5th December 1999
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"This, together with other ugly features of the ongoing campaign such as the type of posters displayed in public places and attacks on party offices can exacerbate party rivalries and endanger the peaceful and orderly conduct of the election," PAFFREL and MFFE warned this week.
"Resolute and concerted action at this stage by all those involved in the election can prevent the situation from deteriorating further, and create the conditions that would ensure a free and fair elections," the two groups said in a statement.
PAFFREL and MFFE appealed to all religious leaders and all concerned citizens to take every opportunity to express their strong condemnation of speech and action that violate the basic discipline that is required in a civilised democratic contest.
The two groups also called on all the candidates to conduct their campaign with the dignity and restraint that the national leadership demands, as such persons must be judged by the quality of their respective campaigns as well as the political will and the capacity they demonstrate to hold their party members and supporters to a code of conduct that ensures a free and fair election.
They also praised the decision taken by the Elections Commissioner to allow the freedom of the media and the removal of cutouts and other illegal displays. "We also welcome the decision to invite a team of international observers and likewise expect that a similar positive decision will be taken in regard to local observers as well," the two groups further stated.
PAFFREL and MFFE also drew attention to the North and East as it is the main focus of the campaign and warned that the Tamil people will lose confidence in the political system if special measures are not taken to prevent malpractices. "If this is allowed it would also hinder the peace process which the two main candidates have pledged to carry forward after the election."
The presence of polling agents is one of the best safeguards against malpractices, and the two monitoring groups urged all the candidates to exercise their right to be represented by polling agents to the fullest extent possible, they further stated.
Meanwhile the Centre For Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) has compiled a total of 307 complaints of election-related violence since November 6.
The biggest culprit according to the CMEV findings is the ruling PA who are allegedly responsible for some 149 incidents, or 48 per cent of the total figure, with 82 incidents blamed on the UNP.
The worst affected area is the Central Province with 55 incidents, followed
by the Western Province with 53 incidents. A total of 48 incidents were
reported from the North Western, 42 from Sabaragamuwa, 38 each from the
Uva and North Central, 19 from the North East and 14 from the Southern
Nilika de Silva reporting from RakwanaPresident Kumaratunga said yesterday she would provide more than 200,000 jobs in the state and private sectors within a few years of her re-elections.
Addressing a meeting at Godakawela in Rakwana she said much of the past five years had to be devoted to rescuing and rehabilitating the economy from the corruption and mess of the UNP era. Now that task was almost done and a fresh mandate given to her would pave the way for large-scale development in the new millennium.
Rejecting UNP claims that the economy was in a mess, Ms. Kumaratunga pointed out that unemployment rate had been reduced to 8 percent and she would slash it to 4 percent in her new term.
"Now we have entered the era where the people will reap the benefits. An era in which the people will grow rich. We have worked to develop and strengthen this democratic country," she said.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga has said that her party's agenda for the next term will make Sri Lanka an economic success story.
Addressing a series of election rallies in Kekirawa, Kaduwela, and Kuliyapitiya, the PA's presidential candidate said her policies aimed at solving the ethnic problem and developing the country, would make Sri Lanka a developed economy by 2005.
The President said that it was the PA government which had put the country's economy on the right course while eliminating the earlier corrupt system which saw state resources being robbed.
Commenting on the agricultural policy the President said the government's policy would increase the paddy harvest by 25 percent by 2005.
"During the UNP regime the farmers drank poison, because they were unable to pay back their loans. When we came to office we did away with those loans. Despite opposition from UNP-leaning bank officers, we gave loans to farmers at low interest rates," the President said.
She said that by the 2002 the farmer's income would have increased two to three fold due to the agricultural reforms the government had put into practice.
Stressing the need for a new constitution, the President said the people's problems could be solved only by a people's constitution.
"I am not greedy for the presidency. I hope to accomplish what I can for this country — achieve peace and prosperity for this country and then go home." Referring to the youth of the country, the President said the government had achieved a great deal in this regard.
"We started a new education system. Instead of chasing behind the JVP with guns in our hand, we started the Samurdhi scheme on behalf of the youth of this country."
Commenting on the minority issue, Ms. Kumaratunga said the ethnic crisis
should have been solved by the previous UNP regimes.
"Ranil says one thing in the North and another in the South while all that Chandrika has are false promises," Mr. Gunatillake said. He said both Ranil and Chandrika were talking about ending this war when both these parties were responsible for the whole mess created in this country.
"Chandrika said she would take the country on a new path and would end the unemployment problem. She promised to abolish the executive presidency. She has done nothing. The rich parties have no solution to the ethnic problem. She uses the executive power the workers' hard labour to sell multi national companies while selling the banks too to them," he said.
"What the PA continues is what the UNP started. We received 90,000 votes in 1994 and we said that we would quit contesting if the executive presidency is abolished. Chandrika won on that assurance but failed to keep the promise. We knew that she would not divorce herself of UNP policies," he said.
"There are protests from medical and engineering graduates while doctors
have no jobs. If the resources of the country are properly harnessed, there
would be no problem finding them employment. We have seen the woes of the
people during the Premadasa, Wijetunga and Chandrika regimes.', he said.
In a letter to the Commonwealth Secretary General, Mr. Wickremsinghe
said the restriction would mean there would be only one monitor for some
400 stations and this could leave room for a conspiracy to cheat. He said
violence was on the increase with the UNP alone making more than 140 complaints
and thus the party believed monitoring needed to be more comprehensive.
"We don't want 'kandulu' (tears) but we demand 'Karunu" (reasons) for developing the nation," he said adding that he had watched the President with moist eyes on television on Thursday when she made her election speech.
She spoke on specific subjects and foremost was her anti-corruption slogans, while yet there were charges against the very government, the UNP leader told an election rally in Beruwela. Mr. Wickremesinghe charged that the government bought a foreign company's silence by paying compensation fearing exposures and described the PA administration as 'corrupt from top to bottom'. He renewed his challenge to the president to come for a live television debate on corruption.
Mr. Wickremesinghe said the PA was in a desperate position and thus it was resorting to undemocratic tactics and seeking the help of the underworld. Referring to the President's image, he said it was only those leaders with no vision who marketed their image like a product.
He said that having rejected the populist way of promoting himself, he opted to present his record of performances and the plans for a better tomorrow.
"I reject the populist image building efforts, my singular aim is nation
building — and a new order which is receptive to the people" he said, pledging
that credible politics would replace the era of tear shedding on December
wave'' ( conducted between Oct 28 – Nov 2 ) but also displays that the Sri Lankan electorate is substantially dynamic. The Presidential election campaign may be a topsy turvy one; people's minds change, and this run up to the election could indeed be decisive.
For example, the second wave, which was conducted among a sample of 1351 excluding the North and the East ( the last poll was conducted among a 1000 ) shows an increase in the number of potential voters who think the "ethic conflict is their primary concern.'' The conductors of the poll wager that the increased concern about the ethnic issue " could be due to what people heard about what happened in the Wanni theatre of war.'' But, whether this concern about the ethnic conflict is temporary or a longer lasting manifestation of people's views is difficult to tell, the poll takers add.
This apart, the poll has been almost audacious in addressing some of the developing political issues of the day - the issue of the so called UNP Vikalpa Kandayama ( alternative group ) for instance. The results make for some interesting reading. Asked about their opinion of the recent crossover of a group of UNP members to the PA, 60 percent say that the defection was motivated due to the fact that the MP's were "power hungry.'' A mere 17% by contrast think that the crossover was a "genuine effort to form a national government'' while 18% think that the MP's were either "not given a place in the UNP'' or were "fed up with the UNP."
The Wanni debacle or otherwise, the PA seems to have suffered somewhat of a setback in terms of people's perception on "which party is best equipped to find a solution to the ethnic problem?'' The gap between the PA and the UNP has narrowed in this latest poll as far as this question is concerned; 37% now think that the PA is best equipped to solve the ethnic crisis, while the UNP has made 15 percentage points to its credit on this score.( Score on last wave: PA 44% and UNP 12% respectively.) 22% think that no party ( UNP, PA or JVP ) can find a solution to the ethnic problem, and this dissatisfaction with the existing parties is more pronounced in this poll — with 2% more than those polled last time expressing the sentiment "that no party is capable of finding a solution to the ethnic conflict.''
But Sri Lankan's have not changed as far as their proclivity to vote is concerned; a full 61% as of now say they will definitely cast their ballot at the Presidential election on December 21. However 7% say they will not vote; citing as reasons "the fact that none of these candidates in the running are genuine about solving the country's problems, or trustworthy enough to be able to do so. ''
But, do Sri Lankans vote on the issues, or do they vote on some other whimsy? The poll vitally sheds some light on that one; 43% of the voters make a rational choice and say that they will vote on "the basis of policies proposed and the trustworthiness of the candidate'', whereas an interesting 23% say that they will "select their candidate the party their family is voting for'' or " the party that helped their family most'' — or the "party that they always vote with''. However, the large swathe of the polled cross section which say they will vote on policies, endorses the fact that there will be a considerable swing vote at the elections, which no party can comfortably ignore in terms of considering the prevalent electoral dynamics.
Perhaps the disillusionment with party politics comes across best from the answer to the rather academic question- "do you prefer a national government?'' By a massive 36 % margin, ( 68 to 32% ) those polled say they prefer a national government "to the existing system of party politics.'' That gives the best measure of how badly politicians have carried out their mandates in the past 50 years of adult franchise; it also indicates that politicians are so maligned that even those who say "they crossed over to form a national government'' are damned, because they are not trusted in spite of the fact that people by a large prefer a national government over the "party system''…
The PA, though it has lost its preferred rating considerably as far as the ethnic crisis is concerned, has maintained consistently, a slight but negligible edge in terms of the questions "who can best manage the problems of unemployment and cost of living?''. ( 28.5 and 28 in contrast to the UNP's 26.1 and 26) Even that slight edge is surprising for an incumbent government, especially as the UNP has traditionally been perceived a party which has a better economic agenda as opposed to the better social agenda of the PA. The cost of living and employment factors are important, as the economy has been mentioned as the number one issue concerning the people in both waves of the poll ( 35 % and 36% respectively.)
But, the poll takers caution that "Sri Lankan opinion polls tend to marginally favour the incumbent.'' and the difference is within the margins of error. Taking this into consideration the PA does not have much to be encouraged from in the findings that concern employment and the cost of living.
68% and 55% respectively, said that they are not aware of the UNP's and PA's proposed solutions to the ethnic problem; this in spite of the fact that the UNP's interim council proposals got disproportionate coverage during the last few weeks. Maybe the people could care less about the means - all they want is for the leaders to evolve a solution as opposed to hectoring the people on proposed policies? (ORG – MARG SMART says the poll quoted above was conducted with the hope it will increase awareness and acceptance of independent political opinion polling in Sri Lanka. ORG – MARG SMART is a privately owned market and economic research agency, and is the country's largest employer of full time permanent research staff.)
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