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24th October 1999

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President Chandrika Kumaratunga addressing a massive rally in Anuradhapura yesterday, coinciding with the launch of the PA's election campaign. See story on page 3. Pic by M. A. Pushpakumara.

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Polls between Dec. 11 and 25

Controversy looms over election date

By Chris Kamalendran and Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Acting Elections Commissioner K. Arunthavachelvam said yesterday that the date of nominations for the presidential election would be announced within the next few days, meaning that the polls date would be in mid December clashing with both the Ramazan fast and the G.C.E O/L examination.

In the event the proclamation for nominations is issued by the Commissioner of Elections tomorrow, the date for nominations could be between November 11 and 15.

According to the constitution, the election should be held not less than four weeks and not more than six weeks after the nominations close, meaning that polls should be held between December 11 and 25.

Some 500,000 students all over the country are due to sit the GCE O/L examination scheduled to be held from December 11 to 24. School buildings are usually used as examination centres and as polling booths, meaning that both cannot be held at the same time.

The holy month of fasting for Muslims also begins on December 10 and eight UNP MPs have appealed to the polls chief to take this into account when fixing the date for the polls.

Meanwhile, editors and heads of state media institutions were called to the Presidential Secretariat soon after the proclamation for the elections and were briefed on campaign strategies.

The PA launched its polls campaign with a massive election rally in Anuradhapura yesterday while UNP has called a special national convention in Colombo next Sunday to launch its campaign.

Addressing yesterday's rally, President Kumaratunga said the election commissioner would issue a notification within the next few days calling for nominations.

The main third party, the JVP, will call a news conference today to announce its candidate with speculation that the self-exiled leader Somawansa Amarasinghe would be the nominee.

LSSP rebel Vasudeva Nanayakkara who was expelled from the party on Friday is also likely to come forward as he did in 1982.

More for Info Dept.

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

With the budget put off and a Vote on Account lasting only a day and a half, Parliament is expected to take up supplementaries making massive allocations especially for the Information Department.

The supplementary estimate for the Information Department is Rs. 129 million, surpassing the 1999 budget allocation of Rs. 71.5 million. Most of the money is likely to be used for government propaganda work ahead of elections, opposition sources alleged.

But Information Chief Ariya Rubasinghe is denying that the extra allocation is in any way connected to election propaganda. He said the department needed more money for some dues which had to be settled.

In addition to the extra allocation for Information, the supplementary estimates will provide money for relief measures for pensioners, publicity and defence.

The Health, Transport and Education Ministries are among the others seeking large supplementary estimates.

PAFFREL calls foreign men

The independent election monitoring body, PAFFREL, is considering to invite foreign observers for the presidential elections.

Executive Director Kingsley Rodrigo said they would take a decision on it this week while working out plans to appoint some 4,000 local monitors and 8,000 observers.

On Friday, the UNP officially requested the Elections Commissioner to get international monitors in view of what it saw as large-scale rigging, impersonation and violence at recent provincial elections.

Regarding the North and East where many fear large-scale rigging, Mr. Rodrigo said PAFFREL also was aware of the problems there and would try to get people from the area to monitor the polls.

Neelan killing: main suspect nabbed

The man whom police suspect was hired by LTTE intelligence chief Pottu Amman to kill TULF Parliamentarian Neelan Tiruchelvam is now in custody.

Eric Savundranayagam, a telephone operator at a communications centre in Wellawatte, was arrested last week, hardly an hour after he returned from a trip to the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. He is now being held on a detention order issued under Emergency Regulations.

The circumstances leading to his arrest, for which police had to overcome some serious technical difficulties, remains a closely guarded secret, says our Defence Correspondent Iqbal Athas.

See for details

Hi-tech war on cards

By Shelani de Silva

The ruling PA and the main opposition UNP have set the stage for an unprecedented hi-tech and high-pressure election campaign, using state-of-the art methods amidst moves to woo minority votes for elections now likely to take place in mid-January.

Both main parties, backed by the latest information technology, are preparing for the hectic campaign with much attention focused on the North-East where the minority vote could significantly tilt the balance at the polls which are likely to be held in early January.

The main third party, the JVP, has also initiated moves to field a common candidate from the left while some Tamil parties are thinking of a neutral candidate to attract what they described as the protest vote. JVP Spokesperson Wimal Weerawansa told The Sunday Times that the party was having discussions with the New Left Front, the Muslim United Liberation Front and others to field a candidate a JVP member whose policies would be different form the PA and the UNP. NLF secretary Linus Jayatilaka said they were ready to support a JVP candidate.

Political circles were mentioning either JVP secretary Tilvyn Silva or the self-exiled leader Somawansa Amerasinghe as the nominee.

The Sunday Times learns the PA is seeking the support of former North East Chief Minister Varatharaja Perumal and EPDP leader Douglas Devananda. The Sunday Times learns that the government has provided a VIP apartment for Mr. Perumal in a high security zone of Colombo.

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress led by Minister M. H. M. Ashraff and the Ceylon Workers' Congress led by Minister S. Thondaman have already pledged their support for President Kumaratunga.

UNP leader and presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe told The Sunday Times they also would be seeking the support of minority parties in and outside parliament.

TELO General Secretary, S. Srikantha said they would hold discussions with other Tamil parties tomorrow to explore the possibility of fielding a common Tamil candidate.

He said such a candidate would focus on the theme that both the PA and UNP had failed to address the aspirations of the Tamil people.

Meanwhile, the PA and UNP are preparing for a mammoth election campaign where all modern technology will be put into use.

PA media unit spokesman S. Sripathi told The Sunday Times equipment such as satellite gadgets which had never been used in Sri Lanka before was brought down a few months ago, and the staff trained to handle them.

He said they had equipment through which they could communicate with some 300,000 people within three hours.

As a new concept in campaigning, President Kumaratunga had unofficially started her election campaign last month when she held satellite interview with people in least developed remote areas such as Mahiyangana and Moneragala. This programme with people having direct access to the President at Temple Trees has been described as a big success by the PA.

Meanwhile the UNP is also flying high on hi-tech, setting up wide screens at all elections rally and bringing in other dimensions of modern information technology.

UNP communications chief Irwin Weerakkody, an advertising magnate, said they had adopted a electoral research system with an regularly updated data base.

He said the UNP's technology also had never been used before.

Though major parties are using hi-tech campaign methods, Sri Lanka still does not have electronic press-button balloting similar to what certain states in India used during the recent general elections. The electronic method provide for a quick count and also prevent anything like vote rigging which is often alleged in Sri Lankan elections.

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