Parties supporting common Opposition candidate to sign “Common Consensus”; finality being reached on name of new front and symbol President tells party members to beware of informants; members say brash conduct of two personalities provoked crisis TNA, SLMC still undecided, while Govt. reaches deal with Rishard’s ACPC Opposition political groupings backing Maithripala Sirisena as the [...]


Jolted UPFA takes countermeasures; Maithripala campaign begins today


Parties supporting common Opposition candidate to sign “Common Consensus”; finality being reached on name of new front and symbol
President tells party members to beware of informants; members say brash conduct of two personalities provoked crisis
TNA, SLMC still undecided, while Govt. reaches deal with Rishard’s ACPC

Opposition political groupings backing Maithripala Sirisena as the presidential candidate against Mahinda Rajapaksa are still in search of an identity.
Names of different political fronts and even going it alone as an independent candidate are not being ruled out as the squabble continues. The hot favourite appears to be the Apey Jathika Peramuna (AJP) or Our National Front (ONF) with the telephone as its symbol. The search by opposition leaders in consultation with groups of lawyers has been a laborious process with careful scrutiny of the polls laws in force.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa addresses the opening session of the 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu. - AFP

Since some were not in favour of the telephone symbol, suggestions were made that a new symbol be picked from an assortment of symbols Gazetted by the Commissioner of Elections and not yet picked on by political parties. The most favoured was the Dove but lawyers advised that they could not take a chance with just eight days to go for the nominations (on December 8). The result was a two member team of lawyers – Wijeyadasa Rajapaksha and Jayampathy Wickremeratne, a Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) member — meeting Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya. The latter has referred to a ruling by the Attorney General that the change of symbols by a political party could be allowed only during a General Election. Moreover, in the case of an independent candidate, a symbol would be allotted only when nominations close. Here again, if such a symbol is sought by more than one party, a decision is made by the toss of a coin. In the event no other choice is possible, it is most likely that the telephone symbol would be retained. The much ado about a name, after all, will be of little consequence. Lawyers had also checked on legislative provisions with regard to what follows in the event of the death of an independent candidate. Opposition leaders have been told that there was provision under amended laws for a substitute. A ballot paper at the presidential election does not contain the party represented by the candidate.

Details related to the AJP were worked out by the UNP’s Communications Director, Mangala Samaraweera and former Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne, who crossed over last week. It was Samaraweera who had registered the AJP years earlier.

Other issues also surfaced. The AJP whom some UNPers likened to India’s ruling BJP at least by name with a change of one letter, faced a question relating to the president of this party. The current incumbent Senaka de Silva (also of former General Sarath Fonseka’s Democratic Party) did not wish to resign. The Secretary, Ruwan Ferdinandes, however, had tendered his resignation to make way for another nominee. De Silva urged Wickremesinghe to allow him to remain as president. However, he was later persuaded to give up the post in exchange for another position in the AJP. It is likely to be Assistant Secretary. It has been agreed that the president of the AJP would be named by Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the former President. A Secretary would be named by Wickremesinghe. In fact Kumaratunga on Friday named Arjuna Ranatunga MP to become the president of the AJP, a move that met with fierce objections from former General Sarath Fonseka. They have both remained members of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) until Fonseka parted ways.

In a bid to diffuse the situation, the United National Party (UNP) National Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, called upon Karu Jayasuriya, Chairman of the UNP Leadership Council, who is overseeing legal aspects also to go into the matter. This group comprised at least 14 lawyers. On Thursday night, they examined whether the grouping could be identified as the New Democratic Front (NDF) which has the Swan (Hansaya) symbol. Former General Sarath Fonseka contested the January 2010 presidential poll under this front and symbol but lost by 1.8 million votes. There were those who were not in favour. They said that the name and symbol have been tainted because of Fonseka’s defeat.

Following protests by the common Opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena that the founding Bandaranaikes had been banished from the ruling SLFP, pictures of the late Prime Ministers S.W.R.D and Sirimavo Bandaranaike appeared on the banner at a news conference at the Party headquarters this week. Pic by Nilan Maligaspe

As revealed last week, the NDF or the Nawa Prajathantrawadi Peramuna (New Democratic Front) was “in possession” of Colombo District parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake. Its Secretary is lawyer Sharmila Perera who was once in the law chambers of the late Lalith Athulathmudali.

On Friday night, Karu Jayasuriya chaired a meeting of lawyers at his residence at Amerasekera Mawatha near the BRC grounds. Among those taking part were Tilak Marapana PC, Wijeyadasa Rajapaksha, Upul Jayasuriya and Nissanka Nanayakkara. Besides the two political parties already named, they examined a third. It was the National People’s Front with the light bulb as its symbol. The party had been registered earlier by attorney Srinath Perera. The consensus among those gathered was that a decision from the three be made by the trio now at the apex of the presidential campaign — Kumaratunga, Wickremesinghe and presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena.

Finality on the name of the grouping as well as the symbol is expected to be reached today. This will enable parties in the new grouping to sign a document described as “common consensus” possibly at the auspicious hour of 10.10 a.m. tomorrow in Colombo. That will have a three-fold objective — to abolish the executive presidency, reinstatement of all independent commissions that were removed from the Constitution by the current regime and the change of the electoral system to one that is first-past-the-post. In addition, another document giving the pledges a future Sirisena administration would implement, besides abolishing the executive presidency, will also be publicized during the Opposition campaign. The campaign team will comprise Mangala Samaraweera, Rajitha Senaratne, Duminda Dissanayake and Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thera after the JHU becomes a signatory. They will function under UNP national leader Wickremesinghe. The latter has resisted pressures from different sections not to have Samaraweera in the media team.

The main signatories will be the United National Party (UNP), Maithripala Sirisena, Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera of the National Movement for Justice and Equality. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader, Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, has had two rounds of talks with Chandrika Kumaratunga. “We are listening to different views. Thereafter, we will consult our people and take a final decision,” he told the Sunday Times. He said the TNA was not a party to the presidential polls but it was necessary that they be open to different views. Wickremesinghe is now in dialogue with the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and a party source said finality remains to be reached on some critical areas. The JHU is also talking to Sirisena.

Former Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, General Secretary of the JHU, said at a public rally at the Town Hall on Thursday that they were talking to several Opposition parties. He said, “We are not holding discussions to bring Ranil Wickremesinghe or Chandrika Kumaratunga to power but to make sure people have the power. We should be concerned about the Chinese expansionism and Indian imperialism. The ports are being built, roads are being built but this is all done on loans. Not only are we developing on loans but we are eating and drinking on loans, and all aid given is on loan.

“Even the gifts given by other countries are on loans. A more dangerous thing than giving Sampur to India happened last week. Five Indians who were said to be fishermen, five drug smugglers who called themselves fishermen, were sentenced to death last week after a four-year hearing in the courts. But when India growled at us, when Narendra Modi growled at us, we were helpless, so we released the five drug smugglers and sent them to India. There were three other Sri Lankan drug smugglers who were caught along with the Indians. Now they are protesting in Jaffna, demanding that the same treatment given to the Indians should be given to the Sri Lankans as well.

“The Sri Lankan drug smugglers now know how to conduct the drug business. The period where drug smuggling was done using Sri Lankans is over now. They will now use Indians to do so. It is cheaper as well, as Indians take a third of the money that is given to Sri Lankans. When we have to waste our time outside of the Indian High Commission to get a visa to enter India, Indians come to Sri Lanka without a visa and we stamp the visa at the airport and welcome them. So when the local drug smugglers get Indians with visa to do their drug smuggling in Sri Lanka, police will arrest them and present them in courts and courts will punish them. India will call us, demand their release, we will send them back to India.”
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) will not sign the document, its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake told the Sunday Times. Initiatives by the UNP during informal contacts to seek the help of the JVP in poster campaigns have proved futile. However, the JVP’s countrywide campaign that President Rajapaksa is not legally entitled to seek a third term, a UNP source claimed, would be beneficial to the common candidate. Enhancing this claim, the source said, is the JVP move not to field a candidate at the presidential elections.

Adding to the squabbles last Thursday were reported remarks by Mangala Samaraweera at a news conference that the abolition of the executive presidency after Sirisena’s victory would not see Ranil Wickremesinghe as an “executive Prime Minister.” The remarks were to cause concern at the highest levels of the UNP leadership. Raising issue with Samaraweera was Wickremesinghe confidant Malik Samarawickrema who is calling the shots on behalf of the UNP. He was to note that the UNP leader was not happy with the way the remarks had been reported. Samaraweera was later compelled to clarify his remarks. This is what he said: “In a Parliamentary democracy executive powers are vested in Parliament and the Cabinet of Ministers. The Prime Minister is, as the term implies the ‘first among equals’.

“In the proposed constitutional reforms of the joint opposition, supremacy of Parliament will be restored and an all-party cabinet led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickramesinghe will deal with the day to day affairs of government and the PM would be head of government like in all Parliamentary democracies.
Although the executive powers of the President will be abolished within 100 days, certain duties and functions will be allocated to the President.
“It is also the view of the leaders of the joint Opposition, that it would be beneficial to the country if a government of National Unity could be formed even after the General Elections for a minimum of two years bringing to an end the era of confrontational politics which has plagued our political culture since independence.”

The UNP national leader is under pressure from different quarters who are vying for positions under the proposed new grouping. He has ruled that UNPers, who are members of the Working Committee, cannot serve in another party. The move has effectively stymied efforts by UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake to become the General Secretary of the same outfit too. Attanayake has complained to confidants of his displeasure over what he perceives as his powers being passed on to his deputy, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, the Deputy General Secretary. Attanayake did not hide his feelings when he delivered the welcome speech to Sirisena on his first visit to Siri Kotha on Wednesday.

Tears poured from his eyes as he complained that different ‘websites and nasty media’ have turned against him. Complaining that they were attacking him (some of the sites alleged he was crossing over to the Government for a tidy sum of money), he pledged that he would not leave the UNP ‘under any circumstances.’ It was Attanayake who declared at a UNP Working Committee meeting that he had ‘ushered unity’ in the party and declared that some ‘electronic and print media’ critical of the UNP leadership would no longer attack them. The remarks came after Sajith Premadasa was elected Deputy Leader. It was Attanayake and Tiran Alles, a Democratic Party MP, who had jointly pushed the move. The welcome event for Sirisena to Siri Kotha was open to UNP parliamentarians, chief organisers, Provincial Council members and UNP Opposition Leaders in local bodies.

Sirisena, who cut his teeth in the Communist Party for two years before joining the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was incarcerated in prison for nearly a year in 1971 on allegedly trumped up charges of political agitation. He was highly critical of the Rajapaksa family. “I have come forward to defeat this family. Rajapaksa pledged to abolish the executive presidency. He did not do it. So people have a lot of doubts,” he said. He added that he had been stripped of his personal security detail. “I will hand over my security to the people”, he told UNP leaders amid applause. Then, he said, “What is the problem in this country. You, as UNPers don’t have a Government. We in the SLFP who formed the Government, also don’t have our Government”.

More revelations came from Sirisena when he addressed doctors at a meeting at the New Town Hall. He said, “When I was appointed as the Minister of Health, as I was not a doctor by profession, I nominated Dr. Colvin Gooneratne as my advisor. It was not approved. If a Minister cannot take decisions that will help him improve the performance of his Ministry and the services it offers, there is no use of being a minister. All ministers face this situation. I have been left saddened many times. I learnt when I was the minister that the chairman of a company had collected Rs. 2.5 million from more than 400 pharmaceutical companies. They were thus able to sabotage the implementation of the national drugs policy. This is a national crime.

“When I initially suggested introducing health hazard warnings on cigarette packets, a recommendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the cabinet of ministers rejected it on the grounds that it would have a bad impact on the tourism industry. I was told that not a single foreigner would come to the country, if such warnings were displayed.”
Further revelations from Sirisena came at a news conference on Friday. He said, “For the past 10 years, not a single Bandaranaike photo was displayed in the banners and only Mahinda Rakapaksa’s were there. Now we see the photos of S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike and Sirimavo Bandaranaike displayed in banners and posters that the Government is putting up. The Government’s real position is exposed. Its corruption is gradually coming to light. The real SLFP is not there within the Government. I have seen the decay of the political system. By contesting for the third term Rajapaksa is making it worse.

“The economic policy when we form a government will be an open economy. When asked by journalists on the war-crime charges before the UN Human Rights Council and whether there will be a local inquiry, Sirisena replied that a future government would implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. He said importance would be given to social consensus as a policy and understanding between communities would be promoted.

“Today, state finances are squandered and there is unbridled corruption in projects and programmes, especially road development. In 2011, at the Economic Development Ministry’s performance meeting at the Central Bank I pointed out that in road development there is a lot of wastage and corruption. Later, I was so much under pressure not to bring up the issue again. The Customs do not get the expected income and are unable to perform their duties due to political pressure. It is the same with the Inland Revenue Department. There is really no Excise Department in the country. The ‘mathata thitha’ programme is a failure with alcohol while tobacco and narcotics consumption is increasing daily. There are about 2.6 million people who can’t afford three meals per day. The Government is giving temporary solutions targeting the election without strengthening their economic level of these people.
“My campaign will not include any use of polythene; there won’t be cutouts or huge banners. It will be limited to few posters and leaflets. Also, I have clearly instructed supporters not to disturb the ordinary level examinations”

“We promise the public that the relief promised from the 2015 budget will be given to the people. We can give more benefits from development to the public. We ask the Government to continue its poster and banner campaign even in Sigiriya, in the Samanala mountain range or even the Sinharaja forest. There was a banner near the entrance of a canal, better to put one at the end also.”

Whether it was Sirisena’s remarks about cutouts that was the cause is not clear. On Friday, President Mahinda Rajapaksa who chaired a meeting of the UPFA’s Elections Committee directed that cutouts depicting him should not be put all over. He asked that some of them be removed. He noted that former President Kumaratunga was sending emissaries to meet those who had personal issues in the Government. Such persons were connecting her on the telephone and offers were being made to cross over. He said those concerned should be spoken to and any grievances they had be addressed.

Another matter that members should be aware of, he said, was the presence of informants amongst them. They were passing details about the polls campaign to the Opposition. Ahead of the meeting, a small group that included ministers was discussing the events that triggered ‘crossovers.’ When one minister declared that the vast majority was blaming two UPFA personalities and not President Rajapaksa, all of them nodded. Responding to the remarks, another said that the duo would have to answer for their brash conduct and ill treatment of party members. The conversation ended abruptly as Rajapaksa walked in to chair the Elections Committee sessions.

Addressing grievances of UPFA members has become a priority task to prevent further ‘crossovers.’ One such case was that of Ameer Ali, the Eastern Provincial Councillor and former MP from the Batticaloa District. Together with two colleagues Shibly Farook and M.S. Subair, Ameer Ali crossed over from the UPFA to be an independent group in the Eastern Provincial Council. Immediately thereafter he had a meeting with Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa where issues related to his resignation were discussed.

When Abdul Majeed was named as Chief Minister of the Eastern Province, Ali who is from Minister Rishard Bathiuddin’s All Ceylon People’s Congress (ACPC), is said to have been offered a position as National List MP two years ago. He had been angered that the promise had not been kept. UPFA’s National List Parliamentarian A.H.M. Azwer was made to resign to make way for Ali. In a new turn of events, the trio have decided to revert to their party, M.S. Subair told the Sunday Times. Minister Bathiuddin is expected to travel to Batticaloa today to explain to his party cadres why Ali had accepted a position as an MP. Succeeding Ali in the EPC is Ali Zahir Mowlana. The latter who sought but was refused asylum in the US served as a staffer in the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington D.C. He is a close confidant of Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna and helped him flee the LTTE controlled east during the separatist war and escape to Colombo during the latter days of the UNP administration in 2004. The Karuna split mortally wounded the LTTE’s war machine.

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), the other Muslim party in the UPFA, has left its options open, having not yet made a final decision on whom to support at the presidential race. Its leader Rauff Hakeem held a meeting with Rishard Bathiuddin and his party members yesterday. “We will have to finalise our position. Possibly we would wait until after the nominations,” Hakeem told the Sunday Times.

Even without a name and symbol being chosen, the main Opposition candidate Sirisena will launch his polls campaign today with a public rally in Polonnaruwa, his constituency. He is expecting to swing the significant farmer vote against the Rajapaksa regime. This is while the UPFA launches the second phase of its campaign with public rallies countrywide. A schedule is now being prepared by the Elections Committee of the Alliance. The first phase came when large groups from different parts of the country were to travel to ‘Temple Trees’ for a meal and an address by President Rajapaksa.

There is little doubt that the UPFA ranks have been jolted by the entry of Maithripala Sirisena as the main presidential rival to Rajapaksa. Voter enthusiasm on all sides of the political spectrum appears to be gathering momentum even before nominations on December 8.

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