28th November 1999
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As the first step towards this, the Conference of Religions headed by Sri Lanka's most senior Mahanayake Thera and the President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, has appealed to all candidates and the leaders of political parties to make a public commitment to a fair and free election, and ensure that party supporters refrain from acts of intimidation and violence before, and during (and after) the election.
The Conference of Religions headed by the Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayake Thera and Anuradhapura's Bishop Oswald Gomis held a special emergency meeting at the BMICH on Friday attended by more than 200 clergy to work out initial steps to bring about a new political culture.
They urged that the Commissioner of Elections be given all the facilities and support necessary to discharge his duties with freedom and responsibility. The commissioner is responsible and accountable to ensure that the election is conducted in a justifiable manner.
The prelates also called for a solemn assurance to be given that substantial changes would be effected in the executive presidential system which conferred unlimited power to the President.
They sought a clear and unambiguous assurance that the unitary character of the state and the territorial and national integrity of the country would he protected and that effective measures would be taken to put an end to all forms of terrorism and violence in the country which is costing so much in terms of human life, suffering and material resources and retarding moral, social and economic development of the country.
An assurance for the formulation and the implementation of National Policy to redeem the people from serious problems of abject poverty, particularly the farmers in the rural areas, from their present pathetic plight, was also sought from all candidates.
In a general statement the Conference of Religions said: "We as religious leaders of four world religions are very distressed to see the rapid deterioration of moral and spiritual values in the country today, values which are shared by all our religions.
"Our beloved country recognised as the island of Righteousness (Dhammadvipa) has turned out to be the cauldron of gruesome wars, murder, rape, political violence, corruption, child abuse, personal vendettas, suicides etc. Our society is ruled today by unsatiable greed in all its forms — for power, possessions and pleasure.
"Nearly half the population of our island, known as the granary of the East, is today suffering from malnutrition, and every citizen has been made a debtor to the world to the tune of nearly Rs. 50,000. Poverty and unemployment have also engulfed our people. Indecent films labelled strictly for adults only, certain news papers, magazines and even some TV programmes have degraded the minds of the people. As a result, criminal and sexual acts of violence have increased.
"There is a pervasive sense of insecurity, anxiety and even despair. People of all faiths have lost confidence in politics and politicians, and even religious leaders.
"In view of these negative trends, we who hold positions of leadership in our respective religions cannot remain silent any longer and inactive. We accept that we have been entrusted with the task of guiding the masses in the way of righteousness while promoting their moral values.
"It is the duty of all religious leaders to safeguard the country and its people from all these evils and also to challenge and encourage the political leadership towards a democratic and just order. This task cannot be delayed any further.
"The erroneous political practice of placing the party before the country is a serious threat to peace and national development. This concept has also been a major cause of unrest among the minorities. It has, therefore, become very urgent to formulate a national policy which will respond to the needs of all sections of the people in all important areas of national life.
"Hence our appeal to the country and all its citizens belonging to all denominations to rise above our differences to liberate ourselves from this tragic situation."
The Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayake Thera said Sri Lanka's party political system had degenerated into a "kabalma kabal (worst of the worst)" system. He pointed out that while vibrant democracies like the United States and Britain had only two or three registered political parties, Sri Lanka had as many as 35 — making it a madhouse of party politics.
He lamented that the quality of politics and the character of politicians had degenerated so much that some proceedings in parliament needed to be labelled 'strictly for adults.'
Bishop Gomis outlining a political vision for Sri Lanka called for the formulation of a process whereby candidates who come forward for political office would be subjected to a strict check and screening. He also called for a national policy on vital issues like the ethnic conflict, education, health care and the economy with constitutional guarantees ensuring that such policies could not be changed for personal or party benefits.
Among others present were Hindu and Muslim religious representatives along with well-known prelates, the Ven. Wimalaratana Nayake Thera and the Ven. Maduluwave Sobhitha Nayake Thera with Subodhi pioneer Rev. Dr. Mervyn Fernando coordinating the conference.
But a sceptical public are quite ready for another poster war, knowing that the promises to take action are also more in the breach. The Acting Elections Commissioner has requested the IGP to look into the possibility of taking action against presidential candidates who violate the elections regulations by displaying posters, cut-outs, banners etc. on the road.
In a statement, he has drawn the attention to the election regulations that say candidates can display posters, cut-outs etc only on the vehicle which is being used for propaganda.
While putting up posters and banners during public meetings is acceptable, no banners or posters are to be displayed on the roads during other times.
Addressing a series of election rallies in the Galle District, the UNP leader while spelling out his vision for a Sri Lanka in the 21st century called upon the President to prove that she actually possessed a plan.
"If it means to her so much, let her mar my character and bring disrepute to the UNP. But the time has come that it is a no-win situation for politicians who have no vision. While the President is free to sling mud at me, she is duty bound to explain to the people, her solutions to the problems. The difference is she has rhetoric and mud to freely sling, while I have policies and the work experience," he said.
"I seek the highest position in this land with a sense of responsiblity, and has offered my vision by way of a Pact to the people. I have solutions to the burning issues. It is the UNP which always had to dredge up the country ruined by other parties and it is for this revival that I seek mass support," he declared.
Mr. Wickremesinghe also observed that while he had duties and obligations as a future President, the incumbent was using all government mechanisms to dodge issues and insult the intelligence of the public. While it was possible to ignore her tirades as being tactics to divert attention, he noted that it was not possible to ignore malicious attempts distort the truth and misrepresent facts to the people at a crucial time.
In 1994, the PA complete with sugar coated lies pick pocketed the votes. Such tactics have no lasting quality. The state media, he noted, were being abused to defame opposition parties in a manner which denied any parallel.
The state media were working in a frenzied manner distorting and fabricating facts with malicious intent. Referring to the much publicised news 'concoction' about his alleged offer to hand over the North and the East to the LTTE for two years, he said that though he has explained the necessity to appoint an Interim Council to the NE which would also have to include LTTE members if such a Council had to function till polls are held.
"Instead, two sentences off a video clip is taken and fabrications are given wide publicity by this government which pledged media freedom. When I invited the Rupavahini to accept the authentic tape, they never even showed up," he noted. Challenging the President to prove her bona fides and show that she had no link with the state media's malicious campaign to misinform the public at a crucial juncture, he called upon her to remove all those officials he had cited in his letter of demand be removed forthwith.
By Farrah Milhar
To fetch a couple of votes.
Jack says Jill,
Brings only ill,
Jill says Jack,
Will cause a crack.
Apart from these two,
The question is, who?
There are thirteen candidates contesting this presidential poll but there appears to be an obvious greater concentration on the fight between the two who represent the country's major political parties. Election propaganda is stuffed at our faces every day the voter is forced to hear the two major candidates, President Chandrika Kumaratunga and opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, verbally tear each other apart. The voter is faced with a dilemma, since both of them seem convincing enough about the other's uselessness.
"Today, the electorate is alienated to an unprecedented degree from the forerunners in this race, because they have failed to reflect the mass mood on issues such as the war, ethnic conflict and the economy," says political analyst, Dayan Jayatillake.
Political analysts say amongst all the contestants at this poll only two have some potential to eat into the vote base of the two main candidates and pose as a representative of a third force. But both these two candidates, Nandana Gunathilake of the JVP and Vasudeva Nanayakkara of the Left and Democratic Alliance have forfeited their chances, they say.
"For the JVP it is a dropped catch because the public doesn't know this man they have nominated," says Mr. Jayatillake. Analysts say the JVP still has a credibility problem and most people are not convinced they are committed to the democratic mainstream. People have high regard and respect for Vasudeva, but he follows a political ideology that is widely seen as having failed," says Rohan Edrisinghe, Director at the Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Mr. Gunathillake and Mr. Nanayakkara however, say they are not aiming at representing a third force in this country but are portraying themselves as an alternative to Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe.
Vimal Weerawanse, propaganda secretary of the JVP says in the past few years his party has won the trust of the people and their voter base has grown from less than 100,000 in 1994 to over 400,000 this year. Weerawanse denies the argument that his party candidate is hardly known amongst the public, and says, he was chosen because he was the most suitable to act as a common candidate of the left parties.
The JVP's campaign centres around three main issues. They are - to make the economy less dependent on capitalist states, to end the North-East war and to abolish the executive presidency. According to Mr. Nanayakkara both the UNP and the PA have almost the same political programme to offer the people. "It is like a teacher being transferred and another teacher coming and teaching the same syllabus," he says. Mr. Nanayakkara is promising, power to the people, relief to the masses, peace not war, a fully independent Sri Lanka and a socialist future.
Analysts say the people's desire for a candidate representing a third force has failed to materialise in this poll.
'One of the options the people have is to cast their first preference for one of the 11 candidates. This will send a message to the main two candidates, one of whom will win the election, that they did not win on the first count," says Mr. Edrisinghe.Both the UNP and PA seem little threatened by any of the eleven other candidates. "People won't waste their vote on a third force. This is a national election and people want a clear decision," says Gamini Atukorale, General Secretary of the UNP. The peoples verdict will only be known on December 21, but analysts believe the fight is mainly between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Chandrika Kumaratunga.
Jack and Jill keep telling the mass,
It is the poor voter who has to suffer, Because it appears there is no other.
By Dilrukshi HandunnettiWith he PA following largely in the capitalist steps of the UNP, people who seek a just society have no option today and the Left-Democratic Alliance hopes to meet that need, radical candidate Vasudeva Nanayakkara said.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, he said that since 1995, the number of spoilt votes and those not voting at all had increased, indicating that most people were disappointed with both major parties but had nowhere to turn. This was the gap into which the LDA was hoping to come to set up a socialist state with an equitable distribution of the country's wealth and resources, he said.
Q: Before the People's Alliance contested the '94 polls, it is you who gave a rallying call to all left forces to join together to fight the UNP as one force. Why aren't you supporting the common left candidate, Nandana Gunathileke of the JVP who represents a potential third political force?
A: We tried to come to some understanding both with the JVP and the NSSP, but couldn't agree on common principles as the JVP is not in 'total identity' with other parties' thinking.
Practically, my candidature might split the radical left and pro-democratic votes. But a common candidate means having a common basis, aspirations, name, a symbol and even a political grouping.
Q: In reducing the power of the left to achieve its aim, what does your party seek to achieve?
A: We are principally opposed to the UNP and consequently the PA candidate. We have a certain programme of action which is the essence of my candidature. I was selected to merely symbolize a combination of left and democratic forces. The JVP and LDA votes could be counted as one block, a sizable vote bank which is opposed to the PA and UNP both. It is this grouping that we can put forward at the general elections to have more left candidates elected to Parliament giving expression to our policies.
Q: In this context, do you think there is mass support for the abolition of the executive presidency, or fears that it would produce a weak, unstable government dependent on small parties and no safeguards for minorities?
A: It is an unfounded fear and a built up story by authoritarian regimes to subvert the people. The UNP, the PA, big businessmen and military bosses might buy that, but not others.
The LDA will make the Constitution the supreme instrument. Executive, legislative and judicial powers would come afterwards. They will be the safeguards for all people.
Q: In your estimation, what are the key failures of the PA?
A: Mainly, its failure to democratize society, non-improvement of social justice, less relief for the poor and inability to end the war realistically. Instead, we have a re-enactment of the UNP saga with a vengeance.
Q: The JVP has made gradual progress as a potential third force. As opposed to this, there is an erosion of the traditional UNP and PA vote banks. How do you explain this?
A: It has been a 50 year long tragi-comedy of losing credibility. The UNP's bad policies and mass suppression coupled with the PA following the UNP footsteps have left people without options.
This is why the PA protest vote has not turned pro-UNP. PC poll results indicated this. Spoilt votes and non polled votes are increasing.
There's room for a formidable left. LDA will give expression to these 'negative protest votes' into a positive force shaping the political destiny of our land. And like the 1956 resurgence when all people came together — left and democratic forces — it is the same combination this time to fight imperialism.
Q: Your crossover to the opposition ranks after five years with the PA has been classified as opportunistic. Was this done with a possible presidential candidature in mind?
A: From the beginning, I have been fighting against certain PA policies and offered alternative proposals. But the LSSP, the party I represent todate despite my cockeyed expulsion failed to bring the required pressure on the PA to keep it on the proper track. Instead of being watchdogs, the CP and LSSP became lap dogs adjusting themselves to tail behind the President's vigorous pursuit of UNP policies.
I have always lobbied that we as a party should move out of this disreputable PA and in protest have moved out of the politbureau. When it became intolerable, I crossed over.
Q: There are many political parties canvassing support for the abolition of the executive presidency like the JVP and DUNLF. Isn't it mind boggling to the general voter to have several seeking mandates to do the same?
A: Our premise is different. We should explain the diversity of our views to prevent confusion among voters, as to why we cannot be one force.
If elected, as President-elect and not as president sworn, this treacherous presidency with its overwhelming powers will be the first thing we will do away with.
Q: What is your pact with the people?
A: Power to the people through fresh policies and legislation. Executive and administrative powers would be duly devolved. We seek to empower masses at the local government level from where they can take up reins and steer the country in a 'participatory democracy' than remain passive observers.
Improvement of living conditions, increasing social welfare expenditure and poverty alleviation are main objectives. There will be high consumption taxes on nonessential items and government ventures would recommence.
Our social welfare expenditure has been severely pruned over the years and a fee -levying culture has taken over where the ordinary person suffers. We offer relief to the masses.
Q: How do you respond to the market forces?
A: We have forfeited our rights to the World Bank and IMF. There's nothing 'national' about our economy. Lending agencies have refashioned our economic and social welfare policies to our detriment. We will have to negotiate with them with enough safe guards. The LDA proposes a 'transitional path' where we shall fight the foreign powers to whom we are servile.
Q: What do you offer as a solution to the ethnic conflict? Is it military, political or a combination of both?
A: We want to substitute war with peace. Ours is a trust building exercise first with the suffering Tamil masses and then we shall negotiate with the LTTE. The LTTE is a separate entity which does not represent Tamils or their aspirations. There is no military solution possible to conflicts of this nature.
Q: Is your presidential campaign more urban or rural based?
A: With our limited resources, a country wide campaign is impossible. Our campaign has three targeted areas for intense campaigning. These are where we have established contacts, particular areas and at institutions with specific grievances and among people who have been exploited like trade unions, farming and agri communities.
Q: There are increasing threats to the conduct of free and fair polls with allegations of PSD involvement, the police and even politicians. How will this backdrop affect your campaign?
A: As people committed to nonviolent politics, we seek to apply moral pressure even in the face of violence. Violence breeds more violence as we see today. I propose mass agitation to protest against violence, for which we would align ourselves with anybody.
Q: How confident are you of winning?
A: I have no fantasies and recognize the situation as being oppressive enough to quell emerging alternative forces. While possibilities cannot be ruled out, I am not confident of a victory. Mine is only a representative candidacy of the programme and not of my personality.
By Roshan PeirisNew CWC leader and Minsiter Armugam Thondaman has reiterated his party's support for President Kumaratunga at upcoming elections.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Mr. Thondaman who took over from veteran leader S. Thondaman early this month said his grandfather had formulated clear cut and wise policies on various matters and he had no hesitiation in following those.
Asked whether he will not have any truck with the UNP of which his grandfather had been a minister in the past, Mr. Thondaman said, "In politics there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies.
As far as we are concerned there is no enmity between ourselves and the UNP. But I must say that our bonds of friendship with the PA happens to be stronger for a variety of reasons. I need not go into them now."
Asked whether the 36 year old Arumugam has a firm control as did his grandfather over the CWC Arumugam Thondaman said, "A trade union works in such a way that the members and their allegiance to the union and the leadership become part and parcel of the decision taken by the leadership.
"So I can say without any ambiguity that the membership has a hundred percent confidence in my leadership."
Asked about the possibility of a dialogue with the LTTE Thondaman said, "My grandfather was a strong advocate of a negotiated settlement of the ethnic issue.
In fact he along with Minister Ashraff evolved a formula which would have, they believed, formed the basis or foundation for a settlement.
"My views are similar to that of my grandfather. Without talking to the LTTE it would not be practicable to find a lasting solution to this ethnic issue which has bedevilled this country for decades." he said.
Talking of his arch enemy Sellasamy, Arumugam said, "As far as the CWC is concerned Sellasamy has become a non-issue. He has in my opinion and that of the CWC membership no business whatsoever to meddle with either the CWC or the plantation sector as a whole. I mean, of course, the Indian plantation sector with which he is trying to inferfere.
"In my opinion it is laughable that Sellasamy should entertain any aspirations relating to the CWC.
"Do you know that he has organised a separate union and registered it with the Registrar of Trade Unions? The fact that he has made no headway is ample testimony that he is barking up the wrong tree. His voice does not count with the CWC membership any longer," he said.
"Such a leader does not have the right to cheat the people further and canvass their votes to further destroy the country," Ms. Kumaratunga said."Five years ago we took over the governance of this country. At that time we were given a load of responsibilities. We were told to save the children from the terror that was raging. That terror is not there today. We created an era where people can live freely. We remember the era in which people were burnt on tyre pyres. Mothers in white searched for their children. That era will never dawn again," she said.
"People have the right to think freely. One must not forget how hard we had to fight to win that freedom. Leaders who activated the terror in those days are coming before you to ask for your vote. We have not forgotten how much we had to struggle to get rid of the terror created by some big shots in the Premadasa regime.
"The people's assets, our factories, the two valuable state banks, they considered their own possessions and robbed. We have not forgotten that. Although the lands of the rich were taken and shared out among the poor, the last government got them written to their relatives.
"Had the UNP remained in power for another six months, the two state banks would have crashed. Through bribery and corruption they ruined the country's whole economy."
By M.IsmethMore than 100 academics and administrative officers of eleven universities and affiliated institutions are calling for the preservation of democracy and depoliticisation of government institutions.
Prof. W. M. Karunadasa, the convenor of United University Front, which supports the UNP said it was their bounden duty to educate the public in exercising their vote for the sake of democracy. "We did so in 1977 and once again we are compelled to do so this year too."
The UUF would meet UNP leader Ranil Wickre mesinghe soon and ask him to give an assurance on the preservation of democratic rights and cultural heritage and the depoliticisation of government institutions.
The appointment has been made by UNP Presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe.
By Shelani de SilvaWith ministries and government departments unwilling or delaying the release of vehicles, the Elections Commission is making arrangements to hire private vans or buses for next month's elections.
The Elections Commissioner in a letter to all heads of departments and ministries had requested that a list be sent giving the number of vehicles available but the response had been poor, an official said.
Two weeks ago, the Elections Commission requested the Presidential Secretary to send a circular asking the vehicles be released.
"The delay has caused us a lot of difficulty in working out the transport for election duty. We will need many vehicles for transporting police personnel, election staff, and even the foreign monitors," he said.
He said the officials were giving various excuses when asked to release the vehicles.
'They say some vehicles are meant for private use and they cannot force anyone to release them. However they should send us a list so that we can work out the transport required," he said.
The elections Department has decided to hire private vehicles for elections, claiming that Department and Ministry vehicles will not be sufficient. The Registrar of Motor Vehicles has already received instructions from the Elections Department to decide on hiring fees.
According to Department officials many school vans have already volunteered since it is the school vacations.
The Department has also made arrangements to get CTB buses. "We prefer to get buses and vans since there is more room in them to transport the officials and the ballot boxes," he said.
Will they look for principles, or will it be the vision of the leader which will swing their vote? Will they think of the future or will they look to the past in casting their first and final vote for the millennium?
A cross section of young people The Sunday Times spoke to came up with mixed but very definite responses. Their quiet independent observations had led them to decide for themselves who needed to be the President leading them into the new millennium.
With the massive publicity and media coverage allowing them an opportunity of studying the scenario and making up their minds, the freshers were determined not to be taken in by the glitz.
In Sri Lanka where voting according to habit is the best known way of voting, these youngsters, true to their form, will not listen to their elders, and will not vote the way their parents do. Some young people are drawn towards the promises made by the UNP candidate.
"We are just entering the job market, we feel that the economic policies of the UNP hold more promise for us," said Nihal, a university student.
The mature and maternal look which is being projected by the PA candidate has convinced some youngsters who are new to the political scenario to vote for her.
Some of the young people who have over the years lost faith in the two main contenders are looking at the other eleven candidates for options though the candidates themselves know they have little chance of winning.
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