While the hard-fought campaign for the crucial presidential election enters into top speed on the political superhighway, the parties in the common opposition, top State officials and independent election monitors need to take effective measures to ensure that the January 8 election is free, fair and peaceful.
The common opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena last Friday presented the 10,165-word manifesto for a just and compassionate administration to begin the rebuilding of a new Sri Lanka within hundred days. One of the common opposition’s senior most and outspoken front-liners, former Minister Rajitha Senaratne told a TV talk show on Saturday the common opposition had a clear-cut plan for the first 100 days. He said they hoped to have a caretaker government by January 12 and the constitutional amendments for democracy, good governance and development based on a socialist market economy would be presented by April 20. Dr. Senaratne said the new government hoped to have a two-thirds majority to pass the constitutional amendments whereby the powers of the executive president would be drastically reduced and he would share power with parliament and the Cabinet of Ministers. The former minister also gave dates when the much-delayed Right to Information Bill and the Bill for the implementation of the National Medicinal Drugs Policy would be presented and passed by the new parliament. He also disclosed that a mini Budget would be presented within hundred days to give substantial relief to the people including a Rs.10,000 salary increase for public servants, a huge reduction in fuel prices and an increase in the budgetary allocation for vital areas such as healthcare and education.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, responding strongly to an unexpected and dramatic challenge to his presidency, is to launch his manifesto today and set the stage for the battle of battles with his former Minister Maithripala Sirisena who is backed by a coalition of more than 40 parties and civic action groups.
What is most important now is a peaceful atmosphere for the sovereign people to freely make an informed choice on January 8 as to who should rule Sri Lanka and on which path the country should go. Unfortunately the signs and signals up to now are not encouraging. We have seen an escalation of election-related violence. On Wednesday the controversial Deputy Minister Nishantha Muthuhettigamna allegedly stormed into the Baddegama Police station and attempted to hijack suspects who were being held for setting ablaze the stage and sound equipment for a rally in support of the common opposition candidate. Dr. Senaratne said on Saturday the new government would also implement a code of conduct for MPs, so that anyone who behaved in the way Mr.
Muthuhettigama did could be tried by Parliament and expelled forthwith.
On Saturday, election violence hit its worst level when a gang of pro-government goons stormed and attacked a Haputale meeting which was to be addressed by the United National Party’s National Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Uva Provincial Council Opposition Leader Harin Fernando. Five people including the UNP’s area organiser were injured while serious questions were raised as to what the police guards were doing or not doing.
Our sister newspaper the Sunday Times also splashed a front page lead story on disturbing allegations relating to an attempt to impersonate more than 100,000 Sri Lankans working in Kuwait. Today is International Migrant Workers’ Day and groups in Sri Lanka are campaigning for more than 1.5 million Sri Lankan migrant workers to be given postal voting rights to vote from where they are working. But the independent monitoring group the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) said there were allegations that some political racketeers working in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment were trying to impersonate more than 100,000 Sri Lankans working in Kuwait. While the foreign employment authorities are predictably denying the allegation, CaFFE and other monitoring groups have urged the Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya to order that migrants who returned to Sri Lanka after the nomination day and wish to vote should produce their passports at the polling booths. We hope the Elections Commissioner and the senior presiding officers will act effectively to prevent any distortion or sabotage of the sovereign people’s historic verdict on January 8.