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2nd May 1999

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May Day / Elections News

CBK pledges support for workers, raps bank officers

By Nilika de Silva

President Kumaratunga in a key note speech at the PA May day rally pledged the government would do nothing to harm workers but she told bank employees who were going slow that most of them received higher salaries than ministers and all would have been out of jobs if the UNP regime continued.

Addressing the Town Hall rally where the crowd was much less than in previous years the President said she was proud of her government's achievement in maintaining a stable economy at a time when many Asian economies were collapsing. But her proclamation ran counter to the latest Central Bank report which warned the economy was on a serious downturn.

As usual and as expected the President against slammed the UNP, describing the period from 1977 to 1994 as the most horrible era when the rights of the people were trampled.

She said that during the past five years, despite the war and international economic problems, the government had ended the era of terror, restored the rights of the people and found solutions to many problems, though some matters yet remained unsolved.

Ranil tells south to break PA hold

By Gamini Mahadura and Jayalal Jayawardena

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday called on the people to rally round his party to defeat the ruling People's Alliance which he claimed had brought misery and destruction to the people in the past four years.

Mr. Wickremesinghe addressing the UNP May day rally in Galle said the party would take the first opportunity to introduce an independent police commission and an independent elections commission and ensure that the war is brought to an end.

Recalling the development activities carried out by the UNP regime, he said the PA had not been able to do anything worthwhile to the country but instead had ruined the country.

He said the people were undergoing tremendous hardships and called on the voters in the south to change the trend by voting the UNP into office in the southern elections on June 10.

JVP blasts privatisation

By Shelani de Silva

The JVP at a colourful and powerful May Day rally in Colombo yesterday slammed the government's privatisation programme and the so-called democracy it practised.

In the afterglow of successful provincial elections, the JVP which is emerging as the third force in the country's politics called on the people to express their opposition to the government's policies. It condemned the PA's privatisation programme, describing it as yet another tactic of the upper class to suppress the poor masses.

Party Secretary Tilvin Silva and Ajith Kumara were the main speakers at the rally at the BRC grounds in Havelock Park after a procession from Cooray Park. The highlight of the meeting was speech made by a Tamil member.

The self-exiled JVP leader Somawansa Amerasinghe in his message read out at the meeting, thanked the voters for making the JVP successful in the PC polls . He said this May Day being the final rally for the Millennium, would help the JVP to grow in strength and carry its struggle for justice into the new millennium.

Also on the stage were five foreign delegates from Europe.

Foreign delegates hail JVP

Foreign representatives at yesterday's JVP rally said they believed the party had the potential of becoming a strong third force in the country's political system.

Moreno Pasquinelu of the International Leninist Movement told The Sunday Times that the JVP could be the strongest party but it was not being allowed to move fully into the democratic mainstream by the ruling party and the main opposition party.

"The JVP despite fighting many obstacles throughout the years has today proved to be a good third force. It faced some setbacks but it has always stood by the suffering people," he said.

Mr. Pasquinelu who has been a frequent visitor to Sri Lanka for the past 15 years said both the PA and the UNP under different leaderships had not done much for the poorer classes.

"There is no difference between them. The rich have become richer and the poor poorer."

Asked what role the delegates play in attending the JVP May Day rally, Mr. Pasquinelu said they wanted the party and its supporters to understand that the international community was with them and to help them understand that the working class was with them.

Asked whether his organisation gave financial aid to the JVP, he said they were not in a position to do so, but helped in all other ways.

Alisia Munteverdi of the Voce Operaia said the JVP had many young intellectuals and was coming forward to play a powerful role in mainstream politics.

PAFFREL opposes outsiders in South

A main independent election monitoring group has called on political parties to protest against the Government's decision to permit outsiders to campaign for the Southern provincial polls.

Kingsley Rodrigo, executive director of People's Action Front for Free and Fair Election (PAFFREL) told The Sunday Times if party supporters came from other provinces, it could not only cause problems within the Southern province but also in other provinces.

Mr. Rodrigo said they would discuss the matter with President Kumar-atunga and other political leaders soon.

PAFFREL which started election monitoring in the South a few weeks ago has so far recorded three minor incidents.

According to PAFFREL, the nominations which ended on Wednesday went on peacefully.

All party monitoring body to be revived

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

The All Party Monitoring Committee (APMC) headed by President Kumaratunga is to be reconvened to ensure a free and fair poll in the south, political sources said.

Calls to revive the APMC intensified in spite of problems the body faced at the last stages before the April 6 polls in five provinces. The JVP pulled out of it and the UNP refused to sign a common appeal, criticising its inefficiency in curbing election violence and other incidents. The APMC was attended by leaders of all political parties which contested the April 6 provincial polls.

Minister and PA General Secretary D.M. Jayaratne said that while a date had not been fixed for a meeting, the President was keen to continue the process she began to usher in a new political culture.

UNP General Secretary Gamini Atukorale said they had not decided to pull out of the committee yet, but were watchful of the developments.

"No concrete steps were taken to prevent our supporters being attacked during the April 6 polls. But we are still hopeful that something could be worked out at APMC meetings," he said.

Meanwhile, Minister and Hambantota District's SLFP Organizer Mahinda Rajapakse has initiated a district level all-party monitoring committee to monitor the southern polls.

Describing it as the the rural version of the APMC, Mr. Rajapakse said he would invite representatives of political parties to this committee which would operate with a hotline to receive complaints regarding election malpractices and violence.

"We want to prove that the PA is committed to democracy despite some serious lapses in the recent past. The best way to demonstrate this is by getting all parties to work together in a practical sense and ensure that Hambantota is devoid of violence and election malpractices" he said.

In Matara, PA Parliamentarian Dallas Alahapperuma has also invited representatives of all political parties for a discussion to work out a common programme to ensure peaceful polls.

Wijeweera widow won't weep for PA

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

The reported attempt by the PA to solicit support from the widow of the slain JVP leader for the southern election campaign has apparently failed.

Political sources said Chitranganee Wijeweera, widow of the slain Rohana Wijeweera, had declined to come forward as a PA candidate or speak at PA rallies.

Ms. Wijeweera was brought to Colombo recently for talks at Temple Trees with a leading cabinet minister and presidential secretary K. Balapatabendi. But she has now returned to Trincomalee where she lives with her children under the protective custody of the Navy, after declining to move into mainstream politics. The JVP had been highly critical of the alleged move by the PA, describing it as cheap tactics to gain votes.

JVP spokesman Wimal Weerawansa said he was confident that Ms. Wijeweera would keep out of party politics but it was not clear the JVP had put any pressure on her to reject the PA's overtures.

JVP will remain independent

By Roshan Peiris

The JVP which is fielding more than hundred candidates for the Southern elections has said it is confident it will win a large number of seats -- but will not support either the PA or the UNP in the council.

JVP spokesman Wimal Weerawansa told The Sunday Times that even if the President asked for our support the party would remain independent.

He said the PA which is in a precarious position in five provinces, though it emerged as the largest party, was making overtures to the party but they would not budge from their position.

"The JVP does not get easily flattered with all this attention.

We do not forget the treatment we got from both the parties.

Besides, we are not willing, just for the sake of power, to sacrifice our long cherished principles for which we have fought hard and even gone to prison defending them."

New faces in the fray for polls in south

Going by the nomination lists of the main political parties for the Southern Provincial polls, the redeeming factor is that all have shown keenness to field professionals and newcomers.

For the June 10 elections 707 candidates are contesting for 55 places in the council which was held by the People's Alliance. Over 1.5 million voters are eligible to vote.

The PA which said it would be looking for new young faces this time, has however lined up experienced politicians who had either been in the council previously or been involved in local government politics. Of the 25 nominees from the Galle district, 11 are former provincial council members and others are from the pradeshiya sabhas and municipal councils.

Among the candidates contesting on the PA ticket are former Sri Lankan test cricketer Ajith de Silva who is also a former Provincial Councillor, teledrama actor Cyril Dharmawardena, and the Prime Minister's Co-ordinating Secretary, Suranjith Mawellage.

After much speculation and disagreements over the selection of the chief ministerial candidate, the PA has finally opted to field former Chief Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene.

Meanwhile, the main Opposition UNP has put forward a list of professionals comprising mostly lawyers.

Accordingly, the UNP has given nominations to six lawyers while there are six candidates with dual qualifications.

Four of the candidates hold B.Sc. degrees while former Member of Parliament Dr. P.M. B.. Cyril will be the only doctor to contest on the UNP ticket. The list also includes four foreign qualified professionals, two ayurvedic physicians and two media persons.

Meanwhile, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna has given priority to seasoned politicians, in accordance with their policy of fielding battle hardened members.

Mendis wants more democracy in UNP

By M. Ismeth

UNP veteran Wijeyapala Mendis, his position vindicated by last Tuesday's Supreme Court judgment has vowed to work to bring about more democracy within the UNP with a leadership listening to others.

In an interview with The Sunday Times at his Negombo residence on Friday, Mr. Mendis said he believed his membership of the party and other posts would be automatically restored because the court has now cleared him of the charges.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Do you think your suspension affected the party at the recent provincial elections?

A:I believe that if I and my supporters were involved in the campaign we could have taken control of the Western Province. See the Gampaha district figures, especially. Our party's standing has gone down a lot.

I can't understand what the party is doing. People who have served it for a life time are being left out and the party as a whole is suffering. Despite my suspension, I have been working among the people in towns and villages. Many of them are disappointed if not disgusted with what is taking place.

If we overcome our differences and get together, our chances would be much better in the upcoming presidential or general elections. But little is being done to bring about such unity in the party.

Q: What do you finally say now about the allegations that were brought against you?

A: The Supreme Court judgment last Tuesday shows that from the very start of the Commission, it was a mud-slinging campaign with a virtual exparte hearing. I don't know how the Commission came to its findings. Whenever they wanted me I went and was just seated and listening to what was happening. Ultimately just before the local government elections they handed over to the President a report recommending that I be stripped of my civic rights. As the Supreme Court says the proceedings before the SPC amounted to a denial of human rights and natural justice.

So ultimately I was subjected to a lot of suffering and this too at a time when I lost my son in tragic circumstances.

Anyway, now the truth has prevailed. I now have serious doubts about the validity of SPCs. The PA in its election manifesto promised to scrap the SPC act, but it is still using this act to harass opponents.

Q: Did you give any guidelines to your supporters on how to vote at the recent elections?

A: No I just kept silent. I quietly cast my vote. Some people asked me what to do. I told them to take their own decision but not to go against the party. I believed a number of my supporters did not vote and others spoilt the ballot.

Q: Would the party have fared better if veterans like you and Sirisena Cooray had been in the frontlines?

A: They could easily get all of us together to rally support for the party. I can't understand why they are not doing it. We must take the stalwarts into the party.

Q: What is the role you expect to play in the party?

A: My main aim is to get back and correct any mistakes or anti-democratic acts that are taking place in the party. For the past 50 years, since the time of D. S. Senanayake, I was among those who helped build the party into the biggest democratic organization in the country with a vote base of at least 35 lakhs. That democratic base and the image of the UNP must be protected. If mistakes have been made, they must be corrected.

Q: Now that you have been cleared by the Supreme Court, do you have to reapply for UNP membership?

A: I don't think so. Suspension means something temporary and with the court judgment I believe the suspension has automatically lapsed.

Q: Do you expect to be reinstated as chief opposition whip?

A: When the party went ahead and went against me even before the court decision was given, I pleaded against it. But the committee did not listen to me. It did not listen to other senior members. Now that the basis of the suspension has been proved to be wrong, I believe my membership and other positions are automatically restored.

Q: Was an affidavit given to court by the party leader?

A: An affidavit was given to courts by the leadership, saying that if the Supreme Court decision was in my favour, my membership and post would be restored automatically.

Q: How do you see the future of the UNP with Parliamentary and presidential elections due soon?

A: I believe a majority of the people are waiting to put the UNP back in office. Yet we have to streamline ourselves and harness all the support. We must draw the youth while maintaining the old guard. I believe that we need to do something like what we did in 1964 to defeat the then powerful Bandaranaike coalition government. The plan to topple that government was worked out at my father's house with C.P de Silva and others deciding to cross over and join us on the press control issue.

Q: Some legal and political sources claim that the Supreme Court judgment in your favour was given on a technical point largely because one of the three Commissioners was not on the bench.

A: That is one of the reasons. But it was not just a technical matter. There were many other instances where natural justice was denied.

Q: Do you think the party has to be re-organised?

A: It has to be organized all over again from the grassroots level. We have the people, we have our supporters, we have only to organize them properly.

Q: In what sense ?

A: At village level first. Then we must streamline the organizing hub at Siri Kotha. Those at Siri Kotha and the party higher-ups must give a patient hearing to the people and the supporters. I also believe that we must get an efficient person from outside parliament to be the general secretary of the party, like in the Senanayake and Jayewardene era.

I have told that to our party leader also. Otherwise they will start feathering their own nests and that is not good. At the time of D. S. Senanayake, we had a party convention in Galle, where I as a young person complained that the youth had not been brought to the frontline. Immediately, D. S. Senanayake ordered the party secretary to look into this matter and remedy it. We then had a leader who listened to others. We need such leadership now.

If our party constitution is not democratic we must change it and show the country that we are for democracy both in the party and in the country. Then we can win elections. Once I get back to the party I will show them what is undemocratic in the party.

Q: Will you be in Parliament on Tuesday?

A: Yes I will be there on Tuesday. But I have no problem in parliament. My problems are within the party. So we must settle those and ensure that the party wins at upcoming elections. Whatever others might think, I have no ambition of becoming the party leader, the prime minister or the president. My aim is to restore the democratic image and rebuild the party which I have served for 50 years.

Q: Has the leadership contacted you after the Supreme Court judgment?

A: Not yet- no not yet. Probably the party leader must be busy. I am also busy here.

Q: If you are called to join the election campaign in the south, will you go?

A: Once I am back in the party I will be active. Let the party decide whether it wants me in the south. I had been in charge of Balapitiya and at the last election, we won only that electorate.

Q: What are the UNP's chances in the South.

A: We must throw all our resources into the campaign in the south.

Anura slates J.R. and UNP, defends Benazir Bhutto

UNP frontliner Anura Bandaranaike has blasted the Nawaz Sharif government of Pakistan accusing it of horrendously violating every norm of justice and decency in persecuting former premier Benazir Bhutto.

In a strongly-worded statement, Mr. Bandaranaike whose family has maintained a close relationship with the Bhutto family described the Sharif regime as "inept and corrupt" while expressing confidence that Ms. Bhutto would overcome the crisis and regain office.

The statement said:

"The first ever elected lady Prime Minister of an Islamic state, Madam Benazir Bhutto, who had held that office with great distinction has been the victim of a horrendous and carefully crafted plot to imprison her and prevent her from holding office for several years, on trumped up charges.

"This disgraceful conduct of the Nawaz Sharif regime, reminds one of the conduct of his mentor and guide, General Zia UI Haq, who conducted the most shameful trial in human history by hanging Benazir's distinguished father, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, twenty years ago. It is, indeed, ironical that the son of the judge who sentenced Bhutto to death, passed judgement on his daughter and sentenced her to 7 years of imprisonment.

"The manner in which the trial was conducted is a travesty of every norm of decency and justice.

"My own mother's civic rights were unfairly removed 20 years ago at an unprecedented trial, hitherto unknown in any democracy, so that she may not pose a challenge to those in power. Those who inflicted that humiliation on her are dead and gone. Yet, she is still the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, for the third time!

"Similarly, Benazir will prevail and without a shadow of a doubt will again rule the destinies of the people of Pakistan as she had done twice before."

Thonda's men-NMAT clash over banner

By Shelani de Silva

The National Movement Against Terrorism has accused Minister Thondaman of disrupting a public meeting in Nuwara Eliya town on Friday evening -- but the plantations strongman has accused the NMAT of promoting racial violence and hatred among communities.

An NMAT official alleged supporters of Mr. Thondaman who came in motorcycles and vans without number plates and wanted a 60-foot banner it was putting up for the meeting removed. When the NMAT members refused to oblige, a clash erupted between the two groups.

The NMAT official said Mr. Thondaman's supporters had demanded that the banner be removed, claiming that they were organising their May Day rally and a Ther festival in the area.

Finally, the matter was settled with the police intervening and asking the NMAT to remove the banner.

An NMAT spokesman said: "When we put up the banner which read 'Koti Paradana Maga' (The way to defeat the Tigers), Mr. Thondaman's supporters threatened us. They threatened to shoot us if we did not. When we lodged a complaint with the police, we were informed that the minister wanted to meet us. But we refused to go."

He said the NMAT believed Mr. Thondaman allegedly influenced police through minister S. B. Dissanayake.

When The Sunday Times contacted Mr. Dissanayake, he denied that he ordered the police to remove the banner but blamed the police for granting permission to the NMAT knowing well that it would lead to a clash during the Ther festival.

"No one approached me but the police should never have given permission because for years these people celebrate the Ther festival in a grand way. They decorate the town and this meeting would have eventually led to a clash," he said.

Mr. Thondaman told The Sunday Times that if the police did not intervene there would have been a communal riot and accused the NMAT of promoting racism.

"We had arranged the grounds for the May Day procession and the Ther festival. But when our people went to decorate the place they found the banner and the posters there. I informed the DIG and we settled the matter. I personally feel that the police are also to be blamed for giving permission without taking other things into account," he said.

Religious delegation to take peace message to LTTE

A peace delegation, comprising leaders of all religions, is expected to convey the President's willingness to have talks with the LTTE when it visits the north this month.

Ven. Kamburugamuwe Vajira Nayake Thera, former Chancellor of the Buddhist University and leading member of the delegation affiliated to the National Alliance for Peace, told The Sunday Times that the President had shown much interest in conducting peace talks, provided the LTTE agreed to some conditions.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga has ruled out a cease-fire as a condition for talks but indicated that as the talks began and made progress, a gradual scalling down of operation might be considered.

The President who on Monday met the religious delegation which visited the North recently, stressed that the government would come to the negotiation table on two conditions -- the idea of a separate state must be dropped and a strict item frame must be agreed upon.

"We also talked about the immense suffering that displaced people in the war-ravaged areas are going through. They urgently need more food, medicine, roofing material and school books. The President promised to take urgent action and wanted us also to pursue our efforts," he said.

Professor Tissa Vitharana, conveynor of the NAP, told The Sunday Times yesterday they would be giving priority to meeting the humanitarian needs of the thousands of innocent displaced people because they felt such a course of action would improve the climate for a dialogue.

Ven. Kamburugamuwe Thera also quoted the president as saying that the government would take all steps to bring any patient from the LTTE controlled areas for treatment.

The delegation which was scheduled to make the second visit to the North on May 10 had been requested by the President to postpone the trip till the end of the month.

The peace delegation sent a letter last week to the LTTE through Mannar's Bishop Rayappu Joseph requesting another meeting with the rebels.

The prelate said the delegation would convey to the LTTE the President's wish to resume talks.

"We also want to make arrangements for people who are ill to be brought to Colombo for treatment. We found that there are a lot of people who need specialised medical help," he said.

The prelate said a committee would be appointed from among the delegation to look into the distribution of food in the area.

"This was the main problem faced by the civilians whom we met.

They complained that the food which was sent from Colombo did not reach them. We suggested that the distribution be done in a more organised manner," he said.

Prof. Vitharana said the peace effort by Buddhist prelates from all Nikayas and areas of the country was testimony that the Maha Sangha in general was for a peaceful, just and lasting solution though some sections try to project a theory that the monks were for war.

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