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14th November 1999

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Remarks on LTTE distorted, says Ranil

UNP Presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday denied he ever said that he would hand over an interim North East council to the LTTE or that LTTE cadres would be inducted to the Sri Lankan Army.

The distorted news was carried by state radio, television and print media and the Information Department circulated a Tamil Net news bulletin on the same lines to the local media.

Mr. Wickremesinghe told The Sunday Times last night by telephone from Dambulla that what he told the Foreign Correspondents Association (FCA) on Wednesday was that LTTE representatives, along with Sinhalese and Muslim representatives could be in an interim north-east council until elections were held.

He told The Sunday Times that in response to a question he had said any induction of LTTE cadres, if at all, to the Sri Lanka Army would only be after discussions with the Sri Lanka Army.

"Prabhakaran has won Mankulam from Anuruddha Ratwatte. How can I give it to him now," he said.

The UNP leader said he was also asked about demobilising in the Army after peace was achieved under his administration. His reply had been that one could not demobilise the Army overnight. That such a phasing out would be according to employment picking up in other sectors.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said the Tamil Net had got a garbled version from the state media reporting of his address to the FCA.

Meanwhile the UNP leader responding to President Kumaratunga's charge that the UNP had not put forward a solution to the ethnic crisis said yesterday 'a UNP Government would resolve the crisis by adopting principles found in constitutions of Spain, China and South Africa.'

Mr. Wickremesinghe addressing a series of meetings in Polonnaruwa reiterated the UNP's opposition to the proposed political package of the government and asked why the Government could not adopt these principles which he claimed were more acceptable than the President's proposals.

He said that while the political package sought to divide and not unify the nation, a UNP Government would devolve power within a common, acceptable, unitary framework which would respect diversity and build this nation anew.

The UNP presidential candidate also charged that the Government was whipping up racism as a political ploy.

"Ven. Soma Thera is being repeatedly attacked and the Mahasangha is being abused. The PA is setting up one community against another. To direct the anger of Muslim community at me, I was accused of influencing TNL television programmes with a racial tinge.


From the Elections Desk

Crossing the conscience

While politicos are in a soup about the recent cross-overs, others are raising questions as to the deterioration of public confidence in politicians. But some constitutional experts say that it will not undermine public confidence in the electoral system.

"You vote for the party but you also vote for the candidate," one analyst said.

With the preferential voting system which allows the voter to choose not only the party of his or her choice, but also individual candidates on the party lists, that cross-overs would damage the voter confidence was doubtful.

The recent cross-overs indeed have become a debatable issue with political parties questioning the strength and weaknesses of their own group. However, though the issue has caused a stir among politicians, voters seem to show little or no interest in the matter.

Have personal interests motivated the politicians to cross the floor or is it a government move to attack the morale of the UNP? Or has the Government persuaded MPs to cross-over to get at a two-thirds majority to implement the PA's 'political package'? Now that's another side to the story.

While most people were unable to give a figure on how many more votes in Parliament are needed to get a two-thirds majority, they state that much was in the hands of the Tamil parties. Since this is crucial to Tamil parties, much will depend on the Tamil supporters' votes.

With talk that the Government is planning to bring in legislation to legalise cross-overs, the fact that it can be drafted in favour of the Government has been a cause for concern for opposition parties.

Bringing in legislation would probably have an impact on all parties. But the fact that MPs should not be seen as slaves of their parties, was also cited as important.

"If you say that an MP is like an ambassador of the party in Parliament, then that whole function of Parliament as a deliberative assembly is undermined," Rohan Edrisinha, Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) said.

But some lawyers are promoting the need for a referendum to introduce legislation. Others say that the constitution will have to be amended (for which a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament will be required) but a referendum will not be essential.

Much would depend on what the Government is intending to do. It is yet unknown if the Government is trying to bring back the constitutional provision that applied only for the duration of the first Parliament the Parliament elected in 1977 where there were various limitations i.e. they could cross-over to the Government but couldn't cross-over to the Opposition.

But that provision doesn't apply any more. The present constitutional provision is you can cross-over, but then you risk the possibility of losing your seat in Parliament. It is also believed that the Government might be thinking in terms of amending the constitution to get rid of this provision.

However, to prevent the 'purchase' of MPs by the offer of a portfolio or any other means, the need to impose limits on the freedom of MPs crossing the floor has to be considered.

There is speculation that more UNP backbenchers are likely to cross-over to the Government, also said to be politically motivated.

Though it has been accepted that freedom of conscience is important for individual Members of Parliament to have a certain amount of judgement and freedom to decide for themselves, the incidents in the recent past seem to be purely on political motives.

"It doesn't look like most of these people really have conscience problems. It looks as if there are other political reasons for them to cross-over to the Government," a constitutional expert says.

While appreciating that MPs should sometimes be able to defy their party leadership, they also felt that the recent issue was not a good example of how MPs should be able to excerise their conscience because conscience certainly is not self interest.

"It is important to draw a distinction between the principle of freedom of conscience of Members of Parliament and what is actually going on in this particular instance," Mr. Edrisinha said.


From obscurity to key role

From relative obscurity in Sabaragamuwa, D.M.P.B. Dassanayake, was suddenly and rather surprisingly called in last Thursday to play the most crucial role in the country as Acting Commissioner of Elections.

Mr. Dassanayake was till then the chief secretary of the Sabaragamuwa province.

During the eighties, he worked as Government Agent in Badulla and twice played the role of chief returning officer in elections.

After taking over at the Elections Secretariat at Rajagiriya on Friday morning, Mr. Dassanayake met officials there and also convened a meeting with senior police officers to discuss security and other arrnagements for the polls.


Foreign monitors: govt. yet to decide

By Shelani de Silva

Independent election monitoring group PAFFREL has decided to bring in sixty foreign monitors for the forthcoming presidential election.

The group has already made arrangements for the observers from more than five countries to be present during the elections.

Executive Director of PAFFREL Kingsley Rodrigo told The Sunday Times that although the Government is yet to decide on foreign monitors both PAFFREL and CMEV has decided to get down observers for a free and fair election.

' Of the sixty observers we will send at least 30 observers to the North and East. We are concentrating more on this area. PAFFREL has decided to open an office in Jaffna by next week to begin election monitoring', he said.

He added that having foreign observers and monitors will definitely help in carrying out a free and fair election.

'We are concentrating more on the pre and post election violence. Violence on election day will be less. PAFFREL will change the strategy used at previous elections. This time we want the voters to get involved. We will have voters too as observers, where they can report to us on anything when they go inside the polling booth', he said.

PAFFREL will officially commence monitoring next week.


Giant screen for nominations

A giant screen for the media will be among the new features when five candidates contesting the presidential elections present their nominationtion to the Acting Elections Commissioner D M P B Dassanayake on Tuesday.

Nominations will be received from 9 am to 11.30 am.

The Information Department said a giant screen would be set up at the Elections Department for the media and the nominations would be carried live on TV and radio. But tight security will also be enforced. Each candidate can come with ten supporters but only three could go into the commissioner's office.


Dissension in CWC

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

At least two senior CWC members dissatisfied over the elevation of Arumugam Thondaman to the leadership are discussing the possibility of relinking with the UNP, The Sunday Times learns.

One of these members who did not wish to be identified said some CWC members had agreed to give the leadership to Mr. Thondaman Jr. only out of respect for his grandfather who had groomed him as a heir apparent.

He said the CWC had worked for several years with the UNP to address the grievances of the plantation people and they saw no difficulty in renewing such cooperation. Meanwhile, UNP sources said one-time CWC General Secretary M. S. Sellasamy who has several court cases challenging his expulsion was likely to be nominated to S. Thondaman's seat in parliament.


Three parties reject preference votes

Three of the five candidates contesting the presidential elections are calling upon voters to refrain from marking a second preference because they feel such a vote will benefit only the two main candidates.

Expelled LSSPer Vasudeva Nanayakkara who is contesting on a left wing ticket said he would tell his supporters that one vote was enough.

The JVP also is to ask its supporters to cast only one vote, spokesperson Wimal Weerawansa said.

Harischandra Wijeyatunge, the candidate of the Bhumiputhra party said he too was not interested in the second vote.


Candidates must declare assets

While speculation is rife as to whether the Sri Lankan voting public is going to be left high and dry without either the green leader or the blue one, the Acting Elections Commissioner who assumed duties last Friday has yet to investigate the documentation.

Since both the main presidential candidates reportedly did not declare there assets and liabilities before the Elections Commissioner, it is said they are both not in a position to contest the Presidential Elections on December 21.

This would in fact be quite a 'how do you do' leaving the election to Vasudeva Nanayakkara or Harischandra Wijeyatunga, not to mention the 'spoil sports' or 'spoiled votes'.

But unfortunately the kill joy element which is never far away tells us that legally speaking, until nominations are handed over, it is still too early to say.

The Declaration of Assets and Liabilities - Amendment to Act, No. 74 of 1988 lists:

"(da) office-bearers of recognized political parties for the purposes of elections under the Presidential Elections Act, No.15 of 1981, the Parliamentary Elections Act, No.1 of 1981 or the Provincial Councils Elections Act, No.2 of 1988 or the Development Councils (Elections) Act, No.20 of 1981 or the Trade Unions Ordinance; and

"(dc) candidates nominated for election at elections to be held under the Presidential Elections Act, No.15 of 1981, the Parliamentary Elections Act, No. 1 of 1981, the Provincial Councils Elections Act, No.2 of 1988, the Development Councils (Elections) Act, No. 20 of 1981 or the Local Authorities Elections Ordinance; as being among those needing to declare their assets and liabilities.

"Provided that a person to whom this Law applies referred to in paragraph (dc) of subsection (1) of section 2 shall be deemed to have complied with the provisions of this subsection if he makes a declaration of his assets and liabilities as at the date of his nomination as a candidate for election under any of the Acts referred to in that paragraph on the date of such nomination or before he functions, or sits or votes, as President , a Member of Parliament, a member of a Provincial Council, a member of a Development Council, or any other Local authority, as the case may be, and in the case of an unsuccessful candidate at an election within a period of three months after the date of nomination."

Since the amendment says "as at the date of nominations" a clear declaration of assets by both major candidates should, theoretically, clear the air.

The Acting Elections Commissioner was not available for comment.


Glossing over the issues

The personality battle between presidential candidates Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe is raging on the walls the country's cities and towns.

Mr. Wickremesinghe's glamorous looking side shot is advertising moghul Irwin Weerakkody's "masterpiece". Mr. Weerakkody plans to project Mr. Wickremesinghe as a charismatic and efficient person by "making him more people oriented."

But personality is built on the issues and eventually people identify personality with the issues at hand, says SLMC MP Rauf Hakeem.

Either way, posters will have little impact, says Sociology Professor S. T. Hettige of the Colombo University.

The whole presidential battle hinges on personality, says Anura Bandaranaike, who also deadpans that the PA candidate has little personality.

On the other hand "priority should be given to the programme and issues," says Presidential candidate Vasudeva Nanayakkara.

The question is whether with the present situation in the country, people are gullible to cast their vote for someone who they feel has personality, but cannot solve the issues at hand. The general public claim that glossy pictures on walls are not the decisive factor.

While the picture of Mr. Wickremesinghe seems to be leading the present popularity contest of posters, a cross-section of the public strongly state that their vote won't be cast to the most photogenic, but to the person who has the interest of the country at heart.


Harischandra wants Sinhala-Buddhist State

By Tania Fernando

Sinhalaye Mahasammata Bhumiputra Pakshaya leader and Presidential candidate Harischandra Wijayatunga has called for the establishment of a Sinhala nation with Buddhism as the State religion as a solution to the ethnic, economic and other conflicts. In an interview with The Sunday Times, he said no law should be passed without the approval of a Supreme Sangha Council.

Excerpts:

Q: What is your opinion about the executive presidency and should it be abolished ?

A: This was created by the late President J R Jayawardene without the consent of the people or even MPs. Therefore the executive presidency must be abolished as soon as possible.

Q: Do you think the PA government if elected once again, will abolish the executive presidency ?

A: On three previous occasions, people of this country voted for abolition of the executive presidency - in the 1993 provincial council elections, general election and the presidential election. Now for the fourth occasion the president is requesting her re-election for this, but what she is really asking is to establish the constitution al package and executive presidency in a firmer manner. But the people should not be foolish.

Q: What are the key features of your manifesto?

A: An official commission to be set up to curb the underworld and thuggery. Spearheaded by the Maha Sangha, a new constitution giving prominence to the Bhumiputras will be promulgated.

Citizenship will be given only under the Nehru-Kotalewala Agreement of 1954, to those who accept the Sinhala language. Buddhism will be brought back to the status of state religion.

Q: What is the first thing you would do, if you are elected president?

A: Suppress the big rebellion that is going on, and bring about national unity by establishing law and order. Negotiations will be only after the LTTE lays down arms. Thereafter we will start economic development.

Q: Tamils claim that they are Sri Lankans too, but not being treated equally and fairly?

A: There are no Sri Lankans. It was an artificial thing created by Sirima Bandaranaike in 1972. It is a Sinhala nation. There is nothing wrong with others living here, but they must integrate and accept that it is a Sinhala nation. The Tamils don't say at what point they are not being treated equally. It is the Sinhala man who is not being treated equally in his own country. The Sinhala people have still not got their independence. It is those who are labelled Sri Lankans who have got it. Our struggle is an independent struggle for liberation for the Sinhala Buddhists of this country.

Q: Your comments about conducting elections in the North.

A: No proper elections will take place, since no one can actually visit the area. The elections in that area will be a mockery, where the ballot boxes will be filled from Colombo and returned saying that elections were held.

Q: Do you agree with the censorship of the media?

A: The censorship of the media is wrong. People are entitled to know what's happening to their country and what to expect. We don't need information on operations but just to know what's happening.

Q: You talk about making Buddhism the state religion, how will that help the country?

A: The problems we now have is because of alien ideas. A supreme advisory Sangha council will be created as a chapter in the constitution. All laws passed in Parliament must be passed by this council. All races will be in peace once it is a Buddhist country. The minorities will be better off only under a Sinhala Buddhist leadership and not otherwise.

Q: Wasantha Raja, the former chairman of the Rupavahini Corporation was reportedly given permission to visit the Wanni, while Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena was denied permission by the Ministry of Defense. Your comments.

A: He holds a British passport and should have been stopped at the visa level. In 1994 with no experience he was made Chairman of the Rupavahini but he suddenly left. He has been brought back and sent to terrorist camps under the supervision of the government.

Q: What's your opinion on Varatharaja Perumal who unilaterally hoisted the Eelam flag, being afforded security, a government flat etc.

A: He should be behind bars and tried for treason. It shows that the present government supports thuggery and underworld people. Any man carrying a gun should be punished.


Presidential poll: quo vadis, oh Lanka?


The first opinion poll on the Presidential elections in December conducted by one of Sri Lanka's leading market and economic research firms, ORG-MARG SMART has been made available to The Sunday Times. The poll seeks to increase awareness about this kind of polling in the country.

The poll is both good and bad for the government, revealing voter attitudes that are both positive and negative for the ruling party and come to think of it, the opposition as well.

For instance, on a question regarding the standard of living in the last five years, 35 per cent of the people surveyed (which is countrywide) state that their standard of living "got worse" during the past five years, while 51 per cent say that it remained the same. Only 14 per cent go with the perception that could be advantageous to the PA which is that it "got better.''

But, there are positives for the PA as well, for instance, with 44 per cent of those polled saying that the PA is the "party that can find the best solution to the ethnic conflict'' compared to only 12 per cent saying the same about the UNP. Perhaps, people do not know what the UNP's plans regarding the ethnic crisis are; but nevertheless the people seem in that case to think the known policy is better than the unknown.

The poll, which is aimed towards understanding the "dynamics of perceptions and attitudes towards macro issues in the run-up to the 1999 Presidential poll'', was conducted among a scientifically selected sample of 1000. The samples were selected from 17 districts, to represent the entire population of voters outside the northern and Eastern provinces.

The survey is to be done in "waves'' which means essentially that there is more to come, of which the top line results will be made available at the end of each wave. But ORG-MARG SMART, the conductors of the poll, note that "a point to note in opinion polling in Sri Lanka is that there is a bias towards the party in power during the poll''. The organization asks the readers of poll results " to keep this factor in mind, before arriving at conclusions.'' While this bias cannot be estimated due to opinion polls still being relatively new in the country, the reason for the bias is stated as the public being skeptical of the true independence of the poll.

Some of the poll results are predictable, despite the fact that many do not necessarily reinforce what may be commonly held views among the English reading public.

But, pollsters note that "people are sick of listening to politicians (regardless of which party) 'and are convinced that the majority of the politicians are interested in themselves and not the country.' High percentages of those polled claimed they will 'deliberately disqualify their vote,' and said no political party can actually solve the country's problems.

But, notwithstanding sombre perceptions about a grave ethnic war, the main problem that troubles the average Perera is the current economic situation in the country. (Dooshanaya and beeshanaya are nowhere in the list of voters' problems, whether that gladdens the heart of the incumbents government or not.) The root of the economic malaise, note the pollsters, is probably in the uncomfortably low rate of income growth and wealth accumulation.)

The ethnic crisis ranks second in the people's identification of important problems, followed by problems of infrastructural deficiencies in terms of irrigation, power, roads and transport etc., Education and crime rank less importantly than problems relating to infrastructure, the poll determines.

Some of the most interesting areas that the poll has covered include those measuring the public perceptions on the abilities of individual parties. In this, notably, given the bias factor that the pollsters think favors the incumbents, there is nevertheless a distinct public perception in favour of the PA in areas that deal with corruption and the ethnic conflict. A full 44 per cent say the PA is the party that can find the best solution to the ethnic conflict, while only 12 per cent say the same for the UNP. A full 34 per cent say that the PA is the least corrupt party, while only 13 per cent say the same for the UNP.

The party comparison is not comfortable at all for the PA in the area of the economy. While 31 per cent say that the PA can best manage the economy, 26 percent say that the UNP can best manage the economy, which puts both parties at par given the margins of error in the figures.

But , on reducing unemployment and the cost of living, the UNP is ahead of the PA in both cases by one percentage point. The trouble is that, with the bias that the pollsters attribute towards the incumbent party, this means that there is little faith the people have in the PA's power to manage the economy.

While 36 per cent have said that the handling of the economy by the government was "good'', 51 per cent said that their standard of living remained the same.

This indicates that more respondents gave the government "the benefit of the doubt'' when it came to handling the economy. This shows that there is a perception , perhaps that the government is trying perhaps in trying circumstances.

The same perhaps goes for the government's handling of the ethnic crisis, with 46 per cent saying the government handled the ethnic crisis well and only 23 per cent saying the government did so badly.

There seem then, to be many areas with which the incumbent government should be happy, particularly when the polls seems to indicate that there is a high " tolerance factor'' of the government, reflected by the fact that they for instance still credit the government's economic effort as good despite the fact that most acknowledge there was no palpable increase in their standards of living.

Perhaps , the poll can be best described as giving mixed results, because the PA certainly can take heart from some of the perceptions mentioned above, while the UNP seems to still engender the perception that it is the party best equipped to "reduce unemployment'' and " bring down the cost of living (29 and 26 per cent) as opposed to the PA's 28 and 25 per cent on these two issues. But given that these are the issues which seem to be paramount in the minds of the voters, the UNP can hope that they can strike within winning distance, if the metaphor is somehow right. But, these are all incalculables in a way, as the survey itself in many ways, exemplifies.

For instance, the economy is more of a problem for the Sinhalese than it is for the Tamils, who rate the ethnic crisis a bigger problem at least in the main. But let more waves enlighten us, as the election approaches.

(ORG-MARG SMART is a privately owned market and economic research agency. It is also the country's largest employer of full-time permanent research staff).

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