India offers additional help. Equal rights will be ensured for all, says Rajapaksa

Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday paid a courtesy call on the Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa here on Sunday and exchanged views on matters of mutual interest between Sri Lanka and India over breakfast.

“It was a cordial meeting. Since Mr. Mukherjee is the Indian Finance Minister and well versed with the intricacies of the global economic outlook, aspects of international economic issues figured at the interaction”, a senior aide of President Rajapaksa told The Hindu.

Mr. Mukherjee, who was here primarily to deliver the fourth Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture, after his meeting with the President, went to Kandy to pay homage at the Sri Dalada Maligawa Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic before flying from there directly to the Bandaranayke International Airport to return to New Delhi.

Though Mr. Mukherjee’s visit was planned some time ago, it has acquired a special significance in the light of the fast-changing political landscape of the island nation after President Rajapaksa on Thursday granted permission to the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Sarath Fonseka, to retire with immediate effect, and the possibility of the General’s foray into politics.

With the departure of Mr. Mukherjee, all eyes are now on a crucial speech Mr. Rajapaksa is scheduled to make at the convention of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). The convention, being held here from 2 to 7 PM, is expected to consider dates for the general election and a possible presidential election.

Every one is eagerly waiting to see if Mr. President would stick to his original plan to call a Presidential election before the general election, as indicated in his July interview to The Hindu, after the exit of Gen. Fonseka from the military and his open projection as a possible consensus candidate against Mr. Rajapaksa.

The 19th Convention of the SLFP is a mega affair and is seen as a show of strength by the Government ahead of the polls. Over 100,000 party members, supporters and a foreign delegation representing 39 countries including two Congress Rajya Sabha MPs are participating in the event,

Under the Sri Lankan Constitution, the President is empowered to call a presidential election once he/she completes four years of the six-year tenure. Mr. Rajapaksa will complete four years in office in the third week of November. However, there is a difference of opinion about whether Mr. Rajapaksa, in the event of a re-election, can defer taking the oath of office until the end of his first term in November 2011.

Managers in the President’s camp believed till the Gen. Fonseka episode that it would be a cake walk for Mr. Rajapaksa in early Presidential election. Their argument was that if Mr. Rajapaksa is re-elected, he will have a firmer grip on ruling party candidates for the parliamentary elections and will be better placed to seek a clear majority for the alliance led by him in the new House. If the ruling combine musters a two-thirds majority in the new Parliament, the President can push through amendments to the Constitution.

Mr. Rajapaksa on Saturday replied to the letter of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Sarath Fonseka seeking permission for pre-mature retirement.

Political observers here have taken note of General Fonseka's concern, expressed in the resignation letter, over the plight of Tamil internally displaced persons and see it as an attempt by him to reach out to Mr. Rajapaksa's political rivals. It would be watched with interest how the General convinces the Tamils that he is a better bet than Mr. Rajapaksa in serving their interests.

More In: National | News