Artistes, academics and professionals among new and young faces

A confident government gears up for general election

• President Mahinda Rajapaksa gives priority to youth as SLFP finalises nomination boards
• Malini Fonseka, Geetha Kumarasinghe and Jackson Anthony on UPFA district lists
• Disunity over UNF symbol causes disarray; Ranil, Fonseka, Jayasuriya split
• Elections Commissioner refutes rigging allegations
Now that the dust of the presidential hustings has settled, the attention of everyone is focussed on the general parliamentary elections round the corner.
The term of the present parliament will expire on April 22 this year. According to government sources, President Mahinda Rajapaksa will dissolve parliament on February 14 to make way for holding the general parliamentary elections on April 2.

The SLFP had called for applications for nomination from prospective candidates sometime ago and applications closed on Friday. The party had also already appointed three nominations boards at provincial level and also an appeal board.

Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva will chair the Provincial Nominations Board for the North, East, Wayamba and North Central. Janaka Bandara Tennekoon, Athauda Seneviratne, Pavitra Wanniarachchi, Piyasena Gamage and Saliya Mathew will function as its members.

S.B.Navinna, Mahipala Herath, Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, Ranjith Siyabambalapitiya and President’s Counsel D.P. Mendis are the members of the Nominations Board for the Western, Central and Uva provinces which is to be chaired by Minister W.D.J.Seneviratane. Minister Susil Premajayantha will head the Board for the Southern and Sabaragamuwa provinces whose members are Bertie Premalal Dissanayake, A.H.M.Fowzie, Mahindananda Alutgamage, C.B. Ratnayake and attorney-at-law Champani Padmasekera.

The Appeal Board will be headed by Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake. Its members are D.M. Jayaratne, Maitripala Sirisena, Dulles Alahapperuma, Basil Rajapaksa and attorney-at-law W. Karunajeewa.
It is a foregone conclusion that the government will record a resounding victory at the upcoming general election judging by the outcome of the recently concluded presidential election. There is an obvious scramble by SLFP electorate organisers and party activists to secure nomination to contest the election. Meanwhile, the need for the party to present a good number of new young faces at the election has received the serious attention of President Rajapaksa. It is learnt that there is a move to field popular veteran actress Malini Fonseka on the Gampaha district list, actress Geetha Kumarasinghe on the Galle district list and popular TV presenter, actor and film director Jackson Anthony on the Colombo district list. A large number of academics, professionals and entrepreneurs as well are expected to be nominated by the SLFP to contest the upcoming election.

The SLFP Nominations Board will interview the applicants for party nomination at the party headquarters and the Mahaweli Centre on February 8 and 9. The candidates picked by the coalition partners, LSSP, CP, SLMP, and the JHU will be accommodated on the UPFA district lists.

UNF in the throes of a crisis

Meanwhile, the United National Front, the core-party of the Joint Opposition Alliance which was formed to field General Sarath Fonseka as the common opposition presidential candidate, is already in the throes of a deep crisis triggered by the decision taken by UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to contest the upcoming general election under the `elephant’ symbol.
A meeting of the UNP district leaders and electorate organisers was held at the party headquarters Sirikotha with party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in the chair last Sunday. Wickremesinghe, at this meeting, had asked the participants whether they should contest under the banner of the Joint Opposition Alliance or under `elephant’ symbol maintaining the party’s identity. The participants had chanted in unison that they should contest under the `elephant’ symbol to maintain the party identity. The party leader had agreed to abide by the majority decision.

The `elephant’ symbol becomes an issue again

Meanwhile, the leaders of the Joint Opposition met at the residence of Ranil Wickremesinghe last week for talks on their plans relating to the upcoming election. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Karu Jayasuriya, Tissa Attanayake and Gamini Jayawickrama Perera of the UNP, Mangala Samaraweera of the SLFP (M), Nissam Kariappar of the SLMC, Mano Ganaesan of the DPF and Vijitha Herath of the JVP participated in the deliberations. Nissam Kariappar proposed that they contest under the `swan’ symbol. Vijitha Herath said that they had decided to contest as a separate entity, but they were prepared to consider contesting under the `swan’ symbol to protect the Joint Opposition Front. He added that he would discuss the matter with the party leadership so that they could take a hard decision. Ranil Wickremesinghe said that the UNP district leaders were keen on contesting under the `elephant’ symbol and he should further discuss the matter with the party. Mangala Samaraweera also took up the position that they as the opposition could pose a formidable challenge to the government if should they contest under the `swan’ symbol. The meeting ended with the matter hanging fire.

Delegation from General Fonseka disappointed

A delegation sent by General Sarath Fonseka called on UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe the following day to inform the latter that General Fonseka had decided to contest the general election and he did not wish to contest under any symbol other than the `swan’.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, who lost his cool, had immediately rejected the request. He said, “I cannot agree to your request. I made the biggest possible sacrifice at the presidential election. I made no protest when they said that they could not offer me the premiership of the caretaker government to be formed after General Fonseka was elected president. When they objected to a person from the UNP being appointed a co-spokesman of General Fonseka, I quietly gave way. I made every possible sacrifice. I cannot ignore the party any longer. I have to be with the party. I am prepared to offer the deputy leadership of the UNF to General Fonseka. But I cannot give up the party symbol `elephant’ and the party colour ` Green’”
Ranil Wickremesinghe, thus, put his foot down and the delegates of General Fonseka had to leave empty handed.

Bhikkhus meet Ranil

Next a delegation of bhikkhus called on UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on behalf of General Fonseka at the Amarasekera Mawatha residence of Karu Jayasuriya. Kotte Naga Viharadhipati Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhita Thera, Ven. Brahmanawatte Seevali Thera and Ven. Girambe Ananda Thera were among the bhikkhu delegates. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Karu Jayasuriya, Gamini Jayawickrama Perera, Tissa Attanayake, Rauff Hakeem, Mano Ganesan, and Vijitha Herath participated in this discussion. Ven. Sobhita Thera explained to Ranil Wickremesinghe the need of a strong opposition to take on the government at this election. He said, “Only a strong opposition can offer a fight to the government at this election. That is how the people feel. Therefore, we request that you contest as the Joint Opposition Alliance under the `Swan’ symbol under the leadership of General Fonseka.”

Ranil Wickremesinghe replied, “Hamuduruwane, ours is the largest political party in the country with a broad vote base. I have to take decisions on behalf of the party and from the party. I have to respect the views of the rank and file of our party. Therefore, please allow us to take decisions on intra-party matters. I give my promise to re-establish democracy without scuttling the Joint Opposition Alliance. We have to retain our right and freedom to contest under the `elephant’ symbol at this election.”

Symbol issue plagues JVP too

Meanwhile, the issue over the `swan’ symbol has triggered a controversy in the JVP as well. JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe from the very outset took up the position that they should contest as a separate entity under the `Bell’ symbol. The party’s general secretary echoes this viewpoint. But several JVP leaders like Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Vijitha Herath, who have been maintaining close ties with the UNP, say that they should contest as the Joint Opposition Alliance under the `Swan’ symbol. Anura Kumara Dissanaayake had pointed out that if they would not get to secure more than two or three seats by going it alone and on the contrary, they would be able to muster at least 40 seats should they contest under the banner of the Joint Opposition Alliance. To drive home his point, he had cited the instance where they mustered over 40 seats by contesting under the UPFA banner at the 2004 general election.

Bimal Ratnayake and Lal Kantha had pointed out that in the event of their entering the fray as a separate party, it would become necessary for them to criticise both the UNP and General Fonseka. “How would people react when we attack them at the general election after having appeared on the same stage with them at the presidential election,” they had asked.

Karu backs `elephant’ symbol to protect his position

The move proposed by Ranil Wickremesinghe to offer the position of Deputy Leader in the UNF to General Fonseka has hurt Karu Jayasuriya who is already functioning as the Deputy Leader of the party. Because this move will push him down to the third position in the party hierarchy. Therefore, he had made a strong case for entering the fray under the `elephant’. The main argument he had advanced is that many UNP supporters had failed to turn up for voting because of their unwillingness to vote for a symbol other than the `elephant’.

TNA elated over General’s showing in North and East

Meanwhile, according to reports, the TNA is highly elated that the majority of Tamils in the North and East had voted for General Fonseka at the presidential election which TNA leader R. Sampanthan considers a pointer to a landslide for the TNA in the North and East at the upcoming general election.
Most political analysts thought that the Tamil and Muslim vote would be a decisive factor at the presidential election. The Western countries and India too held the same view. However, despite General Fonseka winning the North and East, the Southern electorate gave President Rajapaksa a clear mandate marked by a massive majority of 1.8 million votes.

Bargaining power of Tamil political parties weakens

In these circumstances, the political clout and the concomitant bargaining power that the Tamil political parties could wield for winning a favorable solution to the ethnic problem, has greatly weakened. The Tamil community is reportedly unhappy over this situation. However, President Rajapaksa has assured that he would consider himself the President of all people in the country and would not discriminate between those who voted for him and those who did not.

The pact that General Fonseka had signed with TNA leader R. Sampanthan had obviously contributed towards strengthening the vote base of President Rajapaksa. Although both Fonseka and Sampanthan vehemently denied the existence of such a pact, people in the South were convinced of the existence of a pact, following public statements made by TNA MPs M.K.Shivajilingam, K. Thurairatnasingham and Pathmini Sithamparanathan confirming it.

SLMC set to play a double role

The SLMC led Rauff Hakeem is reportedly planning to play a double role at the upcoming general election. According to informed sources, the SLMC will contest under the `elephant’ or `swan’ symbol in the South and under the banner of a TNA-led alliance in the North and East. Hakeem and Sampanthan, who held several rounds of talks, later announced at a joint media briefing that the two parties would contest in the North and East as one entity.

Whither Pillayan?

Meanwhile, the TMVP led by Eastern Chief Minister Sivaneshathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan, a government partner, is seriously considering the option to go it alone at the general election, says the party’s media spokesman Azad Moulana. The main reason why the TMVP wants to distance itself from the government is its long drawn out feud with the TMVP’s former leader Vinayagamurthy Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman, now a cabinet minister in the government. There were reports that Chief Minister Pilayan was considering extending the TMVP support to General Fonseka at the recent Presidential election. Pillayan had reportedly backtracked when a government group led by Basil Rajapaksa had intervened. However, Pillayan did not play an active role at the election.

Hemakumara to get a slot on UPFA national list?

The UNP dissident Hemakumara Nanayakkara, now non-Cabinet Minister of Agriculture announced in Baddegama last week that he had decided to quit politics. Nanayakkara, who was first elected to parliament on the SLFP ticket from the Galle district at the 1988 general election, quit politics in 1993. He re-entered politics when he was returned to parliament from the UNP Galle district list at the 2000 general election. He is the present SLFP organiser for Baddegama. Nanayakkara says that though he is quitting politics for health reasons he will continue to support President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Meanwhile, according to government sources, Nanayakkara is expected to return to parliament from the UPFA national list following the upcoming general election.

Election fraud charge – a propaganda weapon for UNP and JVP

The UNP and the JVP, which do not accept the final result of the presidential election, charge that the government had resorted to a computer fraud to register the victory. JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe had said that the government had won through computer manipulation. General Fonseka claims that he is the de facto President and Mahinda Rajapaksa has registered victory by rigging the election. But the people, who concede the remote possibility of rigging an election to make a difference of one or two lakhs of votes, question the credibility of a rigging exercise that could create so wide a gap as 1.8 million votes!

The leaders of the Joint Opposition Alliance called on Elections commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake last week. The delegation comprised parliamentarians Ravi Karunanayake, Rauff Hakeem, Mano Ganesan, and Vijitha Herath. They told the Elections Commissioner that various malpractices had marred the election and the opposition agents at counting centers had been chased away. The Commissioner, who gave them an attentive hearing, advised them to include all these instances as material evidence in the election petition. The opposition leaders had briefed a group of foreign diplomats in Colombo too on election malpractices. .

Opposition set to file two election petitions

The opposition is to file two petitions challenging the final result of the Presidential election - one petition by the UNP and the other by the JVP.

A discussion on the proposed election petitions was held on January 30 at the Colombo residence of UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya. A group of lawyers including former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva and Wijedasa Rajapaksa participated in this discussion. Sarath N. Silva had told the participants that he had collected information relating to election malpractices that had taken place from the nomination day up to the day of election. He called for relevant information in respect of the election day and the post-election period. Karu Jayasuriya had undertaken to provide the data called for.

Another round of discussion on the proposed election petitions were held at the residence of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe last week. All opposition party leaders attended this meeting and a conspicuous absentee was General Fonseka. When Wickremesinghe rang up the General to apprise him of the ongoing discussion on the elections petitions, the latter had remonstrated that the filing of the petitions was getting delayed. “We cannot do this in a hurry. We have to collect a lot of information which takes time. However, we are going to file it on time,” Wickremesinghe had replied. Fonseka had also suggested holding a series of demonstrations across the country to protest against the election malpractices. “Let us hold the protests. But we have to carefully plan them. Our party activists are facing threats and much harassment these days,” Wickremesinghe had said. The opposition, incidentally held their first protest in the series they have planned, at the Hyde Park last Wednesday

Elections Commissioner clears the air

Certain remarks Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake made while announcing the final result of the presidential election had provided a strong stimulant to the crestfallen opposition leaders. A visibly disgusted Commissioner Dissanayake said that he had been working under intense stress and he would not be returning to office after declaring the final result. Tilvin Silva and Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the JVP, who were highly elated by the Elections Commissioner’s remarks, began saying that the latter’s demeanor itself was testimony to the distorted result of the election. Later the opposition began their campaign to tell the country that the entire election process was marred by malpractices and the results were computer-manipulated.

However, Elections Commissioner Dissanayake categorically rejected the charge that the election results had been manipulated. He also challenged to prove that the counting process was flawed. He also assured there had been no malpractice or a fraud in relation to computerising the elections results.” No private firm was involved in this task. Computerising the results was handled entirely by the Computer Science Department of the Colombo University. Anyone can seek a clarification about the computerising process from the head of that department, Dr. Ruwan Weerasinghe said.

The Elections Commissioner also said, “I understand that various rumors were making rounds in the country since January 26 midnight. I was shocked by these rumors. One rumour said that my signature for the final result was obtained at gun point. Another rumour said that I was taken ill and was admitted to the Apollo Hospital. I had to work for 37 hours at a stretch in connection with the election. The carbon copies of the result sheets had been issued to all agents of political parties. Although there are allegations that the agents of political parties were chased away, the documents in respect of these counting centers carry their signatures. Certain media distorted the speech I made after announcing the final result of the election. Those who cannot accept the results of the election can go to courts. Votes can be recounted on an order of the court.”

The opposition, however, is not prepared to accept the election results. They want to use the charges against the government as a propaganda weapon at the upcoming general election. In fact, JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe, at the opposition’s protest rally held at Hyde Park, declared that the Elections Commissioner was detained at Temple Trees on the election day despite the fact that the latter had rejected all such rumors at a media briefing held earlier in the same day.

Elections Commissioner Dissanayake told the media briefing that he would continue in office to hold the upcoming general election as well. He said he was holding his office on an order given by the Supreme Court. He recalled that that he submitted a petition to the Supreme Court praying that he be allowed to go on retirement. But the Supreme Court said in its order that he should continue in office until an Elections Commission is constituted.

The Elections Commissioner, who called on President Rajapaksa following the presidential election, had obtained permission to go abroad on leave as he needed a brief respite from work. The Commissioner will return to the country on time to receive nominations for the upcoming general election.

CID probes foiled coup attempt
Meanwhile, the CID has arrested 37 army personnel including nine high ranking officers in connection with a conspiracy hatched on January 27 to topple the government. The Media Centre for National Security says that the coup attempt was foiled by throwing a security ring around Hotel Cinnamon Lakeside where the conspirators had holed up in 70 suites for the night.
However, General Fonseka says that the conspiracy theory had been concocted by the government as part of a design to take revenge from him and his supporters

In the meantime, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had rung up President Rajapaksa. During the brief chat that ensued, Ranil Wickremesinghe had asked the President, “Haven’t both you and I won?” The UNP leader had also asked the President to increase the security of General Fonseka. The President had asked Wickremesinghe to tell Fonseka to make a written request to him.