President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Thursday said he saw no challenge in the so-called common candidate in the calibre of a retired military man or the former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, in the Presidential election scheduled in the second half of January 2010.

Talking to the media over a breakfast meeting Mr. Rajapaksa remarked that retired military personnel will not be candidates in uniforms and pointing his finger at the Defence Secretary seated alongside the media personnel, the President said, “See, the Defence Secretary is retired and now dressed in civilian clothes.”

Mr. Rajapaksa’s remarks came hours before the main opposition United National Party (UNP) in a report posted on its web site said, “At a meeting held by the Former chief of staff, General Fonseka, at his office at Vanik Building on Wednesday evening, a number of UNP MPs who were present at the meeting said, after the meeting, all issues were ironed out and all hurdles cleared with the General.

“One of the MPs present at the meeting said, everything is clear now, and a formal announcement will be made to the public after the working Committee meets today.”

‘Positive campaign, need of the hour’

President Rajapaksa said the need of the hour was to engage in a positive campaign devoid of insult and mud-slinging among contestants. “I respect the right of the people to call for elections and that was why I sacrifice two years of my first term heeding to the voice of the people,” stressed the President.

Elaborating further, President Rajapaksa said that in 2005, the opposition created a notion that he won sans the northern vote. “I decided that the right of voters in both the North and [the] East is a must to decide on the presidency and now they can choose their leader,” he added.

He said that he fulfilled the pledge to unite the nation and never took the credit for himself in performing that task. “The Service Commanders, troops and the nation rallied round and they must be given the credit for strengthening my leadership to win the war,” said the President.

Asked about the abolition of the executive presidency, President Rajapaksa agreed that the Parliamentary system must be strengthened in the future.

President Rajapaksa asserted that the nation must now move forward in development to meet challenges ahead. “Mahinda Chinthanaya is a continuing concept and my manifesto is the same this time”, he noted.

Transport Minister, Dulles Alahapperuma interjected to state that this was the first time after 1948 that a leader continues with the same theme of a manifesto a second time.

Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga said that almost all of the provisions in the Mahinda Cinthanaya manifesto presented in 2005 have been fulfilled.

‘Massive development schemes underway’

President Rajapaksa pointed that massive development schemes were now underway and noted that he was there to give leadership to all progressive measures of the nation.

Separately, a report posted on the government information website said “a recent statement by retired General, Sarath Fonseka, that he has never been defeated in his military career and was a fearless man has come in for severe criticism in defence circles which are aware of his fear to accompany President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Kilinochchi this year before the conclusion of the LTTE war.

“Having cleared the Kilinochchi district of LTTE terrorism, the defence circles recalled that President Rajapaksa was eager to visit Kilinochchi and had intimated his desire to Gen. Fonseka who was the Army Commander. Gen. Fonseka had warned the President to give up the idea as he (Fonseka) had fear to go Kilinochchi as the war was yet on and had confessed he too had not been there for a long time.

“The President had convinced Gen. Fonseka saying not to worry or fear as he (Fonseka) would be in the company of the President. Finally Fonseka had acceded reluctantly to the request of the President retaining fear in his mind. President Rajapajsa who visited Kilinochchi entered history by being only of head of state to visit the war-torn district during the cruel war.

“Defence circles claimed that the President who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Tri-Services displayed that he was a brave military commander to his troops while being as astute political leader. They further said that when Commander-in-Chief, President Rajapaksa declared war on the LTTE over the Mavil Aru incident, the Army Commander, then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka was nowhere in the scene, as he was being hospitalised after the LTTE attacks on him in the precincts of Army Headquarters.”

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