President moves strategically

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is moving strategically to win the two provincial council elections. He has the political acumen and versatility to convince the electorate that the UPFA government is doing the best for Sri Lanka as far as the economy and the war are concerned.

According to the government, the war is on a winning note and they are closing into the northern most strongholds of the LTTE.
Under these circumstances, the people will bear the hardships thrust upon them due to the escalating oil prices and the international trends, such as the global food shortage.

Formidable candidates

The President knows very well that the UNP has fielded a very formidable candidate for the North Central Province, Major General Janaka Perera, who has fought many decisive battles. He has been a very versatile Army officer that the Sri Lanka Army has produced during recent times.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga, after having considered his services to the nation, appointed him as the High Commissioner for Australia and thereafter for Indonesia, a very strategic location where Tiger activities are at a high pitch.
The PresidentA?a??a??s objective and the rationale in going for these two provincial council elections are to test the waters in a difficult situation.

He wants to ascertain whether the electorate backs him with his agenda to flush out terrorism. However, he needs to counter the UNP move. And the President was clever enough to choose a disabled candidate from the North Central Province to be fielded in the list to match the UNPA?a??a??s formidable candidate.

Upali Wijekoon, a junior officer of the Army who lost his limbs in the explosion that took the life of Lieutenant General Denzil Kobbekaduwa is the person who has been chosen by the UPFA.
Wijekoon met with the President last Wednesday at Temple Trees and he was seen in a wheelchair, being pushed around by his supporters.

Wijekoon is a hero indeed, and has the capacity to speak well on political platforms. His harrowing story of how he escaped the lethal landmine explosion is yet another innovative political story for the peasants of the North Central Province, which is sure to grab their attention.

He is a man of the soil and political analysts are of the view that the President had shown his maturity and keen grasp of the situation by nominating Upali to contest the provincial council elections.
President Rajapaksa also had various problems in finalising the two lists for these two provinces. At the same time, he had not chosen to cast aside people who had been known as loyalists of President Kumaratunga.

Old guard

Berty Premalal Dissanayake, the former North Central Province Chief Minister, was at one time a close associate of Kumaratunga, and continues to be so even today. However, President Rajapaksa had reposed utmost confidence in Dissanayake to win the electorate.

The only hindrance here is that Dissanayake is running for the third time as the chief ministerial candidate in the North Central Province. Perhaps a new face would have done better and many in the UPFA had yearned for new faces for both these provinces, which could attract the attention of the people.

The minus is that stale faces do not attract the new votes and the younger population. This is a problem not only for the UPFA but for the UNP too. In the UNP, the old guard is still active and they decide for the party and it is not sure as to whether the UNP is in a position to muster the support of the younger generation at grassroots level.

Though the UNP had been able to nominate a chief ministerial candidate for the North Central Province, it had failed to do so for the Sabaragamuwa Province. For Sabaragamuwa, the UNP hierarchy had decided to run an open list, with Neranjan Wijerathne, the former Diyawadana Nilame of the Dalada Maligawa, and popular film actor Ranjan Ramanayake heading the two districts.

This is to the UPFAA?a??a??s advantage. The UPFA will start its campaign in the Sabaragamuwa Province by focusing on the problems of the UNP A?a??a?? that the UNP was unable to field a chief ministerial candidate for Sabaragamuwa.

According to UNP insiders, the problems faced by the party hierarchy are numerous. They maintain that they were unable to field a chief ministerial candidate due to threats received by their nominees. This is what has happened to Upul Shantha Sannasgala, the UNP maintains.

SannasgalaA?a??a??s name was proposed by the, UNP hierarchy after consulting the seniors in the province who apparently did not want to come forward for a local election thinking that it would lower their image .but what they failed to understand was the attention and the focus they would have in the entire country during the period, even if they loose the elections.

Hakeem is one who exploited this situation for future benefit and Hisbullah was equally known to the whole country because he too portrayed the picture that he would be the Chief Minister of the East in the event the UPFA returns the highest number of Muslim members to the Eastern Provincial Council.

Ramanayake gains prominence
Fosamax without prescription
Both Dunesh Gankanda and Talatha Atukorale of the UNP failed to realise that they would come into the limelight if they contested as chief ministerial candidates. Now itA?a??a??s an open list where film star Ranjan Ramanayake is gaining prominence.
Though there were problems over RamanayakeA?a??a??s nomination to be included in the open list for Ratnapura District in the Sabaragamuwa Province, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe surmounted all these after an intense discussion with Ramanayake, who promised to indulge in a fearless campaign for Sabaragamuwa.

UNP Leader Wickremesinghe sincerely wanted Atukorale to be the chief ministerial candidate but she was not ready to grab the opportunity because she felt that she had been sidelined by the UNP hierarchy by not being appointed as the district leader for Ratnapura.

The problem faced by Wickremesinghe was that there was no provision in the UNP Constitution to appoint the same person for two important positions. This was brought out when Wickremesinghe had discussions with Atukorale over her candidature for the chief ministerial post. Atukorale now heads the Lak Vanitha programme of the UNP.

However, the UNP has kept the Ratnapura District leadership open without appointing anybody. If Atukorale is not appointed, then it should go to Gankanda but the UNP has kept it open considering AtukoraleA?a??a??s political aspirations.

It is now up to Atukorale to decide whether she should head the Lak Vanitha, which is much higher in position, or become the political leader of the Ratnapura District.
Atukorale no doubt is a capable organiser who has the knowledge and the will to organise grassroots level organisations for the UNP.

However, there are people within the UNP who are trying to drive a wedge between Wickremesinghe and Atukorale. They have temporarily suspended the campaign against Wickremesinghe to oust him. The temporary lull is to see a bad defeat for the UNP in the two provinces in a bid to intensify their campaign.

But Wickremesinghe is sure of his candidates and that they could deliver the goods for him. More than anything, he has a lot of faith in his General Secretary Tissa Attanayake, who saved the day for him.
The move by the rebels within was to first oust Attanayake from the position of general secretary but Wickremesinghe, being a shrewder politician, foresaw all the problems that were accumulating within the party circles and acted in a more mature manner to avert the political landmines in his way.

AtukoraleA?a??a??s issues

When Atukorale came to Sri Lanka from a retreat in the US, there were two people who urged her not to accept the chief ministerial position. One was Lakshman Seneviratne and the other was Johnston Fernando. Even former UNP Chairman Malik Samarawickrema prevailed upon her to reject WickremesingheA?a??a??s call but Atukorale, given her grievances with the party, has fallen in line.

She had several rounds of talks with Wickremesinghe to sort out the problems she was facing within the Ratnapura District UNP organisation. At the same time, Wickremesinghe used emissaries to settle problems for him. The chief men he used in this task were S.B. Dissanayake and Sajith Premadasa. Both names have been proposed by the rebels and various other groups as suitable men to don the deputy leadership mantle of the party.
Wickremesinghe appears to have taken a cue from these proposals, to entrust them with the task of settling internal problems for him.

Now Premadasa would actively engage himself in canvassing in the North Central Province for Janaka Perera while Dissanayake would put his might in the Sabaragamuwa.
Janaka Perera, an experienced military officer, has once again come into the limelight after a long hiatus. The UNP organisation in Rajarata has apparently endorsed his candidacy and the UNP supporters are rallying around him.

However, the UPFA has a good candidate on its side. Upali Wijekoon can turn the tide towards the UPFA.
The JVP will simultaneously make inroads into the vote bank of the Rajarata and the prevailing situation will also favour it, although there is a split down the middle.

The Wimal Weerawansa group is more likely to campaign for the UPFA, endorsing the UPFAA?a??a??s military campaign in the north.
The most important for President Mahinda Rajapaksa at this juncture is to campaign in order to sustain his war effort in the north. If he is successful in this, he would be able to win the North Central Province, with Wijekoon in the forefront, who had sacrificed for the same of the motherland.

However, the cost of living and other problems will have a negative effect on the governmentA?a??a??s campaign. But President Rajapaksa, being a mature politician, will know how to turn things around in his favour.

HakeemA?a??a??s stance

In the meantime, UNP Leader Wickremesinghe is facing another problem owing to a hard decision taken by SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem.
When the three SLMC leaders, namely Hakeem, Hassan Ali and Basheer Segu Dawood, resigned to contest the Eastern Provincial Council elections, they created three vacancies in Parliament.

One vacancy was filled by Mohamed Naushad, the UNPA?a??a??s convenor for the east. Naushad was next in line to succeed Hakeem in parliament and at present there are two vacancies in the National List, one created by Basheer Segu Dawood and the other by Hakeem.

Wickremesinghe recently had extensive discussions with Hakeem to nominate UNP National Organiser S.B. Dissanayake for one of the National List slots. Although DissanayakeA?a??a??s name was struck off the Electoral Register, the UNP Leader, after having consultations with leading lawyer Faiz Mustapha, agreed at the request of Dissanayake to appoint him as a Member of Parliament for one month.

The Elections Department is also in a quandary as to whether such an appointment would be legitimate.
If such an appointment was made by Wickremesinghe on the assumptions made by his lawyers, the Elections Commissioner would fall into a difficult situation. He would have no option but to consult the Attorney General. If the Attorney GeneralA?a??a??s ruling is contrary to the UNP lawyersA?a??a?? opinion, then there would be a legal battle and it is not clear whether Dissanayake would be able so sit in Parliament until such time the legal battle is over.

However, a political controversy and a huge legal issue have come to a standstill since Hakeem was adamant that he should be appointed to the National List slot from the UNP. He does not want to pave the way for Dissanayake even temporarily to test the waters, thinking that he would be compelled to stay out of Parliament permanently.

However, insiders in the UNP feel that Hakeem was virtually toeing the line of rebels in the party, who are against Dissanayake since they believe that Dissanayake was responsible for leaking out several crucial decisions of the UNP to the government.
At the moment, the whole thing has been put on hold and both the President and the UNP Leader were busy in finalising the nominations during the latter part of the week.

KarunaA?a??a??s return

As things stand, shrouded by political uncertainty, the latest is the re-emergence of former TMVP Leader Karuna Amman in the local political scene.
Karuna, who slipped into London through a forged diplomatic passport, was deported by the British authorities after languishing in jail for some time. He was escorted by British officials to Colombo on a special flight two days ago and then he was whisked off in a special vehicle with escorts.

It is not certain how Karuna would now face the political realities in the Eastern Province. Having broken off from the mainstream LTTE, Karuna made it possible for the government to extend its writ over the entire Eastern Province within a short period.
KarunaA?a??a??s departure from the LTTE took place during the premiership of Ranil Wickremesinghe, when the LTTE was engaged in talks with the government for a negotiated political settlement based on a more federal like solution.
Karuna slipped out of the east with the help of UNP MP, his erstwhile friend, Ali Zahir Moulana, who is now domiciled in the United States.

At the moment it is not clear as to how Karuna would react to the latest developments in the Eastern Province. Karuna was succeeded by Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, alias Pillaiyan, who is determined to not allow Karuna to take over the reins of the east.
Could this lead to another factional fight between the breakaway LTTEers is the pertinent question that arises given the re-emergence of Karuna.

If Karuna decides to return to the east, it will add new dimensions to the political equation in the Eastern Province. Or will he decide to leave the country permanently to another destination for his own safety?
The LTTE would be eagerly looking at the political developments in Colombo and in Batticaloa that would complicate things for the present administration.

Undoubtedly, President Rajapaksa is saddled with many problems while the SAARC Summit is around the corner.
The assault on media personnel has dismayed the President, who wanted to know who was behind this sinister campaign.

At the opening of the Arugam Bay Bridge, under the auspices of US Aid, the President pronounced that the assault on media personnel and subsequent harassments was a conspiracy against the government.
The President was right in saying that he realises the gravity of the situation since he was a friend of the media from the days he entered politics.

While in opposition and as the prime minister of Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa was the champion of the free media and he encouraged journalists to be free and fair and to stand up for the rights of the people. He promoted free expression by the media.
Therefore, the present trend of trying to stifle the media would cause immense problems for President Rajapaksa. It is certainly an attack on the pillars of democracy since there would be no democracy without a free media.
Media freedom

The people in a vibrant democracy have the right to know what is going on in the country and the media helps them to engage in a healthy debate and discussion on important matters for the state. That is how a democracy tests the pulse of the people.
Without a free media, there is no democracy. The President feels this as strongly as any other leader who has cherished democratic principles in the past.

He appeared to be perturbed over the present trend and he has personally called for the evidence that is available in the assault cases against journalists and engaged in a difficult exercise to bring the perpetrators to book.
He has already consulted Attorney General C.R. De Silva and asked him whether he would sift through the evidence available to take legal action against the elements are causing immense embarrassment to the President and to his political image.

It is by finding the culprits that the President could tell the country that he stands for democracy and a free media and the President is keen that the perpetrators should stand before court for trial.

It is therefore the announcement made by the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) and the publishers that would help the investigators to find out who the culprits are. If the investigators always come up with excuses that there is no evidence, the SLPI announcement would immensely help them to further their investigations.

The remarks made by Minister Keheliya Rambukwella and subsequently by the Police Spokesman could be condemned by all A?a??a?? that the journalists are setting up such incidents in order to get visas to go overseas. These statements, which have no basis, will surely be condemned by the government and those who cherish democratic traditions.



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