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19th December 1999

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'We can all work together for Sri Lanka'

Q:Are you confident of victory?

A: Yes I am. The people realise the past five years have been wasted. During this period they have seen two types of campaigns. One where the President has concentrated on fictional historical events and the other, my campaign where I have concentrated on issues that matter to people and is forward looking.

Q: Why should you win?

A:I think my election campaign clearly indicates why I should win. Earlier this year I had a campaign called 'Listening to the People' where I made a genuine effort to listen to the problems of our people. Then I went and talked to the people themselves and during the election period I met with voters and undertook as many rallies as possible. That is in stark contrast to the President who undertook much of her campaign from Temple Trees.

Of the two main candidates, I am the only one to have laid out clearly my manifesto, 'My Pact with the People' stating what I will do as President. People realise that I have listened to their wishes and ideas and used them in my manifesto.

'I am not seeking the presidency, to defeat one individual, but to present new policies'. That is what Robert Kennedy said and that is what I have sought to do in this election whilst the President has spent all her time and energy trying to smear me.

Q: I'm sure you would agree that the contest is really between you and the President. How would you respond to a vast segment of the voting population dismissing the choice as being 'the same difference' or Hobson's choice?

A: You are right. People are really fed up of politicians who just bash each other and ignore the voters. I don't want to do that. I think it is a time to begin a process of healing in the country where people from all political parties can be brought together to solve the problems, under a strong President. I believe I can do that and I am prepared to work hard with voters and fellow politicians to achieve this. Only then can we persuade the people to realise that their cynical view of politicians is unjustified and that some of us do have a clear vision for Sri Lanka.

My vision is to give the poorest people of our country the basic essentials - rice, bread and money in their pockets. Then I want to see the entrepreneurs in our country take advantage of the new economic environment that we will create to bring prosperity to the nation and make it a rich one.

But most of all I want to see an end to the war and see all our people treated in a fair and equal way. I don't think that is a question of Hobson's choice.

Q: Were you to lose this election, Quo Vadis?

A: Whether I win or lose is in the hands of the people. I have always had faith in their ability to decide the sort of future they want. Naturally in 1994 I was deeply disappointed when they rejected the UNP. But, as a democrat, I accepted their decision. I think, five years later, that they are looking for a new direction. I have had five years in which to listen and learn about the wishes of the people. I believe my vision matches their desires. I know that I am going to win this election.

Q: Were you to win, what would be the immediate turn of events?

A: I have just published a statement of intent for my first ten days in office. When I am elected I would make the eight points in this statement my most urgent priorities. I hope that you will publish my statement in full so that people can see that I am sincere.

Q: Your immediate priorities would be?

A: Those items outlined in my 'First Ten Days' statement of intent, including national reconciliation, enforcement of the law, protection for Chandrika and her supporters, the early processes in establishing normality in the North and East, media reform, including the lifting of censorship, the setting up of the three independent commissions as pledged, the reduction of the number of road barriers across the country and other essential measures to set the right tone to my Presidency. With the peoples' help I will begin all of these processes within the first ten days.

Q: But some of those intentions cannot be implemented in 10 days? In the long term you know that the LTTE issue would be your main priority?

A: What I have included in my programme are those that can be done in the first 10 days. Some of them relate to maintaining law and order after assumption of office. The other is to draft the constitutional amendments to be presented in Parliament in January. The report on the three commissions, will be based on the report by the committee chaired by Karu Jayasuriya. Based on this we will be preparing a draft amendment which will be discussed with other political parties and discussed with other relevant authorities such as police and public service. After that it will be finalised. Getting out the final draft will not be a problem. It will be the basis for a discussion within a week or so. We will finalise the discussion within 10 days.

When it comes to the media reforms Bill, we would start discussions immediately with the intention of having a viable draft by the first week of January. Since I have put out a deadline to pass the Bills before February 4, these will have to be brought to Parliament as urgent Bills to amend the constitution. This will not be a problem since parties will agree to the legislation.

Regarding the North-East conflict what I would do is remove all restrictions and inform the PA of my intention to start a dialogue with the LTTE. Then there would be the administrative decisions about lifting the embargo.

Q: You might have seen some recent opinion polls we carried, and you must have surely heard, that quite a large majority favour a National Government. Divisive parochial politics have been the downfall of this Nation they believe, and justifiably. How can you reverse this deteriorating trend?

A: Wherever possible I want to work with other parties. I think many ministers in the PA would want to work with me after the election. I welcome that. Again I have addressed this in my statement of intent for the first 10 days. I have made it clear that I do not want any retribution attacks or violence after the election. I want to work with all political parties to achieve peace in the north and east. If they join me in my vision for a better Sri Lanka then we can all work together to achieve this.

Q: The Executive President system tends to isolate an elected President from the people. A coterie forms a human wall around a President. Why should it be any different with you as President?

A: I have said that I want to reform the present system. I agree it creates a an out of touch President. Just look at Chandrika, a prisoner in her Temple Trees. I would hate to live the way she does. How can you serve the people like that? I want to keep in touch with ordinary people and understand their problems.

I am determined that the people will have a greater say in the way in which we run our country. For example, I believe that Parliament should be open to public scrutiny and open to inquiries. That will also help to solve the problems of bribery and corruption. At the same time I think the President should be subject to public scrutiny and I have made it clear in "My Pact with the People" that I will report back every six months on the progress that I have made in fulfilling the pledges in my manifesto. I hope that you and others in the media would in a responsible matter act as the voice of the people and challenge politicians, whether it be the President or those in Parliament.

I would also expect the type of people who read your newspaper, the intellectuals, the businessmen, and professionals, also to play their part to ensure that politicians fulfil their pledges. In my new Sri Lanka it won't just be the politicians who will be expected to play their part but everyone.

Q: Bribery and Corruption, even abuse of public office by politicians in office, throughout the years, with no reprimand, has eroded public confidence in politics. How will you be different?

A: Again I agree. I have laid out in "My Pact with the People" the way in which it would be different. I will set up three independent commissions covering elections, police and public service. I would give the corruption commission real powers - real teeth. I would ask the police and public servants to carry out their duties without favour. This is what I would expect from them and I would reward them by giving my full support. One more thing, I will remove the right of giving liquor licences to politicians. Under this government this has been a major cause of corruption.

Q: Will you ensure that government MP's and senior officials under you would be reprimanded for acts of corruption and wilful abuse of power?

A: I certainly would. As far as corruption is concerned there will be a process of legal mechanism where allegations about corruption will be investigated. I would make it also clear that they cannot stay in office if they are found guilty. One of the cardinal principles will be thus - everybody should act according to the law. From the President downwards all will be bound by this law. Next month I hope to introduce as a constitutional amendment - the lifting of complete legal immunity that is granted to the President.

Q: Sri Lanka is in bad shape. A war, sluggish investments, and a rising population with rising expectations. They all want the all powerful President to solve their problems. Why do you want to inherit this headache of the Executive Presidency? Is it worth it?

A: Because I know it can be so much better. I think the people of Sri Lanka deserve much more. I love my country and I am proud of my people. I think of the days when we were a thriving nation and I want us to get back to those days. As a young man I remember the bread queues, the rice rations, the textile rations under the previous SLFP Government. The UNP changed that in 1977. Once again we see economic sluggishness and inefficiency in Government. We Sri Lankans deserve better.

I will change the executive presidency so it won't be a headache for the holder or the people. As for is it worth it? The answer is yes. If I can fulfil my vision of a fair and equal society where everyone lives in peace and where our children have a chance for the future how can it not be worth it?


LTTE and India's dilemma

By Kumbakarana

Marking the recent LTTE hero's day in London, LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham after having officially thanked Britain and Norway for the help rendered to him to gain easy passage to the west for the treatment of his ailing liver, made an important declaration.

He announced that the LTTE was now close to achieving its goal of Eelam and called upon the expatriate Tamil community to return. He requested India not to be disturbed by these developments. Thousands of LTTE sympathisers in the west are now willing to return to Sri Lanka in the pretext of celebrating the millennium here.

The success of LTTE attack on the Wanni, code named 'Unceasing Wave,' has sent shockwaves across India and other countries. It stirred racist feelings among the Sri Lankan Tamils living in India as well as extremist elements of South India. Accordingly, Mr. Balasingham was careful enough to reassure the Indian Government that the establishment of Eelam in Sri Lanka would not provoke feelings of separatism in India.

India is now governed by the Bharathiya Janatha Party which is for a Hindu state and its partner Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is for a separate Tamil state. The question is whether the BJP would champion the cause of Hindus of Sri Lanka or would those who are for a united India join forces with the government of Sri Lanka to quell the LTTE.

Inspired by academics and politicians such as Thiru V. Kalyanasundaram and E.V. Ramasamy Nayakkar, the Dravidians put forward theories of Tamil superiority. They claimed that Mohendajaro and Harappa civilizations were of Dravidian origin and Ramayanaya, a literary work merely to propagate Aryan North Indian ideology. They proposed that all peoples speaking Dravidian languages (Tamil, Kannada, Malayalan and Thelengu) should unite to establish a Dravidian state. The beginnings of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam lie here.

However, the constitution of independent India and successive governments have been successful in limiting separatist politics of Dravidianism to the state of Madras. The DMK was successful in coming to office in 1967 mainly on the strength of its campaign against Hindi being made the official language of India. Led by E. N. Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi, they renamed the state as 'Tamilnadu' and the office of the secretariat as "Thamilagha Arasu Thalaimai Seilagam" or the chief secretariat of the Tamil state.

Nayakkar, the chief architect of Dravida Kazhagam was a socialist but a rabid anti-Brahmanist and advocated the cause of the Tamil language and nationalism while Annadurai was not a socialist. Karunanidhi was an anti-Hinduist and was successful in 1971 in eliminating Brahmanist ideology from the state legislature.

On the other hand M. G. Ramachandran, the Sri Lankan born actor, gave a different twist to the Dravidian movement by 'nationalising' it using populist culture to spread it throughout India. His party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnethra Kazhagam (AIADMK), symbolised a clash between populist culture and traditional nationalist culture during his time. Jayalalitha, a Brahminist who came to office after him dropped the populist culture. She was successful in coalescing with the Congress party and later the BJP. In spite of differences between the two forces of Brahmin, Hindi-Sanskrit, Rama-Aryan hegemony and Dravidianism, the DMK and the BJP joined forces in 1999.

Over time both the BJP and the DMK have changed colour. The BJP has dropped its hardline position of a pure Rama Hindu Kingdom while Karunanidhi is distancing himself from the Nayakkar-Annadurai stand of pure Dravidianism. Their stand on the LTTE seems to be the same, opposed to the LTTE's tendency to make Tamilnadu society dance to the tune of its armed power.

What is evident is that behind all these formations of coalitions and oppositions lies the powerful force of "globalisation". In the past five years, movement of capital from the south to the north and to the west has taken place resulting in a complete embrace of Tamil society in commercialism. The modernism that is taking place in urban centres and the new commercial elite is a counterforce to 'Dravidianism.'

The west has recognised the importance of containing hostile powers such as Bin laden in Afghanistan, Malaysia and China. India has also realised the importance of Sri Lanka as a trading partner. Further, India realises the importance of not transforming Tamilnadu into another Kashmir.

Due to these reasons, Hindutva will not give unqualified support for the Dravidian forces. One must therefore expect a protracted struggle. The Sinhala people must therefore prepare their psyche for such a situation.


90 per cent for PA-UNP joint solution

By Faraza Farook

The majority of Sri Lankans believe that a bi-partisan approach is the best way of finding a solution to the ethnic conflict, a recent survey has revealed.

The survey conducted by the Sociology Department of the Colombo University revealed that more people were favouring a bi-partisan approach, compared to the previous year.

Sociology Professor S.T. Hettige releasing details of the survey said 90 per cent of the people preferred a bi-partisan approach while last year's survey showed 70 per cent.

Prof. Hettige did not reveal all the issues covered by the survey and only eight questions were analysed in the report released.

A complete analytical report of the survey would be released next month, he said.

The survey, though done as an academic exercise by university graduates, was intended to gauge public opinion on topical issues, providing guidance to political parties and politicians to shape the political process.

The interviews were conducted last month in seven provinces excluding the North and East, covering a wide section of the public irrespective of age and other differences. Another interesting feature is that, unlike other opinion polls where a list of answers is provided along with the questionnaire, at this survey the answers had to be given by the people themselves.

The questions put to the public covered critical issues in the country/ district which need urgent attention such as privileges of ministers and MPs, the size of the cabinet of ministers, the presidential system, the reason for choosing a particular candidate, Government and Opposition consensus to solve the ethnic conflict and at what level decisions affecting the day to day life should be taken.

Of the eight questions, the percentage calling for a bi-partisan approach towards solving the ethnic conflict showed an increase compared to previous years, Prof. Hettige said.

Accordingly, the ethnic problem/war was rated high, as an essential issue in the country that needed urgent attention with economic problems taking the second place.

Problems that required immediate attention, district wise, was mainly voiced from the rural sectors, especially from the North Central province. Economic problems (39%) was high on the list with lack of social infrastructure rating second (34%).

The survey also revealed that 41% of the public preferred that decisions affecting their day to day life should be taken at local council level, while 28 % preferred the Central Government and 22% the Provincial Councils.

The program of the political party seemed to be high on the agenda when people choose the candidate of their choice. With 58% of the respondents motivated by the party program, 13.9% thought that the personality of the candidate was important, while 12% went for development and 6% had no opinion to give.

Ministers were considered to be over privileged by 80.9% of the respondents with a minority of 12.2% stating that they deserve the current privileges. But 3.2% of the respondents felt that the privileges are too few and should be enhanced.

The number of cabinet ministers was said to be too large by 65% of the people, 26% stating that the present number is sufficient and 4.4% that it is too few.

On the President's powers, 55% felt that Parliament should be empowered and the President's powers reduced, while 30% thought that the President should have enough power to rule effectively and 15% were ignorant about the issue.


Religious force against violence

By Shelani de Silva

Expressing fears over a continuing trend towards violence, religious leaders have made a strong appeal to all parties to ensure that a peaceful atmosphere prevails for Tuesday's elections.

The Mahanayaka Thera of the Malwatta Chapter, Ven Rambukwelle Vipassi Thera said that politicians should take the responsibility in protecting the people, irrespective of who won the elections.

The new Mahanayaka Thera of the Asgiriya Chapter, Ven. Udugama Sri Buddarakkitha Thera called on voters to help in ensuring a peaceful election.

In a statement, the Congress of Religions headed by Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayake Thera and Colombo's Archbishop Rev. Dr. Nicholas Marcus Fernando said it was a serious crime to deprive people of the human right of exercising their vote freely and without fear. "It is the duty of all of us to come together now putting aside all differences of race, religion and party to protect the fundemental right of the free vote," the statement said. President of the Jathika Sangha Sabha, Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, told The Sunday Times they were appealing to the Commissoner of Elections and the IGP to ensure a peaceful poll on Tuesday.

Chilaw's Bishop Frank Marcus Fernando said the mass-scale rigging and violence which took place during the Wayamba election was fresh in the minds of the people, and there should be no repeat.

He urged all releigious leaders and clergy to come forward and mobilise the people to ensure a free and fair election.


Results on web

The official election results will be published on the Internet web page "Sri Lanka News", and could be accessed through www.news.lk/elections, the Government Information Department said.


From our Elections Desk

Presidential Polls '99

It's a dirty job, but we've got to do it

By Nilika de Silva, Faraza Farook and Tania Fernando

With less than 48 hours to go for the presidential elections, what do the decision makers, who will actually provide the formula to make one candidate the President, feel about it?

The Sunday Times Elections Desk travelled around the island to check out the pulse of the voters. The story depended on the province, yet, everywhere it seemed to be a touch and go situation, with the candidates shoulder to shoulder, neck and neck.

But one thing that the voters were united on was that this was a two-horse race, with the JVP limping in to third place. "The other 10 candidates are wasting their time. They won't even be able to retain their deposit money," Nihal Perera, a resident of Kandy said.

The mixed sentiments of the voters were apparent in what they said. "We are caught in between the race" was a pathetic cry echoed all over. A family from Beligala, in the outskirts of Kandy, said the election meant nothing to them. They were not hearing any of the candidate's promises, because in Beligala there is no electricity and no television.

"We are fed up with elections,'' said Mallika in Gelioya who scoffed at the promise of a gold chain for youth. "Everybody promises jobs, but nobody gives them,'' she said. Obviously, her concern was not gold chains. "Every time there is an election innocent people die," she said. "I have given up on politicians' promises, said another young girl in Gelioya who had started her own tailoring shop for want of employment. All these villagers seemed to want was peace to get on with their lives.

The competition appears to be not as clean as it could be. We were told how a pre-recorded speech of Chandrika Kumaratunga was played to drown out the campaign meeting of Ranil Wickremesinghe in Mawanella. The regular bus service had been allegedly curtailed at the time the UNP election rallies were ending, and people had difficulty in going home in Mawanella, for example. This sort of tactic had obviously soured the picture for those who wanted to attend UNP rallies.

In Muslim dominated areas, due to the coinciding of the fasting period, participation in election activities appeared minimal.

The people appeared to have got sick of politics, and many preferred to remain silent on the subject. However, as for voting, no one is planning on boycotting elections. They understand that the vote is one of their rights. They are definite that they will exercise their franchise, most probably, for one of the two main candidates.

In areas off the beaten track, the people appeared to be more analytical. They spoke of the party policies and the party promises in a more cynical manner. Many said they had grown disgusted with elections. In spite of this, they seemed to feel that there would be more of a voter turnout than seen at the Provincial Council elections. :We will ensure that rigging doesn't take place by visiting the polling booths early in the morning," one voter said.

The UNP grassroots campaign had been stronger, it appeared, in spite of the PA boast that they were more prepared than the UNP for this election. In several locations in mid country, such as Weligalla and Gelioya the UNP had election rallies, but the PA was only conspicuous by its absence.

People are apolitical essentially fed up with the system. But at the same time, they want to vote with their feet; and are not willing to give up the right of franchise. The concept of spoiling the vote or not voting hasn't occurred to the Sri Lankan electorate which has always taken the vote to be a prerogative to be used with a vengeance. The gold chain promise by the UNP leader had resonance in a shop where a man is dipping chains in some chemical solution for plating. When asked whom he is voting for, the man deadpanned "look at my shirt.'' (JVPer for whom gold chains are a living reality.)

The perception that all minority votes are for Ranil Wickremesinghe may be flawed too. A vadai seller in Mawanella, a Tamil, said he would vote for PA. "While the UNP had all the power, it didn't do anything. So it's difficult to believe that it will give all these computers and other things it is promising,'' he said.

The electorate essentially seemed to be polarised between those who are hard-line political animals; those who worked for one party or another at sometime, and who are essentially political activists. Others, the vast majority, are apolitical, apathetic, and fed up.

To the former variety belongs a Kadugananwa lotto seller who contested PC elections on the PA ticket and has now turned UNP. He seemed to have got a raw deal from the incumbent party, but then, his turning green is for personal reasons.

The temperature of this election is several degrees celsius lower, actually, than it was in the provincial council elections in Wayamba. Most people observed it. No reason is attributed, and it may be that more people keep their options open at national election, not knowing which party would come to office and therefore would call the shots.

Things seemed to fall in more with the apathetic pattern; people are apathetic; therefore, there is less excitement on the ground.

This may be a good thing. Less excitement, however boring that may sound, may be a positive in terms of curbing violence and ugly pre-poll clashes. It could even be the most apathetic civic response to elections since the time of independence.

In this sense, the call not to vote, though it has not succeeded, may have achieved its objective. Yes, it is true that people are ignoring the call and that they are voting anyway. But the antipathy or the apathy is so palpably thick in the air, that one can cut it with a knife.

In the entirety of the trip to mid country, we saw just one van with a loud hailer. This is in stark contrast to the campaign in Wayamba before the PC poll in which vans fixed with loud hailers seemed to be the province-wide symbol.

The message is loud and clear. Voting for these dirty politicians is a dirty job.... but then, we've got to do it.


Promises not selling

Some say that promises are forever, but election promises seem to be a different story altogether. Candidates are willing to make promises which range from being impractical to downright stupid, and consider the public's IQ to be below average.

However, the people out there, are not buying it all, even though there is still a section of the people who are confused by the exaggerations. Campaign meetings are all about policies and plans of a party, but today meetings are about verbally bashing the rival. While condemning the other's promise, they end up making an equally stupid one. "We are caught in the middle of these promises," a woman in Weligalla said.

"Elections mean a heap of promises, that's all. No one knows if they will be honoured," seems to be the opinion of many. Promises galore, but will they evolve to anything more is the other question? We seem to thrive on broken promises!

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