Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Gampaha District MP fires first salvo



MP Vasantha Senanayake arrives at UNP headquarters Sirikotha in late Nov 2014. Senanayake is flanked by Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Ruwan Wijewardene, Dr. Harsha de Silva and R. Yogarajan

by Shamindra Ferdinando

An unexpected attempt by Gampaha District UPFA MP Vasantha Senanayake to move a controversial Bill titled 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, in May last year, reflected the growing discord among a section of the parliamentary group.

The SLFP leadership thwarted his effort. The MP was told to back off or face the consequences. Undaunted by the SLFP leadership’s attitude, MP Senanayake persisted with his efforts until he switched his allegiance to the UNP, on Nov. 20, 2014, two days before the then SLFP General Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena declared, his intention to challenge the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January 8, 2015 presidential poll.

In fact, MP Senanayake had been the first SLFP/UPFA member to strike a discordant note, publicly, at a time the then ruling party felt it was invincible. The top SLFP leadership refused to allow MP Senanayake to explain his position.

The SLFP again prevented MP Senanayake from presenting the Bill, on September 25, 2014. Under pressure from his party, MP Senanayake put off the presentation of a Private Member’s Bill, titled, "Bill to amend the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka."

The presentation of the Bill was listed on the Order Paper for Sept. 25 2014, but when he was asked to move the Bill, the MP said he was postponing the presentation and instead, asked the Government to consider appointing an all-party committee to go into Constitutional reforms and to study what has been put forward by him and other MPs, as the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) does not seem to be doing this.

However, several UNP MPs were visibly disturbed by MP Senanayake’s decision to back off at the last minute, with UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake offering to present it to the House, if the UPFA MP did not want to do so.

"We appreciate the attempt by the UPFA MP and approve the contents of the Bill. He has done a good job which should be commended. If he is forced to withdraw it, we would like to present it to the House," Karunanayake said.

However, this was not allowed by Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkody saying the Bill had been withdrawn by MP Senanayake.

Subsequently, an irate MP Senanayake told this correspondent that the SLFP leadership refused to see ground realities. Unless they addressed contentious issues, the UNP-led coalition could take advantage, he said, adding that his was a genuine attempt to counter ongoing Opposition projects aimed at causing political instability (New Constitution needed to defuse ‘political time bomb’-Govt MP tells SLFP-The Island, Sept. 27, 2014).

Interestingly the first salvo was fired by an MP, representing the Gampaha district, whose leader Basil Rajapaksa, the former National Organizer of the SLFP, is widely blamed for the catastrophic defeat suffered.

Senanayake dared to challenge the SLFP leadership at a time when the seniors remained silent. The young politician told The Island, several weeks before Maithripala Sirisena’s revolt, that a new Constitution could help the SLFP-led ruling coalition to defuse, what he called, a ‘political time bomb’. The Sinhala media largely ignored his efforts.

Senanayake was responding to this correspondent soon after the SLFP leadership, on Sept 25, 2014, thwarted his bid to present the Bill which sought to restrict the number of ministers and deputy ministers to 30 and 31, respectively. The young politician also proposed that the amendment guaranteed that the President could hold only the Defence portfolio.

Asked whether he had withdrawn the Bill due to pressure from UPFA seniors, MP Senanayake said that he would persist with his bid, though it was unlikely to be endorsed publicly. "Having had discussed the ways and means of addressing public concerns, relating to JRJ’s Constitution, I wanted to present the Bill in May (2014). However, the party seniors felt that the Bill shouldn’t be presented without being discussed among the members. I agreed. Unfortunately, the party deprived me of the opportunity, at least to discuss the issue."

Senanayake primarily blamed the then SLFP National Organizer, Basil Rajapaksa, for the crisis in the party. Party seniors remained silent for their survival.

Responding to a query, the young politician revealed that he hadn’t received a response from SLFP General Secretary and Health Minister, Maithripala Sirisena, though he had written to the minister as regards his proposals, submitted to a special Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), as well as the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution. The MP said that a copy of the letter sent to the SLFP General Secretary had been submitted to Chief Government Whip and Water Supply and Drainage Minister, Dinesh Gunawardena.

In his letter to Sirisena, and Gunawardena, the SLFPer said that (a) the 22nd Amendment would help the government to address issues pertaining to its image as well as transparency (b) convince the electorate of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s genuine intention to do away with the 1978 Constitution (c) emphasized that the government recognized that JRJ’s Constitution was contrary to the thinking of SWRD Bandaranaike’s as well as the Rajapaksas, (d) regain public support by constitutionally restricting the size of the cabinet due to perception that even those struggling to make ends meet had been taxed to sustain the luxurious lifestyles of ministers, (e) ensure efficiency and accountability and (f) most importantly preventing those who switched allegiance to the government, in return for portfolios, from demanding portfolios.

Senanayake said that the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution was part of constitutional proposals made to the PSC, in 2013. The MP alleged that some UPFA members of the PSC acted as if he had been doing something detrimental to the interests of the SLFP. "I had no option but to remind them that JRJ was the architect of the 1978 Constitution and SLFP leaders had always opposed it."

Asked whether he was so naive as to believe that the government would reduce the size of the Cabinet in the run-up to national level polls, in early 2015, the MP stressed that the proposal was meant to come into operation following the next parliamentary election. It wouldn’t have a bearing on the present Parliament, Senanayake said, adding that he earnestly hoped the party seniors realized he wasn’t pursuing a project detrimental to the then SLFP-led government.

The MP explained that the government should act swiftly and decisively to thwart the UNP as well as other opposition elements, from using their demand for abolishing the executive presidency to garner public support. The entire Opposition strategy could be neutralized through constitutional means, Senanayake claimed.

Senanayake alleged that the SLFP leadership sabotaged his genuine effort though it repeatedly accused Opposition political parties of not making their constitutional proposals to the special PSC.

It would be pertinent to mention that Senanayake acted even before, Socialist Alliance, comprising the CP, LSSP and the Democratic Left Front (DLF), as well as the Liberal Party, urged the then President Rajapaksa to abandon his decision to call for early presidential poll. At the time, Senanayake challenged the SLFP, the JHU, or Wimal Weerawansa’s National Freedom Front (NFF), hadn’t even contemplated pushing the SLFP to change its course. The NFF called off its campaign halfway whereas the JHU persisted with its offensive until the Rajapaksa administration was brought down.

The then UPFA National List MP and present Higher Education Minister Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha Liberal Party leader) was the only politician to react to MP Senanayake’s front-page interview in Sept 27, 2014, edition of The Island.

Prof. Wijesinha asserted that Senanayake’s criticism of the SLFP leadership reflected the failure on the part of the coalition to address issues of concern. Prof. Wijesinha pointed out that resisting the push for constitutional amendments, meant to drastically restrict the powers of the then President, wasn’t surprising when the ruling party wasn’t even interested in amending the Standing Orders to ensure the smooth functioning of the parliament. In a brief interview with The Island, headlined Committee on Standing Orders hasn’t met for four years, with strap line, Failing to amend Standing Orders inexcusable-Prof. Wijesinha-The Island, Sept 29, 2014), he explained the developing crisis.

Failure on the part of Parliament to amend the Standing Orders to ensure the smooth functioning of the House was inexcusable, U Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha said.

Prof. Wijesinha alleged that for want of remedial measures the situation continued to deteriorate much to the disappointment of those who still believed in restoring the supremacy of parliament.

Referring to UPFA Gampaha District MP Vasantha Senanayake’s comments, Prof. Wijesinha said he couldn’t comprehend the inordinate delay in amending the Standing Orders, particularly in the wake of the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. Responding to a question, Prof. Wijesinha said that many issues, including the impeachment of the Chief Justice, could have been handled properly but for a lacuna in the Standing Orders.

Asked whether he as an MP, had at least raised the issue in parliament, Prof. Wijesinha said that he had requested Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa to take remedial action.

"In fact, after having examined the existing Standing Orders, I proposed a series of amendments to restore the supremacy of Parliament with regard to legislation and oversight. The 1978 Constitution weakened Parliament. Hence the need for revision of the Standing Orders."

The MP said that he had written to Speaker Rajapaksa, after having given notice to the Secretary General of Parliament of the motion moved under Standing Order 134 seeking far reaching amendments to the Standing Orders.

"Although I expected the Committee on Standing Orders to take up my motion, it is yet to meet. My efforts to reconvene the Committee failed. In fact, it hadn’t met since 2011."

Prof. Wijesinha said that the Committee on Standing Orders had met a couple of times, during the early part of 2010. The then UNP-led Opposition, too, was responsible for, what he called, the sorry state of affairs in Parliament. Responding to another query, the MP said that he had discussed the issue with UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunga (UNP representative in the Committee on Standing Orders), Chief Government Whip Dinesh Gunawardena as well as Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara. Prof. Wijesinha said that Minister Nanayakkara had raised the issue at the party leaders’ meeting though the Committee was never reconvened.

In his letter to Speaker Rajapaksa, Prof. Wijesinha said that he was ready to discuss amendments to the motion which proposed specific changes to the existing Standing Orders.

The Parliamentarian said that the Amendment No 1 was designed to ensure that questions raised in Parliament were answered promptly. Amendments 2 to 4 were meant to give Consultative Committees to peruse Bills before presentation and to ensure the Bills were available in all three languages.

Prof. Wijesinha said that a recent statement attributed to the former Director, administration, of Parliament, Lacille de Silva, highlighted what was happening in Parliament. Lacille de Silva called for drastic reduction of the number of members in Parliament as he felt the taxpayers’ money was being squandered on a group of useless people. The outspoken official asserted that the country could be best served by a smaller group of politicians representing the government and the Opposition (Examine possibility of reducing number of MPs-top ex-administrator-The Island Sept. 26, 2014)

MP Wijesinha warned that the government’s failure to rectify shortcomings was advantageous to the Opposition. Opposition lawmakers believed in creating chaos in Parliament to help their strategy, the MP said.

The following are the remaining amendments proposed by Prof. Wijesinha:

"Amendments 5 and 6 meant to introduce a judicial aspect into impeachment procedures, by providing for investigation by an external body, which shall allow for the laying out of charges and defence as is the case in other Parliaments which have impeachment powers. Amendment 7 is to strengthen the role of Consultative Committees.

Amendments 8 to 15 are to strengthen the role of the Public Accounts Committee and the Committee on Public Enterprises.

Amendment 16 is to strengthen accountability with regard to the Committee on high Posts and also the Parliamentary Council, where the current practice of the Opposition of avoiding their responsibilities must be overcome."

The then President Rajapaksa could have averted the ignominy of a humiliating defeat had he bothered to examine the ground situation. But, unfortunately, those who had been around him never allowed time and space to hear a dissenting opinion. Those who genuinely wanted the SLFP to charter a people - friendly course publicly criticized the administration in a bid to convince the SLFP leadership to change its style. JHU heavyweight, Patali Champika Ranakawa, was one of those who made a desperate bid to compel the government to change its style. But the SLFP remained adamant until the very end. The top leadership had been blinded by the positive media coverage it had received from those who immensely benefited from their largesse. The media thrived on the UPFA largesse, hence they tend to present a rosy picture. The government ensured that Messrs D.E.W. Gunasekera, Prof. Wijesinha and Vasantha Senanayake didn’t receive adequate media coverage, thereby depriving them of an opportunity to pressure the top leadership.

In fact, the former President had adequate space to take remedial measures, as late as Sept 2014, when an influential section of the UNP was still thinking of naming Sajith Premadasa as its prime ministerial candidate. Close on the heels of a magnificent performance at the Uva Provincial Council poll, late last year, the then Opposition Leader of the Uva PC, Harin Fernando declared that Premadasa should be named the prime ministerial candidate to facilitate UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s campaign at the presidential poll (UNP needs Sajith as PM candidate to win presidential poll-Harin-The Island, Oct 6, 2014).. Obviously Harin Fernando hadn’t been aware of secret efforts to engineer Maithripala Sirisena’s defection at that time. The UNP’s rising star declared his intention to push for Premadasa’s appointment as the prime ministerial candidate at a UNP meeting in Kolonnawa, on Oct 5, 2014, much to the delight of those awaiting for a Premadasa era in the UNP. But Wickremesinghe advised Harin Fernando soon after his return from the UK (the UNP leader was overseas when HF made his pronouncement) not to pursue the matter (Naming prime ministerial candidate not realistic with strap line Ranil tells Harin-The Island Oct 11, 2014).

The SLFP should appoint a committee to examine its unceremonious exit from power, consequent to the ill-fated decision to go for snap presidential poll. A comprehensive study is necessary to ensure that the new leadership takes remedial measures. In fact, all political parties can benefit from such a study. It will help establish the so-called royal astrologer, Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena, role in the previous government’s downfall. Since president Rajapaksa’s defeat, Abeygunawardena, had made desperate bid to save himself from the wrath of the former President, as well as those who genuinely loved Mahinda Rajapaksa. But the former President wouldn’t have expected 63-year-old Abeygunawardene, formerly director of the state-run ITN and the National Savings Bank (NSB), to say the following: "Not all of Nostradamus’ predictions have come true either. There was only so much I could do to help him win, maybe 5%. But you must have luck to be the president."

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A strategic political miscalculation (II)



by Shamindra Ferdinando

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha (UPFA National List MP) and newly appointed Higher Education Minister, reacted sharply to the writer’s assertion that the Socialist Alliance (SA), comprising the CP (DEW Gunasekera), LSSP (Prof. Tissa Vitharana) and the Democratic Left Front (DLF) of Vasudeva Nanayakkara, had strongly opposed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision to call a snap presidential election, two years ahead of scheduled date, whereas other UPFA constituents were silent.

Last week’s piece ‘A strategic political miscalculation’, in the Midweek section of ‘The Island’ of January 14th, 2015, comprehensively dealt with SA’s attempt, in late last year, to discourage the former SLFP leader from taking an unprecedented risk.

Prof. Wijesinha, in his capacity as the leader of the Liberal Party, on Oct. 9, 2014, requested the former President not to go for an early national level polls. Prof. Wijesinha’s letter followed the General Secretary, of the CP, and the then senior minister, DEW Gunasekera, on behalf of the SA, opposing the then President’s hasty decision. The veteran politician revealed the SA leadership’s hush-hush talks with the former President meant to avert, what he called, a highly risky adventure (DEW makes strong case against snap national poll-The Island, Oct 4, 2014).

The SA issued a special statement on Oct 7, 2014, opposing the former president’s plan. Declaring that there was absolutely no need for an early presidential election, the SA alleged that the SLFP had been preparing for such an election. Though the ruling coalition, or the SLFP-led government, was yet to officially decide on it. The SA reminded the former president, that the SLFP-led coalition had a two-thirds majority in parliament and, in accordance with the Constitution, national level elections, namely presidential and parliamentary, weren’t scheduled till 2016.

The government could present two budgets before the due dates for presidential and parliamentary polls, the SA said, while emphasizing the government could introduce constitutional and electoral reforms during that period.

Having reminded that the remaining period should be used to address social and economic issues, the SA also urged the SLFP to inquire into ground realities before taking any hasty decision.

Prof. Wijesinha alleged that the SLFP ignored the concerns expressed by the Liberal Party in its letter dated Oct 9, though it had been acknowledged by the then Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga. "Only parties which have national ideological bases came to the conclusion that there shouldn’t be national level poll under any circumstances,"Minister Wijesinha said. Interestingly, Lalith Weeratunga has acknowledged the Liberal Party letter, on Oct. 29, 2014. Imagine taking three weeks to respond to a such an important letter. In between Prof. Wijesinha’s letter and Weeratunga’s acknowledgment, Kamal Nissanka, Secretary General, Liberal Party, strongly opposed an early presidential poll.

Prof. Wijesinha asserted that Rajapaksa wouldn’t have had to experience the ignominy of a humiliating defeat if he had only examined ground realities before calling for a national level election ahead of schedule.

The following is the full text of Prof. Wijesinha’s missive, addressed to President Rajapaksa: "At the last meeting (held on Oct 5, 2014) of the Executive Committee of the Liberal Party, it was decided, as requested by them, to support the request of the Left Parties that national elections not be held in the short term. We, too, feel that it would be better instead to embark on the reforms that have been pledged in Your Excellency’s manifesto as well as in other contexts.

These reforms should be based on the vision Your Excellency used to express regarding bringing government closer to the people, and ensuring greater responsiveness and accountability in respect of local needs. The need for devolution is something the Liberal Party has always stressed, but we have also been conscious of the need for national security. However, as we have often pointed out, giving greater responsibility to the people, and to local communities, for matters that affect them closely, on the principle of subsidiarity, is quite feasible whilst also ensuring the security of the nation.

"But devolution must also be accompanied by empowerment. So we also need to move towards developing a technologically competent younger generation, and pay much greater attention than now to maximizing human resources.

"In this regard Bills that need to be expedited include the following, which are pledged or planned

a) A new Universities Act that provides meaningful training that promotes employability free to those who need it, whilst facilitating the establishment of other centres of excellence through private/ public partnerships

b) A new Education Act that ensures holistic education, with greater stress of skills and competencies that are developed through extra-curricular activities, such as Sports and Social Service and Cultural Activities

c) A new Local Government Act that increases the power of local authorities in specific fields whilst also entrenching consultation mechanisms with provision for feedback

d) An Act to change the Electoral system so as to enhance the accountability to specific electorates of Members of Parliament, whilst also preserving proportional representation without the distortions of the current system

We must also revise Administrative and Financial Regulations, as has been agreed which is essential in response to strictures made by the Committee on Public Enterprises on which I have had the honour to serve. Such Regulations should establish consultation mechanisms such as the Jana Sabhas you mentioned, but these must be vehicles for the people, not tools for politicians. The initial steps taken by the Ministry of Public Administration in this regard should be strengthened.

It would also help to fast forward action on the National Human Rights Action Plan, as well as on the LLRC Recommendations, all of which have been approved by Cabinet. I believe the position of the government would also be immeasurably improved if the National Policy on Reconciliation were adopted.

Without such measures the decline in popularity, that we have recently witnessed, will continue. A hasty election will be seen as evidence of panic, and this can be easily exploited. On the other hand, unless there is evidence of change, the people will have no reason to continue to vote for this government, since the economics and social benefits of peace that were anticipated are no longer evident.

It would be tragic if the tremendous achievement of 2009 were to be squandered. Though it may be claimed that the Liberal Party is not in touch with electoral reality, it must also be recognized that our analysis of political developments, based on wide knowledge and established principles, have generally been accurate. Given our initial contribution to the international dimensions of the victories of 2009, we too have reason to argue for measures that will allow us to build positively on that foundation, rather than stand back and see it destroyed."

Having failed to convince the SLFP leadership to drop its controversial plan, Prof. Wijesinha switched his allegiance to Maithripala Sirisena. Regardless of their apprehension, the left parties threw their weight behind president Rajapaksa’s candidature.

In spite of his decision to quit the then government and join Maithripala Sirisena, Prof. Wijesinha strongly defended the Sri Lankan military, in a live Al Jazeera programme. The Sri Lankan military had fought a relatively clean war against the LTTE, when compared with others engaged in such operations, Prof. Wijesinha told a special live Al-Jazeera programme ‘inside story: clinging to power in Sri Lanka’, anchored by Jane Dutton, in late Nov last year.

Tamil Forum (GTF) spokesman Suren Surendiran alleged that President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the final phase of the offensive on the Vanni east front in early 2009.

The one-time head of the Sri Lanka Peace Secretariat asserted that President Rajapaksa earned the appreciation of the vast majority of the people for eradicating LTTE terrorism.

For some strange reason, the former government pathetically failed to realizt what was happening on the ground. Instead of appreciating Prof. Wijesinha’s defence, a ridiculous attempt was made by UPFA propagandists to portray him in bad light. Perhaps, the government was reacting angrily to Prof. Wijesinha’s argument that the accountability issues, raised by Geneva, couldn’t be resolved as President Rajapaksa remained in power, hence a regime change was nothing but a necessity. Opposition heavyweight Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, too, said the same several days later. Rajapakshe, the Justice Minister in the new government, didn’t mince his words when he declared that unless the electorate removed Maninda Rajapakshe, the country could be targeted by punitive international sanctions.

The only other political party to make a serious effort to change the course of the Rajapaksa administration was the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). Unfortunately, the previous government, instead of reacting positively to the JHU’s proposals, made a despicable bid to split the party. Although the UPFA succeeded in engineering Western Provincial Council member Udaya Gammanpila’s defection, it couldn’t sabotage the JHU operation. Had the former President gave up some dictatorial features, in the executive presidential system, and agreed to retain only the defence portfolio, the SLFP could reached an understanding with the JHU. Had that happened, an early election, to secure a fresh mandate, could have been averted. But the former President had been adamant. The then SLFP National Organizer and powerful Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa pushed for a snap presidential poll, though the then Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, opposed the move. But the so called royal astrologer, Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena, who had immensely benefited from the previous government, predicted a comfortable victory for Rajapaksa. In fact, he went onto declare that the former President could go for 100 presidential terms, though he changed his tune within 24 hours after the conclusion of the January 8, 2015, poll.

Communist Party veteran, DEW Gunasekera, had been one of the strongest critics of the executive presidency. Although, he solidly backed Rajapaksa’s candidature, he did his utmost to avert a snap presidential poll. In fact, Gunasekera had received an assurance, from the then SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena, during the middle of last year, that he, too, strongly opposed the former President’s move. But, there hadn’t been any consultation with constituents, though, from time of time, the former leader sought the opinion of others. Had the SLFP bothered to examine what was happening, both in and outside parliament, it would have known that a major coalition was in the making. DEW Gunasekera revealed left parties’ readiness to work closely, even with the UNP, to either repeal executive presidency or do away with, what he called, dictatorial features in the system through a constitutional amendment. The understanding between the UNP and left parties had been compatible with the JHU’s proposals. DEW Gunasekera received an assurance from the UNP National Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, that his party would back an urgent constitutional amendment to make the required changes. Although the UNP had promised to do away with the presidency, after winning the presidential election, the party adopted the JHU’s proposal that the presidency could be retained with defence portfolio under the president (UNP, UPFA red allies agree on amending Constitution with strap line Abolishing executive presidency or reducing its powers-The Island July 16, 2014).

UPFA constituent, the National Freedom Front (NFF) which threatened in May, last year, to quit the government, unless the SLFP met its demands, including far reaching constitutional reforms, meekly reached an understanding with former President Rajapaksa. Interestingly, Maithripala Sirisena had been one of the signatories to the agreement, between the SLFP and the NFF. The SLFP had absolutely no intention of honoring the agreement. But the NFF pretended as if its push had been successful. The NFF turned a blind eye to the former government involving foreign experts in domestic war crimes/accountability issues investigative process soon after the finalization of its agreement with the SLFP.

But the JHU pressed ahead with its campaign. Obviously, the SLFP leadership had been blind to the rapid deterioration of its popularity, in the wake of the Opposition campaign. Those opposed to the executive presidency convinced the electorate that either repealing of the presidential system or taking away its dictatorial features would be the panacea for Sri Lanka’s ills. The middle class and upper middle class accepted that position. The minorities too endorsed that position and the voting pattern at the recently concluded presidential poll reflected that.

While preparing for elections, the former government continued to deny its plan. On Oct 9, 2014, the day, Liberal Party leader, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, sent a letter urging the former president not to call for early national level poll, the then Treasury Chief, Dr. P. B. Jayasundera, assured the business community that President Mahinda Rajapaksa would present a development oriented budget for 2015, though a section of the media speculated that the government was planning to unveil a basket of goodies with an eye on the forthcoming national election.

Dr. Jayasundera was responding to reports that he was preparing a budget to facilitate the incumbent president’s re-election campaign.

President Rajapaksa was among those in the audience. The corporate sector as well as many foreign delegates attended a conclave in Colombo.

Addressing the ‘Capital Market Conference’, at the Cinnamon Lakeside, Dr. Jayasundera stressed that budget 2015 would be in line with the government strategy to strengthen the economy and infrastructure development.

The event was organized by the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE), in collaboration with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Sri Lanka.

Dr. Jayasundera said: "Although there was a reference made in last weekend media that the 2015 Budget will be a bag full of election goodies, I can assure you that it will be a development oriented budget that is in line with the direction so set, with significant emphasis on the knowledge economy concept with which the country gained momentum."

Having ruled out ‘election goodies’, Dr. Jayasundera discussed a range of issues under the theme, ‘Take off to a High Altitude: The Transformation of the Economic Landscape in Sri Lanka’

The then Disaster Management Minister. Mahinda Amaraweera, confidently predicted a snap presidential poll in May last year. The Hambantota district MP told the writer the president would seek a fresh mandate. The outspoken politician challenged the Opposition to find a suitable presidential candidate. Amaraweera would never have thought that the SLFP’s General Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena, would take up the challenge (Be ready to face presidential poll-Minister tells Opp-The Island, May 14, 2014). One couldn’t find fault with Amaraweera for not being able to see Maithripala Sirisena’s challenge when royal astrologer, Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena, couldn’t either, in spite of being handsomely rewarded by the previous government. Had Abeygunawardena read views, expressed by Messrs DEW Gunasekera, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Prof. Tissa Vitharana and Prof. Wijesinha, he would have realized the ground realities and advised the former president, accordingly.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

A strategic political miscalculation



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Many an eyebrow was raised during the second week of July, last year, when National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, invited convenor of the Movement for Just Society, Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha thera, to discuss far reaching constitutional reforms, including the abolition of the executive presidency.

The breakaway faction of the JVP was on a collision course with the SLFP.

At the conclusion of the talks, Ven. Sobitha, spearheading a high profile campaign against the executive presidency, and Weerawansa, agreed to continue their discussion. The media gave wide coverage to the unexpected development at the request of the NFF. Weerawansa was flexing his muscles ahead of the Uva Provincial Council poll.

Weerawansa, the then Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities Minister, warned the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government to meet his demands or face the consequences. Weerawansa was threatening to throw his weight behind Ven. Sobitha’s campaign, unless the SLFP accepted his demands, meant to bring in far reaching constitutional reforms. Among Weerawansa’s other demands had been an immediate halt to, what was called, South African initiative meant to help post-war national reconciliation process and cancellation of foreign investigative mechanism to inquire into accountability issues.

In spite of having several rounds of talks with the SLFP, the NFF couldn’t convince the SLFP. In fact, the SLFP simply ignored NFF’s demands. Weerawansa launched a broadside against the then SLFP-led government. Weerawansa went to the extent of attacking the Rajapaksa family, while accusing the government of turning a blind eye to abject poverty. The NFF leader caused irreparable damage to the former government. Having caused a debilitating setback, Weerawansa threatened to go it alone, at the last Uva Provincial Council poll, in September, 2014. At the eleventh hour, Weerawansa contested Badulla, on its own, while contesting the Moneragala district on the UPFA ticket.

JHU teams up with

Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha

While Weerawansa distanced himself from Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha, the like - minded Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) teamed up with Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha. Their alliance quickly gained ground, though the former President made a desperate bid to reach an understanding with the influential monk in the run-up to the January 8, 2015, presidential poll. Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha and Ven. Athureliye Rathana thera, on behalf of the JHU, spearheaded a campaign that undermined the SLFP-led administration.

The Maithripala Sirisena’s camp exploited Weerawansa’s attacks on the SLFP, and the Rajapaksa family, in the run-up to recently concluded presidential poll.

Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha played a critical role in the formation of an alliance that brought an end to President Rajapaksa’s rule. Weerawansa, as well as JHU stalwart Udaya Gammanpila, who switched his allegiance to the former President, accused those Buddhist monks, backing Maithripala Sirisena, of being involved in a foreign - led conspiracy to divide the country on ethnic lines. Obviously, the Sinhala electorate didn’t take them seriously.

General Secretary of the Communist Party and senior minister, DEW Gunasekera, was the only politician to strongly oppose an early presidential poll. Having realized the former President was hell-bent on securing a third term, two years before the scheduled date, the veteran politician, along with his colleagues, senior minister Prof. Tissa Vitharana, and minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara, urged Rajapaksa not to call an early poll.

Unfortunately, the former President had been convinced of a comfortable victory, regardless of poor showing at the Uva Provincial Council poll. His astrologer, Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena, predicted an easy win for the incumbent, while several other astrologers echoed Abeygunawardena, who held two lucrative posts as Director of Independent Television Network (ITN) and the National Savings Bank (NSB). The astrologers deceived the SLFP leadership in style. Both state-run and private television stations, as well as the print media, gave them time and space to hoodwink the masses. They did it in style. An embarrassed Abeygunawardena quit both posts.

Left parties warn against

snap prez poll

Messrs Gunasekera, Nanayakkara and Vithana briefed the former President regarding the danger in having an early election. Regrettably, their plea, made in early October, 2014, was ignored. The Communist Party Chief discussed their efforts to discourage the SLFP leader from going ahead with the presidential poll. A front-page lead story, headlined DEW makes strong case against snap national polls with strap line... calls for thorough examination of ground realities before holding elections, two years ahead of schedule, on Oct 5, 2014, issue of The Island revealed the deliberations between the SLFP and the Socialist Alliance (SA) comprising CP (Dew), LSSP (Tissa) and Democratic Left Front (Vasu).

The news item: "General Secretary of the Communist Party and senior minister, Dew Gunasekera, is convinced that the ruling coalition should review its decision to go for a snap presidential election early next year, probably as early as January.

Political veteran Gunasekera, in an exclusive interview with The Island, said that the SLFP-led coalition should closely examine several critical factors before advancing the next presidential election. The National List MP said that he was speaking to the media after having discussed the issue with his ministerial colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, and Prof. Tissa Vitharana.

Asked whether the leftist parties in the coalition had launched a political project to deter the government from calling for an early national election, Minister Gunasekera emphasized that whatever their opinion, it would be the prerogative of the SLFP to set the dates for, not only national, but provincial polls, as well. "Of course, the dominant constituent of the UPFA can ignore our concerns. Regardless of the SLFP’s position, left parties felt the need to warn of possible consequences of an unneeded election at this juncture."

Gunasekera said: "Calling for either presidential or parliamentary polls, nearly two years ahead of the scheduled dates, can cause a catastrophe. As the last presidential and parliamentary polls were held in January and April, 2010, there is absolutely no need to engage in a risky political venture now."

Responding to another query, the CP chief said that the UPFA had an unprecedented two-thirds majority in parliament, as well as all Provincial Councils under its control, except the Northern Provincial Council; therefore there couldn’t be any requirement for a fresh mandate. The government still had time to present two budgets before the next presidential and parliamentary polls, in early 2016, the minister said. He pointed out that the SLMC and CWC, which contested on the UNP ticket, at the last parliamentary polls, switched their allegiance to President Rajapaksa. Their entry increased the number of members on the government side to over 160, the minister said.

Budget 2015 and budget 2016 could be used to introduce genuine reforms which would bring immense relief to the masses, struggling to make ends meet, the CP chief said.

Having admitted that he could earn the wrath of an influential section of the government, for taking an entirely a different view, the minister said that he was not seeking any personal gain at the expense of the government. Those pushing for an early presidential poll hadn’t even thoroughly examined the ground realities in the post-LTTE era, the minister said, adding that it would be a monumental challenge to secure over 50 per cent of the vote at the first count.

The possibility of having to face counting of second preference was frightening, the seasoned politician said, asserting that some political parties were preparing to exploit the situation. In case, the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi - led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) fielded a candidate, the political grouping would definitely urge people to cast their second preference to UNP candidate, Ranil Wickremesinghe, he said.

Referring to ongoing consultations between the TNA and UPFA constituent, the SLMC, the minister said that an alliance between them could cause a debilitating setback in the run-up to the next national election. Such an alliance would be inimical to the government, the minister said, reminding that the TNA was now free to charter its own course without having to play second fiddle to the LTTE. Government strategists couldn’t ignore the TNA factor, the minister said. "In the run-up to the November, 2005, presidential election, the TNA declared, on behalf of the LTTE, that Tamil speaking people shouldn’t exercise their franchise in support of either Mahinda Rajapaksa or Ranil Wickremesinghe. The LTTE-TNA move deprived Wickremesinghe of a substantial amount of votes. At the last presidential, the TNA directed followers to vote for former army commander, General Sarath Fonseka, instead of incumbent President, though both were accused of committing atrocities during the war."

The government couldn’t turn a blind eye to the TNA, as well as the JVP, calling their supporters to cast their second preference vote to the main Opposition candidate, having fielded presidential candidates of their own, the minister said. Both parties could end up polling 700,000 votes, or more, depending on their campaigns. "At the last presidential election, though the UNP, JVP, SLMC, CWC and the TNA campaigned together, the incumbent President emerged the clear winner. However, somewhat relatively a poor show at the recently concluded Uva Provincial Council must compel government strategists to examine ground realities. Substantial gains made by the UNP and the JVP, in the electoral districts of Badulla and Moneragala, is worrying, particularly the significant shift in the postal vote towards the Opposition."

Genuine political reforms were necessary to offset the loss of votes due to minority factor as well as the main Opposition candidate having the advantage of securing the second preferential vote.

Commenting on those who would be voting at a presidential election for the first time, the minister said that the government should also take ongoing anti-government campaign carried out by the social media. The CP veteran said that young voters could make a major impact at the next national level election, primarily due to the Opposition being attractive to them than an alliance which was in power since August 1994, except for Dec., 2001, to April, 2004. The Opposition could exploit the social media to influence the young electorate much to the discomfort of the government, Minister Gunasekera said.

The minister said that a special effort should be made to win over the young electorate. "Social changes must be studied. Just check the number of people using hand phones. Today, we have 23 million registered mobile phone owners, whereas the population is about 20 mn. We’ll have to adopt drastic reforms to ensure the Opposition doesn’t make headway at the next election."

The CP leader said that the Democratic Left Front, comprising his party as well as those political groups led by Prof. Vitharana and Vasudeva Nanayakkara, were in the process of finalizing a joint manifesto aimed at influencing far reaching reforms.

The minister said that he discussed the current political situation with MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena, and the latter, too, agreed with him on some issues."

Thanks to astrologer Abeygunawardena and those who had remained silent when far reaching decisions were made, without proper examination of ground realities, the man who gave political leadership to Sri Lanka’s triumph over LTTE terrorism, left Office two years and two months before the next presidential poll. Actually Abeygunawardena could have done better had he at least bothered to consult Dew Gunasekera as regards the ground realities. Had the Royal astrologer been aware of extremely unfavourable conditions, particularly in the wake of UPFA’s poor show in Uva PC polls, he would probably have influenced the decision presidential poll.

Had other senior members made a determined bid to discourage the former President, a calamity could have been averted. In fact, the then SLFP General Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena, is believed to have advised against calling snap presidential poll. Unfortunately, the former leader was not in a mood to listen to reason. The writer raised the issue twice at media conferences held at SLFP headquarters, at T.B. Jayah Mawatha, but the UPFA leaders weren’t non committal. Obviously, there hadn’t been proper consultations among decision making SLFP Central Committee as well as members of the coalition. The decision had been influenced by astrology and the belief the UNP couldn’t reach an understanding with those opposed to the Rajapaksas with the JHU on one end and four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on the other.

President Rajapaksa’s defeat led to the swift collapse of his government. The UPFA or the UNP-led coalition never explained the circumstances under which the UNP National Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe took oaths before newly appointed President Maithripala Sirisena as the Prime Minister immediately after Sirisena assumed presidency before senior most Supreme Court Judge K. Sripavan.

Having lost the presidential poll as well as his government which at the onset of the revolt had a two-thirds majority, the former President is struggling to retain control of the party. Twice president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga is pressing ahead with a relentless offensive as she seeks to consolidate her position. The CBK offensive is meant to secure the support as many as UPFA MP s, particularly SLFPers before parliament meets again on January 19.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Prez poll: EU intervenes as campaign ends



by Shamindra Ferdinando

The European Union stressed the importance of Sri Lanka's presidential election process being peaceful, credible and transparent. In a brief missive, issued on January 2, 2015, the EU Heads of Mission, in Colombo, underscored the necessity for a peaceful environment for credible elections. "Sri Lankan citizens must be free to choose their leaders without violence or fear. All parties have a role in upholding Sri Lanka's strong democratic tradition."

That message, titled joint local statement on Sri Lanka's presidential election process, reflected the stance of those who had backed the US-sponsored resolution at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last March. In accordance with that resolution, an international war crimes probe is now underway, under the supervision of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The EU backs the Geneva resolution. The investigation report is expected to be submitted to the next Geneva session, in March, 2015.

Over 14.8 million voters are eligible to exercise their franchise at the January 8, 2015, presidential poll - the seventh presidential election, since 1982. Incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa seeks a third term, thanks to the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, whereas Opposition candidate, Maithripala Sirisena, seeks to thwart Rajapaksa's bid.

Regardless of allegations, as regards polls violence, the run-up to the polls, tomorrow, has been relatively peaceful.

The LTTE assassinated UNP presidential candidate, Gamini Dissanayake, ahead of the Dec. 1994, presidential poll, made an abortive bid to assassinate PA presidential candidate, Mrs Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, at the final presidential poll rally, in Dec. 1999, and in Nov. 2005, the LTTE-TNA sabotaged the presidential poll. The international community never expressed concern at the LTTE-TNA strategies.

The External Affairs Ministry (EAM) swiftly responded to the EU statement. "Sri Lanka has a vibrant tradition of democratic practice, since 1931, and has been conducting elections at regular intervals, in a peaceful and orderly manner, while the electorate has continued to cast their vote freely, in large numbers," the EAM said in a statement, dated January 2.

"Domestic elections are not for foreign government representatives to be prescriptive about, that too, a few days ahead of the polls. It is therefore surprising that the EU Heads of Mission in Colombo should have resorted to a press statement on an issue of a strictly domestic nature. Such an initiative could bring into question the bona-fides and objectivity of their intervention."

"The Elections Commissioner, who is an independent authority, has been mandated by the statutory powers vested in him, with the task of conducting free and fair elections."

Polls under Indian army supervision

Unfortunately, the EAM failed, at least, to mention the EU turning a blind eye to what was happening here during national as well as provincial council polls during the conflict. In the late 80s, the national level polls, as well as the first North-Eastern Provincial Council poll, had to be conducted under the supervision of the Indian military, deployed in Northern and Eastern districts, in accordance with the Indo-Lanka peace accord of July 29, 1987.

For want of a comprehensive examination of the conflict, engineered by India, during the then Premier Indira Gandhi tenure in the 80s, Sri Lanka had experienced unprecedented violence, with the electoral process being seriously affected. Both Tamil terrorist groups, formed by India, as well as the JVP, interfered with the electoral process. Those who had been demanding accountability, on the part of Sri Lanka for alleged atrocities committed during the conflict here, turned a Nelsonian eye to what was happening on the ground. There couldn't be a better example than the Indian military rigging the first ever North-Eastern Provincial Council poll, held on Nov 19, 1988, to enable the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) to take over the temporarily merged North-Eastern Province. India had no option but install an administration loyal to New Delhi in keeping with their policy vis a vis Sri Lanka at that time. India never formally explained its intervention here nor apologized for the massive death and destruction caused in a neighboring country which never posed a threat to its national security.

The Northern and Eastern districts had been under Indian military occupation during the second presidential poll, held on Dec 19, 1988. The UNP presidential candidate and the then Premier Ranasinghe Premadasa defeated SLFP's Sirimavo Bandaranaike to succeed JRJ. India destabilized Sri Lanka to pave the way for its military intervention here before withdrawing in early March, 1990, after having established, the Tamil National Army (TNA) to strengthen the EPRLF administration. India's puppet provincial administration's UDI (unilateral declaration of independence) failed to make an impact. In fact, the EPRLF's foolish move dealt a debilitating setback to India's strategy here.

TNA, GTF on prez poll

The EU statement, on the forthcoming presidential poll, should be examined in the backdrop of the UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF), as well as Opposition presidential candidate, Maithripala Sirisena's camp, calling for incumbent President Rajapaksa's defeat for different reasons. The GTF, in late last month, declared that the war-winning president would be hauled up before the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) once he lost the forthcoming poll. The UK-based GTF spokesman, Suren Surendiran, compared President Rajapaksa's fate with that of former Liberian President Charles Taylor and Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic. Surendiran didn't mince his words when he asserted that President Rajapaksa's defeat would facilitate their project. But Surendiran stop short of calling for the Tamil electorate to exercise their franchise for Maithripala Sirisena.

Two days after the EU statement, on the presidential poll, the GTF reiterated its call for the Tamil electorate to exercise their franchise at the forthcoming presidential election. Surendiran sent the following statement to The Island, on behalf of the GTF’s President, Rev Father S J Emmanuel:"I prefer to give only one answer as to why Tamils are asked by GTF to vote and that is for the survival of democracy and the rule of law.

"We, Tamils of Sri Lanka, are unfortunately caught up in a pseudo democracy, bequeathed by the British colonials to the then Ceylon, namely a Sinhalese-Buddhist-authoritarian democracy, which, from the beginning, was an exclusive Sinhala Buddhist nationalism detrimental to all minorities.

For the last 66 years we have been victims of the worst human right violations and our democratic protests as well as our militant struggle have been crushed and even today we are labeled as separatists and terrorists and considered scape-goats for all evils in the country.

"This presidential election is unique in that it does not even speak a word about the decades of conflict, or war or the post-war atrocities, but only about failure of democracy and rule of law in the country.

"Hence Tamils, though victimized for decades, and even marginalized in this election, still have the good of the country and of all peoples at heart and wish the triumph of democracy and rule of law. It is in this spirit that Tamils have been called to exercise their franchise for the survival of democracy and rule of law."

Both, Rev. Father Emmanuel and Surendiran, called for President Rajapaksa's defeat without actually urging the Tamil electorate to vote for Maithripala Sirisena. The GTF strategy is similar to that of the JVP campaigning for President Rajapaksa's defeat without actually calling its supporters to vote for Maithripala Sirisena.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference called for people to exercise their franchise to a candidate of their choice while urging the loser to accept defeat without causing political turmoil. The Church released the statement last Friday in the wake of President Rajapaksa visiting the Madhu shrine.

Gajendrakumar takes different stand

However, the GTF political ally, the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on Dec 30, 2014, declared its support for Maithripala Sirisena. Although the electorate anticipated the TNA throwing its weight behind Maithripala Sirisena, in the wake of the SLMC quitting the government, the GTF decision is surprising. However, their decision to participate in the electoral process angered an influential section of the Tamil community, wanting the electorate to boycott the presidential poll. Leader of Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF), Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, has urged the Tamil electorate to boycott the January 8 election. Ponnambalam has strongly opposed the TNA's decision. Ponnambalam is of the opinion that the Tamil electorate should boycott the poll, as they did in Nov. 2005. The LTTE-TNA combine ordered the Nov. 2005, boycott that deprived UNP presidential candidate, Ranil Wickremesinghe, of over 400,000 anticipated votes. Wickremesinghe lost to Rajapaksa by less than 200,000 votes. Having helped Rajapaksa to win that election, the TNA backed former army commander, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, at the last presidential poll, in January, 2010.

The Tamil Net too has been generally supportive of Gajendrakumar's argument. The Tamil Net targeted TNA National List MP M.A. Sumanthiran for going for an alliance with Maithripala Sirisena to ensure President Rajapaksa's defeat. Those wanting the Tamil electorate to boycott the forthcoming poll are of the opinion that their participation in the electoral process is not beneficial to the community. The TNA - run Northern Provincial Council, too, has been divided over the same issue with some members wanting to follow the TNPF. Regardless of the TNPF's opposition, the majority seem to be satisfied with an opportunity to freely exercise their franchise.

The most influential plantation sector political party, the Ceylon Workers' Congress, found fault with the TNA stand on the forthcoming presidential poll. The CWC asserted that the TNA backing for Maithripala Sirisena was inimical to the interests of the Tamil community. The CWC backs President Rajapaksa's candidature, though many believed at the on set of the campaign Minister Arumugam Thondaman would join Maithripala Sirisena's camp, along with the SLMC and TNA. The SLMC and the TNA entered into a dialogue some time back. Their effort is meant to reach an understanding on the national issue. They seem to be confident that a victory for Maithripala Sirisena can help their cause.

UK singer calls for MR's defeat

President Rajapaksa has earned the wrath of many for giving resolute political leadership until the military brought the war against the LTTE to a successful conclusion.

Maya Arulpragasam, British national of Sri Lankan origin and ardent LTTE supporter tweeted on Friday night calling for President Rajapaksa's defeat.

The message sent from the twitter handle MIAuniverse read "Sri Lankan election is in 7 days. The people of Sri Lanka, defeat the dictatorship and get your rights back"

Arulpragasam, better known by her stage name MIA, is a British recording artist involved in an anti-Sri Lankan campaign together, with the LTTE groups active overseas.

Some pro-LTTE activists today staged a protest outside Bollywood actor Salman Khan’s residence in Mumbai on Sunday (January 4) for backing President Rajapaksa’s election campaign.

Khan was in Colombo last week with his "Kick" co-star, Jacqueline Fernandez. Maithripala Sirisena's camp took advantage of their presence in Colombo, in the wake of destructive floods, to ridicule the government. The government was accused of paying Rs 700 mn to get Khan down while the UPFA mercilessly beaten up local artistes backing Maithripala Sirisena's candidature.

"Salman Khan down down," the protestors shouted holding placards, condemning the superstar.

The demonstration, outside Salman’s Galaxy apartments in suburban Mumbai, lasted less than 15 minutes and later police detained some protestors.

MS camp on int'l sanctions

UPFA National List MP Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, UNP MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, as well as Sri Lanka's former ambassador in Teheran and one-time Rupavahini Chairman, M.M. Zuhair, PC, have called for President Rajapaksa's defeat. They have urged the electorate to ensure President Rajapaksa's defeat or face the consequences. Former PA National List MP Zuhair has declared that the country has no option but to elect Maithripala Sirisena to save the country from the wrath of Western countries. Addressing a delegation, from the Young Entrepreneurs Forum, headed by S L Rajiv Jayasinghe, last Friday, Zuhair said the present government had been taking the country on a course detrimental to the best interests of its people. "We had seen how the western powers had added post war issues such as religious confrontations to the list of charges against the Rajapaksa government in the UN Human Rights Council. If there is no democratic change of governance in Sri Lanka, the country must be ready for likely US and EU sanctions before the end of this year with crippling effect on trade, banking and the economy. People will be compelled to decide between saving the country or saving President Rajapaksa. Both can be saved if there is a peaceful change of power."

The MS camp should also explain whether it believed in war crimes allegations directed at the Sri Lankan government, particularly in the backdrop of Maithripala Sirisena proudly declaring that he had held defence portfolio for few days during the last phase of the Vanni offensive. The call for the electorate to defeat President Rajapaksa to save the country from international sanctions has raised many an eye brow. Over five years after the conclusion of the conflict, the national issue remains the main issue at the forthcoming presidential poll. Maithripala Sirisena's camp strongly believes that incumbent President can be overwhelmed by the Tamil speaking electorate throwing its weight behind its man in the wake of the Sinhala Buddhist and Sinhala Catholic vote being sharply divided. The Opposition is of the view that the JHU switching its allegiance to Maithripala Sirisena has dealt a crippling blow to President Rajapaksa bid to secure a third term. The government remains confident the JHU's move will not have any bearing on the outcome of the Presidential poll, 2015.