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DateLine Sunday, 6 April 2008





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Ballot or bullet? - Let people decide

Hot on the heels of the Local Government polls for the Batticaloa district on the March 10 and the Government decided to hold the Provincial Council elections for the Eastern Province. How do you see this development?

DEW: To sustain peace in the East, those people should be given their political rights. For the democratic system to continue the Government thought, that it would be prudent to hold Provincial Council elections.

Soon after the East was liberated the Government started the 180 day development programme for rehabilitation and reconstruction of the East and I was personally involved in that. And this first step towards peace and development in the East was highly successful.

Constitutional Affairs and
National Intergration Minister DEW Gunasekara
Gayantha Karunathilake,
M.P. - United National Party
Pix by Kavindra Perera

The Provincial Council system was intended primarily for the North and the East although it was an extension of democracy to other provinces. It was created to provide a lasting political solution to the people of the North and the East.

On the other hand when we restore power to the people and thereby activate the Provincial Council system I think it will have an impact on the Northern province as well. That will enlighten the people of North.

GK: During the Batticaloa Local Government Elections many mainstream political parties stayed away from contesting, because the ruling party was in ally with a party that was still carrying arms. If any armed group enters in to the democratic mainstream they should totally disarm themselves. They initiated the election campaigns by threatening other candidates.

Therefore, we had to boycott that election which was confined only to a few areas of the district. But with regard to the Provincial Council elections, UNP working committee decided that the party should contest. Now the SLMC joined us as well. But we have put forward three conditions to the Government: Number one, there can be no armed groups operating in the area.

Two, restore the removed STF camps in the respective areas. Three, participation of foreign observer teams, a must. We strongly believe that according to the law of the country only the security forces and the Police can use weapons. We are ready for the elections. We will face it and we will win.

What do you think of the build up of this new political culture in the area with a series of elections?

DEW: This step will restore democracy and that will focus on sustained peace and development and national integration; it will have an impact on the whole country as well.

This would definitely sends a message to the International community stating that we are capable of solving our own problems and we are continuing in finding a solution. East is an area economically, politically and sociologically backward yet abundant with untapped natural resources.

Hence its contribution to development is essential. Really this is a testing ground for policies on national integration due to its unique distribution of the population. Politicians should very carefully handle the situation because of the high importance of the area.

GK: We insist that the Government should hold free and fair elections. Government is trying to ally with an armed group and enter the fray. We do not approve it. We can only call the election free and fair when those armed groups are totally disarmed. During the UNP regime in 1994 the total Eastern sector was free.

We held the elections accordingly and when the ruling party was defeated we handed over a free Eastern Province.

During their time the Army camps had to be removed and certain areas were returned to the LTTE due to the wrong political decisions. They themselves lost the East. But now they claim that it was they who liberated the East. People will not forget as to who really liberated the East for them.

Certain political parties raise objections saying the Government is facilitating certain armed groups in the East. What is your comment on this?

DEW: Those armed groups who have now come to the democratic political path should disarm themselves. Knowing the ground situation as they are at the receiving end of the LTTE there is a genuine fear. So it is duty of the security forces to provide protection.

During the time of an election no political party can afford to keep armed members around. Otherwise all the political parties will claim for equal rights. Therefore, it is the duty of the Security forces to provide security to these politicians under threat. All political groups should be disarmed.

GK: Irrespective of the party hues we appreciate any armed groups falling in to the democratic mainstream. But we insist that they should adhere to the law of the country. If Pillayan has a threat on his life provide him security through the security forces or the Police. We never oppose that. But they can not keep weapons. We accuse the Government for facilitating this armed group.

How can you assure your people that the Provincial Council elections will be totally free of pressure from armed groups?

DEW: I believe the security forces should keep away from the elections. It should be handled by the civil staff and the election officers. The election law is quite strong where the Elections Commissioner is given immense powers.

Even the Police should take orders from the Elections Commissioner. Most importantly the political parties should be self-disciplined. Because we politicians must behave exemplarily as the whole world is watching these events in the Eastern theatre. Let the people use their rights freely and allow the democracy to prevail.

GK: We insist on the Government to disarm these armed groups, restore the STF and invite foreign election observers to be present at the elections. Creating an environment for a free and fair election is Governmentís duty. The STF protected these areas for a long time. We are against their removal.

A Muslim upheaval, supported by extremist elements in the East is predicted by certain political analysts. How do you see this situation?

DEW: Iím also aware that several microscopic groups are operating. Therefore the only thing is we should not create conditions for them to nurture. We have learned enough from what happened in the North.

50 years of ethnic conflict and 25 years of war has given us enough lessons. As I see at the moment it is not even at a level of nuisance. This is happening all around the world. There are international forces that are waiting to come and help these groups, if chances arise.

GK: The population in the East in general consists of the minorities. Therefore, based on the past incidents the people will make a decision. We can make an analysis only after that.

Since the ruling party is in alliance with the Pillayan group one can not stop the Sinhala Buddhists and the Muslims recollecting the gloomy past filled with massacres. First, the elections should take place and then we can see what the people have to say!

Many critics point out that although the politicians speak of freedom and liberal democracy, people of the East live in constant fear due to the presence of militant groups. So how can you then, assure a free and fair election for your people in the East?

DEW: It is like this. Distrust, suspicion and fear are among the communities. Depending on the character and the nature of the entire province, this situation exists. At the lower levels of the society high polarization is present. For example, people still would remember the Kattankudi massacre where hundreds of Muslims were butchered.

GK: That is why we insist on the Government to disarm the armed groups,restore STF in their camps and assure security and invite foreign election observers. Everyone needs a free and fair election.

We will contest the elections with the people. But we are doubtful about the Government plans. Several Ministers reiterate about holding the elections. And we have seen the Government do not adhere to what they say.

There is widespread poverty among your respective communities. What are the concrete steps you have taken so far to eradicate poverty?

DEW: Eastern province is a victim of nature-made and man-made disasters. Then, a victim of neo-liberal economic policies as well. At present the development focuses mainly on Colombo as a result of the open economy. This is happening globally. East faces uneven development.

The Northern Province shows only 3% growth. East 4 -5% growth. Where there is no war the Uva is showing only 4% and the North Central Province, adjacent to the war affected areas, shows 4%.

In addition Eastern province has drawn back socially as well. That is why the Government has given highest priority in developing the area. If we speed up the social and economic development, then I think we can rest assure that the dawn of peace is imminent.

GK: As a Party in the opposition what can we or how can we implement programmes to eradicate poverty? During our regime we had not increased the prices of goods in such an accelerated speed. We had not put people in trouble. We brought back peace and liberated the East. Established civil administration in the East and held the elections. People are aware of all these facts.

They will definitely use this opportunity to give the Government a signal to remind them that they are going in the wrong direction. The Government increases the prices of goods blaming the war and Prabhakaran. They have no effective economic policy. People will keep in mind all that they have gone through in the past and based on that they will decide about casting their vote.

The Tamil political parties which were earlier insisting on a merged Northern and Eastern Province have now come forward to contest in the Eastern PC polls. How do you see the new stance of the Tamil political parties?

DEW: The merger of the two provinces came under the Indo-Sri Lanka accord as we all know. The Supreme Court gave the decision based on the reality. I am happy that many of the national parties are participating in the elections. However, all the political parties are in the fray. It is a good sign!

GK: As the Supreme Court had decided to keep the two provinces demerged those parties have to adhere to it. As Members of Parliament we are bound to protect the constitution of the country.



Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Ceylinco Banyan Villas

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