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DateLine Sunday, 6 April 2008

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Positive sign of the times

Nominations for the forthcoming elections to the Eastern Provincial Council closed last Thursday with 1,342 candidates from 19 political parties and a record 56 independent groups contesting the 37 seats from the Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara districts.

The Government’s effort in restoring democracy in the East is commendable and we fervently wish it would be the same in the North as well before long. Even the political parties which boycotted the recent Local Government elections in the Batticaloa District are also contesting the Provincial Council elections.

The United National Party (UNP), the main opposition, shunned the Batticaloa LG polls alleging that there wasn’t a conducive atmosphere for a free and fair election. To justify their controversial decision, fearing that it would have been their 17th successive defeat, the UNP said the TMVP, under Pillayan, would pose a threat.

But eventually, the UNP ate humble pie as the Government conducted the Batticaloa LG elections in an exemplary manner. Even the main election watchdog - PAFEREL, too declared it was free and fair without any notable incidents.

On the other hand, it was indeed a commendable effort to bring a group of ex-terrorists into the democratic mainstream. The TMVP was formed by a group of ex-LTTE cadres led by Karuna Amman and its deputy leader Pillayan now wants to enjoy true democracy.

These people who earlier believed in the bullet now have faith on the ballot. Isn’t this a great victory for democracy in the country? Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader Rauff Hakeem said that his aim in contesting the Eastern PC, was to restore democracy.

Is there any need for Hakeem or any other candidate/political party do so as the Government has already done so? Hakeem, together with Basheer Segu Dawood and Hassan Ali resigned from their Parliamentary seats to contest the PC polls. Their decision has vindicated the Government’s position.

This is a clear indication that the liberation of the East is now working in the direction the Government anticipated and democracy has dawned in the East.It is due to this that Hakeem and his other two fellow SLMC Parliamentarians resigned from their posts to contest the PC elections.

In doing so, the three SLMC stalwarts have confirmed that the Provincial Councils have the real regional administration powers. For them, it seems that being a member of the Provincial Council is more powerful than a Parliamentarian.

This is a positive sign and these leaders are confident of what the Government is doing to bring about peace and stability in the country under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Those who downplayed the liberation of the East from the clutches of LTTE terrorism and Velupillai Prabhakaran’s barbaric rule are now assured that democracy is taking root in the East.

But it’s unfortunate that Hakeem has ignored the aspirations of the late SLMC founder A.H.M. Ashraff. Hakeem, who represents the Kandy District, seems to have disregarded the Muslim community in the East. If not, he wouldn’t have abandoned the tree symbol and agreed to contest under the UNP ticket.

Having lost 16 successive elections, including two Presidential Elections, under the tottering leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UNP is now desperate to taste success through Hakeem.

The UNP’s decision to contest the Eastern PC election is an encouraging sign for democracy. But at the same time, the Opposition Leader had to swallow his own words. The same Wickremesinghe compared the Eastern Thoppigala to a thick jungle when our brave Security Forces liberated it.

The UNP did not see anything significant in the Government’s effort to liberate Thoppigala, Sampur, Vakarai, Mavil Aru and the entire Eastern Province.

When President Rajapaksa took office in November, 2005, barely anyone believed that the East could be liberated. However, those great humanitarian operations in Mavil Aru helped to destroy the Tiger power.

Many were in the belief that the Government merely wanted to liberate the area and gain political advantage. But this was the furthest from the truth.

President Rajapaksa wanted to develop those areas and restore democracy as quickly as possible. The resettlement process in the East took place at a rapid phase and it even impressed many international organisations.

The Government allocated two billion rupees to develop infrastructure and de-mining operations in the East. Already, 5,000 trained persons have been deployed in the process of de-mining under the supervision of the Sri Lanka Army.

Several human resource development projects have also been launched in the province and 800 persons, including women were trained last year in masonry, carpentry and other areas under a skills development program.

Innocent civilians in the East yearned for peace and the Government delivered more than their expectations. Apart from the thousands of houses built in the resettlement process, the Government, under the Eastern Reawakening program, also developed the road network, bridges and other facilities.

In the final phase, the Government wants to restore democracy in the East and hand over the provincial administration to the people in the area. The dream of the innocent civilians in Wanni and Mullaitivu is no different.

Before long, the Government would fulfil their aspirations.

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Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
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