Sri Lanka will hold provincial elections this year in the war-ravaged north as it braces to devolve power to the region’s predominantly Tamil population.

“The 13th Amendment to the Constitution provides us with a framework to devolve power. We have set up the Provincial Council in the Eastern Province and it is functioning. By the middle of this year (2010) we will hold elections to the Northern Provincial Council,” the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) General Secretary and Agriculture Minister Maithripala Sirisena said.

“Once this council is in operation, we will monitor its functioning and if there are any drawbacks we will bring about necessary measures to address them,” the senior ruling party leader said. “Even President J R Jayewardene who introduced the PC system could not implement it properly in the north,” he added.

“By mid 2010, we will hold the PC elections there and then we will take the necessary steps to address the shortcomings,” Sirisena told the Sunday Times in an interview.

On whether the campaign of common opposition presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka was gaining ground for the 26 January presidential polls, Sirisena dismissed it as a “bankrupt one”. Sirisena claimed the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa will get more than 65 per cent of the polled votes.

On reports that state funds were being used by the president for entertaining people on the eve of the elections, he said they were not correct. “This is not true. Not even five cents from state funds is used for this purpose. This is political mudslinging. These functions are being paid for by the election funds of our party. This is being used as a campaign slogan by the opposition to tarnish the image of the president (Mahinda Rajapaksa),” he said.

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