Sri Lanka presidential poll likely in November

Sri Lanka presidential poll likely in November

S Murari

The Presidential election in Sri Lanka, scheduled for December, is likely to be advanced to November, Minister in the United National Front Government Mano Ganesan told reporters in Chennai on Monday. The Election Commission is expected to make a formal announcement soon, he added.

Ganesan, an MP from Colombo and Minister for National Integration and Hindu Religious Affairs who was on a private visit, said his Government in which United National Alliance Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and President Maithrapalla Sirisena of the Sri Lanka Freedom are sharing power, was yet to finalise its candidate.

The opposition Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna( Sri Lanka People’s Front), a breakaway faction of the SLFP led by Leader of the Opposition and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has announced his brother Gothabaya Rajapaksa as its candidate.

Ganesan said among the aspirants were Parliament Speaker and senior UNP leader Karu Jayasurya and former UNP President Ranasingha Premadasa’s son Sajith Premadasa.

He said the current President Maithapala Siresena, who became the executive head as a consensus candidate after the 2015 election to keep Mahinda Rajapaksa out of power, had not announced his interest in contesting.

Ranil WIckremasinghe who has unsuccessfully contested against Rajapaksa twice and earlier against former President and SLFP founder leader Chandrika Kumaratunga , had also not announced his intention to contest.

While Gothabaya, who successfully prosecuted the ethnic war and brought it to an end in 2009 and who was hailed as a hero among the Sinhalese, is making a pitch after the Easter Sunday bombing, saying that the country needs a strong leader to face this new Islamic terror which had raised its head after the elimination of the LTTE.

Gothabaya, who held until recently held dual citizenship, renounced his US citizenship to enter the fray.

Ganesan, however, said though the Sinhalese might respect Gotabaya, they also feared him as he was no respecter of human rights. “They fear that if elected, he will make Sri Lanka a police state” as it happened during the 10-year reign of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

On the other hand, the UNF government in the last six years had restored democratic institutions.The Election Commission, the police, the judiciary as well as the media were now independent, Ganesan said.

He said their main plank would be that their alliance would be “ pro minority while they will be anti-minority”. He said that 160 lakh voters would choose the next President. Of which, 20 lakh were indigenous Tamils in north and east, the Tamil speaking Muslims and plantation Tamils of Indian origin living in the estates in Central Hills.

In the Tamil majority war- ravaged north and east, the UNF candidate would be backed by the Tamil National Alliance while his Tamil Progressive Alliance would campaign in Sinhala areas, Ganesan said.

Another achievement of the UNF government was restoration of thousands of acres of civilian lands under the army control to their owners in the north after the partial troop pullback. Also there were fewer check posts there.

He said though the ethnic question was yet to be addressed, the Tamils were living in peace in the north and east. ‘They no longer fear the police or the army. ``

Asked whether the open rift between Sirisena and Wickremasinghe after the Easter bombing would affect their prospects as the President had said openly that he was not informed about specific intelligence from India on impending attack, Ganesan it was the Colombo police which failed act on the tipoff.

Ganesan said efforts were on to start a ferry service between Colombo and Thoothukudi and Talaimannar and Rameswaram. Likewise, moves were afoot to start air service to neighbouring countries from Palali airport in Jaffna.