Electioneering in North gathers momentum

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who was on a visit to the United States last week called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the UN headquarters in New York on July 5. Sri Lanka’s Deputy Representative at the UN Major General Shavendra Silva was associated with Wickremesinghe at the talks he had later with the UN Secretary General who was assisted by a legal aide at the UN Patricia O’Brien.

Govt backtracks
The government made plans to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee to work out a solution to the national problem notwithstanding the ongoing talks with the TNA on the same problem. However, the proposed move to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) has now been put on hold, according to reliable government sources. EPDP leader Douglas Devananda had mooted the idea of a PSC at a time when the government was holding several rounds of talks with the TNA.
Later President Mahinda Rajapaksa had broken the news about the government plans to appoint a PSC to work out a solution to the problem at a regular meeting of his with the media heads. Meanwhile, preparations had got underway to submit to the Speaker a letter signed by government ministers and MPs calling for the appointment of a PSC on the national problem.

Opposition boycott
The proposal to appoint a PSC to pursue a solution to the North-East problem drew immediate flak from the TNA. Both the UNP and the JVP described the proposal to appoint a PSC as a ploy to place the problem on the back burner. The TNA, UNP and the JVP also announced that they would boycott the proceedings of the proposed PSC.
These political parties have taken up the position that they cannot subscribe to the move to appoint a PSC given the conflicting views on the problem expressed by the government ever since the conclusion of the conflict. They charge that the PSC proposal is another stratagem to relegate the burning problem to a back seat.

India’s role
India too is evincing a keen interest in seeing the wrapping of an expeditious solution to the ethnic problem the top Indian officials who were on an official visit here recently held talks with the President and other government high ups in this connection. The President had at these talks told India that he would solve the problem through the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
On an earlier occasion he had said that he was prepared to go beyond the 13th Amendment in seeking a solution. However, at the recent talks he had had with the high powered Indian delegation comprising Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, Defense Secretary Pradeep Kumar and
National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, President Rajapaksa had said that plans were underway to set up a Provincial Council for the North under the 13th Amendment, but the government would not concede to it powers relating to Police and Land .

Jeyalalithaa factor
Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jeyalalithaa Jeyaram, fresh from a landslide at the recent State elections has already begun pressuring the New Delhi government to intervene to ensure an expeditious solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. The Manmohan Singh government which has to depend on Tamil Nadu vote bank for its survival in office is not in a position to ignore the pressures being exerted by Jeyalalithaa. It is understood that the Indian Centre has now embarked on a diplomatic exercise to promote goodwill between Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu to keep Jeyalalithaa from breathing down its neck. According to External Ministry sources here, as a sequel to India’s new move, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in New Delhi is due to meet Chief Minister Jeyalalithaa in Tamil Nadu shortly.

PSC a non-starter?
The resolution for appointing a PSC on the ethnic problem due to be moved in Parliament last week did not materialise as planned. Government sources say that this move has now been deferred indefinitely. On inquiry, a senior minister said that the government had decided to present a revised resolution in Parliament after consultations with the opposition.
Meanwhile, another round of talks between the government and the TNA took place last Wednesday. At these talks that lasted for over one hour, the government and the TNA had arrived at the decision to draw up together a set of proposals on power devolution based agreements to be reached at the talks.

Govt-TNA talks
The TNA had at a previous round of talks had asked the government delegation to revise the Concurrent List in the 13th Amendment and the latter had promised to inform of the government’s stand on this issue at the next round of talks. However, government delegation had not informed the TNA of the government’s stand on the issue even at last Wednesday’s round of talks. The next round of talks has been fixed for August 4.
The government delegation that met the TNA for the round of talks held last Wednesday comprised Ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva, Prof. G. L.Peiris, and Parliamentarian Sajin de Vass Gunawardena. TNA leader R. Sampandan, M. A.Sumanthiran and K. Kanageshwaran represented the TNA.
TNA Deputy Leader Mavai Senathirajah and Suresh Premachandran were conspicuous by their absence at the government - TNA talks on Wednesday. Tamil sources say that these two MPs have no faith in these talks. Suresh Premachdran had recently declared that the TNA is not keen on attending these talks which nevertheless they do just to please India. Meanwhile, Senathirajah had told a pubic rally in Jaffna that his party would be compelled to resort to a democratic struggle if the government failed to provide solutions to the problems of the Tamil people.
TNA leader Sampanthan, according to party sources, had decided not to contest the Parliamentary general elections in future because of his age and poor health. Incidentally, he had to undergo heart surgery in India recently. Sampanthan’s decision to step down has already triggered a cold war over the next leadership of the TNA.
The most senior leaders of the TNA are Mavai Senathirajah and Suresh Premachandran. However, according to Tamil sources, there is a school of thought among the people in Jaffna that young academic and lawyer M. A. Sumanthiran who recently joined the party, is the most suitable person for the party leadership. Even the Tamil Diaspora looks forward to seeing Sumanthiran emerge as the party leader.

Poll gathers momentum
Elections to 64 local government bodies which had to be postponed are to be held on July 23. 20 of these local bodies are in the North. The TNA and UPFA, the two main political parties in the fray in the North are now vigorously campaigning in the North.
A group of Ministers visited Jaffna last Sunday to carry out electioneering on behalf of the UPFA. UPFA General Secretary Susil Premajayantha, SLFP General Secretary Maitripala Sirisena, Basil Rajapaksa, Dulles Alahapperuma, Sarath Gunaratne, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Dilan Perera, Jagath Pushpakumara, and Pavithra Wanniarachchi made up this group which later toured the Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts addressing whistle-stop meetings. Minister Premajayantha opened SLFP Offices in Jaffna and Nallur during this visit. The SLFP headquarters say that another group of Ministers is due to take up the campaign trail in the North this week as well
A group of young government MPs led by Namal Rajapaksa and Sri Ranga are already at the forefront of the UPFA campaign in the North. EPDP leader Douglas Devananda and Minister Rishard Badurdeen are also playing a prominent role in electioneering. Mavai Senathirajah, Suresh Premachandran, S. Adakkalainathan, M. A. Sumanthiran P. Saranapavan, and R. Sampanthan have thrown their weight behind the TNA campaign.
The UPFA blames the TNA for attributing for political gain the crimes like murder taking place in the North to security forces stationed in the province. The TNA has exploited the fact that so far no suspects have been arrested in connection with the recent case of the murder of a Muslim youth who was found hanging from a goal post, to hold the government responsible for the crime.

TNA harassed
Meanwhile, a number of election-related incidents of violence have been reported from the North. Several cases of intimidation of TNA candidates are among the incidents reported to Police. One of the complaints made by a TNA candidate said that the head of a dog was found placed at the gate of his residence. Dumping of the body of a dog into the house well and throwing of night soil on another house figured among many other complaints by the TNA candidates.
The upcoming elections have provided an opportunity for the people of the North battered by a 30-year war to freely exercise their precious right to vote. The UPFA leaders are asking the people at election propaganda meetings in the North whether they want to vote for the UPFA to get their pressing needs of their respective areas attended by the government or vote for the TNA to just please the Tamil Diaspora.
The TNA leaders say that the people should vote for the TNA because it is the only party capable of finding a solution to the protracted ethnic problem.
Meanwhile, President Rajapaksa had recently assured that an election to the Northern Provincial Council would be held next year. Political sources from the North say that Minister Douglas Devananda is already priming to become the Chief Minister and he is playing a major role at the upcoming local government elections as an auspicious start for building his vote bank

Ranil - Sajith conflict exacerbates
Sajith Premadasa and his group of loyalists, who have been sidelined by the party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, are now in the thick of organising political activity at district level. Sajith Premadasa along with Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Rosy Senanayake, Talatha Atukorale, Buddhika Pathirana, Sujeewa Senasinghe and Imitiaz Bakeer Markar has already held a large number of meetings at district level to address the party members and supporters. Meanwhile, the `Sasunata Aruna’ programme launched by Sajith Premadasa is making headway in the country and now he has decided to extend the programme to cover the Hindu Kovils, Christian churches and mosques as well. He has launched another programme to extend financial assistance to the UNP-affiliated trade unions. The unions under this programme will receive Rs.100,000 each.
Following the appointment of Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa as co-Deputy leaders at the UNP’s Working Committee meeting held last December, Sajith asked the party leader what were the new responsibilities devolved on him as a co-Deputy leader. Ranil Wickremesinghe replied that Sajith would function as the Deputy Opposition leader and he would be the party’s trade union boss. However, Ranil Wickremesinghe before his departure for the US had informed Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa that John Amaratunga would cover the duties of the office of the Opposition Leader during his absence from the island.
Ranil Wickremesinghe had not on any of the previous occasions where he had gone abroad nominated a person to cover his duties as the Opposition Leader during his absence. Therefore, according to Sajith loyalists, Ranil had nominated John Amaratunga to act as the Leader of the Opposition just to spite Sajith Premadasa. Ranil had rubbed it in on Sajith earlier too when he appointed Dr. Jayalath Jayawardna as the head of the party’s trade unions. As a result, the UNP’s trade unions are split today into two as the Sajith wing and the Ranil wing.
These developments show that the rift between the Ranil group and Sajith group is steadily widening. Meanwhile, the Sajith group is quietly building up its base through a steady strengthening of ties with the membership of the party at the periphery.

New newspaper
Meanwhile, there is speculation in political circles, that a leading businessman turned politician and now an MP is laying the groundwork to establish a media institution in a bid to groom Sajith Premadasa for the UNP leadership. This media establishment is to publish two national dailies and two national weeklies in Sinhala and English. Two media personnel who had once been very close to Ranil are to be appointed editors of two of these newspapers. A private electronic media institution which had been carrying on a vigorous campaign to change the UNP leadership in the recent past is also expected to extend its backing to this new media institution.

Sanga’s analysis
The Cowdrey memorial lecture delivered by former Sri Lanka’s cricket caption Kumara Sangakkara at the MCC in London tracing the history of cricket in Sri Lanka and its growth as a popular game, has become a hot moot point in political circles today.
Well known cricket commentators have hailed Sangakkara’s lecture as a welcome critical analysis of the factors that have contributed to the decline of the game in the country in recent times.
However, Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage who appears to have taken exception to the outspoken remarks made by Sangakkara has directed the Interim Cricket Board to submit a report on his speech.
Sangakkara had obtained prior approval of the Cricket Board to deliver the lecture. Sports analysts say, given this backdrop, there is no need to hold an inquiry into the incident. They also add that any investigation in this connection would only lead to another crisis in Sri Lanka Cricket.