10th September 2000

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Withdrawing guns to make things equal

By Leon Berenger

Some 225 government and opposition legislators will be disarmed on the eve of elections day in fairness to the other candidates and also as a precautionary measure, a senior policeman said yesterday.

Under the election laws the lawmakers should have been disarmed and their official police bodyguards withdrawn as soon as Parliament was dissolved, but as the House will be summoned before October 10 for an extra-ordinary session to debate the emergency the MPs automatically reserve the right to be protected by their official bodyguards.

Under the present circumstances the MPs will practically contest the hustings armed to the teeth and along with their police bodyguards. Each MP is assigned four police bodyguards.

Earlier MPs and other candidates had requested armed protection until the elections were over citing the prevailing security situation in the country. The matter was also to be discussed at the National Security Council.

"There is a record 5,000-odd candidates contesting the upcoming elections and if the police are to provide each and every one of them with four guards each it will turn out to be a nightmare. It is impossible to find an additional 20,000 men, even if it is for just one month," DIG Elections A. A.. Samarasinghe told The Sunday Times last night.

Candidates contesting the elections in the turbulent north and east may also look towards the authorities for some kind of protection and these requests will have to be studied on a case by case basis depending on the area they are in and the risk factor, another senior policeman said.

Meanwhile the police election secretariat has so far received some 95 pre-election complaints of violence, intimidation and harassment. At least five persons are already known to have been killed since nominations were handed in.

The bulk of the complaints are from the main opposition UNP and the JVP. The PA has also filed several complaints.

Newcomers enter the political ring

By Hiranthi Fernando

With elections just one month away, over 5000 candidates fielded by various political parties and independent groups enter into fierce competition, vying for 196 seats in 22 electoral divisions.

Despite the ban on posters, faces of candidates some well known, some not so well known are appearing on every available surface, complete with the preference numbers they have just been allocated.

It is seen that this election has introduced several new faces into the political arena, particularly in the newer political parties.

The UNP which is the oldest political party in the country, carries on its list, several first timers to enter the hustings. Among them are Sajith Premadasa and Navin Dissanayake. Sons of well known political figures, the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa and late Gamini Dissanayake, they are appearing as candidates for the first time, though they have been active in politics for some time, particularly after their fathers were assassinated.

Sajith Premadasa said he has plans to uplift the economy and standard of living of the people of Hambantota District. He intends initiating development programmes at AGA level. Neomal Perera, who makes his debut contesting Puttalam, is the nephew of the former UNP Member of Parliament, Paris Perera. Having been Coordinating Secretary and organiser for Puttalam, he says he was pressurised by people in the electorate to contest. Although he does not approve of putting up posters, he has been advised to do so because he is new to the scene.

Another first timer, Jinadasa Kulatilleke, has served in the Administrative Service for 30 years. Practising as an advocate since his retirement, Kulatilleke came forward as a candidate because he opposes the new Constitution which has been proposed. Although he has registered a new political party on August 23, he decided to contest under the UNP banner because he feels it is the only party that has the strength to oppose the new Constitution and defeat the Government. Abeywardena Balasuriya, a full time singer with 30 years experience in the musical field said his main purpose in contesting this election is to get a better deal for the film industry and artistes since he says the Government has done nothing for them despite promises.

Most of the candidates on the People's Alliance list have contested in General Elections, Provincial Council or Local Government elections. The only new candidate he could name was Duminda Dissanayake, the son of Berty Premalal Dissanayake, Chief Minister of the North Central Province. At 22 years of age, he is said to be the youngest candidate.

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna,(JVP) too has fielded candidates who have experience at an election. The new faces on the JVP list are those contesting in the North and East. They have Katukitulagedera Wimal Piyatissa, P.P.G. Chandana and D. Sarath Premachandra, who are teachers in the Eastern Province, Sriyanjith Weerakoon, who is a diver at Trincomalee and G.D. Saliya Weerasinghe, a driver who are contesting their very first election.

Sihala Urumaya an up and coming new party, on the other hand has fielded a majority of candidates who are on their first outing at elections. However, party officials say they have experience in political activity. Anuradha Yahampath, a graduate in Textile Designing works as a Director of a private company. Anuradha who is 37 years old, is the mother of two children and will have a third baby before elections. She handles the propaganda work for the party from her home.

'I believe that most politicians have betrayed the nation and are in Parliament for personal gain', she said. 'We have a system where the minority is holding the majority to ransom' she said.

Another lady candidate, Kumidhika Herat Gunaratne is also the mother of two school going children. She said she joined the National Movement Against Terrorism (NMAT) because she had the country at heart. Kumidhika said she is not against any minority but felt that the Sinhala people are not given a voice.

'It is purely because I am worried about the country and the environmental situation that I decided to contest', she said. Peum Anupa Pasqual (36) expressed similar sentiments. Educated at Royal College and a graduate of the Colombo University, Pasqual has worked in the Environmental Authority. Ajith Seneviratne, a businessman of 47 years has run several garment factories. He says he is contesting the election because he is against the package and the division of the country.

The Left and Democratic Alliance (LDA) headed by Vasudeva Nanayakkara fields several first time candidates on their list. Nimalka Fernando, an attorney-at-law has been a political activist since the 1970s. She was a member of the Nava Sama Samaja Party when it was first formed in 1977. Her main idea is to bring the issues of Sri Lankan women into focus.

Ven. Keeranthidiye Pannasekera Tissa Thera of the LDA has come forward to represent Batticaloa District in his first appearance at an election. Although he resides in Kalutara, he has many connections with Batticaloa. The thera. who is also an ardent environmentalist has won a Global 500 award for his work in this field. His many friends in the District had requested him to come forward for elections. He. said his main idea in contesting is to work towards environmental protection.

The United Lailth Front, headed by. Srimani Athulathmudali has many new faces on its list of 23 candidates contesting the Colombo district. Shirani Amaratunga, a mother of three grown up children has worked as Ms. Athulathmudali's Secretary and Personal Assistant while at the Ministry. She thinks we need some honest and genuine politicians, as well as more women, to take the country forward. Prasanna Jayawardena, a hotelier of 30 years experience enters the political arena because he feels there is a need for professionalism, internationalism and a new look. Malini Wickremasinghe's main reason for contesting is to support Srimani Athulathmudali to keep alive the Athulathmudali name, having been a strong supporter of the late Lalith Athulathmudali. Rohan Pieris who also got involved in politics due to his association with Lalith Athulathmudali feels that the country needs to forget petty party politics and have a national government.

And so, with varied ideas and aspirations the new entrants to the political scene go out to fight for their places with determination.

Violence increasing as polls draw closer?

After a quiet period in the run-up to the nominations, the sudden burst of violence specially with a total of 19 incidents on the final day of nominations appear to be a premonition of a violent period in the weeks leading to the October polls.

The two independent monitoring organisations PAFFREL and CMEV commenced monitoring pre election violence.

The CMEV has recorded 122 incidents by Friday evening. Of the incidents recorded 74% has been identified as major incidents, with 48% as minor.

The People's Alliance is allegedly the perpetrators of the highest number of incidents with 55, UNP 32, 26 party unknown and JVP four. Firearms had been used in 22 incidents which is twice the average at the Presidential and provincial council elections.

The misuse of Government resources in the provinces and the post nomination motorcades have also resulted in violence and bloodshed as in Ampara district. The most violent incident recorded so far is at Waipathanchenai in Sammanthurai electorate where two people were killed and five others had to receive treatment at the Ampara hospital for injuries received.

E-mail to woo the voters

E-mail has become the latest mode of election campaigning, with several senior Cabinet ministers and senior UNPers sending e-mails to voters to woo them.

Although the e-mail facility is available mostly to the wealthier classes, political parties are fast using this facility in their campaigns.

Ministers G. L. Peiris, Mangala Samaraweera, and Kingsley T Wickremaratne are just a few who have turned to using e-mail at present while many more candidates are likely to use it.

PA media campaign Chief, Sripathi Sooryarachi told The Sunday Times the candidates have adapted to using e-mail.

'It is a very effective method and the cost has to be borne by the candidate. It is mainly used by candidates in Colombo' he said.

UNP spokesperson Dr. Karunasena Koddithuwakku told The Sunday Times that using e-mail is effective for candidates with a professional background.

'We used the fax and telephone during the Presidential elections. This is a newer method and very effective' he said.

Nominated without their consent

Names of a retired public servant, three public servants and a private sector employee have been placed on the National United Alliance (NUA) candidates list for the Jaffna district, but all of them deny giving their consent to contest the elections.

The five persons are planning to take legal action against the NUA led by Minister M.H.M. Ashraff for placing their names as candidates without their approval.

The five persons were informed by friends that their names were on the Jaffna district list to contest the elections.

The five 'candidates' are former Secretary to the North East Provincial Education Ministry, Sundaram Divakalala, Additional Secretaries of the Ministry of Rehabilitation K. Lankanesan (former GA, Vavuniya) and A. Jayaratnam, Dr. S. Sivakumaran attached to the Colombo National Hospital and a private sector employee S. Yoganathan.

Mr. Divakalala told The Sunday Times that he would be filing a Fundamental Rights application over the use of his name.

He said that he has already informed the Elections Department about the misuse of his name.

Mr. Lankanesan had been out of the country when nominations were handed over.

The Sunday Times learns that the NUA had run short of names for the Jaffna district nomination list and had included the names.

Vice-president of the NUA, M.A. Rauf Hakeem however said the names were not those of the persons referred to.

Dinesh and Susil welcome Perumal

A strange turnaround in today's political game is that former critics of ex-north east chief minister Varatharaja Perumal now welcome him in their fold and refrain from criticising him.

Surprisingly many have forgotten what Mr. Perumal said in June last year. He submitted a set of proposals to the President asking for wider powers for regional councils. This was reported in The Sunday Times of June 20. He also opposed the present national flag as it, in his view, conveyed the reflection of Sinhala hegemony over other communities.

Former UNP MP Susil Moonesinghe who is contesting under the PA banner in the Colombo district supported Mr. Perumal who is on the PA national list and claimed that he never criticised the former chief minister.

'I never criticised him, I supported him. It was the other UNP MPs who were against the government and the 13th amendment. He is not an LTTEr. Therefore he is on the national list', said Mr. Moonesinghe.

Meanwhile MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardene contesting the Colombo district on the PA ticket said he believed there would be no future threat from Mr. Perumal who he was sure would stand against separatism.

JVP plays holy card

The one-time hardline Marxist JVP has handed over copies of its 200-page manifesto to the Mahanayakes and is to meet them and other religious dignitaries.

Party spokesperson Wimal Weerawansa told The Sunday Times the JVP now believed religion should be given top priority.

Political observers said the JVP's lack of progress in minstream politics was largely due to a public fear that it would destroy religion as hardline Marxists did. The new approach was apparently an attempt to win mass support in a country where religion plays a major role.

He said JVP leaders would be meeting Catholic bishops today, Hindu and Muslim leaders later to discuss their five-year plan for the people.

Poll watchers upset

The two election monitoring groups have expressed concern over the rising trend of polls-related violence.

An official of the Centre for Monitoring Elections Violence said they had recorded more than 120 incidents with about 70 of them being categorised as major and PA supporters being the main culprits.

An official of the People's Action Front for Free and Fair Elections gave a much lower figure but still expressed concern and called on the police to take tough action against offenders.

Paffrel entertains only written complaints and the total is much less than the CMEV figure.

Offered money, job to withdraw from elections

By Chris Kamalendran

The candidate running for the forthcoming Parliamentary elections from the Left Democratic Alliance who was abducted and released after a 35 hour ordeal believes he was harassed because he broke away from the People's Alliance and decided to contest under a new party.

Jayantha Anura (42) speaking to The Sunday Times at the Horana base hospital said a gang of eight had questioned him while he was held captive at an unidentified location and offered him a Samurdhi management post if he withdrew from the elections.

Anura handed over nominations while he was serving as the Co-ordinating Secretary to Kalutara Mayor Nalin Mahesh Perera, but decided to contest under the LDA led by Mr. Vasudeva Nanayakkara.

Recounting the kidnapping episode Anura said, 'I took my wife and daughter to see a doctor in Kalutara town last Tuesday evening. I took them in my three-wheeler and parked outside the dispensary. As the doctor was getting late I strolled into the town. Suddenly there was a power failure and some men grabbed me and assaulted me before pulling me into a white Hi-ace van'.

'After about a 45 minute drive I was taken to a house. I was questioned about an organisation which I had formed. This organisation is made up of A/L qualified unemployed youth and has been in existence for the past five years, but recently we were planning to file action in courts demanding the government provide employment to qualified youth', he said.

Anura had been placed under a guard that night.

The following day a different group came and questioned him about the handing over of nominations by the LDA.

'They wanted me to with-draw my nomination. They offered me Rs. 500,000 cash and a Samurdhi management post. They also questioned me about our membership and I told them that there were about 200,000 members', he said.

'They were also insisting that I should bring pressure on other members who have joined the LDA from the PA to resign from the party and rejoin the PA', he said.

'I thought about my family and decided to accept the offer. However, I was only thinking of escaping from them. I was also thinking of getting back home as soon as possible. After I told them that I was willing to accept their offer they put me into a car the following day and dumped me in the Horana town at about 3 a.m.', Anura said.

He said that he slept at a bus halt and woke up a few hours later. He had then boarded a bus heading towards Panadura and got off the bus when it was passing the Horana hospital.

'I decided to get myself admitted as I was in pain following the assault', he said.

While he was in the hospital the Police who had been alerted called on him to record a statement.

Anura claimed that the Police were trying to force him to get himself discharged and re-admitted to the Kalutara hospital.

Anura said that despite the threats he will not be withdrawing from the election. LDA Secretary Percy Wickramasekara said that he was not satisfied with the manner in which the Kalutara police were handling the investigations.

Names disappear from voters' lists

Many voters in and around Colombo city have been caught by surprise finding their names omitted from the elections register.

The Sunday Times learns that some of the persons had handed over their electoral lists well in time to the grama niladharis who are in charge of collecting the lists, but still found their name missing from the lists.

'We believe that the grama niladhari has not handed over the list in time and as a result we have been penalised', one residen in Kollupitiya who found his name missing from the elections register said.

A spokesman for the Elections Department said that voters who have found their names excluded in the election list of 1999 will not be able to vote at the forthcoming general elections since they did not make an application during the period allocated by the Elections Department.

But most people said they were not aware that they had to make objections during a specified period'

Assistant Commissioner K Senanayake told The Sunday Times that the 1999 list will be used for the general elections, while the 1998 list was used for the Presidential elections.

'The election list is revised every year. We start on June first .It takes three months to carry out the handing out of lists and collecting them. Once this is done another two months is taken to compare the 'A' list which is the previous year's list with the 'B' list which is the new list.', he explained.

'By November and December we are open for any objections and if the voter's name is not included a fresh application can also be made. Inquiries and claims are also made and by May the following year the list is completed' Mr. Senanayake said.

He added that the valid register which is available during the time the election date is gazetted is used for the election.

MSD cover for polls monitors

By Sunil Jayatilaka

Foreign election monitors invited by the government for the forthcoming Parliamentary elections are to be provided Ministerial Security Division (MSD) security, government sources said yesterday.

The government has decided to invite 22 observers from the European Union, 22 members from Commonwealth countries and 22 more members from the Asian Election Monitoring Institute, the sources said.

Up, down and up again

Hours after the close of nominations on Monday, police moved into remove election-related posters, buntings and cut-outs from public places, and at the end of it all it was a rather successful operation.

Blue, green, red and whatever size and colour were torn off parapet walls, billboards, bus commuters' shelters and railway station walls and dumped into dustbins in keeping with the election laws of the country.

Where posters could not be removed they were defaced with a splash of engine oil or tar and nobody was taking sides as the operation to clean up the political muck got underway.

For once it appears that the Police chief's order on this issue was carried out to the letter and there were no complaints or grumbling from any side of the political divide.

But then there are always those who intend to challenge the law, and not surprisingly it is the politician always who appears to take the lead in these matters.

Our team of photographers this week was able to capture some scenes where workers were still drawing and preparing more and more life-size poll cutouts belonging both to the government and the opposition.

These will probably come up in the city and suburbs any time from now till October 10 with little regard to police and regulations.

One senior Cabinet minister has reportedly told his hired hands to go ahead with plans to have life-size cut-outs of himself displayed at busy intersections with an assurance that he will handle the police.

This is just what the main opposition and some other 5,000-odd candidates will be waiting for, as they will simply follow the minister and come up with their own posters, buntings and cut-outs thereby putting the police in a spot.

One government man had another idea to beat the law. He plans to have two large life-size cutouts of himself and a Cabinet colleague next to a makeshift party office built of timber and cheap roofing. One is allowed to have such cutouts at a party office, but in this case the cutouts are more expensively created than the office itself.

"We are watching the situation, and will act fast, as we have already done against those violating the election laws and continue to put up posters or any other material in public places, DIG A.A. Samarasinghe told The Sunday Times. "There will be no exceptions, government or otherwise," he added.

Accordingly three persons each will be deployed in the 22 electoral districts.

The security personnel have been directed to provide security right throughout their stay and visits to all polling areas.

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