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Uva polls pose another headache for Opposition

The darkest era in Sri Lanka's democratic politics was the period under successive UNP regimes under Presidents J.R. Jayewardene and R. Premadasa from 1977 to 1994. President Jayewardene, who once said the only thing that the powerful executive presidency was unable to perform was making man a woman and vise versa. That alone shows the immense power he enjoyed with a five-sixth majority which he used to fold the electoral map.

The Opposition, during that 17-year undemocratic regime, were deprived of elections, except for the highly controversial 1983 referendum which was marred by large-scale rigging by UNP goons. The dream of the Opposition in that era was free and fair elections as and when they were due.

In contrast, the current Opposition, led by the UNP, has found elections a headache as they continue to lose one poll after another.

The UNP has lost 29 successive elections and some of its leaders were blaming the UPFA-led Government for holding ‘too many’ elections, ranging from Presidential, Parliamentary, Provincial Council and Local Government elections.

Not only the UNP but also other political parties in the Opposition are now compelled to face yet another election - this time the Uva Provincial Council election. It seems that the UNP's 30th successive election defeat is inevitable as the UPFA is well set for another clean sweep under the illustrious leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

But the Opposition is now compelled to prove its boasts before the much talked about early Presidential election next year. Another landslide victory for the UPFA would push the Opposition further towards the political wilderness, making it extremely difficult for any of their candidates to poll a sizable number of votes. The Opposition's effort to find a so-called common candidate for the Presidential election too has become another futile exercise as none of the party leaders are ready to forgo their chance of competing.

Nominations for the Uva Provincial Council elections will be received from July 30 to August 6 at the nomination centres in the respective District Secretariats,according to the Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya.

Uva Provincial Council was dissolved with effect from midnight July 11. A total of 600,966 voters from the Badulla district and 332,764 voters from the Moneragala district will form the voting strength of the Uva Province, which will elect 32 members plus two bonus seats.

The Elections Commissioner said the Uva Provincial Council elections will be held before the end of September. “I cannot tell the exact date, but it will be held in September,” he was quoted as saying. Deshapriya said the distribution of seats was decided in keeping with the election laws.

Shashendra challenges Harin

Former Uva Province Chief Minister Shashendra Rajapaksa has said that UNP Parliamentarian Harin Fernando who is tipped to be the UNP's Chief Ministerial candidate for the Uva Province was no challenge to him and there was no point in placing bets as Harin's defeat was certain at the election.

Rajapaksa has challenged Fernando to come up with a better program than his for the improvement of the livelihood of the people in the Uva Province. He said that the most senior UNPers have lost confidence and started leaving the party.

The former Chief Minister said UNP Diyathalawa organiser Ravi Gunawardena is one of the senior UNP organisers who supported the UPFA's program for the development of the province. “The Uva Provincial Council was able to uplift the living standards of the people in the region during my tenure. All former members of the council are prepared to face elections confidently,” he said. Rajapaksa said that he proved that Provincial Councils can be used as a tool for the uplift of people at grassroots level.

Anura Yapa points out election law

The Elections Commissioner has announced the allocation of seats to the Badulla and Moneragala districts in the Uva Provincial Council. Based on the extent of land, Moneragala district is well ahead of Badulla district.

Hence, three seats from Badulla district has been scrapped to be added to the Moneragala district.

The composition of a Provincial Council is clearly mentioned in the Provincial Councils Act (No 2 of 1988) and the Government cannot go beyond the Provincial Council Elections Act. The UPFA, refuting allegations that the Government was planning to change the composition of the Uva Provincial Council, said the reallocation of seats has been done in keeping with the elections la and the decision of the Elections Commissioner was final and cannot be questioned in any court.

Addressing the media last week, Petroleum Industries Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa refuted allegations made by the opposition regarding the number of Councillors to be elected at the Uva Provincial Council elections.

He rejected outright the opposition’s claim that the government was trying to change the composition of the Council to win the election easily.

He said the Elections Commissioner has the legal power to take decisions regarding the composition of the Council. So the opposition should not give a political interpretation to the legal powers of the Elections Commissioner. He also said that the UPFA has no doubts about its victory at the Uva Provincial Council Elections. Since the opposition has no clear vision, they make various allegations against the government.

TNA accepts undivided Sri Lanka

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) last week submitted an affidavit before the Supreme Court, swearing its acceptance of an undivided Sri Lanka.

Earlier during the week, President's Counsel K. Kanageeshwaran appearing for the TNA in a case concerning seven petitions filed before the Supreme Court to annul the results of the Northern Provincial Council election due to the TNA Party Constitution and election manifesto containing references to a separate state, agreed to do so.

The Bench comprised Chief Justice Mohan Peiris PC and Justices Rohini Marasinghe and Priyantha Jayawardena.

The Chief Justice said that all citizens should express their allegiance to a single Constitution and those coming before court, be they Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim, will be treated equally sans religious, racial or other differences.

The petitioners were Ven. Bengamuwe Nalaka Thera, Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, Gallege Punyawardena, U.A. Abeykoon, Ravi Kumara, Unawatune Amarasiri and H.K.D. Chandrasoma. They cited TNA General Secretary and ITAK leader Mavai Senathiraja, TNA leader R. Sambandan, Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya and the Attorney General as the respondents.

The petitioners also wanted the Court to declare that the ITAK was a political party that had as its chief aim the establishment of a separate state in Sri Lanka. Further hearings were put off for July 28.

Earlier, the Supreme Court ordered the Northern Province Chief Minister C. V. Vigneshwaran to withdraw a circular officially issued by him to the staff of the Northern Provincial Council including the Chief Secretary, Ms. V. Ramesh.

The Supreme Court issued this order having considered the Fundamental Rights Application by Chief Secretary to the Northern Provincial Council Ms. Vijayalaxmi Ramesh stating the Chief Minister violated her fundamental rights by illegally interfering with duties assigned by the President.

President’s Counsel Kanageeshwaran appearing for C. V. Vigneshwaran stated that the respondent withdrew the circular following the Supreme Court issuing an interim injunction on a previous hearing date, preventing the Chief Minister from issuing the circular.

However, Court observed that if that was the case, the withdrawal of the circular should officially be brought to the notice of the applicants.

President telephones Palestinian counterpart

President Mahinda Rajapaksa telephoned his Palestinian counterpart - President Mahmoud Abbas, on Sunday and conveyed Sri Lanka’s condolences to those who lost their lives in Gaza.

President Rajapaksa telephoned Palestinian President Abbas to inquire about the situation in Gaza and offered his condolences to lives lost, the President tweeted.

Foreign media reported that at least 166 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed in Gaza in the seven days of conflict between the two sides, while more than 1,000 have been injured. No Israelis have been killed so far, although militants in Gaza have pounded the country with nearly 700 rockets since the fighting began, with a further 170 intercepted by the Jewish state’s Iron Dome defence system. Families are on the run in Gaza, reports Lyse Doucet; Quentin Sommerville in Israel says its tanks are on the move. The number of people in Gaza seeking sanctuary from the conflict with Israel nearly doubled on Friday.

Relief workers in Gaza said there were more than 40,000 people being protected in 34 UN shelters. It comes after Israel sent troops and tanks into Gaza on Thursday, targeting Hamas militants who are firing rockets into Israel. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is due to the region this weekend to meet both sides.

The UN Security Council is holding an emergency session to discuss the conflict in Israel and Gaza. Earlier on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned of a “significant expansion” of the offensive.

Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls Gaza, said Israel would “pay a high price” for the invasion.

BBS at Media Ministry

Mass Media and Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said last week that media control was sometimes needed during incidents like the one in Aluthgama to prevent possible escalation of violence.

“Sometimes there is a need for media control on such incidents to prevent possible violent incidents in future.

People should understand that it’s not because of favouring one side. Even the President himself had put limitations to prevent a conflict in the country again,” he said.

He said he regretted and took the responsibility if there was any distress or inconvenience caused to any faction by media reporting on the incident. He expressed these views when he met organisations of Buddhist monks including the National Sangha Council, Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and Sihala Ravaya at the Ministry.

The monks alleged that media reports of international, local media institutions and some foreign missions in Sri Lanka had concealed the harm and damage caused to the Sinhalese by the Aluthgama riots.

The General Secretary of the BBS, Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thera charged that some ministers and parliamentarians were making false statements on the incident. He said they should also be given more opportunities to answer allegations against them and to make people aware of their side of the story.

Meanwhile, Ven. Ayagama Samitha Thera said the incident where he was assaulted was also not given publicity but said the Aluthgama riots were given much publicity instead.

Portugal PM due in Sri Lanka today

Portugal Prime Minister Passos Coelho is due to visit Sri Lanka today and would meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne, according to the Government Information Department.

Prime Minister Coelho, who will make a one-day visit to Sri Lanka, will be received at the Bandaranaike International Airport, Katunayake by Minister of External Affairs Prof. G.L. Peiris.

Apart from his official meetings with President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Jayaratne today, Prime Minister Coelho will also make a visit to historic Dutch Fort in Galle.

CPC head welcomes UNP MPs

A group of United National Party Parliamentarians who were on a fact finding mission to the Sapugaskanda Oil Refinery was prevented from entering by a group of Ceylon Petroleum Corporation employees after they were warmly welcomed by the Acting Chairman of the CPC. The MPs abandoned their tour after they were blocked by employees of the corporation.

But the UNP Mps vowed to force themselves inside the refinery in the next few days and complete their ‘disrupted’ fact-finding mission. UNP's Gampaha District MP Ruwan Wijewardene told media yesterday that no one would be able to stop them from going to the refinery during the next few days.

“We will carry out our fact finding mission somehow or other. The MPs who went to Sapugaskanda would make statements on Thursday's incident in parliament next week,” Wijewardene was quoted as saying.

UNP parliamentarian Ajith Mannaperuma has said the MPs would make repeated efforts to enter the refinery and would do so forcibly if necessary.

UNP National List MP Harsha de Silva who was referring to an allegation made by the intelligence units that the MPs were trying to damage the refinery by creating unrest said they had no such intention. “The allegation made by the intelligence units is totally baseless,” he said.

PS chairman found guilty

Former Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman Sampath Chandrapushpa Vidana Pathirana and three others found guilty of the murder of British tourist Khuram Sheik and of raping his Russian girlfriend Victoria Alexandrovna were sentenced to 20 years rigorous imprisonment on each of the two counts in the incident that had occurred at the Tangalle Resort on December 24, 2012.

Colombo High Court Judge Rohini Walgama sentenced the accused: Lahiru Kelum, Saman Deshapriya, former Tangalle PS Chairman Sampath Chandrapushpa Vidana Pathirana and Prageeth Chaturanga to 40 years RI on the charge of murder and rape with the jail terms to run concurrently. The Judge acquitted M. Sarath alias Sahan and W. Chaturanga of the charges on the grounds that they were not proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Before delivering the judgement, the Judge addressed the prosecution and the defence saying that more than anyone else it was she who had to face many challenges during this case. She said the trial began on April 3 and took her three and half months to conclude. The Judge said even though this was a special case unlike other such cases where they were heard before a jury or at a trial-at-bar but where this case was concerned she was on her own.

She thanked the prosecution and the defence counsel for the manner in which they presented their arguments and assisted her during the trial. The Judge thanked the stenographers who worked round the clock in preparing the lists of witness and noting their evidence. Justice Walgama said she did not consider sitting on this case as a duty but as an obligation entrusted to her by God.

Britain immediately welcomed the verdicts and sentences to those responsible for the murder of British aid worker Khuram Shaikh. “We hope that this will bring some closure for his family and friends who have faced a long and difficult fight for justice,” British High Commission in Colombo said in a statement.“The officials of the Attorney General’s office have shown great professionalism and integrity and we would like to thank them,” the statement said.

Iftar at Temple Trees

President Mahinda Rajapaksa participated in an Iftar ceremony at Temple Trees on Thursday. Islam religious leaders as well as Muslim devotees who were present at Temple Trees, praised action taken by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to strengthen national reconciliation. Prayers were also offered invoking blessings for national reconciliation in the country. Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne, ministers, deputy ministers, ambassadors and high commissioners and large number of Islam devotees representing the North East Province were present.

Ministers Rauf Hakeem, Rishad Badurdeen, Faiszer Musthafa, Mayor of Colombo A.J.M. Muzzamil and several other Muslim parliamentarians were also present. Earlier during the week, India’s Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees.

During the discussion with President Rajapaksa, Air Chief Marshal Raha told the President that he had fruitful meetings with defense officials during his stay in Sri Lanka.

The talks with the President were focused on a number of matters pertaining to defense cooperation, including continued training and joint air force exercises.

In addition to talks with Sri Lanka Air Force Commander Air Marshal K.A. Gunatilleke, the Indian Air Forces chief also held discussions with Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army Lt. Gen. Daya Ratnayake and the Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy Vice Admiral Jayantha Perera.

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