Amid concerns over sporadic incidents of violence and furious debate on the need for a switch over from the all powerful Executive Presidency to a model akin to India in the run up to the January 26 poll, Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa has promised to ‘reduce unnecessary powers’ of the Executive Presidency, born after the then President J.R. Jayawardene got the Parliament approve a new Constitution in 1978.
A report on the English paper, Daily Mirror web site quoted Mr. Rajapaksa, seeking a second term two years ahead of his first term, as lamenting before a group of English and Tamil Newspaper representatives that the present election campaign has been degraded from a presentation of political issues to a struggle between classes.
The outcome of the contest, mainly a fight between President Rajapaksa and the opposition consensus candidate retired General Sarath Fonseka is being watched keenly within and outside the island nation for a number of reasons.
It is the first such mass democratic exercise in the post-Prabakaran Sri Lanka and much is at stake for all stakeholders in the three decade old ethnic conflict which has eluded a solution.
Since both Mr. Rajapaksa and Gen. (retd) Fonseka represent the majority Sinhalese community and are credited for the military victory against the Tigers, the focus is bound to be especially on the choice of the Tamils that account for 12.5 percent of island nation’s 20 million people.
Pitch-forked into the centre stage with the support on one hand of the two parties diametrically opposed to each other — the main opposition United National Party led by former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the ultra-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) and the other the post-Prabakaran Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the former Army Chief has launched a no-holds barred attack on President and his family. The alleged deals of corruption, poor governance, nepotism and improper handling of the issues triggered by Eelam War IV including the re-settlement of the three lakh displaced are the pet themes of the retired General.
The first Presidential election campaign related death earlier this week and apprehensions of electoral malpractices have added to the opposition arsenal.
Mr. Rajapaksa on his part so far has mainly focused on issues of development. However, his party managers have been equally robust and reckless either in levelling or countering charges from the opposition camp. As the polling date nears, observers expect the rhetoric to touch a new high.
As per Daily Mirror in his interactive session with local media representatives Mr. Rajapaksa expressed confidence that a far greater majority of the Tamil Parties were in support of him, than with the opposition common candidate. “Thondaman, Douglas Devananda, Pillayan, and Sidharthan are all with me,” he said.
On matters of constitutional reform he told the group that he would give the people the 13th amendment, which deals with devolution of powers to provinces and incorporated into the Sri Lanka Constitution after the 1987 India-Lanka Accord, where the upper house would ensure the rights of the people were protected.
“I will give 13 plus 1 with the upper house; with the upper house the rights of the people will be protected. The 13th amendment must transfer the powers to the people. However the Police powers I will not give- ask anyone in Colombo if I they will like it if the police powers were given to any provincial council. All this time I was asking them (the Tamil Parties) for proposals. But this time I am going to present the proposal and tell them “if you want to add anything we will discuss it.”
He told the meeting that the opposition no longer had a political foothold and therefore had reduced their campaign to that of a class struggle.
“This election then has ultimately come down to a class struggle- they have no political issues to talk about. They can’t say I sold any banks or buildings — the money is all there for the people to see.”
On corruption his comment was, “If they had proof why didn’t they bring a no confidence motion against me; they did it for the former President; Chandrika Bandaranayaka but they never presented one against me. For 70 years my family has been in politics-would I spoil my name just for a few bucks”.
A statement posted on the UNP web site quoted Gen. (retd) Fonseka as saying that Mr. Rajapaksa has let go an opportunity to bring peace and harmony after the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009 and the former Army Chief would fill the void. “As one of the measures towards this end , the TNA and us joined together , but the Govt. by hurling all kinds of allegations and criticisms for this unity is trying to sow seeds of discord among all the communities , the Sinhala , Tamils , Muslims and other minorities”, the web site quoted as saying at one of the election rallies.
Separately, a statement by the President’s Secretariat here said that the judgements of the so-called ‘Permanent People’s Tribunal on Sri Lanka’ will do nothing to further efforts to cement a permanent peace in Sri Lanka.
“The body is ad-hoc, has dubious terms of reference and has no status in international law. Furthermore the timing is clearly designed to influence the forthcoming Sri Lanka election on Jan 26, and suggests a degree of political motivation or manipulation.
“There is nothing to suggest that this ‘tribunal’ will be conducted in a fair or representative fashion and its agenda is highly suspicious.
We strongly condemn any unaccountable organisation, whether it purports to be a quasi-legal entity or not, irresponsibly distorting events and seeking to selectively pass judgement from afar”.
Condemning sporadic incidents of violence in the last few days including the reported attack on a local BBC correspondent, the Secretariat said that the Government would not tolerate any acts of violence against civilians, politicians, local and international observers and journalists in the current situation.
“The Government will not allow anything to undermine this historic election, the first since the end of a quarter of a century of organized terrorism in Sri Lanka – under which free and fair elections were regularly obstructed – and the people in all areas of the country now have the freedom to participate in the electoral process”.