SLFP Presidential hopeful Mahinda Rajapakse need not respond to President Chandrika Kumaratunga`s letter calling for an explanation about his deal with the JVP, according to the Premier`s chief campaign organiser, Mangala Samaraweera.
At the weekly media briefing held by Mr. Rajapakse`s campaign steering office yesterday, Minister Samaraweera said that since the President has made her position clear that she will back Mr. Rajapakse`s candidature to the hilt, there appeared to be no reason to respond to the letter.
Before leaving for New York President Kumaratunga sent the Prime Minister a letter demanding an explanation for signing a deal with the JVP without properly informing her and claiming that Mr. Rajapakse had breached party discipline by agreeing to the Marxists` demands without consulting the SLFP. In a strongly worded letter to the Premier last week, the President said ?as a member of the People`s Alliance and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, it is a violation of discipline.?
There were also media reports that attempts made by President Kumaratunga to contact the Premier before leaving to address the UN had proved unsuccessful.
However, according to Minister Samaraweera, the President having been properly briefed regarding the agreement, had now decided that it was not a violation of party discipline and the letter could therefore be ignored.
?She realizes now that no party discipline has been violated,? he said.
Responding to a query from a journalist about controversial statements made by Foreign Minister Anura Bandaranaike - who is also Mr. Rajapakse`s running mate - to the Daily Mirror shortly before he accompanied the President to New York, Mr. Samaraweera said the statements were published in an UNP-affiliated newspaper which claimed to have had a telephone interview with Mr. Bandaranaike.
?I can`t imagine that he would say that since I spoke with him the other day at the signing of the agreement with the JVP and he seemed very happy about it. So since I don`t think these statements have been made, I don`t see a reason to comment.
?Nor do I believe that it will affect the Prime Minister`s campaign at all,? he said, adding ?come November 22, Anura Bandaranaike will be Prime Minister of this country?.
Expressing his belief that Mr. Rajapakse would easily top the 60% mark at the forthcoming Presidential poll, Mr. Samaraweera also said that 23 political parties had already pledged their support for the Prime Minister`s campaign.
?I assure you that in the next few weeks this number will increase,? he said.
Only state media has balanced coverage: Mangala
The campaign office of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse has written to the Elections Commissioner requesting him to issue guidelines to all print and electronic media to ensure a free and fair election.
Minister Mangala Samaraweera says that so far it is only the state media that is conducting a high quality, balanced coverage of the presidential race.
?For instance the Lankadeepa which is a national newspaper in this country, while it gives prominence to the UNP Presidential nominee`s campaign spokesman Tissa Attanayake, should give me equal coverage as Premier Mahinda Rajapakse`s campaign spokesman. Our interviews and press releases are not published or are carried in inside pages of the newspaper. Those responsible should ensure that proper balanced coverage is conducted,? Mr. Samaraweera said.
He also said the Premier`s campaign office is in the process of preparing a comprehensive report on the air time granted to each of the candidates on all electronic media channels which will also be handed over to the Polls Chief once completed.?If the Elections Commissioner cannot ensure that the coverage is fair, we will go to the Supreme Court to ensure justice is served,? he said.
The letter to Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake from the Premier`s campaign office states:
?You are aware that the Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka empowers you to issue guidelines at the appropriate time to every broadcasting and telecasting operation as well as the print media in order to ensure that the forthcoming Presidential election is held in a free and fair manner. Article 114 V (a) of the Constitution introduced under the 17th Amendment empowers you to issue guidelines applicable to every media without discrimination. This is clearly because if a free and fair election is to be ensured, mass media as a whole must act in an accountable manner, presenting news and views reasonably and fairly by all the candidates contesting the election.?