Presidential persistence!

Friday, 21 November 2014 00:53 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • President Rajapaksa to make history by contesting presidency three times
  • Proclamation signed at auspicious time of 1:32 PM
  • President’s candidature endorsed by SLFP Central Committee on Wednesday
  • Elections Commissioner receives proclamation

By Dharisha Bastians

President Mahinda Rajapaksa put Sri Lanka on the mark for snap presidential polls early in the new year, by signing a proclamation yesterday announcing his decision to seek re-election for an unprecedented third term in office. At the auspicious time of 1:32 PM on 20 November, President Rajapaksa placed his signature on the proclamation requesting the Commissioner of Elections to prepare for presidential elections two years ahead of schedule. “Know Ye that by virtue of the powers vested in me by paragraph (3A) of Article 31 of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, I, Mahinda Rajapaksa, President, do by this Proclamation, hereby declare my intention of appealing to the People for a mandate to hold office, by election, for a further term,” the proclamation states. The proclamation follows the unanimous endorsement of President Rajapaksa at the Sri Lanka Freedom Party Central Committee meeting at Temple Trees on Wednesday night. Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told journalists that SLFP senior member Nimal Siripala De Silva had proposed President Rajapaksa as the party’s candidate, while the motion was seconded by Minister C.B. Ratnayake and general acclaim during the Central Committee meeting. Dates for the elections are yet to be fixed, but Election Officials are pointing to early January as a strong possibility. Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya confirmed last afternoon that he had received the presidential proclamation declaring the early election by fax. As per election law, nominations will be called within 21 days of the declaration, while the election could take place 60 days within the date of declaration. It is not clear why President Rajapaksa opted to declare the early poll with two years left in his second term. “This is the type of democracy the President believes in,” said Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella who was addressing the weekly cabinet briefing in Colombo yesterday. “That as soon as he is able to, he should go before the people for a mandate.” The decision to call elections two years ahead of schedule was entirely the President’s prerogative according to the constitution, the Minister added. “At 12 midnight on 19th November, President Rajapaksa fulfilled four years into his second term. From that point onwards, he could declare elections at any point,” he explained. Political analysts have have speculated that it may be an attempt to obtain a new electoral mandate before his popularity dips any further. The Uva Provincial election painted a dismal picture of the Government’s electoral fortunes, with the UPFA barely scraping 51% in two districts that previously heavily favoured the ruling coalition. President Rajapaksa’s still unnamed main opposition challenger is likely to contest him on a platform that calls for a curb on presidential power and the total abolition of executive presidential office. President Rajapaksa will create Sri Lankan history by contesting for the presidency a third time, after his Government amended the constitution to remove a two-term limit for a sitting President. The President’s gamble on an early election has already cost him vital support, with the monk-led JHU announcing on Tuesday that the party will not support his re-election bid. The JHU, whose members quit all positions of responsibility in the UPFA Government this week, claimed President Rajapaksa had refused to undertake constitutional reform or ensure the independence of the judiciary before declaring elections. The former UPFA ally hopes to back a common candidate to defeat President Rajapaksa at the January election. Opposition legislators are already promising more defections in the days to come. The crossover of UPFA MP Wasantha Senanayake to the UNP last evening has buoyed opposition hopes. “There is a large crowd of MPs waiting to cross over,” UNP MP Ranjith Maddumabandara told a packed press conference at the party’s Sirikotha Headquarters soon after Senanayake arrived at the premises. Maddumabandara said the UNP was on the cusp of a ‘revolutionary journey’ with the announcement of the presidential poll.   Valiant Vasantha vaults Vasantha Senanayake, the grandson of Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister and founder of the Grand Old Party, D.S. Senanayake, returned to the fold yesterday, marking the first of what the Opposition promises will be a series of defections from Government ranks ahead of the January presidential poll. The young SLFP MP from Gampaha arrived at the UNP Headquarters Sirikotha in Pitakotte at 5:30 p.m. He was welcomed with celebratory firecrackers and garlanded by a group of young UNP parliamentarians. Senanayake told a press conference at Sirikotha soon after his crossover that he was taking a stand against corrupt governance and the dictatorial aspects of the 1978 constitution. The young Parliamentarian said he had warned the Government several times that he was not happy with the status quo. “It was a difficult decision. But I made it for the sake of the country. To throw my weight behind a common Opposition candidate that the whole country can rally behind,” he asserted. The common Opposition candidate is likely to be unveiled tomorrow, Senanayake hinted. The UPFA was doing nothing to change the system to ensure good governance despite a public outcry, Senanayake claimed. “We have repeatedly said that there is no way to ensure democratic, transparent governance under the present Constitution. The whole country is rallying around this banner now. Still the UPFA does nothing,” the young MP noted. In fact the Government had removed one of the only checks on unlimited power provided for in the 1978 Constitution by removing the two-term limit for sitting presidents, Senanayake added. Less and less, the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa was working in the interests of the people of Sri Lanka, he noted. “They speak a lot of Tharunayata Hetak,” Senanayake said, referring to his ‘good friend’ Namal Rajapaksa’s youth movement. “But what is the point in talking about tomorrows for the youth, when they don’t even have todays?” he asked. “My sole expectation from the UNP is that they will work towards the interests of the people and get rid of this miserable Constitution,” he charged. Senanayake said there were likely to be more defections in the coming days. UNP MPs Ranjith Maddumabandara, Thalatha Athukorale, Akila Viraj Kariywasam, Ruwan Wijewardane, Harsha De Silva and Sagala Ratnayake participated in the press briefing.