University of Politics
President keen on testing people's pulse:
Elections not to Opposition liking!
The local political arena heated up with the dissolution of North
Central, Sabaragamuwa and Eastern Provincial Councils last week.
While the ruling UPFA looked confident of another landslide victory,
it was not a welcome news for most of the parties in the Opposition. The
two main parties the UNP and the JVP are greatly perturbed by the news
as the leaders of those parties seem to be having no time for
canvassing, already saddled with inside power struggles.
The most disturbed by the news was none other than the Leader of the
Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe. The Opposition of any democracy would
welcome a decision by a ruling party to hold any type of election.
However, it turned out to be a jolt for Wickremesinghe, who has been
struggling to retain his position in the UNP.
The extent to which Wickremesinghe got panic after hearing the
dissolution of the three Provincial Councils was quite evident in the
manner in which he reacted initially by comparing the Government to the
LTTE. Could ever right-thinking person with at least some intelligence
ever, compare with the then world’s most dangerous and barbaric
terrorist outfit which has killed thousands of people with a responsible
and people-friendly Government which has saved over a half a million
people from the jaws of terrorism?
It will now be another acid test for the political parties in the
Opposition, if they are to throw any challenge to the ruling UPFA. The
nominations from recognised political parties and independent groups for
the Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provincial Council election
will be accepted from July 12 to 19 noon at the District Secretariats,
the Elections Department announced yesterday.
The Department made this announcement few hours after the notice of
dissolution of the Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provincial
Councils was published in the Gazette. The exact date of the election is
to be announced after considering the number of nomination papers
received during the period of accepting nominations from political
parties and independent groups.
The deposits from political parties and independent groups are
accepted till July 18 noon, the day prior to the last date of accepting
The Department sources said another period to accept nominations will
be declared if no nomination paper is received during this period.
According to Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya, if one
nomination paper is received and accepted by Department officials, that
political party or independent group that submitted the list would be
declared elected to the Provincial Council uncontested.
However, its Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa, who has been challenging
the UNP leadership, vowed to do his utmost to put his party on the
winning track. But it appears to be a gigantic task for Premadasa Junior
who has often demonstrated his political immaturity.
The JVP politburo members too had a hurried meeting to plan their
initial strategy. But with the JVP suffering another blow with the
emergence of a second breakaway group after Minister Wimal Weerawansa’s
initial move, its leader Somawansa Amarasinghe is struggling hard even
to sustain the little vote base it had.
It seems that Sarath Fonseka, the defeated candidate at the last
Presidential election and released recently from jail on a special
presidential pardon, has now understood his true political strength and
ability. That is perhaps why Fonseka declared immediately that his
newly-formed political party would keep away from the upcoming
Provincial Council elections – a smarter way to evade another election
Speaking at a news conference last week, Fonseka said that the
Democratic Party, the new political party he formed recently, will skip
the elections to North Central, Sabaragamuwa and Eastern Provincial
Prior to the dissolution of the three Provincial Councils, President
Mahinda Rajapaksa summoned a special meeting of the Governors, Chief
Ministers, Provincial Council Ministers and Government officials of the
three provinces. When he declared the Government is planning to dissolve
the three Provincial Councils, many suggested that this is not the most
suitable period as the farmers in these areas were severely affected by
But a determined President said that they would go ahead with the
dissolution as this is the most suitable period to find out the
affection of the rural masses towards the Government and “how sensitive
the people are”.
Demand for garments
When the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus trade facility
was withdrawn a few years ago, many people here thought that it would be
the end of road for Sri Lanka’s garment industry. But President
Rajapaksa firmly believed that Sri Lanka could face the challenge and
that the country should now bow down to the strings attached with human
In fact, the GSP plus was initially granted to Sri Lanka after the
2004 tsunami devastation and some in the local garment industry took
things for granted. When the European Union threatened to withdraw the
GSP facility enjoyed by Sri Lanka during the battle against terrorism,
citing human rights allegations, Sri Lanka Government quite rightly
thought that the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is much
more important that a few hundred extra Euros earned through GSP plus
Thanks to a fearless leader who firmly believed in our ability and
put the country before self, the quality of Sri Lanka’s garments was
good enough for the country to remain in international markets and none
of the garment industry employees lost their jobs after the EU withdrew
the GSP plus. In fact, it was the retail stores in London, at which
there is a big demand for quality garments produced in Sri Lanka, which
protested over the EU’s decision.
But the US was not influenced by the EU’s decision and extended its
GSP plus facility to Sri Lanka, probably considering the quality and the
demand for Sri Lanka’s garments.
The US, while declaring that Sri Lanka would continue to enjoy the US
GSP concession, said yesterday that Sri Lanka has taken significant
steps to improve the worker rights environment in the country. “United
States Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced that USTR has closed the
Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) country practice review on
worker rights in Sri Lanka without any change to Sri Lanka’s GSP trade
benefits.” the US embassy in Colombo said in a statement.
It said that the Government, over the last few years, has taken
significant steps to improve the worker rights environment in the
country - progress in initiating, investigating and resolving unfair
labour practices cases; the establishment of trade union facilitation
centers in each of the three largest Economic Processing Zones; improved
procedures for conducting union certifications; and enactment of
legislation to increase the fines for labour practices violations. The
observation by the US is a great setback to local trade union leaders,
especially those in the JVP who have been exploiting innocent factory
workers to fulfill their political agenda. The JVP trade unionists,
headed by K.D. Lalkantha, who was rejected by people at the last
parliamentary general elections and lost his seat in the Parliament,
should at least desist from exploiting ignorance of workers to put their
political agendas in motion.
Over the past few weeks, the opportunist Opposition politicians went
to town alleging that the Government has a secret pact with the US and
that the Ministry of External Affairs has submitted a document relating
to the implementation of proposals made by the Lessons Learnt and
Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
However, all attempts to get petty political mileage were shortlived
as the Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga on Monday dismissed
such reports that neither he nor External Affairs Minister Prof G. L.
Peiris had submitted a document relating to the implementation of the
LLRC proposals to the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during their
official visit to Washington in May.
Minister Prof Peiris has repeatedly denied he had submitted any
document or secret plan regarding the implementation of the
recommendations made in the LLRC report since his return to the island
after his meeting with Clinton.
“We are yet to determine the potentiality of recommendations in the
LLRC report and which recommendations can be implemented,” said
Secretary Weeratunga, who is also the head of the Cabinet-appointed Task
Force overlooking the implementation of the LLRC report.
Asked to explain if it was or was not the document which came to be
published by an English newspaper under the headline ‘GL- Clinton deal
on LLRC implementation revealed’ that was submitted by them to Clinton,
the Secretary to the President has said that the article was speculative
and misleading. “ It was a guideline document prepared by me for the use
of our team in Washington. It was never meant to be submitted or
submitted to the US Secretary of State by us,” he said.
However, it had got to the hands of this newspaper. According to
Secretary Weeratunga, the so-called document was a reference paper used
among them, during the meetings with US officials. It was used for ease
in making presentations. There was no submission of this paper to the US
Secretary of State, he added.
As President Rajapaksa has quite rightly pointed out before, the
implementation of the LLRC is entirely a matter of the Government and no
outside element which pontificate us what Sri Lanka should do.
Commenting on the progress of LLRC implementation, the Secretary to the
President said the Task Force is studying the recommendations. “We will
announce what recommendations could be implemented in due course. We
plan to announce the short-term strategy of implementation by mid July,”
Secretary Weeratunga said.
Relief for affected farmers
The severe drought in many parts of the country has threatened the
livelihood of thousands of farmers, with 150,000 acres of paddy lands in
Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Puttalam districts at risk of being
Lack of education in water management among farmers and the people in
the dry zone has aggravated this situation. Authorities stressed the
importance of educating farmers on proper water management methods to be
adopted in times of drought. The situation has a serious impact on hydro
power generation, leaving the energy sector to depend on fuel guzzling
thermal power as water levels continue to recede in the main reservoirs.
The farmer community played a key role in bringing the UPFA
Government to power and strengthening the mandate given to the
President. Understanding the pulse of the people who depend on
cultivation, the President has ordered immediate relief for farmers
affected by the drought.
President Rajapaksa has said that farmers who provide rice to the
Accordingly, Agrarian Services and Wildlife Minister S M Chandrasena
instructed relevant officials to collect data related to the drought to
provide relief to those affected. The President had appointed a
committee to provide all the assistance to the drought hit farmers as
soon as possible and to provide subsidies to those affected by the
drought. The President has also given a directive to offer relief to
farmers who had obtained bank loans.
President Rajapaksa returned to the country last Sunday after a
successful official visits to Cuba and Brazil during which he
participated in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development
(UNCSD), Rio+20 in Rio de Janeiro. In Cuba prior to the Rio+20 summit,
the President met Cuban leader Raul Castro and held discussions to
strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries.
The President addressing the Rio+20 Summit, the UN’s largest
conference on green economy and sustainable development, called for
developed countries, which largely contribute to the environmental
crisis, to take the responsibility of saving the environment and not
leave it to the developing nations at the cost of their development. The
President noted in Sri Lanka, development was not at the expense of
nature and pointed out that both protecting nature and development go
hand in hand.
The Rio+20 Summit was attended by a number of world leaders, members
of both government and non-governmental organisations and members of
private sector organisations. On the sidelines of the green summit,
President Rajapaksa met several world leaders to apprise them of the
present situation in Sri Lanka and encourage them to enhance bilateral
ties in various sectors, including trade, technology and agriculture.