The highlight of last week’s Presidential election campaign was the launch of the election manifesto of the Opposition’s common candidate, Retired General Sarath Fonseka. Meanwhile, the government side has stepped up its smear campaign against the Opposition common candidate, producing fresh evidence to support its accusations that the former Army chief had used his influence to secure business contracts for his son-in-law.
General Fonseka’s 10-point manifesto, titled “Vishvasanneeya Venasak” (Believable Change), was launched in Colombo on Thursday. Among those present on the occasion were United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Somawansa Amarasinghe, and the former Chief Justice, Sarath N. Silva.
The highlights of General Fonseka’s manifesto include dismantling an outsize Cabinet; dissolving Parliament, setting up a caretaker Cabinet, taking immediate steps to abolish the Executive Presidency and the Press Council Bill; the eradication of fraud and corruption, and offering a Rs. 10,000 pay rise for public servants (see box story on the manifesto).
President Mahinda Rajapaksa presents his manifesto tomorrow. The manifesto will outline projected development programmes for the country.
Meanwhile, with the Presidential poll less than three weeks away, polls monitors say election violence is escalating. The government and the opposition are accusing each other of engaging in violence aimed at disrupting their respective campaigns. Up to yesterday morning, election monitors had received a total of 217 reports of election-related violence.
The reports include cases of assault; intimidation of political opponents, and vandalism of party offices.
Postal voting for the election is scheduled for January 12 and 13. The Elections Secretariat has received more than 450,000 postal voting applications, a record number, according to officials.
Those eligible for postal voting are public servants detailed for election duty at the January 26 polls and members of the armed forces and the Police Department.
Tomorrow, the Elections Secretariat will hand over the poll cards of displaced voters to the postal authorities. Some 31,700 persons from the Jaffna and Wanni districts are qualified to vote as long-distance or displaced voters. About 4,000 distance vote applications have been rejected, mainly because they were found to have been duplicated.
About 40 international observers are expected to arrive in the country next week, two weeks ahead of the election. They will observe the situation in the run-up to the election, be present at polls centres on election day, and follow developments in the days following the polls.
In its first Presidential poll interim report, released last week, election monitoring group People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) said the election observers would focus largely on polling in the North and the East. PAFFREL will deploy some 6,500 observers across the 10,875 polling stations in the 22 districts of the nine provinces.
No war again, President tells Vavuniya, Mannar residents
By Priyantha Hewage
During an election campaign visit yesterday, President Mahinda Rajapaksa told residents of the districts of Vavuniya and Mannar that several measures would be taken to ease their hardships. These included a further easing of restrictions on fishing and travel and greater access to the church in Madhu, the holiest local shrine for Roman Catholics in Sri Lanka.
The President said those who had suffered as a result of three decades of war could now live in peace, knowing the LTTE war was a thing of the past and would never happen again.
The President also visited the Menik farm in Vavuniya, and presided at a ceremony that saw the release of 712 detained LTTE suspects. Those released included some 60 child soldiers, who were handed over to their parents.
The LTTE suspects had been held in rehabilitation centres in the Poonthottam camp in Vavuniya, the Vavuniya Technical College, Gamini Maha Vidyalaya, and 14 other centres.
Fifteen of the suspects were personally released by President Rajapaksa.
Major General Daya Rathnayake, Commissioner General for Rehabilitation, was also present.
President Rajapaksa visits Jaffna and Batticaloa today.
State corruption is costing the nation Rs. 300 billion a year, Fonseka says
Asian countries such as Singapore and Malaysia had to first eliminate corruption, often by jailing corrupt politicians, in order to ensure their development, said the Presidential election opposition common candidate, General (Retd.) Sarath Fonseka, at an election campaign meeting held in Avissawella yesterday.
“We are not afraid of the government’s underworld gangsters,” General Fonseka told the crowd. “We defeated terrorism, so defeating thuggery is no big deal for us. These thugs will be sent to the places they deserve to be, either Bogambara or Welikada. These decisions will be taken on behalf of the people.”
The candidate said he decided to work with politicians who had no corruption charges against them mainly because he felt it was time the corruption at administrative and state level was stopped.
“No corruption charges have been levelled against Ranil Wickremesinghe, the JVP Members of Parliament, Mano Ganeshan, Rauff Hakeem, Mangala Samaraweera, trade union leaders and other people’s representatives,” he said. “We haven’t signed agreements. What we have is a mutual understanding.”
General Fonseka said the government was attempting to tell the citizens of Sri Lanka that the country had only two true patriots – Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
“Before I handed over the nominations, I was the best Army commander in the world, but after that I was the country’s number one traitor,” he said. “When the terrorists were destroying the country, one of the patriots was in the United States, where he had been living for 15 years. Even at vacation times he never bothered to visit his motherland. Today, these two patriots are the richest people in Asia.”
General Fonseka said the government was using the war victory to serve its own ends. By holding early elections, the government hoped to continue the corruption, create a “royal family”, misuse public property, and continue to make land purchases.
General Fonseka said the government was increasing taxes to cover up ongoing corrupt practices. The taxes introduced by a new government would be more people friendly, he said.
“Government corruption is costing the nation Rs 300 billion a year,” General Fonseka said. “A local contractor would charge Rs. 30 million to develop a road 18 metres wide and 10 kilometres long. But this government brings in foreign companies to do the same job for Rs. 130 million, 75 per cent of which goes to the Rajapaksa family.”
Right to information
vital to a democracy, media
groups tell candidates
The country’s eight main media organisations this week presented “An agenda of media reforms” to the Presidential candidates and political parties towards the establishment of freedom of media in Sri Lanka.
Representatives of the Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka, The Editors Guild of Sri Lanka, the Free Media Movement, the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance, the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum, the Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions, and the South Asia Free Media Association (Sri Lankan Chapter) met the Opposition’s common candidate, General (retd.) Sarath Fonseka and UPFA General Secretary Education Minister Susil Premajayantha and handed over the agenda of reforms, calling for its implementation.
The agenda of reform called for the implementation of the provisions in the Colombo Declaration on Media Freedom and Social Responsibility (1998; revised 2008), with special emphasis on the immediate implementation of a Right to Information Act.
It was pointed out that in 2004, a Freedom of Information Bill was approved by the then Cabinet, but the sudden dissolution of Parliament that year prevented the Bill’s passage into the statute books.
The media organisations say every citizen should have access to public information to monitor the conduct of government, and point out that no less than 120 countries have this piece of legislation. In South Asia alone, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have such laws, but not Sri Lanka, it was explained.
The agenda of reform states that laws such as the Official Secrets Act, the Press Council Law, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and regulations promulgated under the Public Security Ordinance unjustifiably restrict and restrain freedom of expression and media freedom. State media institutions (print and electronic) continue to be in the control of the government and are blatantly used for party political propaganda.
They have also called for the introduction of a Contempt of Court Act and a Parliamentary All-Party Committee to revive the Lakshman Kadirgamar Select Committee on a Contempt of Court Act. Here too, sittings to discuss the Act were cut short because of the dissolution of Parliament in 2004.
Other significant items on the agenda of reform include the conversion of state media institutions, which are under the direction and control of the Head of Government, into public service media institutions, and the implementation of recommendations by the four committees (1994) appointed by the Peoples Alliance government, in particular, the recommendations contained in the Report of the Committee to Advise on the Reform of Laws affecting Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression, 1996.
The media organisations want all incidents of violence and intimidation perpetrated against the media to be investigated; appropriate action taken against those responsible for such acts of violence and intimidation; action taken to ensure such acts do not recur; the appointment of an independent panel to recommend compensation for victimised media personnel and their families, and assurances that journalists who fled the country for fear of their lives can safely return to the country.
Polls observers ask party leaders to put a check on violence
By Leon Berenger
Election observers yesterday called on party leaders and regional organisers from all sides of the political divide to advise their supporters against acts of violence and intimidation as pre-election violence continued in several parts of the country.
“The situation is getting out of control as polling day nears and it is the responsibility of those in charge of the parties to act without further delay,” warned Rohana Hettiarachchi of the People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections, (PAFFREL).
|A damaged Sarath Fonseka banner
He added that ending at 6 a.m. yesterday 217 pre-poll violence and related incidents, including a number of shootings had been reported from several parts of the country. “If this trend is allowed to continue then the day of voting may also be disturbed with people fearing to vote,” Mr. Hettiarachchi said.
“Blaming the police alone for the current state of affairs is not fair, when party leaders are encouraging their supporters towards such violence, etc. They should instead extend their fullest cooperation to the law enforcement agencies and the relevant authorities to maintain a peaceful atmosphere in the run up to the elections,” he said.
Meanwhile election laws continued to be flouted in many districts with cut-outs, posters, and banners still visible in public places, Keerthi Tenakoon, spokesperson for Campaign For Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) said.
He added that such violations were reported from Hambantota, Anuradhapura, Polonaruwa, Nochiyagama, Moneragala, Kandy and Peradeniya.