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Government Gazette

Day of reckoning

The Presidential election campaign has entered its last lap. The day of reckoning is drawing near. It is opportune to sum up the developments so far. First of all it should be remembered that the election is held two years ahead of schedule. The President using his Constitutional prerogative signed the proclamation of the election voluntarily curtailing his term of Office.

In an interview with editors he gave his rationale for advancing the election. It was to give an opportunity to the Northern voters to elect their President. Earlier they were denied that opportunity by Velupillai Prabhakaran. During the Presidential election of 2005 they were ordered to boycott it.

Internally Displaced Persons

As the LTTE held sway in the area it was largely obeyed. The country was fully liberated from terrorism last May. It is noteworthy that the President had thought it fit to go before the people just six or seven months immediately following the victory. This is even before resettling all the Internally Displaced Persons.

It shows the democratic credentials of the President. The Opposition, however, alleged that the election was advanced by the incumbent President fearing that he would be defeated if it was held at the end of his term of Office. Whether this allegation is true or not could be verified on January 26.

Vote for a leader who has a clear vision. File photo

At the onset of the election period the Opposition claimed that they would contest on a one point agenda - the abolition of the Executive Presidency. For that purpose they actually put in place a disjointed coalition of political parties that hold disparate views and found the retired Army Commander as their common candidate. It later transpired that the Commander had been in contact with the Opposition long before his retirement and had harboured ambitions of challenging the incumbent President at elections. Whether it was ethical or proper as a public servant is another matter. Surely, the decision to run for Presidency could not have been taken on the spur of the moment, as he would want the voters to believe.

As the campaign proceeded both the General and his supporters sang quite different songs. Having earlier declared his pious desire to vacate the Executive President post in two months after victory he later retracted his words by saying he would not like to be a ceremonial President as William Gopallawa. As the campaign proceeded he was talking of several years in Office. Towards the latter stage of the campaign the topic was completely shelved. The UNP at the onset spoke of an Executive Prime Minister post for its Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Fonseka’s job was to win the election and hand over executive powers to Ranil.

Executive Presidency

Then came Sarath N Silva, the former Chief Justice who took upon himself the role of legal and Constitutional advisor for Fonseka. He point blank said the abolition of the Executive Presidency was impossible and not contemplated. What is contemplated is a reform of the institution. Now only the JVP is singing the old tune and has found them out of step with the rest in the Opposition alliance.

A realistic proposal in this regard has come from only President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Though not much noticed the President told the editors even before nominations that he is for a system of governance where the Executive President would be answerable to Parliament. He even told in lighter vein that no one would be more interested personally in abolishing the institution than him as at the end of the second term he would not be eligible to contest again.

Now his proposals for revising the institution is in his manifesto Mahinda Chintana Idiri Dekma. Moreover, he proposes far reaching other proposals to strengthen democracy such as the establishment of a Second Chamber or a Senate. He also proposes that Parliament should sit as a State Assembly to revise or replace the existing Constitution.

Incidentally, it was the UNP that instituted the Executive Presidency. Having won a five-sixth majority in Parliament in the 1977 General Election J. R. Jayewardene introduced the new Constitution establishing the Executive Presidential system without consulting the people. He had no mandate at the election to do so. It is an irony of history that the UNP is now calling for its abolition.

The second major plank in the Opposition campaign was good governance. For this purpose they call for the implementation of the 17th Amendment, a hurriedly passed piece of legislation.

They say that all evils of the administration stem from the non-Constitution of the Constitutional Council. It became on the death of a member and there was no provision in the Constitution for it to continue functioning without full membership, besides it is not apolitical or non-political as claimed for nominees were from political parties. Many gentlemen who were proposed to it were leading members of political parties.

Asking politicians to nominate people not affiliated to political organisations is a joke in the Sri Lankan context. It is time to think beyond the 17th Amendment in seeking to establish good governance and enhance democracy. Actually this amendment is a fetter that prevents timely executive action.

incumbent President

A widely discussed topic in the campaign was corruption. The Opposition using the popular perception of widespread corruption used it to sling mud at the incumbent President and his immediate family. However, they failed to produce evidence to prove their allegations. Wild rumours were circulated relating to alleged purchases of real estate and other properties by the President’s siblings.

Both State owned and privately owned property were cited as belonging to the Rajapaksa family. A case in point was the Lanka Hospitals Ltd, whose ownership was transferred to the government following a Supreme Court ruling against the privatization of the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation which held the majority of shares in the Apollo Hospitals, now renamed the Lanka Hospitals. The allegations were so widespread and aired over the electronic media repeatedly that actual owners of the properties alleged to be bought by the Rajapaksa brothers had to put up public notices on their property stating that they are the legal owners.

unethical dealings

The corruption charge, however, boomeranged on the General following evidence of unethical dealings by a company belonging to his son-in-law with regard to supplying military equipment to the Sri Lanka Army.

The whole campaign of vilification was busted by the brilliant exposure of an attempt to buy over a Member of Parliament from the Government side to the Fonseka camp by offering a bribe of Rs 30 million reminding the General and his allies of the wisdom of the old adage those living in glass houses should not throw stones at others or its modern version that those living in such houses should not undress without cover.

The President, on the other hand, did not shy away from the criticism. He challenged them to prove their allegations. Incidentally much of the allegations such as those exposed in the Parliamentary COPE report referred to corruption during the Ranil Wickremesinghe administration. By now even the Supreme Court has annulled several privatization deals that were executed then due to corruption and fraud.

The President has vowed to take corruption head on during his second term. Understandably he said that he was more occupied with ending the war and saving country’s territorial integrity. Now that the war is over he promised to fight corruption with vigour.

As the campaign progressed it became conspicuous that certain external forces are working in collusion with local counterparts to influence the outcome of the elections. Just examine the following sequence of events.

The United States long before nominations prepared charges of genocide against the government and the Armed Forces for alleged human rights violations, particularly during the latter part of the war against the LTTE. This was a sequel to the refusal of the President to heed calls for a halt in the military operations by certain powers, notably the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Then there was an attempt to interrogate the former Army Commander in an attempt to frame charges against the Defence Secretary.

Then came the allegations of Sarath Fonseka against the Defence Secretary claiming that he has ordered the shooting of those surrendering. Soon the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra judicial killings Philip Alston called explanations from the Government regarding the same allegations.

Then followed the infamous interview of the General to the Sunday Leader. What followed is common knowledge where the Editor maintained that it was authentic despite half-hearted denials by the General. Subsequently Philip Alston made a statement indicting Sri Lanka on war crimes at a Press Conference in New York. All these are timed to coincide with the election campaign. It gives room for anyone with a knowledge of international affairs to conclude collaboration of local and these overseas forces to favour the General at the election. This poses a threat to the sovereignty of the country, a factor to be recognized by the voters.

The last phase of the campaign began with the publication of the manifestos of the candidates. It is here the political immaturity of the NDF candidate and the maturity and experience of the UPFA candidate is clearly manifested. While the former has spelt out a document resembling an essay of a Grade Two student, the latter has put up a comprehensive program that is both pragmatic and visionary. Unfortunately the latter Manifesto has so far not attracted the attention it deserves.

National Question

In his Manifesto President Mahinda Rajapaksa clearly mentioned his resolve to evolve a solution to the National Question within the framework of a Unitary State. As he has told at a recent interview he is going to put forward his solution for discussion among all interested parties. He has pledged to implement it following the widest possible consensus on it. Unlike the NDF candidate he has not left a single issue vague.

Of course, the General has a problem. That is to seek agreement with the disparate forces that have surrounded him. Whether it is economic policy or political program the UNP and the JVP do not see eye to eye.

While the General leans more towards the UNP he is not ready to antagonise his JVP friends. That is why he has openly stated that he would not allow both of them to be disunited in the future. Whether he could succeed, however, is a moot point.

What is apparent is even in the unlikely event of him winning the election these disparate groups would put forward and agitate for opposing demands that make the country ungovernable. It is here that the military upbringing would tempt the General to go it alone.

His whole campaign shows his military inclination. Even the theme slogan of his campaign is in military parlance Deveni Meheuma. Even his form of addressing opponents in derogatory terms, kalavedda (pole cat), paaharaya (uncultured fellow) etc. betray this inclination. They are words unbecoming of a President in the making.

The decision on January 26 will decide whether there will be continuity in development or an interruption, whether the country would enter a period of continued stability or whether it would be plunged into a period of anarchy. The decision is with the voter who for once would become the kingmaker on that day.


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