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Sunday, 8 July 2012

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PC polls - Opposition parties get cold feet

The dissolution of the North Central, Sabaragamuwa and the Eastern Provincial Councils ahead of schedule would enable the Government as well as the Opposition to feel the pulse of the masses.

The UPFA Government, led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in deciding to hold fresh elections to these PCs has given an opportunity for those in the Opposition to prove their strength.

The Opposition, especially the JVP which had attempted to capture power twice through two insurrections in 1971 and 1988, is adept at organising anti-Government demonstrations, using undergraduates and factory workers as scapegoats. Nevertheless, they are unable to wield this 'authority' at an election.

The bizarre manner in which the UNP and those in the Opposition reacted to the dissolution of the three PCs is baffling. Opposition parties in any part of the world which practises democracy generally welcome an election at any level. Elections of any kind provide an opportunity for the Opposition to regain power.

In 1994, the SLFP-led People's Alliance capitalised on its victory at the Western Provincial Council election to win the General election and eventually the Presidential election to end the 17-year-old UNP regime. In sharp contrast, Opposition political parties in Sri Lanka act in the most despicable manner by taking the Government to task for its decision to hold PC elections. The complete opposite is a common feature in most other democracies and elections are often postponed by incumbent Governments.

In 1983, the then UNP Government of J.R. Jayewardene held a referendum instead of the scheduled General election to extend the term of the 1977 Parliament till 1989. This was how the UNP practised democracy when in power, thereby folding the electoral map for over one-and-a-half decades.

No sooner the elections to the three PCs were announced, Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe compared the Government to the LTTE. Could any right-thinking person in his proper senses compare a democratically elected Government that commands an absolute majority in Parliament to a barbaric terrorist outfit? One may wonder whether Wickremesinghe has gone bonkers, having lost a record 23 elections under his tottering leadership. Perhaps, Wickremesinghe may be averse to improve this record feat as he fears it would unwittingly help Sajith Premadasa to intensify his ambitious battle for UNP leadership.

Former UNP Deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya has gone one step further, saying that the forthcoming PC elections would be a farce. He also says that the President enjoys sweeping powers under the Constitution. It is apparent that Jayasuriya is under a delusion as it was UNP itself which introduced the current Constitution way back in 1978. Rather than criticise the Government for conducting elections regularly, it behoves Jayasuriya and Premadasa to lend a helping hand to Wickremesinghe to resurrect the UNP.

In wide contrast, the UPFA, led by President Rajapaksa prefers to feel the people's pulse by holding elections on a regular basis. While the UNP and JVP leadership are engaged in a relentless battle to overcome internal power struggles, it seems that regular elections have proved to be a headache for Opposition parties.

President Rajapaksa is an illustrious leader who strongly believes in democracy and the people's power. He has proved this in no uncertain terms by providing the masses numerous opportunities to exercise their franchise and democratic right. This was the sole reason that prompted the President to dissolve the three PCs, notwithstanding the adverse views held even by his party officials that the drought now being experienced in these areas would estrange the farmer community from the UPFA.

However, the President is convinced that this would be the most appropriate time to see how sensitive the masses are towards the Government and threw a challenge to the Opposition. It is up to those in the Opposition to prove that they still have some vote base to be proud of although these figures would be remote to the number of university students and factory workers they exploit at demonstrations.

President Rajapaksa has repeatedly stressed the need for a strong and responsible Opposition. It is a crying shame that those in the Opposition are resorting to undemocratic means to capture power, rather than win the masses' confidence.

Sarath Fonseka's Democratic Party and the second breakaway group of the JVP, Frontline Socialist Party, were among the first to declare that they would not contest the forthcoming PC elections. This is quite understandable as the leaders of these parties are aware of their fate.

Fonseka, especially, who went by the traditional vote base of the UNP and the JVP came a cropper at the 2010 Presidential election. He knows only too well how his party would fare if it were to contest individually. The UNP and JVP leaders are by no means fools to accommodate Fonseka again. Hence, Fonseka has little or no option but to eschew elections and host media interviews.

The SLFP, on the other hand, has set a shining example by deciding not to entertain nominations from family members and close relatives of its MPs for the forthcoming PC elections. This no doubt is praiseworthy and would provide more opportunities to aspiring youth from the villages. It is fervently hoped that all other parties too would take the cue from the SLFP and afford more opportunities for talented youth.

The PC polls would be an acid test for those in the Opposition if they are to pose any challenge to the ruling UPFA. The Government had simultaneously battled terrorism and 'economic' 'wars'. Apart from eradicating terrorism and ushering in a peaceful environment for people to live in harmony, the Government has also taken several tangible steps to ensure that Sri Lanka wins the 'economic war' as well. Despite waging an unrelenting war against the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world, the Government simultaneously launched several mega development projects.

Consequently, the Northern and the Eastern Provinces recorded a growth rate of over 22 percent while the country, has an average growth rate of around eight percent.

The Government would certainly hold the Northern Provincial Council elections no sooner the demining process is completed and displaced persons are resettled completely. Opposition politicians should not look at these positive developments with tinted glasses.

In the event the Opposition is sincere in its attempt to strengthen democracy, it should go before the masses and seek a mandate by presenting its plans to develop the three provinces. Instead of doing what a responsible Opposition ought to, Opposition parties are now pointing an accusing finger at the Government for permitting the masses to exercise their democratic right.

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