After the closing of nominations for the provincial council elections on February 6, Colombo district secretary read out the list of the names of political parties that tendered nominations. Seemingly unintentionally, he could not mention the United National Party (UNP), the main opposition which has a formidable base in the metropolitan areas of Colombo.
Former Western Provincial Councillor Manju Sri Arangala, who heads the UNP team contesting the election, was in for a rude shock as he wondered whether his party’s nomination list had been rejected. The others, present at the moment, started murmuring to each other. Mr. Arangala brought to the notice of the district secretary that the name of his party was not mentioned when the list was read out.
Arangala needs shock therapy
At the last local government election too, Arangala had had a disappointing experience as the UNP nomination list for the Homagama Pradeshiya Sabha was rejected. Homagama is his electoral constituency, and therefore he has every reason to be worried about the rejection of a nomination list. But, much to his consolation, the District Secretary or the Returning Officer announced that the UNP nomination list had been accepted.
Mr. Arangala felt relieved and remarked, “I was chilled with fear.”
UNP candidate Srinath Perera, who was present, had developed the same anxiety due to his thought that the nomination list had been rejected over a technical error. So, he said, “My heart was trembling with fear literally like a stone crusher. If you have accepted our nomination list, just mention it please.”
By the time, former WPC Minister Udaya Gammanpila, who spearheads the team fielded by the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), stepped in at this particular moment, and noted, “I too observed that the UNP was not mentioned during the announcement that referred to the acceptance of nominations of political parties,” Mr. Gammanpila said.
A smiling Returning Officer replied, “I accepted the nomination papers of all the parties. I might have missed out the name of the UNP in reading out the list.”
" Diplomatic analysts have opined that there will be a strongly worded resolution this time, probably calling for the appointment of a special rapporteur to look into allegations of human rights violations "
Gammanpila a fair and square man, says MR
Mr. Gammanpila received a telephone call from President Mahinda Rajapaksa last Sunday. The President informed Mr. Gammanpila’s appointment as UPFA team leader for the Colombo district.
“In fact, I was informed about this by Ministers Maithripala Sirisena and Susil Premajayantha too. Also, former Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga mentioned it to me. But I did not believe any of them until you notified it to me today,” Mr. Gammanpila told the President.
In reply, the President said, “I did not take this decision on my own. I consulted all. All the party leaders were in agreement. However, some did not want anyone outside the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to be appointed to this post. But, I did not listen to them. I know Udaya will be fair by everyone.”
While thanking the President, Mr. Gammanpila asserted that he would work for an overwhelming electoral victory in the Colombo district for the UPFA.
Fund-raising in Rs 100 notes
Mr. Gammanpila is in the news these days because he asked the general public to donate Rs.100 to finance his election campaign. Among his well-wishers was Deputy Minister Faizer Mustapha. On Sunday, Mr. Mustapha contacted Mr. Gammanpila over the phone and said, “Udaya, the policies of your party are unacceptable to me. Yet, I stand with you fully in your struggle to bring about good governance in the country. I will credit some money to your account. I won’t divulge the amount,” he said.
Nominal or genuine camaraderie?
UNP MP Gayantha Karunatilake, former MP Vajira Abeywardane and party’s leading candidate for Galle Asoka Danawansa travelled in the same vehicle to hand over the party’s nomination list. By the time, Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkody, former Chief Minister Shan Wijeyalal de Silva and Senior Minister Piyasena Gamage had also arrived to hand over the UPFA nomination list. Despite political differences, the district leaders of the two parties engaged in light talk, and cracked jokes.
Soon after the nomination list was handed over, Mr. Abeywardane contacted UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and informed that everything went on well. After such remarks, he passed on his mobile phone to MP Karunatilake to have a word with Mr. Wickremesinghe on the successful completion of the nomination list. During the brief telephone conversation, Mr. Karunatilake mentioned to his leader the presence of the Deputy Speaker.
“Sir, Chandima is trying to join the UNP,” he told Mr. Wickremesinghe in lighter vein.
Subsequently, Mr. Wickremesinghe wanted to have a word with the Deputy Speaker. In his interaction with the UNP leader, Mr. Weerakkody jovially remarked, “We are thanking Vajira for helping us.”
So, the two sides enjoyed the moment with a lot of humour casting aside petty party politics for the day. Two days after, the UNP candidates had invited MP Sajith Premadasa to address their election meetings. MP Premadasa once came with a musical band, and at one meeting he sang three songs while UNP supporters from Galle danced to his rhythmic tone. Mr. Premadasa is noted for his singing skills, and he makes it a point to sing at almost every rally or meeting. Sometimes he plays the guitar to back his own singing.
UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake, who remained distraught with the party leadership over some agreements in nomination of candidates for the Colombo district, threw a bombshell at the government during an election meeting.
He said three Cabinet Ministers had submitted reports to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to be used as corroborative evidence against Sri Lanka.
“These three ministers have made submissions to the UNHRC. Now, they are going to use these documents as corroborative evidence against Sri Lanka. The government blamed the Opposition on the international crisis it faces now. Yet, there are Cabinet ministers working against the government today. Can the government keep them any further in the Cabinet?” he asked.
" Concluding his visit to the Northern Districts, Mr. Xu highlighted the impressive progress made by the Government in these districts, while noting that addressing further challenges to human and socio-economic development is a priority of the UN and UNDP in Sri Lanka "
Xu gets first-hand understanding
Haoliang Xu, the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director, Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific undertook a visit to the Northern Districts on Tuesday, as part of his four-day visit to Sri Lanka.
He travelled in Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu for gaining a first-hand understanding of the UN and UNDP’s work on the ground, the development priorities in the districts and further support it needs. During the visit, Mr. Xu met and engaged in discussions with Northern Governor G.A. Chandrasiri and Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran.
A statement from the UNDP office says, “This was followed by a meeting with the Government Agent/District Secretary of Kilinochchi. During the discussions, Mr. Xu acknowledged the efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka in addressing the recovery and development needs of the district, and its strong partnership with the UN/UNDP. Mr. Xu was also briefed about the development priorities in the districts and the remaining challenges that needed to be addressed.
Subsequent to the meetings, Mr. Xu visited a UNDP supported resettled village in Piramanthanaru in Kilinochchi District where he engaged in discussions with community members. Thereafter, he travelled to Mullaitivu District where he visited the ice plant of the Fisheries Cooperative Union. A joint initiative between the UNDP and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (FATD) and European Union, the ice plant has helped local fishermen improve their income and production, while women from local communities have also been trained in processing dry fish. The Government Agent/District Secretary of Mullaitivu was also present on the occasion.
Addressing further challenges
Concluding his visit to the Northern Districts, Mr. Xu highlighted the impressive progress made by the Government in these districts, while noting that addressing further challenges to human and socio-economic development is a priority of the UN and UNDP in Sri Lanka.
“The UNDP has had a strong partnership with the Government of Sri Lanka, providing support during the conflict, early recovery and now in the longer-term development phase. Moving forward, while building on this strong partnership, we will continue to support the work on local economic development, empowerment of communities, strengthening access to justice and the rule of law and providing support for environmental sustainability and climate resilience,” Mr. Xu stated.
After the United States notified that it would move yet another resolution on Sri Lankan building upon the previous resolution, the government is frantically lobbying support from the member states to defeat it during the March session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris hurried to China, a key ally of Sri Lanka, in the international arena, to brief the leaders of that country including his counterpart Wang Yi.
China assured its fullest co-operation in this regard. Besides, a ministerial delegation will leave for South Africa and a few other countries in the Latin American region soon to woo their support. Diplomatic analysts have opined that there will be a strongly worded resolution this time, probably calling for the appointment of a special rapporteur to look into allegations of human rights violations during the last stage of the three-decade long war. In anticipation of such a resolution with far reaching implications on the country’s future, the government looks determined to thwart the US attempt with the help of likeminded countries. Yet, it is too early to comment on the way the voting would go this time.
Two crucial votes
In March, the government will have two crucial votes- one in Geneva and another in the Western and Southern Provinces. While the senior Cabinet Ministers, backed by diplomats, are assigned for international lobbying, candidates in the fray for local elections have started their frenzied campaign for preferential votes in the two provinces. However, frequent violations of election laws by these candidates have irritated the election observers.
In the Hambantota district, the situation looks quite volatile since a shooting incident was reported from the Beliatta area. In the same district, a ruling party candidate has pasted his election posters on private buses. Though the bus operator was asked to remove these posters as it was against the law, he had refused to do so fearing possible reprisals from this candidate.
The ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) will seek a fresh mandate from the people this time, saying such public support is needed to quell any international attempt to put pressure on Sri Lanka.
JVP on the rebound?
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which had a new leader appointed for the party at its recent convention, will address public rallies at several carefully chosen locations in the country. One of the main purposes of this move is to introduce the new leadership to the country while regaining confidence of the masses. The first rally will be conducted in Maharagama on Saturday.
Besides, there will be a separate series of meetings to introduce its new policy plan adopted at the Convention. Also, the JVP is planning to dispatch delegations to address the party’s branches in different countries after the provincial council elections on March 29.
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