19th December 1999

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President outlines middlepath approach

The Sunday Times this week approached the two main presidential candidates President Chandirka Kumaratunga and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe for an interview. Mr. Wickremesinghe obliged to answer a set of questions posed by us but Ms. Kumaratunga declined. Yet keeping with the best tradition of fair and balanced journalism, we publish below President Kumaratunga's responses to a questionnaire sent by the National Alliance for Peace to all presidential candidates.

Q:Are you ending the war soon and what action would you take to achieve this?

A: I have given priority to end the war as early as possible, not just a temporary ceasefire alone but as a part of a process that would lead to a solution of the ethnic problem and lasting peace. I need a fresh mandate from the people at this Presidential election to give me the strength and backing to overcome the obstacles that exist.

Q: What are the basic principles of the political solution that you propose? Please be specific. In particular we ask-

(a) whether you are prepared to go beyond the limitations of the present Constitutional structure to achieve effective devolution.

(b) how do you propose to solve the problem of the unit of devolution in the North and East?

A:For the first time a comprehensive political Devolution Package has been produced after extensive discussion at a Select Committee of representatives of all in Parliament including the Tamils. I fully endorse all that has been stated there, and it is clear that-

(a) I am prepared to go beyond the limitation of the present Constitution to achieve effective devolution and

(b) take democratic steps through a three stage referendum (first in the Trincomalee and Batticaloa Districts and then in the Ampara district initially in the three Muslim majority electorates and then in the Sinhala majority Ampara electorate) through which the voters of the Eastern Province will be able to decide on whether they will remain as a separate Eastern Province or join the Northern Province or the adjoining Uva Province together or separately. In this way the democratic rights of the citizens of the Eastern Province will be fully respected and they alone would be able to decide on their own future without a solution being forced on them.

Q:How do you propose to achieve a consensus in the South with regard to the content of the political solution?

A: A victory for me at the Presidential Election will pave the way for the remaining UNPers in Parliament who are seeking a solution to the ethnic problem to vote for the new Constitution that will be presented to the present Parliament. They can move any reasonable amendments and these will be accommodated. Already a group of UNP Parliamentarians have crossed over to join the PA Government as they have lost all confidence in the UNP leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe. On the basis of discussions already held many more will follow this example. There may even be a replacement of the present leader of the UNP by one who is more supportive of the Constitution and a consensual approach. In this way a wide consensus that is guaranteed by the Constitution will be achieved. With the support of the people and their mandate I am prepared to take all other steps that may be necessary.

Q: Do you support a bipartisan approach (PA/UNP) to talks with the LTTE, and how do you propose to achieve this?

A: I certainly would support a bipartisan approach (PA/UNP) to talks with the LTTE. Once the above consensus is reached I shall invite the UNP to nominate one or more persons to join the delegation that will negotiate with the LTTE.

Q:To bring about a peace agreement, how do you propose to deal with the LTTE? If you are prepared to talk to the LTTE, what confidence-building measures with the LTTE do you propose for implementation at this time?

A: Once the above consensus has been reached the Tamil people and the LTTE will be assured of the commitment of the main stream political forces in the South and the Government, backed by the people, to a solution that is already enshrined in the Constitution. Based on the outcome of the negotiations it will only require suitable amendments to the Constitution to accommodate the LTTE. In this context the Tamil people will see no reason to continue to suffer through a war that the LTTE started and there will be strong national and international pressure on the LTTE to come to an agreement. If the LTTE scales down or stops the war the Government will also respond in a like manner.

Q: Do you agree to third party facilitation/mediation and if so what form should this take?

A: The ethnic problem is an internal problem in a sovereign state,and must be viewed as such. The recent solution of the ethnic problems in Bangladesh and the Philippines were achieved without any foreign third party involvement. The problems in Ireland and Palestine involve more than one sovereign state and therefore foreign facilitation and eventually mediation became necessary. I was agreeable to foreign facilitation even from the outset.

Q: How do you propose to ensure that the new Constitution becomes law? What Constitutional changes would you envisage and what steps would you take to implement such changes?

A:This has already been answered.

Q:Pending the war coming to an end what action would you take regarding the following problems:-

(a) What extra relief measures would be given to those who have been and are being displaced and made refugees by the war.

(b) The provision of food and medicine in adequate amounts for the people in both the cleared and uncleared areas affected by the war and improvement of their pathetic living conditions.

A:Those that have been displayed and made refugees by the war are undergoing great hardships but every effort has been made during the last five years to provide them with shelter, food and medicine but due to logistic problems this has been inadequate. Unlike in those other countries faced with a similar internal conflict where those governments refrain from sending provisions to uncleared areas I have considered the people in the uncleared LTTE controlled areas as fellow citizens and made it the policy to provide them with their necessities. But you will appreciate that in a situation of war this is not easy. If, as I am hopeful, the period after the Presidential Election will lead to improved relationships with the LTTE and a movement towards a peace process then with their assistance it should be possible to ensure a better supply to the people there.

I propose to strengthen the existing mechanisms for distribution of necessities to the refugees by mobilizing more staff, and by including representative of the armed forces in the committees and the organizational set up to minimize obstructions. The ICRC, religious organisations, NGOs and Donor Agencies will be given all support to maximize their efforts. The distribution system will be streamlined with assistance from the LTTE wherever necessary.

Besides improving the shelter, food and medicine supplies other requirements like fuel, clothing, lighting and school books, pencils and other educational requirements will also be adequatley supplied. A referral system to enable patients to obtain specialist care will also be developed (some steps in this direction have been initiated). The shortage of doctors, paramedical staff, teachers and other personnel is a major problem. Where national resources are inadequate I propose to obtain foreign assistance. Cuba may assist with health volunteers as they had some years ago and these service can be utilized even after peace is restored. Besides ensuring an adequate water supply and giving the people money to obtain their requirements I shall explore means of establishing some avenues for gainful employment. I will also set up an improved mechanism to enable refugees to make their requirements known to the administration and myself.

Q:What have you done in the past to achieve peace and find a solution for the ethnic problem and based on this experience how would you proceed to achieve a lasting peace.

A:All my political life I have been opposed to racialism and have not done anything to promote or assist it. During the UNP rule too I did everything possible to assist in achieving peace and even visited Jaffna with my late husband Vijaya Kumaratunga and had discussions with LTTE leaders.

Immediately I became President in 1994 a ceasefire was established and peace talks were commenced with the LTTE. I took action as best I could to repair the damaged infrastructure in the North and provide their needs, despite the non-cooperation of some officials and military personnel. I wrote many letters to Mr. Prabhakaran in an effort to get serious political discussions started but he did not respond positively, despite my genuine efforts to restore confidence as mentioned above. Instead Prabhakaran resumed hostilities and forced me and the country to be embroiled in a war, which I would have dearly liked to avoid. So long as he continues the war I and the Government have no option but to respond in a like manner.

After this experience I could not place any trust in Mr. Prabhakaran and sought to win over the Tamil people through a set of Devolution Proposals that would fulfil their aspirations, through a Select Committee in Parliament. A reasonable consensus was achieved with the participation of the UNP and representatives of the minorities. To achieve peace it is also vitally necessary to get the support of a majority of the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people as well. Therefore I arranged for meetings, seminars and group discussions throughout the country, including the North and the East, to inform and win over the people. The surveys conducted in the country including that by an experienced University Professor of Sociology (which showed that 60% of the sample supported a political solution, 20% a purely military solution and 7% both approaches) bears witness to the success of these efforts.

I should like to mention that during the last five years despite efforts by Sinhala racist extremists to rouse the flames of racial conflict in civil society, specially after provocative LTTE actions like the attack on the Dalada Maligawa, violence has been speedily and effectively prevented by me.

This contrasts with the history of UNP rule which includes events like the racial riots of Black July 1983 which caused the war which is now going on.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe then resorted to various delaying tactics and did not cooperate in reaching a consensus. I had earlier made overtures to Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe to join me as an equal partner and to reach such a consensus and also to join in negotiations with the LTTE. He played the same game of delaying to give his answer indefinitely. After the Devolution Proposals were made public the UNP asked for 6 months and then further time to give its response and this dragged on for more than a year.

Following the initiatives of the Business Community the late Mr. Hameed, on behalf of the UNP, requested time till the end of September this year but this too did not materialize. I finally decided to present the Bill in Parliament as a new Constitution. But in the face of the conspiracy led by Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe to defeat the Government at the Budget Debate I followed the advise of the PA Executive Committee to seek a fresh mandate through a Presidential Election.

I have every confidence that if I win the Presidential election I will get the necessary support from sections of the UNP within the present Parliament to obtain the necessary 2/3 majority, to pass the new Constitution (with suitable amendments) and also receive the public mandate to make it law. Once this is done the national and international pressure on the LTTE will compel it to respond to talks. The UNP too will have to join me in a consensual approach to the talks.

I have already had a term as President and my remaining ambition is to obtain a solution for the ethnic problem and achieve a lasting peace, and in the process abolish the Executive Presidency, unlike Mr.Ranil Wickresinghe who wishes to retain the Executive Presidency and enjoy a term in office. His change of position from one of criticizing our Devolution proposals as going too far into one of giving the LTTE effective control of the entire North and East through an Interim Council, and thereby greatly strengthening the LTTE hand at any subsquent talks can only be viewed with suspicion in the context of what is clearly his main ambition to become President.

If I am elected President this mandate will give me the strength to withstand the pressures of racist extremism and mobilize the support of a majority of the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims who are opposed to such extremist positions. I am determined to succeed in this effort so that the suffering and cost of this war can be ended and the conditions created, based on the solid economic foundation that has been established over the last 5 years, for our country to successfully face the challenges of globalization and become transformed eventually into a developed richer economy.

A people's constitution will usher in peace

By Nilika de Silva

President Chandrika Kumaratunga addressing campaign rallies during the final week, in the run up to Presidential Elections, said if she was re-elected to office she would change the constitution and through a peoples' constitution bring peace to Sri Lanka.

Speaking at Koggala, Baduraliya, Mawanella and Nuwara Eliya and Gampola the President pledged her sincerity to serve the people at the dawn of the new century.

Dismissing the UNP candidate's right to stand for election, Ms. Kumaratunga said that having been in the government at the time when the Tamil people were hacked and burned to death, Ranil Wickremesinghe should fall at the people's feet, and beg forgiveness, if he wished to come forward for election.

Outlining the PA's plans for developing Sri Lanka's economy, Ms. Kumaratunga stressed, everyone's salaries will be doubled and trebled by the Year 2005.

Due to our development scheme, by 2010 it will be impossible to prevent Sri Lanka turning into a technological and service economy, she said.

"We have a clear vision for the economy. We have a new agricultural policy. By 2002 all farmers incomes will increase twofold and threefold due to these new agricultural reforms introduced by us. By the year 2005, the best paddy will be increased by 25 percent.

"We developed small and medium sized reservoirs in the Anuradhapura district and this enabled the farmers to start cultivating disused fields. We provided eight lakhs of jobs and we gave a human face to the open economy.

"There were only two factories in Koggala we increased this to 12. Next year alone 50 major projects will be started. We will pay massive salaries for electronic and technological jobs," she said.

Among her other promises for the future was that estate workers of Nuwara Eliya would be given houses.

She said through the new constitution the PA plans to reduce the number of elections. "In 1994 when we took over government we put our lives in danger to gain freedom for the people of this country. Freedom of thought. Now all media has the right to criticise," she said.

We increased the salaries of government servants by 60 percent although we are engaged in a war. From next next month, the salaries of police officers will be increased and by 2005 it will be possible to increase all government servants salaries to 2 1/2 times the present."

Speaking on the ethnic issue, President Kumaratunga stressed, "We must stop the war and divert the money being spent on it towards development work."

As a government we have done even more than the maximum to solve the ethnic problem. There is only a little left to be done to end this war and that is to achieve peace. We put forward political proposals, but we were unable to solve this problem due to the UNP constitution.

While protecting the rights of the Sinhalese we will obtain the rights of the Tamil people and we will involve them in the development of the country,"she said.

"Unlike Ranil Wickremesinghe we will not play politics with the people, we have no need to sustain the war by signing false pacts with Prabhakaran,"she added.

Scoffing at the Opposition Leader's manifesto, Ms. Kumaratunga said: "Ranil's pact has not found final solutions for any problem. Ranil has no interest in solving this national problem."

Recalling the 17 years of the UNP reign, she focused on the downfall of the estate sector, the state banks, and the factories and spoke at length on the Batalanda killings.

Describing the era of terror in 88,89 and the tyre pyres, she emphasised that those dark days would never be allowed to re-emerge.

Opinion Poll - Conducted by: ORG-MARG SMART

Yo-Yo mood swings and no real lead

Let alone who is winning, how competent is the Sri Lankan electorate to vote?

In the last wave of the ORG MARG SMART poll published before the 1999 Presidential election, 76 per cent of those polled say they did not read Chandrika Kumaratunge's election manifesto, while 74 per cent say they haven't read Ranil Wickremesinghe's . (The poll, conducted in both urban and rural non-North East 17 districts, contained a sample of 1240 people representing all ethnic groups. It was conducted between the 8th and 14th of December. Please note that the results reflect only the Click here to see a larger viewopinions of the Sri Lankan population residing outside the Northern and Eastern provinces of the country.)

Given that some 52 per cent of the voting public say that they will vote on a rational assessment of the issues and the trustworthiness of the candidate, it begs the question how this "rational assessment'' can be arrived at if they have not read the respective manifestoes of the candidates?

By way of answer, 56 per cent say that their decision to vote will be influenced by the campaign, (television, political rallies, press advertisements, word of mouth, printed documents and posters) while 44 per cent say that they are capable of making their own assessment on the issues.

Not improbably, President Chandrika Kumaratunge, has enjoyed a lion's share of the press advertising, having consumed 88 pet cent of the print advertising space in the campaign as opposed to Ranil Wickremesinghe's 12 per cent. The other candidates have had zero advertising space in the press during the 1st and 14th of December.

But, Sri Lankan's are given to yo - yo like mood swings in their perception of what the major issues are in this campaign. The way the electorate has perceived the ethnic crisis has been dramatic. Seven weeks ago when the first wave of the poll was carried out, a simple 15 per cent identified the ethnic crisis as the most important issue that obtained in the electorate. The Wanni theatre of war subsequently erupted and in the second wave of the poll the ethnic conflict moved up more than a few notches to register 22 per cent as the people's most important concern. Now, just days before the election, around a third of the electorate thinks that the ethnic issue is the most important of their concerns in casting their votes. (32 per cent think so.)

This may be in contrast with the fact that 45 per cent of those polled still rate matters of reducing unemployment and of economic management (taken together) as their key areas of concern. But, it doesn't detract from the fact that those who ranked the economy as their top concern fell from 35 per cent in the first wave of the poll, to 29 per cent in the third wave. The area that gave way most for the ethnic conflict to become the top concern was the economy, making it clear that a substantial part of the electorate thinks that economic improvement can stay in abeyance until the ethnic crisis is resolved. On an ethnic breakdown of the main issues concerning the electorate, predictably almost, a 62 per cent of the Tamils think that that the ethnic conflict is their primary concern, followed by 39 per cent Muslims and 29 per cent Sinhalese.

If reducing unemployment and managing the cost of living taken together are the main concerns of the people (both matters effecting quality of life), then the People's Alliance cannot take heart from the equation.

Asked how "your quality of life has changed over the last five years?" 46 per cent say it remained the same, 36 per cent say it got worse, 16 per cent say it got better and 3 per cent say they cannot comment. Those who say it got worse lead those who say it got better by a 20 per cent, which shows a good deal of dissatisfaction with the present dispensation as far as quality of life issues are concerned.

"Which party can best reduce unemployment and cost of living?"" are obviously vital issues, taking lead position if taken together in the poll concerning election issues. It appears that the UNP and PA are in a dead heat on these vital issues endorsing the perception that this election is a close one. Though the PA leads the UNP by 1 per centage point on the issue of unemployment, and by .4 percentage points on the issue of cost of living (in all there waves of the poll taken together), the " very slight edge towards the PA is within the margin of error, and given the ruling party bias it may actually be non existent'' say the poll takers.

While it was highlighted earlier that the ethnic issue has, over the three waves become the number one point going in to the election next week, the rating given by the electorate to the government's managing this important issue has slipped. Among the three main ratings it is apparent that the "good" rating dropped from a high of 43% seven weeks back to 37% at present while the "average" rating rose from 18% to 27%.

Just as it was with Wave 2, it was found that a majority of those polled were not aware of the solutions proposed by either the PA or the UNP to solve the ethnic conflict just days before the election at around a worrying 2:1. (61 per cent of the sample polled say that they are not aware of the of the PA's solution to the ethnic crisis, as opposed to the 39 per cent who say they are aware. 69 per cent say that they are not aware of the UNP solution to the ethnic crisis as opposed to the 31 per cent who say they are.)

Of those who were aware, 66 percent think that the President's solution to the ethnic crisis is to " devolve power further than was done in the 13th amendment.'' 57 per cent of those polled think that the Leader of the Opposition Wickremesinghe's solution to the ethnic crisis is "an interim council with LTTE representation."

But, on the clincher question " please tell me which solution to the ethnic conflict you preferred most?" 45 per cent favour "stop the war and talk immediately to the LTTE'' to 20 per cent who favour a military solution only. 12 per cent " prefer to win war and then talk to the LTTE" while 10 per cent favour devolution of power over further than the 13th amendment the perceived Kumaratunge solution. 5 percent prefer an interim solution council with the LTTE. (Ranil Wickremesinghe's perceived solution.) However, the leader in preferred solutions " stop war and talk immediately to the LTTE'' (45 per cent as stated earlier) seems close to Ranil Wickremesinghe's perceived solution than Chandrika Kumaratunge's. None of these necessarily give any candidate any palpable lead over the other as the election approaches.

Whichever way it turns out, a high voter turnout is likely, as the three waves of the poll have shown. The likelihood is of a 70 per cent voter turnout at least, say the poll takers.

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