Govt. To Strategize Political Splits To Its Advantage
- SL’s UPR Report likely to include update on implementation of LLRC
- Basil to leave for India on August 24 with Gotabaya and Lalith
The Mahinda Rajapaksa government is now trying to use the Provincial Council elections scheduled for September 8 in three provinces as another show of its strength.
A victory at the Provincial Council elections would be used as a show of people’s continued confidence in the government and would also help the administration read the people’s sentiments.
Although the country is not faring well on the economic front and the deterioration of the law and order situation has resulted in an increase in the crime rate in the country, the lack of strength of other political parties has given the edge to the government.
Therefore, in the event of a UPFA victory it would be by default.
Out of the Provincial Council elections in the North Central, Sabaragamuwa and Eastern Provinces, the government is focused on a landslide victory in the Eastern Province.
The decision by governing party coalition partner, the SLMC to contest separately is seen as a negative point for the government.
An issue over the allocation of one seat finally resulted in the SLMC deciding go solo in the East.
However, the government has found confidence in the fact that the UPFA emerged victorious at the 2008 Eastern Provincial Council election when the SLMC had contested in alliance with the UNP under the “elephant” symbol.
The East, which has a high concentration of Muslims, would undoubtedly be a keen area to keep an eye on during the upcoming elections.
Since a Tamil speaking population dominates the East, the TNA would also be battling to stake a claim in the Council.
“We are very keen on winning the East,” a senior government minister said.
The government is also hopeful of reaping the benefits of its development drive in the East, Negenahira Navodaya, launched after liberating the area.
The governing party has appointed a committee comprising ministers Basil Rajapaksa, Maithripala Sirisena, Dullas Alahapperuma, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Susil Premajayantha and Anura Priyadharshana Yapa to handle the UPFA’s election campaign, which is to be organized under the theme of “Rata Ekata-Yamu Perata.”
In the Eastern Province, De Silva will lead the UPFA campaign in the Ampara District while Premajayantha together with Minister A. H. M. Fowzie and Deputy Minister Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan will lead the campaign in the Batticaloa District and Yapa in the Trincomalee District.
The senior government minister explained that under the Provincial Council laws and the current electoral system, it was a good strategy for coalition partners of the UPFA to contest separately.
The NFF led by Minister Wimal Weerawansa is also fielding a separate list of candidates to contest in the Trincomalee District.
“The UPFA is a large alliance of parties and it is difficult to accommodate all parties and give them the number of seats required by them,” he said, adding that the government would take the situation to its advantage.
Explaining further, he said the UPFA contested without the SLMC in the East at the last election and won.
The government is also banking on the advantage of the splits in the opposition parties.
“All opposition parties are split,” the minister said.
However, he said the government would not name any chief ministerial candidates to the three provinces and would decide according to the people’s views after the election.
While the government has put a confident face forward, the UNP, SLMC, TNA and JVP are also preparing for the hustings.
The SLMC decision to contest separately was made on Wednesday morning, the day before nominations concluded.
The party’s High Command a few weeks back following lengthy deliberations decided to contest in alliance with the governing UPFA based on several agreements.
The party’s High Command believed that the party needed to gain an advantage by contesting with the UPFA when the TNA had also expressed its interest to contest in alliance with the SLMC.
SLMC Leader Rauf Hakeem held several discussions with President Rajapaksa, Basil and Premajayantha.
The final straw that made the SLMC decide to contest separately was over one seat in the Trincomalee District.
The SLMC requested for six seats in the Ampara District, three in the Batticlaoa District and three from the Trincomalee District.
The UPFA had agreed to grant four seats in the Ampara District, two in Batticaloa and three in Trincomalee.
The SLMC agreed to the UPFA offer and it was decided to sign an electoral agreement between the two parties.
However, last Tuesday night the whole scenario changed with Minister A. L. M. Athaullah asking for one seat each in the Trincomalee and Ampara Districts.
The UPFA was left without any option but to give Athaullah a seat from the SLMC’s Trincomalee allocation.
An emergency meeting was convened between Hakeem, Basil, Premajayantha, Rishard Bathiudeen and Athaullah to resolve the issue.
Hakeem had refused to accept Basil’s proposal. Basil had proposed to increase the seat allocation for the SLMC in the Ampara District by one totaling it to six seats while allocating two seats each in the Trincomalee and Batticaloa Districts.
The matter was finally taken before the President.
Hakeem who by then had been under immense pressure from his party members had refused to accept the government’s latest proposal.
The SLMC hierarchy was also divided over the decision to contest with the government. A group of SLMCers including party secretary M.T. Hassan Ali and several others has said the party needed to contest separately under the “tree” symbol or even consider contesting in alliance with the TNA.
However, once it was agreed to contest with the UPFA, Hassan Ali had requested that an electoral agreement be signed with the governing party.
The SLMC finally decided to contest separately and the President had agreed.
When Hakeem said that the decision to contest separately was made with the blessings of the President, the following day, Thursday, the President’s Spokesperson Bandula Jayasekera was quoted in the media saying that the SLMC did not decide to contest separately with the President’s blessings.
Hakeem on Friday told the media that the decision to contest the polls separately was based on the best interests of the party and its members.
He had noted that the SLMC was left with two options to contest the upcoming elections. One was to join the government and contest, and the other was to contest by protecting the individuality of the party.
He had added that the party members and the people have expressed their pleasure over SLMC contesting as an individual party.
The government and Hakeem have said there was no dispute between the two parties and that there was a clear understanding as to why the party has to contest separately.
Nevertheless, the SLMC’s decision to contest separately would definitely have an impact on the UPFA’s vote bank since the SLMC is contesting separately while being part of the governing party coalition.
Meanwhile, the split in the TNA has now reached simmering point with coalition members EPRLF, TELO, TULF and PLOTE considering a separate election campaign in the Eastern Province sidelining ITAK.
The TNA consists of five parties and representatives of four parties have expressed their dissatisfaction with the conduct of ITAK.
They had informed TNA Leader R. Sampanthan and Mavai Senathiraja that seats in the Eastern Province should be divided equally among party members.
The party representatives argued over the matter on the 9th evening and decided to meet on the 10th morning to reach a final decision.
Out of 13 seats in the Trincomalee District ITAK had been allocated nine seats while the other four parties have been allocated four seats. ITAk had however taken over another seat.
Out of the 14 seats in the Batticaloa District, ITAK had initially taken seven seats and allocated seven to the other parties, but later on taken two more seats totaling ITAK’s number of seats to nine.
Representatives of the other parties have said they were displeased with ITAK’s approach and failure to include others in the decision making process.
EPRLF, TELO, TULF and PLOTE were to meet yesterday to decide on whether they would participate in the election campaign as the TNA in the East with ITAK or carry out a separate campaign.
“We need to decide if we want to campaign with ITAK during the elections,” a TNA member representing one of the four coalition parties said.
The split in the TNA over the allocation of seats seems to be just the final issue that has brought to bursting point problems faced by the Alliance for some time.
Nevertheless, the split in the TNA would undoubtedly serve to help the governing party that will try to capitalize on the situation.
No New Faces
The failure on the part of the main opposition UNP to put forward a formidable challenge to the governing party in the three provinces will also give an edge to the UPFA.
The UNP will be led by National Organizer Daya Gamage in the Eastern Provincial Council election campaign, Kasthuri Anuradhanayake in the North Central Province and A. A. Wijetunge in the Sabaragamuwa Province.
Realizing that the party was in need of vigor to carry out an election campaign, the UNP hierarchy has requested Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa to join party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in the election campaign.
It is learnt that Premadasa is now under pressure from his supporters not to do so.
Premadasa however is yet to decide on his move.
The decision of the UNP hierarchy is that a united front would give confidence to the party voters in the three provinces.
The UNP is also aware that it would be difficult to secure the second position in the Eastern Provincial Council since Hakeem and the SLMC were contesting separately this time around.
The hype created by the party soon after the dissolution of the three Provincial Councils that the UNP would field new faces that would help increase its vote bank has now died down. The UNP that put forward the late Major General Janaka Perera, UNP MP Ranjan Ramanayake and Hakeem as chief ministerial candidates at the last Provincial Council election seems to have given up on the election even before commencing its campaign.
The JVP has adopted a new strategy this time around.
Instead of focusing on campaigning for the Provincial Council elections, the JVP has decided to launch a series of what is called “anti-government political interventions”.
Following a decision by the Politburo endorsed by the party’s Central Committee, the JVP is to carry out a series of programmes to highlight the issues faced by the country and people and protest against them.
Placing its focus on anti-imperialism, the JVP is to carry out an island wide campaign without limiting themselves to the provinces where the elections are to be held.
“Holding Provincial Council elections on a staggered basis is not going to change the real situation in the country and it would not make anything right. There’s no point in focusing and campaigning for Provincial Council elections, which are a government ploy to divert attention,” a JVP politburo member said.
As the initial step, the JVP has organized for the first time a protest march from the Dondra Point in the South to Point Pedro in the North.
The march is to commence on Friday (27) from the Dondra Point and proceed to Point Pedro by road. The protest march is to conclude in the North on August 1st.
The JVP is to hold leaflet distribution campaigns and meetings in the main towns through which the procession would pass.
The procession will be called “Jana Pelagesma” against the government that suppresses the people.
The JVP’s move therefore is to act against the government’s expectations and to continue its focus on the issues faced by the country rather than focusing on an election campaign.
LLRC in UPR
While the political parties are gearing for the provincial elections, the government is also in the process of finalizing Sri Lanka’s report to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on human rights this November.
The deadline for Sri Lanka to submit its report is tomorrow (23).
Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe who headed the committee that prepared the report has sent it for Presidential approval and has also sent copies to External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, Minister Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, the Attorney General’s Department and former Attorney General Mohan Peiris. Even at the time of going to print, the report had not been finalized.
It is learnt that the government is to make some amendments in order to add the progress made with regard to the implementation of recommendations by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) on the human rights front.
The changes are to be made by Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga who is heading a Presidential Committee to oversee the implementation of the LLRC recommendations.
The UPR in November will be the midway mark since the adoption of the US sponsored Resolution on Sri Lanka at the 19th Session of the UNHRC in March this year. The government therefore believes that it would be a good move to include the progress made in the implementation of the LLRC recommendations as required by the March Resolution.
Meanwhile, a high-level government delegation headed by Minister Basil Rajapaksa is to visit India next month. Rajapaksa will be accompanied by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Presidential Secretary Weeratunga.
Basil’s visit to India is aimed at re-building strained relations with India prior to the UPR since India is a member of the troika appointed to oversee Sri Lanka’s UPR in November.