#Karufactor Comes Forth As Alternate Option

With the spokespersons of the government officially announcing that the presidential polls will take place in January next year, the political parties of the opposition are busy with their eleventh hour preparations for a hastily arranged election.

Although the timeline of the election is somewhat clear, there is a sense of indecisiveness, especially in the opposition camp, on their tactics and strategies vis-à-vis the candidacy of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. On the surface it looks as if opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has strengthened his position as the presidential candidate of the UNP while the JVP is exploring the possibility of a boycott, making way for Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera’s movement to field a formidable third candidate. But this ‘equation’ still hangs in the balance.

Parallel to the claims of Wickremesinghe’s candidacy, there is another school of thought emerging from the UNP saying that Karu Jayasuriya should be named as the presidential candidate at the eleventh hour. Jayasuriya - unlike Wickremesinghe who suffered defeat in two presidential elections in 1999 and 2005 – is a fresh candidate and a person who is more appealing to the Sinhala-Buddhist vote base, which is the strongest area of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. On the other hand, they strongly argue that Jayasuriya is a candidate who can unite other political movements of the opposition as well as government allies such as the Jathika Hela Urumaya.

However, it does not seem that Wickremesinghe is keen on relinquishing his candidacy, paving the way for Jayasuriya to become the presidential candidate. Meanwhile, UNP’s new Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa too is strongly backing Wickremesinghe’s candidacy stating the UNP should contest with its party colour and traditional symbol at the forthcoming presidential election. But this has been greeted with mixed reactions from the rank and file of the main opposition party.

“The UNP contested alone at the Uva Provincial Council election and managed to get just below 45% and that was a promising achievement. But that does not mean that the UNP should rule out all possibilities of forming an opposition alliance before the presidential election. We still need a 5 percent to make a difference and that is exactly why we need to pursue our chances of forming an opposition alliance,” a Colombo District UNP Parliamentarian told Asian Mirror. He said that the major focus should be on forming a UNP government in 2015 itself, without waiting for another chance.

Meanwhile, UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake said the party has not yet made a final decision on its way forward. “We are keeping our options open and discussing with relevant parties to recognize areas where we can work together where the presidential election is concerned,” Attanayake told reporters on Thursday.

Drama at Ports Authority premises

Meanwhile, the UNP also started investigations into state sector institutions that use their resources to help the propaganda activities of the government targeting the presidential election. On Tuesday, a group of UNP Parliamentarians, namely Ravi Karunanayake, R. Yogarajan, Nalin Bandara and Ajith P. Perera embarked on a fact finding mission to the defence training school of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority to see whether its resources were being used for propaganda activities of the government. Speaking to Asian Mirror, Karunanayake said they had received credible information that resources of the training school were being utilized for media and advertising campaigns targeting the presidential election in January.

“Some employees of the Ports Authority contacted us and said they wanted us to visit the premises and see what was happening! It was upon their invitation that we decided to start this fact finding mission. We planned it as a “surprise visit” and as the representatives of the public we had every right to do so,” Karunanayake said speaking to Asian Mirror shortly after the visit.

However, the UNP MP delegation’s visit earned the ire of the state affiliated trade union of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. According to Karunanayake who led the UNP MP delegation, they pelted stones at the group of UNP Parliamentarians and their vehicle while censuring them in abusive language. Although no one received injuries, several vehicles were damaged due to the incident.

As the UNP Parliamentarian told Asian Mirror, those who attacked UNP Parliamentarians were not goons who were imported from outside, like in previous attacks against the Opposition MPs when they visited state-run institutions. “They were workers of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority and they were members of the state affiliated trade union,” he asserted.

UNP MP Eran Wickremaratne, who was addressing a press conference in Colombo, also rushed to the Ports Authority premises when he got to know about the attack. However, Wickremaratne could not go inside the training school premises due to the commotion. He waited outside the premises and kept his party colleagues informed on developments that were taking place in the area.

Following the incident, a Police complaint was lodged by members of the state affiliated trade union of the Sri Lanka Ports Authorities that the opposition MPs trespassed into the union office and assaulted its members.

Subsequent to this complaint, the Colombo Fort Magistrate on Friday issued notice on the four UNP MPs to appear before court on October 27.

UNP refers to Keheliya’s comment at the meeting with EC

Meanwhile, at the meeting held between the Elections Commissioner and representatives of the opposition, the UNP raised objection over state resources being utilized for propaganda campaign of the government. They took the incident at the Ports Authority training school as an example and urged the Elections Commissioner to look into the matter.  UNP Leadership Council Chairman Karu Jayasuriya, General Secretary Tissa Attanayake, Ravi Karunanayake and Joseph Michael Perera were the members of the UNP delegation who met Elections Commissioner on Thursday for a special meeting.

The UNP brought another important point to the attention of the Elections Commissioner. They questioned the polls chief as to how some Cabinet ministers of the government were making public statements about the election date when it was the prerogative of the Elections Commissioner. They specifically referred to the statement made by Media and Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella saying he was aware of the election date.The Elections Commissioner responded to the claims made by opposition MPs in a defensive manner and said he would look into the allegations.

On the same day, JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva, Propaganda Secretary Vijitha Herath and Parliamentarian Sunil Handunnetti also met the Elections Commissioner over the legality of the presidential election. They raised questions over legitimacy of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's candidacy at the forthcoming election and the legal barriers standing in his way. They request the Elections Commissioner to prevent the possibility of an 'illegitimate' election.

Rathana Thera now open-minded

Parliamentary group leader of the Jathika Hela Urumaya Athuraliye Rathana thera is still making headlines in the mainstream media as President Mahinda Rajapaksa has appointed a committee, headed by Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, to look into the JHU proposals. The committee promised to present its proposals in five days. Although the meeting between the two parties ended amicably, there was no final conclusion on the matter whether the JHU would support President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the next presidential election.

When contacted by Asian Mirror, Rathana Thera said the JHU was open-minded about the committee appointed by the President. "We are awaiting their response. Based on that we will make our decisions on the presidential election," Rathana Thera said.

However, Rathana Thera added that the government had no other option but to accept their proposal on adopting a constitutional amendment before announcing a presidential election. “There will be no interim solution when it comes to constitutional amendment. The government has to agree with our proposal if it needs our support at the presidential election. If the government is reluctant to implement a constitutional amendment before the presidential polls, we will use all our strength to defeat the Preident,”Rathana Thera told Asian Mirror.

BBS slams at Rathana Thera

However, the Bodu Bala Sena organization, which announced its entry into national politics this week, strongly criticized the constitutional amendment presented by the “pivithuru hetak” movement, led by JHU Parliamentarian Athuraliye Rathana Thera. BBS General Secretary Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera referred to the draft constitutional amendment presented by Athuraliya Rathana Thera as a “worthless paper” written by former Chief Justice Sarath N Silva.  He also indicated that the Bodu Bala Sena’s viewpoint on the constitution and the Executive Presidency was different to that of the JHU and the Pivithuru Hetak movement.

Meanwhile, Gnanasara Thera said that his organization will enter national politics from the next general election. According to Ghnanasara Thera, the election campaign of the BBS will be led by laymen and not by Buddhist monks. He made it clear that the BBS had no intention of contesting at the forthcoming presidential election.

Although the government has officially stated that the presidential election will take place in January, the exact sate of the election is still a puzzle to many. With so many speculations floating around, the New Indian Express made an interesting observation on Friday, saying the election is likely to be held on January 8, 17 or 26.

The report stated that President Mahinda Rajapaksa considers these astrologically determined dates as being “lucky” for him because they all add up to “8”, saying the Sri Lankan President had chosen “8” to do all important work in his successful political career thus far.

President Rajapaksa got the first Presidential election he faced to be held on November 17, 2005. Before the six-year first term ended, he called for a snap poll and filed his nomination papers on December 17, 2009 and held the election on January 26, 2010.

Astrologers, according to the report, have allegedly told Mahinda Rajapaksa that he should hold the election not later than January 2015, if he is to get a third term, although reportedly he is still the front runner for presidency.

The obscurity pertaining to the date of the presidential election has thrown into question Pope Francis’s visit to Sri Lanka. International media, a few weeks ago, reported that the Papal visit to Sri Lanka is scheduled to begin on January 13 next year.

Although the spokespersons of the government have commented on the timelines of the election, they have not made any remark on the way it would impact on the papal visit. However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, during his recent visit to Rome, met Pope Francis who is scheduled to arrive in Sri Lanka in January.  At the meeting, The Sri Lankan president handed over the official invitation to the holy papal requesting him an official visit in Sri Lanka by January next year. First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa and several diplomatic officers too were also present at the meeting.

Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith told journalists at a media briefing in September that the Pope would be visiting Sri Lanka on January 13 and 14 next year. He is scheduled to arrive at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in Katunayake at 9.00am on January 13, where he will be accorded a state welcome. He will then travel to Colombo along the Negombo-Colombo road in an open-top vehicle. Pope Francis will also hold a Holy Mass for the public at Galle Face Green and will also attend a prayer service at the historic Madhu Church in Mannar during his visit to Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, catholic news networks, on Tuesday, reported that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, Sri Lanka, has asked President Mahinda Rajapaksa whether a visit by Pope Francis, scheduled to begin next January 13, should be postponed in light of reports of a presidential election. However, according to reports, the President’s office has still not responded to the letter. The President’s response to the letter will determine whether the Papal visit will be postponed due to the presidential election in Sri Lanka.




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