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The Political Column

10th January 1999

Violence frightens voter

By our Political Correspondent
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With the ruling PA and the opposition UNP going all out for victory in the north western provincial council elections, the poll has assumed national significance and also international notoriety with each party accusing the other of illegal, violent or criminal activity.

The UNP has made the largest number of complaints to the police, accusing the police of being inactive and partial to the ruling party while the PA hits back, saying the police department is still full of UNPers. 

Amidst these charges and counter-charges, the government in a move that smacked of politics removed DIG Camillus Abeygoonawardene from the province and replaced him with Jagath Jayawardene who is alleged to be more PA friendly.

The intensity of the campaign was evident when UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told UNP MPs in Kurunegala district that they would be replaced if they did not deliver the goods. He said the party wanted MPs who could win elections.

The PA also threw its full force into the campaign with President Chandrika Kumaratunga herself leading the assault, firing all round. She hit out at the JVP and accused the UNPers of being land grabbers and murderers who used the JVP during the dark period of 1987-88 to achieve their horrible goals. She hammered out mainly on the UNP chief ministerial candidate Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, with the emphasis being on the "dushanaya' and "beeshanaya" (corruption and violence) era. 

Fearing that the PA might use intimidation if not terror tactics to reverse the trend, the UNP also has brought in retired senior police and army officers to counter these moves. 

Senior officers like the former IGP Ana Seneviratne, former army chief of staff Lucky Algama, former DIG P. B. Ekanayake and senior police officer Muni Gomes have been listed as frontline UNPers who will liaise with the military and the police.

At a meeting on Thursday at Siri Kotha, the UNP campaign strategy was discussed at length. 

As part of the strategy, Mr. Wickremesinghe has decided to get involved in the campaign fully, touring every electorate. The frontliner Ronnie de Mel who visited Kurunegala along with former DIG Muni Gomes, reported a relatively poor turn-out at PA meetings addressed by the President. 

The party has also decided to challenge in court the decision of the police to refuse the UNP's request to have its final meeting in Kurunegala town on January 22. A spokesman told this column, the party would go ahead with this meeting with or without police approval. The venue is yet to be decided. 

The detention of Parliamentarian Sarath Kongahage at the Kobaigane police station for some 9 hours will also be taken up by the UNP. The party is accusing the police of failing to protect an MP who went to the station to make a complaint. 

It is alleged that the MP's vehicle was damaged and tyres deflated by some PA supporters while the car was parked near the police station.

The UNP is also investigating reports that a senior minister hosted a dinner at a star-class hotel in Kandy for several senior police officers from the Kurunegala district. 

As the police face charges of inaction or bias in Wayamba, new conflicts have arisen over the police intelligence gathering network and specially DIG Punya de Silva who was made director of the now split up National Intelligence Bureau in 1994.

During the past four years, various changes have been made and different intelligence units were set up, resulting in a situation where the President and the National Security Council were receiving reports from at least three intelligence agencies. Often the reports were conflicting. Finally, a Directorate of Internal Intelligence was set up under DIG V. Sumanasekera and a Directorate of Foreign Intelligence under former IGP Frank Silva.

An investigation is being held by the police top slot to find out whether some NIB officers had leaked out vital information to the opposition political parties. There are also allegations that even some officers in the CID and the CDB are passing on information to opposition parties. 

While the President is making a relentless effort to win the elections in the NWP, a notable absentee in the PA campaign is Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte who is keeping a low profile these days. Similarly, in the UNP camp, the absence of Anura Bandaranaike is also felt. Some party sources say he is still undergoing medical treatment in the United States, but others feel he is conveniently keeping out of the NWP campaign. 

The UNP is also disturbed about the sudden resignation of the NWP Governor Hector Arawwawala. Though reports indicated that Mr. Arawwawala had resigned on his own accord, the UNP believes it is linked to the elections. Rumours say that Mr. Arawwawala declined to implement certain decisions taken by the PA since he felt that this would violate the election laws. 

It is said that he has been asked to make certain appointments in the province which he refused. Latest reports say the government has also called for the resignation of the central province governor Stanley Tillakeratne, but the reasons for this were still not known.

On Thursday morning, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe addressing the parliamentary group said the thuggery and lawlessness unleashed by the government in Wayamba showed its weakness and desperate position.

He said even some government ministers had told him that the PA was finding it difficult to win the election. "Greater the thuggery, the greater the support for the UNP," he added. 

Mr. Wickremesinghe said President Kumaratunga's meetings at Yapahuwa and Bingiriya were flops and she was furious. 

At a meeting of the working committee, Mr. Wickremesinghe said the NWP poll reminded him of the situation at the 1973 Dedigama by-election where the then Sirima Bandaranaike government did not allow UNPers to campaign freely and there were no green flags in the electorate. Despite all that intimidation, the UNP candidate Rukman Senanayake won handsomely. 

Mr. Wickremesinghe was sure the UNP would achieve a similar success in the NWP despite all the PA violence. 

"The more the President talks, the more votes we will win," he said.

UNP spokesman asked whether the business community could intervene in bringing about peace in Wayamba and the party may take it up when it holds another meeting with the business leaders on Tuesday. 

In Anamaduwa in the Puttalam district, a different ball game is being played violent internal battles within the PA itself. 

President Kumaratunga has summoned Anamaduwa's chief organiser and Puttalam district MP D. M. Dassanayake and told him in no uncertain terms that he must not cause any trouble.

The other MPs of the Puttalam district had protested to the President about the alleged activities of Mr. Dassanayake.

Deputy Minister Milroy Fernando has complained on many occasions regarding the behaviour of Mr. Dassanayaka. But there are also counter charges against Mr. Fernando for publicly criticising a fellow MP.

President Kumaratunga on Thursday summoned a meeting of the ministers in charge of electorates in the NWP to discuss the situation. This meeting was held soon after the weekly meeting of the ministers on Thursday evening. The meeting went on till the wee hours of Friday morning. Each minister was asked to report on the progress they had made. As the meeting went on past midnight, some of the ministers were obviously getting sleepy, but things became exciting when the Anamaduwa situation came up. 

Minister S. B. Dissanayake who is in charge of the area said that while PA politicians stayed over in the area, UNP members campaigned by day and did not stay the night in Anamaduwa. The President in a midnight quip asked whether there was some devil in Anamaduwa. 

Both the PA and the UNP obviously want to use the NWP elections as a barometer to gauge their national strength. But if the violence persists, the peace-loving people are likely to stay away from this ugly election and the resultant low turnout won't reflect the mood of the people. Meanwhile, the government is taking steps to implement the political package to settle the ethnic conflict. Attorney-General Sarath Silva has prepared legislation which is likely to be placed before the Cabinet within the next few weeks.

In the meantime, a senior lawyer, Jayampathy Wickremaratne who is working closely with Minister G.L. Peiris was in India with the draft legislation to discuss matters with the Indian experts. If the government wins the NWP elections, it is likely to push ahead with the devolution package and bring it to parliament soon. 

Some political analysts also feel the recent free-trade agreement with India might be linked to some political agenda. Opposition circles and even some business leaders are asking why the president rushed through with the pact, without sufficient consultation. They ask whether she was hoping that India would take more steps to weaken the LTTE.

In another development, the Inspectors Association which met with the Inspector General of Police, Lakdasa Kodituwakku, has objected to the regulations which have come into force concerning their promotions. The Inspectors have pointed out that the new regulations would stagnate them in the same position for 20 to 30 years with promotional prospects stymied. They have also pointed out that they would go to the Supreme Court against the regulations since they feel that it had violated their fundamental rights. IGP Kodituwakku had promised he would take up the matter with the President and requested the Inspectors to postpone their action until then. 

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