17th September 2000

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Winning golds in sri Lanka's polympics

By H. Chanda Dhamma

We do not know whether the honourable S. B. Dissanayake is an avid reader of 'Countdown' but it was only last week that we commented that with him in the driver's seat of the election campaign of the Peoples' Alliance, he would make every effort to steer the PA through to victory, knocking a few democratic signposts if necessary.

And this week he has done just that, launching a vitriolic attack on Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake over the discovery of a security sticker ordered to be printed by the Commissioner at a private press. The Sports Minister even suggested that the Commissioner should resign, triggering speculation that the government was hatching a plan to oust the Elections Commissioner.

So, the 2000 summer Olympics may be in Australia but the 2000 general elections are in Sri Lanka where we have seen stupendous feats of human endeavour in pole-vaulting, somersaulting, hurdling, long jumping, rifle shooting and pistol shooting and even some non-Olympic games like mud slinging, back stabbing and poster pasting, all in the race for the gold medal of Membership of Parliament. The difference is that there are no silver and bronze medals on offer here- it's the gold or nothing and nothing stands in the way!

The race is on now, but first those who aspire to become lawmakers- even law professors- must become law-breakers to win these gold medals which entitles them to BMWs and Volvos, allowances, permits, foreign jaunts and access to underworld thugs and real world rogues. Hence, we believe the attempt to win at whatever cost- even at the expense of an efficient and impartial Elections Commissioner.

It is difficult for any right-thinking person to find fault with Dayananda Dissanayake, really. If he takes the full responsibility for the sticker, so be it. The fact that he gave the print order to an unknown printer and told him it was for a garment manufacturer makes it even more unlikely that it would have leaked to the public and also enhances the Commissioner's claim of acting impartially.

What is terribly funny is that when the Criminal Investigations Department did discover the stickers, they did not conduct an impartial and confidential inquiry- they rushed instead to Temple Trees with samples.

After that was done Minister Alavi Moulana asks in all innocence why the sticker could not have been printed by the government printer and produces a sticker in Parliament saying he got it from a three-wheel driver. If anybody's credibility suffered in this incident it was the government's and not Mr. Dissanayakes and the Sports Minister's efforts to ridicule the Commissioner was ugly and only gives credence to the common belief that the ruling party is unhappy with independent efforts to have a free and fair poll and that it intends, quite transparently, to win by hook or by crook or by both.

But the PA may be forgetting that they are dealing with Dayananda and not Chandananda in this election. By openly trying to humiliate the Commissioner, they haven't done themselves any good. If at all, it has even brought together unlikely allies- the United National Party and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna- in their bid to ensure a free poll.

But last week the UNP was also otherwise busy, apart from trying to prevent a rigged poll - wooing the business community. The UNP's economic forum for business leaders which followed President Chandrika Kumaratunga's invitation to business leaders to Temple Trees recently was held for a selected audience some of whom were also present at the Temple Trees meeting.

The meeting chaired by Ranil Wickremesinghe was apparently not as successful as the UNP leader's participation at a seminar which was organised by the business community at BMICH late last year during the presidential poll at which President Kumaratunga was conspicuous by her absence.

Nevertheless, the UNP came up with a commendable performance mostly because the handling of the economy has always been the UNP's forte. Also, the Colombo business elite had already slumped to a state of moribund inertia with the PA's utterly inefficient handling of the economy.

The UNP's answer to deserter Ronnie, many are made to believe is the young Milinda Moragoda, grandson of the famous Neville Ubeysinghe Jayawardena or N.U. as he is better known. Ranil Wickremesinghe reinforced this belief by asking Moragoda-who recently jumped into the National List after he had to give up contesting from Colombo East for fear of losing- to give a 30-minute presentation on the UNP's proposed economic policies to the business community- much to the obvious disappointment of the likes of Ravi Karunanayake and Nivaard Cabraal who also fancy themselves as future UNP Finance Ministers.

Moragoda, with his American connections is quite accustomed to slides and videos and his presentation was 'cool' but many knowledgeable men in the audience wondered why they should believe the whiz kid when he couldn't convince Martin Trust Investments into making an investment.

Then, Ranil Wickremesinghe's remarks to a question that in the long term only two private banks would survive in Sri Lanka, caused some embarrassment to Moragoda who has a not-too-well-off bank himself and also caused concern to several other bankers in the audience. Thus, though the business community came away from the meeting, agreeing that the UNP had a better economic vision than the PA, they were not ecstatic about the UNP's policies and proposals either.

On the other hand, the PA has got off to an unusually slow start to its campaign what with security considerations hampering the President doing her rounds and bonding with the masses on the one hand and internal bickering reaching alarming proportions on the other hand.

The Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wikremanayake is a lacklustre performer on the political stage - and his choice of words, 'ooo' 'moo', to mention some of them- is best described as unfortunate and a reflection on himself rather than on his opponents. So, as a political performer, Ranil Wickremesinghe can easily give him a run though Minister Mangala Samaraweera has suggested that the two 'RW's debate issues of concern in a live, televised debate.

Strangely though Ministers S. B. Dissanayake, Mangala Samaraweera and Mahinda Wijesekera- affectionately referred to as the 'Chandrika junta' by Vasudeva Nanayakkara- are neither seen nor heard of very much in the campaign trail and what they are hatching is left to be seen.

But definitely of more concern to the PA must be the inter-party rivalry within the Alliance. First supporters of North Central Province Chief Minister Berty Premalal Dissanayake assaulted Tourism Minister H. B. Semasinghe with the latter requiring suturing at a hospital. Then Minister John Seneviratne's vehicles were shot at allegedly incited by Deputy Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi in an incident in the Ratnapura district- though the latter strongly denied the accusations. Clearly, the 'manaapa' battle is hotting up and more fireworks may be in store but if this is the trend, the net result will be alienation of the average, intelligent voter away from the PA.

But for those who believe that the way to a man's vote is through his purse, this story takes the cake: a prominent Chandrika acolyte talking of the economy told a group of voters many of whom were beneficiaries of the petro-dollars from Sri Lankan housemaids in the Middle East, that under the UNP, the dollar was fifty rupees. "Our government" he thundered, convinced himself that what he was saying was sound economics, "has brought the dollar to eighty rupees. You will get thirty rupees more for every dollar you get from your loved ones in the Middle East, thanks to the PA. And, if you vote for us, we will raise the dollar to a hundred rupees!" he promised solemnly and the masses broke into thunderous applause!

This story- yes, it is a true story- may be the answer for Ranil Wickremesinghe and the likes of Milinda Moragoda who are wondering how come the rural masses vote for the PA when their slick state-of-the-art video presentations to Colombo's business elite does not deliver victory for the UNP.

But then, that must mean that there is something wrong somewhere.


The sticky matter overrides nostalgia

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Our Lobby Correspondent

Given President Chandrika Kumaratunga's penchant for precedent creation, it was little wonder that she decided to re-summon the House to pass the extension of the emergency. While the merits of the move could be debated, to constituents frustrated with politics of opportunism and authoritarianism, this re-summoning with a mere cabinet sanction of emergency extension may seem a healthy sign of democracy. In this sense, it may well be one of the PA's better precedents.

Trooping in on Thursday for a brief session were legislators, perhaps content with the full restoration of all their facilities for another month.

But it was also the end of the journey for the likes of Speaker K. B. Ratnayake. On the other hand some would return, some would be silently axed and some defeated.

Strangely, it is the Chair that seemed affected by the changes. While others were neck deep in politicking, Speaker K.B. Ratnayake has been a significant 'omission' in the national list in a backdrop of a pending never-to -be- debated no confidence motion. And it was time to throw in the towel for Deputy Speaker Anil Moonesinghe who closed an illustrious and rebellious political innings on an emotional note.

If the departures added a nostalgic air to the House, the accusations of murder and mayhem added fire to the session with the question of the Polls Commissioner being the sticky issue. Firing cannons in his inimitable style, UNP chief whip W.J.M. Lokubandara charged that pressure was being brought upon the Polls Chief who was doing his best to prevent malpractices, and the PA was attempting to seal his fate.

"The idea is anathema to you, because you want to unleash Samurdhi animators on polls day and ensure a PA victory. Today, a senior public servant was under siege with CID officers romping around his office and suspicious people hovering about his abode. What you desire is a particular political stooge who tampered with election laws to conduct this crucial poll in your favour. Isn't that despicable," he scoffed.

Unusually ruffled, he charged that the said officer with a partiality towards the PA was so brave that he closed the Kachcheri temporarily during the height of insurgency.

Dramatically lamenting the plight of the PA- where Varatharaja Perumal who declared a separate state unilaterally, is on the national list while two illustrious men like K. B. Ratnayake and Lakshman Jayakody have been ignored, he said the SLFP was shedding its former democratic garb fast.

Next it was minister Batty Weerakoon, comfortably settled in his national list slot for another term who raised the constitutional snags about the legislature 'being in session' at a time when members were deprived of their usual privileges.

"The House which has been summoned has to be in session, as in any other period, if we are to assemble in this manner. But now the term has lapsed and all facilities have been withdrawn- so this is not in session" he said. At this point Speaker Ratnayake put many a legislator's mind at rest with the assurance that all facilities have been restored.

Next was UNP's John Amaratunga who unleashed a barrage of accusations against the PA ranging from intimidation of the elections commissioner to intra party rivalry.

The government was desperate, and was trying all the tricks in the book from sending the Polls Chief home to introducing on the national list a man who should be tried for treason.

If the UNP suffered from amnesia, the PA members did no better. And jogging the UNP's memory further was minister Alavi Moulana who argued that a polls commissioner was not for some groups only. His duty was to serve faithfully without favouring any party.

" I don't wish to query the innocence of the Polls Chief, but this sticker is a questionable issue. We have the right to object to it, as much as the UNP has the right to oppose it. Justice should not be done, but it should appear to be done" Minister Moulana said.

Having a field day dredging up PA's simmering intra party rivalries was UNP General Secretary Gamini Atukorale. Speaker Ratnayake he opined, was a senior legislator with an unparalleled record to which the PA attached no value.

" We have had our political differences, but it is obvious that the President thinks poorly of the Raja Rata people-or else how did Maithripla Sirisena lose the party secretariship and you were dropped from the national list?".

Catching sight of a cameraman televising the proceedings, he wished to know whether the Speaker had granted permission. "Why is it that cameras focus only on the government," he asked, and an amused deputy chairman of committees Rauff Hakeem noted that 'his lovely face would not be missed on national television".

Next was Education Minister Richard Pathirana who followed the general trend of ignoring the issue at hand- the extension of the emergency, and took repeated digs at the JVP.

Here was a party which threatened to kill the first ten people who cast their votes, and disallowed coffins to be carried on shoulders now championing themselves as defenders of democracy, he said.

This provoked Nihal Galappathy, the lone SLPF member to explain how the two main parties actions drove the JVP to political wilderness.

"We were banned, some were sent to prison and others went underground. The ruling class overrode our rights and what we finally had was a mass grave of thousands of youths - a manifestation of state cruelty to its own people," he charged.

The JVP's only claim to fame he asserted was the manner in which it has conducted itself since re-entering mainstream politics. There were no complaints of political violence against the JVP, only by the JVP. The attack on the JVP was renewed when it became obvious that the people were looking for a third force.

Come October 10 the man with that pencil will elect his new representatives. The tenth Parliament has had its moments of glory as well as shame. But the constituent's dream would be for a dignified 11th Legislature.

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