“General Fonseka’s manifesto is a list of promises”
  • Two formidable challenges facing us – President Rajapaksa
  • Within one month I’ll table papers to abolish Executive Presidency- Gen.Sarath Fonseka
  • Flouting election laws: “Go to courts, I’ll testify – Elections Comm.
  • JVP opposes setting up of private universities

Gen. Fonseka agrees to TNA demands
R. Sampanthan MP, Mavai Senathirajah MP and Suresh Premachandran MP all from the TNA had met the leader of opposition Ranil Wickramasinghe and the common opposition candidate General Fonseka and had discussed the problems Tamil community are facing and on the solution to the ethnic problem.
The TNA members have also had an hour long discussion with SLMC leader Party leader Rauf Hakeem about the problems that Tamil and Muslim community have.
Sri Lanka Watch learns from sources close to UNF that at the end of the meeting common candidate Gen. Sarath Fonseka has agreed to most of the demands tabled by the Tamil National Alliance, including the removal of all high security zones on the north and east, reduce the number of defence camps in the north and east, release over 12,000 Tiger suspects held in detention under a common amnesty etc. etc.

The following were the demands of the TNA.

1. Release 12,000 Tiger suspects held in detention under a common amnesty.

2. Remove all high security zones in the northeast.

3. Reduce the number of army camps in the north and east.

4. Find a political solution to the ethnic crisis.

5. Resettle the displaced quickly.

6. Provide them with all necessary facilities.

7. Construct houses they need.

8. End all planned resettlement that is being done in the east.

Prior to the meeting with Fonseka, Sampanthan had called for a meeting of all 22 members, but only 12 members showed up for the meeting.

Will he be forced to borrow heavily from IMF, WB and ADB?
The election manifestos of the two main candidates contesting the upcoming presidential election have already been placed before the people of this country. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s manifesto has been named `Mahinda Chintana Idiri Dekama’ and `Vishvasaneeya venasak’ is the title of General Sarath Fonseka’s manifesto.

An election manifesto is meant to apprise the people of the programme of work, and action plans the candidate is to implement with the aim of achieving his targets. President Rajapaksa, has in his `Mahinda Chintana Idiri Dekma’ manifesto, provided a comprehensive description of the programme of work he has planned to implement during his next term of office. The economic policy he is going to implement is given pride of place under his programme of work. Outlining his economic policies, President Rajapaksa says, “I firmly believe that we should achieve a growth rate at an international level by beating into shape a well disciplined economy which is free and strong, and is in keeping with our national identity.”

Further clarifying his economic policies, the President says, “There are two formidable challenges facing us. One of them is offering the dividends of the economic prosperity and modern development to the ordinary people of this country. The second challenge is simultaneously laying the foundation for essential for sustainable development. It is my firm determination to overcome these two challenges as well the way we have successfully met the challenges we have had to face so far.”

He also has furnished details of the new harbours and airports already under construction and naval development projects already being implemented and such projects which are about to get off the ground. He has also promised to grant a pay hike of Rs.2,500 to public servants and raise the minimum Samurdhi allowance to Rs.1000.

However, the election manifesto of General Fonseka is confined to a list of promises. Among the main promises listed in his election manifesto are: making available in the open market fertiliser for farmers at Rs.350 a bag, paying a guaranteed price of Rs.40 for a kilo of samba paddy and Rs.35 for a kilo of naadu paddy purchased from farmers, increasing the guaranteed price of milk purchased from diary farmers to Rs.45 a litre, granting a monthly pay hike of Rs.10,000 to public servants, increasing the minimum Samurdhi allowance by Rs.500, waiving off the taxes levied on petrol, diesel and kerosene oil, reducing taxes levied on LP gas and other essential commodities, paying a monthly allowance of Rs.2,000 to youth undergoing vocational training programs and a monthly allowance of Rs.3,000 to unemployed graduates.

First year yes, next year?
A monthly pay hike of Rs.10, 000 to public servants promised by General Fonseka even from the election platform would cost the exchequer an estimated Rs.44 billion a year.
He says that he proposes to meet this massive financial commitment with the savings affected by reducing the number of ministers, and eliminating waste and corruption in the public sector. Let us presume that he would affect sufficient savings to meet this additional expenditure in the first year, how would he find the funds to meet this expenditure in the next year? If he is to honour all the promises he has made, he would need Rs.400 billion a year. He has not explained in his `Vishvasaneeya Venasak’, manifesto how he proposes to find this expenditure.

If he is to find monies to meet the financial commitments he has made in his manifesto, he has to impose additional or increased taxes on people and bring about a sharp increase in the national income simultaneously. People have to be taxed more to grant a pay increase of Rs.10, 000 to an estimated 1.2 million public servants. This means the tax burden on the 21 million populations in the country has to be increased to pay increased salaries and grant other relief promised in the manifesto. General Fonseka has not outlined the strategies he is going to adopt to increase the national income and step up the national productivity either.

No clear-cut policy or vision
All in all, it appears that General Fonseka has neither a clear-cut economic policy nor a clear vision. Even if he has, he might not have wanted to embarrass the JVP by declaring his economic policies. Fielding a question relating to his economic policies by a journalist at his Jaic Hilton media briefing, General Fonseka said that he would implement the economic policies of the UNP. The 2001 –2003 UNP government under its ‘Regaining Sri Lanka’ manifesto, privatised the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation, and ended the oil distribution monopoly of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation by introducing the Indian Oil Company as another actor in the oil distribution in the country. Dissolving the public service in stages was also part of the economic program of that government.

The JVP angrily reacted to General Fonseka’s statement that he would implement the UNP economic policies. Following protests made by Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Tilvin Silva, General Fonseka stopped making any reference to his economic policies in his subsequent policy statements. When General Fonseka met a group of businessmen recently, they inquired about his economic policies. However, he avoided giving a direct answer. It was Ranil Wickremesinghe who made clarifications on his behalf.

As mentioned earlier, fulfilling promises made by General Fonseka would involve a massive expenditure. If he were elected President, he would not help seeking loans from international monetary agencies such as the IMF, World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank. Then, these monetary agencies as usual would impose conditions relating to his relief measures such as the Rs.10,000 pay hike and tax reductions. If these agencies stipulated conditions requiring the implementation of measures such as reduction of the public service workforce, promotion of the private sector, and privatisation of state enterprises, how would General Fonseka face such a situation? What would be the reaction of the JVP to such conditions?

The JVP and the student organisations affiliated to it have already launched demonstrations to protest against the establishment of private medical colleges and universities. The state universities can accommodate only a small percentage of the GCE (AL) qualifieds annually. Therefore, only relatively small number of students scoring very high marks get the opportunity to secure a university education.

Parents with means would get their children admitted to foreign universities. This results in an outflow of a massive amount of foreign exchange to foreign countries where these Sri Lankan students receive a university education. This drain of valuable foreign exchange can be easily stemmed by opening up private universities in the country. The JVP opposes the establishment of private universities saying that it would toll the death knell of the country’s free education. However, they overlook the fact that there is a large number of foreign- qualified doctors serving in our hospitals today. Perhaps most of them would not have got the opportunity to become medical graduates if they had waited for a chance to enter a state-run university here to study medicine! There is no doubt that General Fonseka would welcome the idea of opening up private universities in the country. In fact, both his daughters had their education in the United States. But he is mum about the question of private universities lest what he says would offend the JVP.

General Fonseka has promised in his manifesto that he would scrap the present jumbo cabinet and appoint a caretaker cabinet if he were elected President. According to his promise, he would invite all parties represented in parliament to nominate a member for the proposed caretaker cabinet and he would thereafter dissolve parliament. In his manifesto, he says, “I will within one month present cabinet papers seeking the sanction for a constitutional amendment providing for the abolition of the Executive Presidency, Press Council Abolition Act and the Right to Information Act. After the abolition of the Executive Presidency, I shall diligently discharge my duties in the service of my people and the country, working in co-operation with the parliament as the President answerable to the people.”

• If he is to present a cabinet paper on the scrapping of the Executive Presidency within one month, he should already have the draft Constitutional Amendment Bill cut and dry. If the present constitution is to be replaced by a new one, the parliament has to transform itself into a Constituent Assembly to prepare the draft constitution after canvassing the views of the public and those of the civil society organisations. This exercise cannot be completed within a short time. The 1978 Constitution of J.R. Jayewardene had to be amended 17 times due to numerous flaws in the supreme law that had resulted from its hasty adoption.

Abolishing Executive Presidency a myth?
General Fonseka says that he will be a President accountable to the people. But what Ranil Wickremesinghe and the JVP leaders had been telling the people was that they would appoint an Executive Prime Minister accountable to Parliament to replace the Executive President. There is no reference to the creation of office of an Executive Prime Minister in General Fonseka’s manifesto. In these circumstances, the UNP members would naturally wonder what would become of their leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in a government formed by General Fonseka. What JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva said was that General Fonseka would be a nominal President just like what the late William Gopallawa was. However, General Fonseka had subsequently said that he was not prepared to be a ceremonial president after being elected by the people. He categorically said that he too should have powers by the virtue of his office he is to hold. He had reportedly told several public rallies that he would retain several ministerial portfolios like Finance, Health and Education if he were elected President. Therefore, it is obvious that if elected, General Fonseka would continue in the office of Executive President until the expiration of his term of office. There is another significant factor: The passage of a constitutional amendment requires the support of a two thirds majority in parliament. However, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, in an interview with Swarnavahini on Thursday, said that the remerger of the North and East would require a two thirds majority vote in parliament and in the present circumstances no single party would be able to muster a two thirds majority in parliament. However, the announcer, who conducted the interview, failed to ask the UNP leader if the remerger of North-East could be a non-event due to the difficulty in mustering a two thirds majority in Parliament, how could they expect to secure a two thirds majority in parliament to abolish the Executive Presidency. It was not clear whether the announcer failed to ask the question through fear or ignorance.

There was no reference to General Fonseka’s solution to the national problem in his manifesto. This significant omission could be attributed to the fact that his two main sponsors UNP and the JVP are holding diametrically opposed views on this question.

Therefore, it could be said that General Fonseka’s manifesto is, a de facto list of promises.
Violence increases as election day approaches
As the election draws near, incidents of election-related violence are also on the increase. According to reports released by the election violence monitoring centres, the number of election-related incidents of violence has topped the 500 mark. Attacks on election offices, destruction of posters and cutouts and assaults on the supporters of rival candidates account for most of these incidents.

Two major incidents of election-related violence were reported last week from Polonnaruwa and Tangalle. A 62-year woman was killed and several others were injured when a gun-toting a motor bike rider at Hungama fired on a Tissamaharama-bound bus carrying people to an election rally organised by Sajith Premadasa in support of General Fonseka. This incident provided much grist to the propaganda mill of the main opposition candidate. Addressing a hastily got up media briefing immediately after this incident, several opposition leaders including Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mangala Samaraweera and Somawansa Amarasinghe claimed that the elements, who knew of impending defeat as a certainty, were now resorting to murder. They said that President Rajapaksa should bear the responsibility for this incident. The UNP-JVP supporters took advantage of this incident to stage a number of protests and demonstrations. They claimed that the dead woman was a supporter of the UNP. Meanwhile, UNP-JVP supporters, who took out a procession to protest against the Hungama incident, had attacked the UPFA election office near the 28 milepost in Polonnaruwa. A meeting attended by Minister Maitripala Sirisena had been gong on in the election office when it came under attack by the protesters. The UNP-JVP supporters had damaged Minister Sirisena’s car which had been turned turtle. This incident was reported by a private tv channel later the same day.

Inquiries shed new light on Hungama shooting
Meanwhile, the husband of the woman, who was killed in the Hungama incident, testifying at the inquest on the death of the woman, said that his family for generations has been supporters of the Rajapaksas. And that at all elections, they had voted for President Rajapaksa and the President had provided jobs to several members of the family. The deceased too had been an SLFP supporter and she had left home saying that she was going to attend a meeting where pairs of spectacles were to be distributed free.

Immediately on hearing about the incident, President Rajapaksa directed IGP Mahinda Balasuriya to carry out investigations to arrest the suspects without delay. The investigations were handed over to the CID. The CID had arrested two suspects with a firearm in their possession from their hideout on a coconut estate. The two suspects were due to be produced in courts and also presented at an identification parade. According to latest information Police had received, the shooting was a sequel to a personal feud and it had nothing to do with politics.
The attempts by the opposition to exploit the incident to gain propaganda mileage failed due to the timely action by the President and what transpired in evidence at the inquest.

Meanwhile, President of the Centre for Monitoring Free and Fair Elections and Democratic Rights (CMFFE) H. K.Chandrasiri de Silva said that supporters of certain opposition political parties would attack their own election offices and tear down posters and cutouts in a bid to pass the blame on to the supporters of the rival candidate. He said that he had received reports of several such incidents. Meanwhile, two Policemen had been injured in a clash between some police personnel and a group of supporters of a candidate who were distributing leaflets to the public at Narahenpita. A private TV channel telecast a video footage of this incident. It transpired later that the scene was an orchestrated one and those who had planned it, had video camera crew on hand to cover the scene that was to unfold.

Police investigations have revealed that most election related incidents were very minor ones which were not even worth complaining about. However, some monitoring outfits have held them out incidents of election- related violence.

Elections Comm. meets party secs.
Meanwhile, Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake last week held a discussion with the general secretaries of political parties fielding candidates at this election. UPFA’s Susil Premajayantha and UNP’s Tissa Attanayake were among the party officials present.
A visibly dismayed Elections Commissioner Dissanayake complained that he appointed a Competent Authority to monitor reporting by state media, but he has now been placed in an embarrassing position as the relevant authorities are not following his instructions.
Several party secretaries pointed out that there were many posters and cutouts yet to be removed. The commissioner blamed the Police for this situation. IGP Mahinda Balasuriya asked for another 48 hours to remove all illegal election propaganda materials put on display
Several general secretaries requested the commissioner to seek legal redress.
Commissioner Dissanayake said in reply, “You may go to courts. I will attend courts to give evidence. UPFA General Secretary Susil Premajayantha assured that they would not do anything that would militate against holding a free and fair election.” We do not influence Police in anyway. We have directed all our people to carry out the directives of the Elections Commissioner,” he added.

Crossovers continue
Meanwhile, as we disclosed in our columns several weeks ago, last Friday Deputy Minister Segu Izzadeen joined the SLMC and assured his support to Opposition Candidate General Fonseka. The same day he attended a media briefing by General Fonseka. On Friday, former Deputy Minister of Higher Education and independent candidate `Myown’ Mustafa announced his support to General Fonseka at a media briefing. Jatika Nidaham Peramuna Parliamentarian Mohamed Mussamil, who attended this media briefing, later walked out saying that he had been promised a bribe of Rs.30 million to cross over to the opposition to support General Fonseka, but he was not a person who could be bought over.