There are good reasons for the 20 million citizens of the island nation to feel a little cheerful as the forthcoming election is the first such mass exercise since the military defeat of the LTTE in May this year.

Sri Lankans across the island heaved a temporary sigh of relief on Thursday afternoon as the first phase of one of the most contentious election — the nomination process for the January 26 Presidential poll — passed off without any major hiccup.

There are good reasons for the 20 million citizens of the island nation to feel a little cheerful as the forthcoming election is the first such mass exercise since the military defeat of the LTTE in May this year.

Shortly after noon, the Commissioner of Elections Dayananda Dissanayake announced that barring one, the papers of all other 22 other contenders including that the incumbent President Rajapaksa and the retired former Army Chief and the consensus nominee of the major opposition parties are in order.

The election is also being watched with keen interest as till a few weeks ago the President, flush with military defeat of the LTTE, was considered invincible. However, entry of retired General into the fray has undoubtedly added a tinge of excitement.

Rajapaksa vs. Fonseka

Besides, the heat generated on account of the charges and counter-charges on a variety of subjects between the camps of the President and the retired General, had led to apprehensions. It is for the first time that the Presidential contest would be mainly confined to a veteran politician and a man who has spent all his adult life in the military.

Mr. Rajapaksa chose to hold the Presidential election two years ahead of his tenure after the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by him secured victories in eight of the nine provinces in the island nation where staggered elections were held since May 2008. Provincial election to the Northern Council was not possible as it was the theatre of war between the security forces and the LTTE till May this year.

Under the Constitution, the President can call for presidential election once he or she has completed four years in the six-year tenure. Mr. Rajapaksa completes his four years in the third week of November. In an interview to The Hindu (published on July 6, 7 and 8), Mr. Rajapaksa had first declared that he would seek re-election before the parliamentary polls.

Managers in the President’s camp believe that if Mr. Rajapaksa is re-elected, he will have a firmer grip on ruling party candidates for the parliamentary elections and will be better placed to seek a clear majority for the alliance led by him in the new House. If the ruling combine musters a two-thirds majority in the new Parliament, the President can push through amendments to the Constitution. On the top of his political agenda, like that of all his predecessors, is a switch from executive presidency to executive prime ministership under the parliamentary form of democracy.

Major opposition parties in the island nation have zeroed in on the choice of the retired General as their Presidential nominee as their perception he is the best bet to take on Mr. Rajapaksa as Gen. (retd) Fonseka is seen as a `war hero’. Ironically, both the President and the retired General are fighting almost on the same planks, credit for military defeat of the Tigers and the need to free the island nation from the `tyranny’ of Executive Presidency.

TNA’s stand

At the close of nomination papers and formal launch of the Presidential campaign, most parties are aligned either with the ruling combine or the opposition nominee. But the pro- LTTE Tamil National Alliance is still sitting on the fence more due to divisions within than any other reason. The Alliance appears split three ways as one of its members has decided to contest the election as an independent candidate.

Pro-LTTE TamilNet in a report quoted a ‘senior politician and civil movement member’ Manickasothy Abhimannasingham as saying, “All Tamil political leaders should ensure in unison that Dr. Vikramabahu Karunaratne receive the first preferential vote in the presidential election, so that the two main candidates equal in their chauvinistic agenda against Tamils will not get the necessary 50 percent to win”.

Highest number of contenders

Besides, the novelty of a contest between a veteran of political vs. ground battles the 2010 Presidential election would go down with the distinction of highest number of candidates in the fray in any election. Compared to the present one with 22 contenders, the 2005 and 1999 Presidential elections had only 13.

As per the electoral laws of the island nation, candidates from registered political parties are required to deposit 50,000 Lankan rupees while an independent candidate has to deposit 75,000 Lankan rupees, ahead of the nomination date. Deposits will be forfeited if a candidate fails to obtain a minimum 1/8 of the total valid votes polled, Election Secretariat spokesman said.

According to the Election secretariat, the Presidential election 2010 will be conducted according to the Electoral Register – 2008 and there are 1.40 crore eligible voters.

Objection to the nomination of Fonseka

The retired General is scheduled to formally kick off his campaign at a public meeting in Kandy with leaders of the 16-party United National Front (UNP) combine and the ultra-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) in attendance. As the campaign gains momentum, more sound and fury could be expected from both the sides.

Glimpses of what could be expected in the days to come were evident shortly after the nomination papers were handed over. A report on the Government Information web site (www.news.lk) said that Senior Attorney - at -Law, Sarath Kongahage raised an objection to the nomination of opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka at- objection time on the ground that Fonseka was a citizen of the United States of America. “At today's objection time after receiving nominations, the Commissioner of Elections received three objections against three candidates that included Fonseka”, it said.

Both sides are gearing for a mega electoral battle was evident when two more prominent dissident MPs of the principal opposition party UNP not only crossed over pledging their support to the President but they were promptly rewarded with ministerial positions in the present government on Wednesday afternoon.

The UNP on its part hit out at the Government. In a report posted on its web site (www.unp.lk) immediately after the scrutiny of nomination papers of the Presidential contenders by the Election Commission said, “It is the consensus among political circles that never ever a whole ruling Govt. entertained so much fear for just one individual in the history of democratic politics.

“This monumental fear was clearly demonstrated when the State Rupavahini , the only channel which was allowed to telecast today’s proceedings of handing over of nomination papers by the candidates for the Presidential election 2010, totally blacked out the telecast of Opposition common candidate General Sarath Fonseka’s handing over of nominations at 9.27 a.m.”.

RELATED NEWS

Gen. Fonseka does a volte-faceDecember 14, 2009

Two UNP leaders defect December 16, 2009

More In: International | News