Government changes gear on early presidential election

The widely expected early presidential election may not take place ahead of scheduled parliamentary polls. The bottom line is that the government may not alter the polls time table and would face the Opposition at general elections in April next year rather than face a common candidate backed by the entire Opposition including the JVP at a presidential election.

Government sources told The Sunday Island that an influential section within the UPFA believed that keeping to the polls schedule and not having a premature presidential election would be advantageous to the government.

They said that the people, irrespective of their political differences, would appreciate such a decision as it would help them to enjoy benefit of the army-led security forces’ triumph over LTTE terrorism.

They said that many ministers too favoured a parliamentary election first though none of them wanted to discuss the issue. Speculation is that a special SLFP Convention scheduled for Sunday (Nov 15) will give an indication about the new move.

Responding to our queries, the sources said that the international community, Tamil diaspora and Tamil political parties, including those accommodated in the UNP-led United National Front (UNF), could not grumble over the fate of IDPs held at government-camps at the time of an election.

They said that the entire resettlement program could be completed comfortably ahead of the April elections though a Special Task Force headed by Basil Rajapaksa, MP had been given time till January 31 next year to complete the job.

The government has been accused of planning to deny IDPs an opportunity to exercise their franchise at the coming big elections, analysts noted.

Northern Governor Major General G. A. Chandrasiri last week told The Sunday Island that the number of IDPs had come down to 140,0000 from a staggering 300,000 at the end of the war.

Government sources said that had the UPFA kept to the polls schedule, the Opposition move to bring the JVP to its fold under their much publicized vote against the executive presidency could not materialize.

They said that the JVP would end up much weaker after the next parliamentary polls as far as the number of seats in Parliament was concerned.

Government sources said that the UPFA could also increase its influence in the Northern and Eastern districts at the next parliamentary polls. Whatever the Opposition say, Tamil speaking people could switch their allegiance to Tamil and Muslim politicians contesting on the UPFA ticket.

This is because the LTTE had now ceased to be a factor and could not influence the electorate in support of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which recognized the terrorists as the sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people.

The government is likely to explore the possibility of using ex-LTTE cadres for political work in the Vanni as well as Jaffna in keeping with what it has done in the East where one time terrorists threw their weight behind the Rajapaksa administration after breaking away from Prabhakaran.

Sources said that the Opposition could nominate General Sarath Fonseka as their presidential election candidate though election would not be held immediately. The next presidential poll is scheduled for November 2011.

Government sources told The Sunday Island that by accepting Fonseka’s resignation with immediate effect, the President had cleared the way for the UNP-led joint opposition to name the former army chief as their candidate at any forthcoming presidential election.

They said that this was done to kill speculation that the President would not accept Fonseka’s resignation as requested by the war veteran as he feared to face the war hero at a one-to-one contest and his possible entry to politics.

Government sources said that the President’s move would not leave room for the Opposition to be indecisive now as there was absolutely nothing to prevent them officially declaring Fonseka as their candidate.

General Fonseka last Thursday (Nov 12) requested the President to release him from service with effect from December 1 after a last ditch attempt to resolve their differences failed the previous day.

These sources said that the government would inform him over the weekend of its decision to accept his resignation with effect from November 13.

A senior official told The Sunday Island that this triggered intense speculation that the President could take cover behind the CDS Act to deny him an opportunity to contest presidential polls by not accepting his resignation before nominations.

Sources close to the President said that the JVP which had vowed to topple the President could now throw its weight behind the common candidate though it would have to contest parliamentary elections on its own.

UNP spokesman Lakshman Kiriella, MP, last week told The Island (Nov. 12 issue) General Fonseka would be the common candidate at the forthcoming presidential election.

Leader of the House Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva told The Sunday Island that the Opposition seemed to have forgotten that even if their candidate won the presidential election, the executive presidency could not be abolished unless the Opposition won the April elections with a two-thirds majority.

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