The Sri Lankan Election Commission on Friday set October 10 as the date for the election to the Southern Provincial Council (SPC).

SPC is the only province among the eight in the island nation which has not witnessed an election in the last two years. Local body elections to the Municipal Councils of Jaffna and Vavuniya in the Northern Province were held on August 10.

The ruling combine — United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) — led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa won majority in all the elections barring the Vavuniya local body where the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) emerged as the single largest entity.

The election to the SPC, in which the ruling combine is expected to have a smooth sailing owing to Mr. Rajapaksa’s high popularity ratings, is seen as a precursor to either a presidential or parliamentary election.

Though the current term of the President is till November 2011, under the Sri Lankan Constitution Mr. Rajapaksa can call for a presidential election after the third week of November this year.

A person elected as President in such an election can assume office in November, 2011. The term of the current Parliament ends in 2010. However, Mr. Rajapaksa has already stated that he would like the general election to follow the presidential race.

The ruling UPFA, the United National Party led by a the former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the JVP are contesting in all three districts in the SPC election.

Ship commissioned

The former Indian Coast Guard Ship Vigraha was inducted into the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) at the Trincomalee Navy Dockyard on Friday.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa formally commissioned the vessel as SLNS Sayurala. The off-shore patrol vessel was acquired from the Indian Coast Guard in August 2008.

The vessel joined the SLN fleet on August 23, 2008. Built by the Mazagon Dockyard Ltd. of Mumbai in India in 1990, the vessel is 74.10 m length and 11.40 m in breadth. It has a maximum speed of 21.5 knots and draught is 3.58 m maximum.

“The net registered tonnage is 750 tonnes and gross registered tonnage is 1,247 tonnes. The vessel is equipped with marine surveillance radar and communication equipment for the assigned role in Sri Lanka’s exclusive economic zone,” said the SLN.

Speaking on the occasion Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa thanked India for facilitating the acquisition of the vessel and said the gesture of goodwill would strengthen bilateral relations and build better cooperation between the two neighbouring countries.

Separately, the government said dollar reserves had reached the highest-ever level of over $3.9 billion with the new Special Drawing Rights allocation by the International Monetary Fund.

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