Construction and Engineering Services Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne yesterday said that the government would hold the presidential election ahead of parliamentary elections before April next year. Addressing a press conference, at the Mahaweli Centre, chaired by SLFP heavyweight Dallas Alahapperuma, Senaratne said that the presidential poll would follow elections to the Southern Provincial Council scheduled for October 10. He said that once the ruling coalition had bagged parliamentary electorates with an overwhelming majority, there would be no elections until 2015.
Senaratne said that the UNP or the so-called joint Opposition would not be in a position to face either presidential or parliamentary elections following a series of heavy defeats at the hands of the ruling coalition. Rajitha, who switched his allegiance to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in January 2006, said that UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and his chief assistant Mangala Samaraweera, MP could not even find an opposition candidate. An attempt to rally the Opposition was nothing but a joke, he said.
Dallas Alahapperuma, too, signalled that a lacklustre campaign spear headed by the JVP and Mangala Samaraweera calling for the abolition of the executive presidency would not produce any result. The Transport Minister said that the bankrupt JVP had revived a 15-year-old slogan. The JVP campaign against the executive presidency was irrelevant, he said.
He accused an influential section of the Opposition and the media of manipulating contentious issues, such as IDPs accommodated at welfare centres in the north and the spurious Channel 4 report on the execution of LTTE cadres by the Sri Lanka army to undermine the State and the Rajapaksa administration. He recalled an Opposition attempt a few weeks before the final battle on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon to politicise a presidential directive not to engage the LTTE with heavy arms. The Opposition depicted this as an Indian intervention similar to that of during Operation Liberation to clear Vadamaradchi in 1987.
Had the armed forces gone all out regardless of civilian losses, the number of people, now accommodated at welfare centres would be very much fewer, he said.
Mangala Samaraweera had been one of the harshest critics of Wickremesinghe though they were now on one side. `If you bothered to go through past newspapers, particularly in 2004 you could see what Samaraweera said about Wickremesinghe,` he said.
Minister Senaratne said that Wickremesinghe had made matters worse for him and the party by promoting the interests of his personal friends. He said that promoting Sagala Ratnayaka, MP over Justin Galappathy, Opposition Leader of the Southern Provincial Council had weakened the UNP in the Matara District. He said that there had been trouble also in the Kurunegala District due to Wickremesinghe s support to Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, another favourite of the UNP leader. He also pointed out the absurdity of promoting Mangala Samaraweera at the expense of UNP National Organiser S. B. Dissanayake. This was another folly. By at the end of parliamentary elections early next year, Wickremesinghe would be left with only Mangala, Akila and Sagala, he said.