As the day of polling nears, contestants from several parties in the fray are in a race against time in campaigning to bag as many preferential votes as possible. Preferential votes, as observed at many other elections under the Proportional Representation (PR) system, have been the central cause for violations of election laws. In this political skulduggery, some stoop to the lowest level to outpace or outsmart another.
The Democratic Party (DP) of former army commander, Sarath Fonseka seems to be at the receiving end of this phenomenon. DP candidates encounter numerous hardships in reserving grounds and halls falling under the local authorities, mostly controlled by the UPFA, for election related meetings and rallies. The issue was discussed at a pre-poll meeting between the Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya and representatives of contesting parties on Tuesday. At this forum, an instance where Fonseka’s supporters and candidates had been denied access to a political meeting on a public ground in Weeraketiya, Hambantota, purely due to political reasons was brought up. The DP had made the necessary reservation of the ground for the meeting after making the initial payment to the relevant local authority. Yet, all of a sudden, the reservation has been cancelled, apparently due to political pressure.
The Election Department is now ready to assist the DP if it initiates legal action against such an injustice.
In another act aimed at thwarting campaign work by opposing political parties, the Maharagama Urban Council authorities had kept a certain ground reserved for horticultural exhibitions and the meetings of independent groups till the election is over, it is learnt. This appears to be an atrocious attempt to block opposing parties and candidates from using the facility for electioneering in the Maharagama area.
UPFA candidate Upali Kodikara’s spouse Kanthi Kodikara is the chairman of the Maharagama Urban Council. It was also a matter that came up for discussion during the meeting on Tuesday.
The election law is seen to be flouted at the freewill of candidates to such a degree, the police have found it difficult to take action in certain situations where political power subjugates all other powers. It is reported from electioneering areas that senior police officers drag their feet over the enforcement of the law fearing reprisals.
However, there are instances where the police have acted properly. DIG-Elections Gamini Navaratne informed the election commissioner during Tuesday’s meeting that 47 individuals and 16 vehicles had been taken into custody in connection with violations of election laws.
The government made yet another achievement in the post-war era by extending the northern railway line up to Palai from Kilinochchi
UNHRC braces for action
While local politics is heated on the election, the country faces greater challenges in the international arena. United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) started its session on March 1, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki -moon, in his ten minute inaugural address, referred to Sri Lanka’s case by welcoming UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay’s report on Sri Lanka.
The latest developments have alarmed the government as it is feared that an international inquiry will be initiated to look into allegations of human rights violations and accountability during the latter part of the war.
External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, who delivered the Sri Lanka National Statement at the high level segment of the UNHRC on the morning of Wednesday, is scheduled to meet Ms. Pillay today according to protocol.
A Sri Lanka Permanent Mission in Geneva in a statement said that Prof. Peiris will also consult with ‘like-minded’ countries, particularly on matters relating to Sri Lanka that are scheduled to come up during the present session. On the side-lines of the high level segment of the HRC, Minister Peiris will be also meeting with heads of delegations of member states. The report by the High Commissioner on Sri Lanka is scheduled to be presented on 26, March 2014.
Monitoring MP of the Ministry of External Affairs, Sajin de Vass Gunawardena already in Geneva is being joined by Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha and senior staffers of the mission; Senior Assistant Secretary to the President Chandima Wickramasinghe and the Assistant Director/West Division and Counter Terrorism Unit of the MEA, Fathuma Mafusa.
Leader of the House and Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Management Nimal Siripala de Silva, and Minister of Plantation Industries Mahinda Samarasinghe, who will be in Geneva to participate in the 130th Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly and related meetings, will join the Sri Lanka delegation from 15-21 and 9 -21 March, respectively, in briefing regional groups of member countries to the UN in Geneva on developments relating to Sri Lanka.
Senior officials, Additional Solicitors General Jayantha Jayasuriya and W.J. Shavindra Fernando, Deputy Solicitors General A.H.M.D. Nawaz and A. Nerin R. Pulle, Minister in the Sri Lanka Mission in Qatar, Sithara Azard Khan, Senior Assistant Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Shashikala Premawardhane, will join the delegation during the UNHRC different segments, which will continue till March 28, 2014.
The Maharagama Urban Council authorities had kept a certain ground reserved for horticultural exhibitions and the meetings of independent groups till the election is over, it is learnt UPFA candidate Upali Kodikara’s spouse Kanthi Kodikara is the chairman of the Maharagama Urban Council
Northern railway rekindles people’s hopes
The government made yet another achievement in the post-war era by extending the northern railway line up to Palai from Kilinochchi. The 27.5 kilometre railway line, constructed under a line of credit offered by India, is important for improved connectivity between the North and the South.
The inaugural train with Indian High Commissioner Y. K. Sinha, Transport Minister Kumara Welgama and Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development minister, Douglas Devananda and others on board ran over the newly reconstructed track. There were many others on board, and all enjoyed a smooth run given the advanced technology adopted in laying rails.
IRCON International Limited, a government of India undertaking, executed the project. The Kilinochchi-Pallai railway line has been reconstructed under the concessionary credit line amounting to about US$ 800 million provided by the Government of India to the Government of Sri Lanka. The British Government constructed the railway line between Medawachchiya and Kankesanthurai and commissioned it on September 10, 1905. In fact, it served as an umbilical cord that tied the North and the South socially, culturally and economically. Yet, the escalation of fighting led to the termination of train operations on June 13, 1990. Later, the LTTE even removed rails for building their bunkers.
Shortly after the war was over, the Sri Lankan government took steps to reconstruct the railway line. First, the rail service was extended from Vavuniya to Thandikulam on June 7, 2009 and then to Omanthai on May 29, 2011.
On September 14, 2013, the train service started running up to Kilinochchi, used by the LTTE as the de facto capital of their Tamil Eelam. Upon arrival, all the dignitaries were accorded a traditional welcome at the Palai Railway Station.
In his address to the gathering, Minister Welgama made some interesting remarks. He recalled that he travelled to India illegally when he was 16.
“I came to Thalaimannar by train, and then took the ferry to India,” he said. Likewise, he said once the railway lines were reconstructed up to Thalaimannar within the next few months, Tamil people could travel to India straight without coming to Colombo.
Also, he said, “President Mahinda Rajapaksa cares for Tamil people. Therefore, you should not get misled by the rhetoric of some individuals.”
The High Commissioner, Y. K. Sinha in his address termed the inauguration of the Kilinochchi-Pallai railway line as another milestone in the historic partnership between India and Sri Lanka rooted in ties involving history, language, culture, religion and trade. He said that the reconstruction of the northern line would assist in the restoration of normal life, generate and support livelihood-related activities, assist in restoring connectivity not only within the Northern Province, but also with the rest of the country, thus promoting development, reconciliation and greater integration. High Commissioner Sinha commended IRCON International on the timely completion of this section of the northern railway line and noted that the project was proceeding on schedule.
He also noted that an important component of the USD 800 million credit line for the reconstruction of the railway line was in the procurement of rolling stock by Sri Lanka Railways which will go a long way in meeting Sri Lanka’s rolling stock requirements. “With the construction of the railway line up to Kataragama and the resumption of the ferry service between Talaimannar and Rameshwaram, Sri Lankans will be able to travel by train from Hambantota and Matara to Bodhgaya as also to Jammu and Kashmir in North India, Gujarat in the west, Assam and the north-eastern states in the east,” he said.
Congratulating Sri Lanka Railways in taking one more step towards the full restoration of the railway network in the conflict-affected parts of Sri Lanka, which would help bring people in different parts of the island closer, the HC said that as Sri Lanka’s closest neighbour and long-standing partner, India is prepared to extend its fullest support to Sri Lanka in fulfilling its aspirations for peace, harmony, national reconciliation and development.
JVP’s street drama strategy
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) started a novel strategy–conducting of street dramas for canvassing votes. The artistes, affiliated to the party, participate in these dramas. Masquerading as the President and the Opposition Leader, they conducted street dramas opposite the Fort Railway Station criticising both the government and the main opposition alike. The UNP drew flak from the JVP for not doing enough to take the government to task.
Upali Kodikara aggrieved by Basil’s remarks
UPFA candidate Upali Kodikara, who identified himself as the next chief minister of the Western Province, had to eat humble pie after Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa publicly said that Prasanna Ranatunga would be given the post once again.
Kodikara seemingly upset by such remarks said at a recent meeting, “Ministers cannot decide on the chief minister. It has to be decided by the President.”
It means he has not given up his ambition to be the chief minister of the Western Province.
Solangaarachchi shuns Diminda
Prasanna Solangaarachchi, the Chairman of Kotikawatte-Mulleriyawa Pradeshiya Sabha, was a close aide of former MP Bharata Lakshman Premachandra who was killed. MP R. Duminda Silva is a suspect in the case. It is therefore no surprise that Solangaarachchi does not get on well with Duminda Silva. Recently, there was a major water project opening in Kolonnawa. Both were supposed to attend the event to be graced by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Water Supply Minister Dinesh Gunawardane. Right throughout the day, Solangaarachchi participated in organising activities of the event. But, he refused to get on to the stage with MP Silva. Later, he left the scene after informing the event organisers.