, was planning to throw in her lot with it in the near future.

SB also realised that in case General Fonseka lost the Presidential election he would become number two in the UNP pushing SB further down in the hiararchical order. Having realised that he had no future in the UNP, SB took the momentous decision.
SB at a meeting of the Walapone UNP Organisation was explaining to the delegates present the circumstances which led to his taking the decision to quit the UNP, when an officer from the PSD turned up at the meeting to inform SB that President Rajapaksa was to call at his residence shortly. “I have just received a message from `Janadhipatituma’ saying that he will shortly call at my residence to meet me,” SB told the delegates and left signaling the end of the meeting.

President Rajapaksa in Galaha
President Rajapaksa had arrived in Hanguranketa to open the Bhikshu Gilanopasthana Madyasthanaya (Healthcare Centre for Bhikkhus) at Galaha. The meeting over, the President proceeded to the SB’s residence at Madanwela in Hanguranketa. The President who was warmly welcomed by SB and his wife Tamara had a two-hour discussion with SB before leaving for Colombo. Later S.B.Dissanayake rang up UNP leaders and organisers and also his close friends and associates and informed them that he had decided to quit the UNP. “You may take whatever decision you may. You are welcome to see me at any time,” he told all his friends.

UNP reacts to SB’s defection
The UNP front-liners met on the eve of the party’s national convention held early this month at the Navaloka stadium, to wrap up the agenda of the day’s function. While the discussion was on, Ranil Wickremesinghe who was in the chair received a telephone call from Malik Samarawickrama. Malik informed Ranil that SB had called on President Rajapaksa and the latter had invited him to join the government. Ranil conveyed this information to those present at the discussion. A visibly concerned Gamini Jayawickrama Perera told the party leader: “A person like SB should not be allowed to join the government at this time. Let us send for him and ask him what his grievances are so that we can sort out matters.” But there was no positive response from Ranil. “I cannot meet him at this time. Let him see me if he wants to. I have given him whatever he had asked for,” was his reply. UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake readily endorsed the leader’s response. “We cannot allow this to happen everyday. We have to take a firm decision. We have to maintain the discipline in the party,” he said. However, they all agreed to accommodate SB on the list of speakers at the convention. Nevertheless, SB did not turn up at the UNP National Convention.
The UNP leaders from the Nuwara-eliya and Kandy districts have hailed SB’s exit from the party, as he is no longer a threat to their leadership in the upcountry. Tissa Attanaayake, Lakshman Kiriella and Renuka Herath are among those who have welcomed SB’s exit.

TNA still in a state of indecision
The TNA Parliamentary Group met for the second day at the Parliamentary complex to take a decision on how they should participate in the upcoming Presidential election However, they had failed to reach a decision at this lengthy discussion.
Seventeen MPs had participated in this discussion chaired by party leader R. Sampanthan.
Absent at this discussion were Vavuniya district MP Shivanathan Kishor, Batticala district MP T. Kanagasabai, Batticaloa district MP S. Jeyanandamuthy who has been living in UK for sometime, Jaffna district MP Suresh Premachandran now in India and Wanni district MP S. Kanagaratnam now under detention at the Terrorist Investigation Unit.
At this meeting which had lasted for about four hours, they had discussed the current political situation and the courses of action they have to take in the context of the upcoming Presidential election. Eight Parliamentarians, M.K.Shivajilingam, Selvan Adakkalainathan, R.M.Imam, K.Tangeshwari, N.Sri Kantha, S. Noharathalngam, T. Thangathurai, and C. Chandrakanthan had espoused the idea of fielding a common Tamil candidate at the Presidential election. Meanwhile, Parliamentarians Pathmini Sidamparasnathan, Solomon Cyril and S. Gajendran had proposed the boycott of the election by Tamil speaking people in the North and East.
R. Sampanthan, Mavai Senathirajah and K. Thurairajasingham had abstained from expressing their opinion. Shivashakti Anandan had argued that the TNA should back General Fonseka.
The meeting had concluded with the participants agreeing to meet again to take a final decision before the closing of nominations on December 17.

TNA MPs to attend Vienna conference
Meanwhile, TNA Parliamentarians R.Sampanthan, Mavai Senathirajah, Pathmini Sithamparanathan, S. Gajendran and Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam are due to leave for Vienna today (December 13) to attend a conference to be held from December 14 to 16. Suresh Premachandran now on a visit to India is expected to join the group on the way. It is doubtful that they would be able to return home before December 17 which means that the proposal to field a common Tamil candidate is not likely to materialise.
In these circumstances, the TNA will meet again after December 17 to decide which candidate they are to support, a TNA MP said.

Two Muslim candidates?
Deputy Higher Education Minister M.M. (Myon) Musthaffa has announced at a school function in Attanagalle that he too had decided to vie for the Presidency as a Muslim candidate representing the Eastern province. A resident of Kalmunai, Musthaffa was returned to Parliament on the UNP ticket from the Batticaloa district. He later crossed over to the government with the UNP Democratic Group led by Karu Jayasuriya. Musthaffa about a year ago shifted his office away from the Higher Education Ministry premises after complaining that Minister Prof. Wiswa Warnapala did not delegate any powers or functions to him. M.I. Illiyas, a former MP for Jaffna district too has made his cash deposit to contest the Presidential election. This means there will be two Muslim candidates in the running.

Crisis in JHU over selection of candidates for general election
Meanwhile, according to reports, the JHU has got embroiled in a crisis over the selection of candidates for the upcoming Parliamentary General election.
Former DIG H.M.G.B. Kotakadeniya, Western Provincial Councillor who was placed third on the UPFA preference vote list for the Gampaha district at the last PC election, according to reports, had been looking forward to contest on the UPFA list for the Gampaha district. However, the JHU Central Committee has nominated Ven. Atureliye Ratana in his place for the Gampaha district and asked Kotakadeniya to contest on the Mahanuwara district list.
This decision has drawn a strong protest from Kotakadeniya who says it is very unfair for the party to ask him to shift to Kandy after severing his ties with the Gampaha district. He faults the Central Committee for not intimating their decision to him before the PC elections.
Ven. Atureliye Ratana, now representing the Katutara district has reportedly decided to shift his political base to the Gampaha district as his chances of winning a seat in the Kalutara district are remote, having to compete with a number of UPFA heavyweights in the district.