The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the ultra nationalist Sri Lanka political party, on Tuesday extended a conditional support for the candidature of the just retired General Sarath Fonseka if he chooses to be a Presidential candidate in the election scheduled in the second half of January.

Ramalingham Chandrasekar, the JVP parliamentarian and the Deputy Chairman of the Committees in the Sri Lanka Parliament told The Hindu, “We are ready to back Gen. (retd) Fonseka as a candidate against the President Mahinda Rajapaksa if he agrees to our charter of demands. The charter has been conveyed to the retired General. More details of the charter would be made public by the JVP Propaganda Secretary, Vijitha Herath later in the day.”

Sources in the camp of the former Army Chief, who sought pre-mature retirement from the military citing differences with the Government, said that the man who led the war against the LTTE is more than eager to jump into the Presidential race.

“The retired General is talking to representatives of various opposition parties in the island nation and we are hopeful that he would emerge as the common consensus candidate of the opposition combine”, an aide of Gen. (retd) Fonseka said.

The United National Party (UNP), main opposition party in Parliament led by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in recent weeks has been openly talking about the possibility of backing the candidature as a Presidential candidate if he endorses the ten-point agenda of the party.

A few days ago Mr. Wickremesinghe was named as the leader of the newly constituted 18-party United National Front (UNF). The former Prime Minister is on record that the alliance could back Gen. (retd) Fonseka only if the former Army chief endorsed a 10-point common minimum programme with abolition or substantial dilution of powers of the Executive Presidency as a key component.

He is to preside over the highest UNP party forum on Friday to decide on strategy in the forthcoming Presidential election. A senior leader of the UNP said that it would not be adverse to the idea of backing Gen. (retd) Fonseka.

The key point in the charter of demands of the JVP and the UNP is abolition or substantial dilution in the powers of the Executive Presidency. Most mainstream parties in Sri Lanka have agreed that the supreme powers conferred in the office of the Executive Presidency have polarised the society further and complicated a solution to the ethnic problem.

Under the current Constitution, introduced by J.R. Jayawardene in 1978, President is all powerful. A statement of Mr. Jayawardene, often cited in the context of the pros and cons of the Executive Presidency, that under the prevailing Constitution President could do any thing barring conversion of a man into a woman and vice-versa best illustrates the nature of the problem.

In an editorial titled, 'Of those Rip Van Winkles' English Paper Island noted, “Suddenly, the executive presidency has become the biggest problem in the country! We have had that institution for about one half of the post Independence period or 31 years. There have been five executive presidents –– JRJ (two-time), Premadasa, Wijetunga, Kumaratunga (two-time) and Rajapaksa.

“The UNP held that office for 16 years and the SLFP for 15 years so far. JRJ did not create the executive presidency out of any love for the country or the benefit of future generations. His only goal was self-aggrandisement.

“The over-concentration of power in one institution is not salutary but the executive presidency has, in spite of all its flaws, functioned as a stabilising political force at critical times. The People’s Alliance (PA) government (led by Chandrika Kumaratunga) formed in 1994 with a razor thin majority would have collapsed within months of its formation but for the executive presidency.

“The JVP, which is bitterly critical of the unbridled executive powers, was instrumental in having President Kumaratunga's presidential powers used to sack Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's UNF government in 2004 on grounds of national security. Now, she regrets having done so!”

Under the present provisions of the Constitution, the Head of State of Sri Lanka is the President and is also the Head of the Executive, the Head of the Government, and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.

“The President is elected by the people and holds office for a period of six years. The President has the right to attend, address and send messages to Parliament at any time. The President is also entitled to all the privileges, immunities and powers of a Member of Parliament other than the right to vote, and shall not be liable for any breach of the privileges of Parliament, or of its Members”. The debate on the likely candidates for the Presidential election and the agenda on which they would seek office gained momentum after President Rajapaksa Government shortly after Tuesday night announced that the proclamation on a fresh mandate to the office of the President has been gazetted.

The decision on a fresh mandate was made public after the President and representatives of 26 of his allies met took stock of the situation and assessed the strengths and weaknesses of Mr. Rajapaksa’s rivals.

Under the Constitution, the President can call for a presidential election once the incumbent completes four years of the six-year term. An early Presidential poll is premised on the assumption that besides giving Mr. Rajapaksa a firmer grip over his party, he could help the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) secure a clear majority in the parliamentary polls due by April.

Followers of Mr. Rajapaksa believe that having militarily defeated the LTTE, he has very good chances of securing a second term. The opposition parties believe the General who are lining up behind the General, who fell out with the President, are also banking on the perceived popularity of the `war hero’.

Once the Presidential proclamation is gazetted, the Sri Lankan Election Commission would fix the date of polling and in all probability it would be January 23.

The Presidential hopefuls get six weeks of campaign time. The retired General, barely a week into the thick of politics, is going out of his way to woo all and sundry including the Tamils.

The Opposition too gearing up for a presidential election was evident hours before the official announcement. In a statement Karu Jayasuria, Deputy Leader of the United National Party (UNP) led by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said, ““With a presidential poll in the air, we have already witnessed the hasty transfers of several high ranking policemen which can only be a harbinger to the violence and abuse of state property that is to surely follow.”

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