President Mahinda Rajapaksa is likely to call for a presidential election immediately after the conclusion of elections to Provincial Councils which will go on till early 2009. An influential section of the ruling coalition is of the opinion that he should face the people before the next parliamentary poll scheduled for 2010. The presidential election is scheduled for 2011.
Ministerial sources said government strategists believed a presidential poll was now inevitable ahead of the next parliamentary election.
The last parliamentary and presidential elections were held in early April 2004 and November 2005, respectively.
Ministerial sources asserted that the recent break-up of the SLFP-led ruling coalition s relationship with the JVP over its backing for the dissident JVP group is likely to influence a decision.
Although the dissident JVP group now registered as National Freedom Front was expected to contest the next parliamentary election on the government ticket, the split with the JVP wouldn t be to the ruling party s advantage, the sources said.
The sources claimed that this would also thwart any move on the part of the UNP to influence some government members switching allegiance in the run up to the parliamentary election. Among the targeted groups were the 18-member UNP (Democratic Group) led by Minister Karu Jayasuriya and Minister Arumugam Thondaman s CWC parliamentary group, the sources said.
The Rajapaksa administration has received the support of altogether 25 UNP MPs and several SLMC members who had entered Parliament through the UNP National List. The 11-man breakaway JVP group, too, supports the government.
The sources said the government had tilted towards a presidential election as the UNP contemplated a leadership change to face the government challenge. An influential section of the UNP had wanted UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to quit thereby paving the way for Rukman Senanayake to take over the party. But the likelihood of the presidential election preceding the parliamentary poll would prompt Wickremesinghe to reject the move as he intended to contest the next presidential election, the sources said. The sources expressed belief that failure to resolve the leadership crisis would further weaken the UNP.
Wickremesinghe lost twice to Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa in December, 1999 and November, 2005, respectively.
Government sources said the President wouldn t have to begin his second term immediately. The bottom line was that the President would begin his second term only after the holding of the parliamentary election, the sources said.
The government is confident the LTTE could be defeated before the next presidential election. The army is on the offensive on the Vanni and Welioya fronts while two Divisions are stationed in the Jaffna peninsula to conduct operations across the Jaffna frontline.
The Opposition said the people couldn t be deceived by political gimmicks. If the government had felt the President could comfortably win a second term, let him face the masses, an UNP MP said. People would teach the Rajapaksa government a bloody good lesson, he said, asserting their recent protests targeting the government on runaway fuel and food prices have had the desired impact on the people. The UNP said their bullock cart protest had been a huge success.
Government sources said that while trying to bring people onto the streets over cost of living, the Opposition bigwigs were having a gala time. On Sunday, they had wined and dined in five star comfort at a leading Colombo hotel at a charity dinner organised by the Sunera Foundation. The cost of living would have been the last thing on their mind, an insider said, adding that several hundred had paid Rs. 7,500 a ticket to join the fun. Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mangala Samaraweera and Malik Samarawickrema had been among the guests.
The UNP said that if anyone had felt Opposition leaders shouldn t enjoy a meal for which they had paid, the media should also discuss the government squandering taxpayers money on a section of the media. The recent Temple Trees dinner where several hundred invitees, including journalists, were treated to an expensive meal including grilled meat, red and white wine was case in point.