Daily Archives: January 4, 2015

Mahinda Rajapaksa faces grim battle for survival in presidential polls

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Colombo: Mahinda Rajapaksa, hero of the military victory over the LTTE that earned him a second term without fuss in 2010, is now locked in a grim battle for survival in this week’s presidential election, facing strong internal revolt.

Capping the revolt is a series of defections including the desertion by his health minister and General Secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Maithripala Sirisena, who is now his challenger in the January 8 polls.

69-year-old Rajapaksa, who amended constitution soon after his victory in 2010 to give himself a third term, for once looks vulnerable and less assured of victory after the defections to the fragmented opposition ranks.

A confident Rajapaksa had called the election two years head of schedule, hoping to win a record third six-year term before the defeat of Tigers fades in the memory of the people of the island which saw a three decades war over the demand of a separate Tamil Eelam.

The next day, though, Sirisena – who had publicly called for Rajapaksa to run again – made his own surprise announcement of walking out on him and to challenge him.

That set off a wave of political turmoil and energised a long-dispirited opposition that had not been looking forward to the election.

Achala Jagoda became the 26th legislator to join the opposition unity candidate 63-year-old Sirisena in the endless stream of defections.

Both the president and his challenger belong to the majority Sinhala Buddhist community and much depends on how the minorities Tamils and Muslims vote in the elections.

Muslim parties and groups had major grievances over the handling of the anti-Muslim violence last year.

“One family has captured the country’s economy, wealth, administration and the management of the political party,” says Sirisena as he campaigns for an end to the vice-like grip the president and his family members have over the system.

Rajapaksa’s brothers – Gotabhaya and Basil – are defence and economic ministers respectively besides a number of his family members who are holding key posts and positions.

So confident was the President that he called elections two years ahead of schedule but may now be regretting why he was in a hurry.

Things began to turn wrong for him from that point. The opposition argument over his eligibility to contest a third term was rubbished by the judiciary.

Unknown to him, the joint opposition was having secret meetings to plot a serious plan to see the end of the Rajapaksa aura.

The President ignored an early warning from his key ally the Buddhist nationalist JHU or the Heritage Party. The JHU support was key to Rajapaksa’s wafer thin win in 2005 for his first term.

The party of the Buddhist clergy urged Rajapaksa to implement urgent democratic reforms before the snap poll. The 19th amendment envisages a less powerful presidency, reforms in electoral, judicial and public service – in a nutshell to break the shackles of what his detractors called the authoritarianism of the President’s rule.

The JHU policy maker and Rajapaksa’s minister of technological research, Champika Ranawaka was a powerful defender of the Rajapaksa regime. He bolstered the opposition effort to find a common candidate and significantly caused the erosion of Rajapaksa’s Sinhala majority rural base.

Cometh the hour cometh the man – Sirisena left the government along with two other Cabinet colleagues.

Hailing from the rural north central province, he appears even more grounded than Rajapaksa. He does not speak English, is ever seen in the national dress unlike the President who only turned to it after becoming the Prime Minister.

Sirisena has no background of hobnobbing with the Colombo elite and socialites. No old boy of a leading Colombo school, he is more than a match for Rajapaksa’s rural appeal.

“Crossovers weakened Rajapaksa’s front line team, leaving ministers of low quality and lacking integrity, whose delivery is ineffective and poor. Like rats abandoning a sinking ship, more crossovers will further erode Rajapaksa’s credibility before a wary electorate,” columnist Dushy Ranetunga wrote.

“The impact of the crossovers means that the opposition has been able to show the door of defeat to Rajapaksa at the very outset of the campaign,” Victor Ivan of the influential ‘Ravaya’ tabloid said.

The incumbent has so far suffered the loss of 26 from his two thirds parliamentary strength of 161 in the 225-member assembly. They include an assortment of majority and minority community politicians of standing.

In essence symptomatic of the Rajapaksa rule of power politics and the resultant internal discontent.

Among them is Prof Rajiva Wijesinghe, a staunch Rajapaksa defender in the international fora on the administration’s human rights accountability.

Duminda Dissanayake from rural Anuradhapura is a younger face representing the SLFP’s old guard. Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne, a long standing Rajapaksa family aide, and Navin Dissanayake, a youthful main opposition defector to the President at his peak of popularity.

All of them can be a thorn on the side in their own ways. The minority party defections which the Rajapaksa camp seemed to take as inevitable and argue to be of little impact on the contrary adds to the ground swell of support for Sirisena.

The main Muslim party and the main Tamil party, TNA were both in the opposition camp when Rajapaksa won a convincing 58 per cent of the vote in 2010 for his second term.

In a bid to woo the Tamils, Rajapaksa campainged in Vavuniya and appealed to the people there to vote “a known devil instead of an unknown angel”.

High-profile defections at national level apart, the ruling party has suffered a host of defections to the opposition camp from their second and third tier political leadership.

“The majority community grass roots sense the end of the Rajapaksa’s time,” an opposition activist commented.

In the rural heartland the incumbent stands tall on the visibility – high spending in decorations, life size cut outs. Yet the President loses support under his feet according to the opposition.

Overwhelming minority opposition and a serious erosion of his favourite Sinhala majority voter base has made Rajapaksa’s re-election bid hang in balance as the campaign entered its final phase.

But while it is Rajapaksa’s biggest electoral challenge since he came to power in 2005, he still has immense advantages, from popularity among the majority Sinhala ethnic group – which makes up more than 70 per cent of the country’s 21 million people.

Plus, the economy has been growing since the end of the civil war, although there are complaints that it has not reached the grassroots.

FPJ

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Kumar Sangakkara becomes quickest batsman to score 12000 Test runs

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Sri Lanka veteran Kumar Sangakkara became the fifth cricketer to surpass 12,000 runs and fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep took 4-63 to help the visitors dismiss New Zealand for 221 on the opening day of the second test on Saturday.

Sri Lanka sought to reassert itself after losing the first test in the two-match series at Christchurch by sending the hosts to bat first on a green pitch at Basin Reserve and claiming New Zealand’s last eight wickets for 81 runs.

But the tourists couldn’t build on the momentum at bat, losing five wickets for 78 runs at the start of their innings before stumps.

Sangakkara, who was 33 not out at stumps, started the first test in Christchurch needing 12 runs to reach the 12,000-run milestone but was out for 6 and 1, delaying his admission to an elite group whose members include Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis and Rahul Dravid.

He comfortably reached the number on Saturday, but as he did, Sri Lanka’s innings began to disintegrate around him with the rapid dismissals of Dimuth Karunaratne (16), Kaushal Silva (5), Lahiru Thirimanne (0), Angelo Mathews (15) and Prasanne Jayawardene (6).

New Zealand had fared similarly in its innings. The hosts were in a strong position at 141-2 shortly after lunch, but their innings unraveled quickly following the dismissals of Ross Taylor for 35, top-scorer Kane Williamson for 69 and captain Brendon McCullum for a two-ball duck.

Pradeep shared seven wickets with Suranga Lakmal (3-71) as Sri Lanka swung the momentum its way temporarily in the session between lunch and tea.

McCullum was attempting to follow up his match-winning innings of 195 in the first test on the grounds where he scored 302 against India 11 months ago. After receiving the keys to the city of Wellington in recognition of his triple century, he arrived at the crease Saturday to a raucous ovation and left six minutes later to muted applause.

Pradeep missed the first test at Christchurch, but rejoined the team as one of three changes to the Sri Lanka lineup. He was able to make good use of a green pitch that offered seam movement to beat his previous test best of 4-123. He’s now taken 18 wickets in nine tests.

Many of the dismissals throughout the day looked similar. McCullum, Taylor, Williamson and Silva were all out chopping the ball onto their own stumps. Silva was the most unfortunate, playing a defensive push and then failing to react when the ball spun backward and bounced onto the bails.

New Zealand lost both openers – Tom Latham (6) and Hamish Rutherford (37) – before lunch to catches by wicketkeeper Prasana Jayawardene. Jayawardene also later caught Jimmy Neesham for 15.

Neesham avenged his dismissal in Sri Lanka’s innings by taking two catches at slip of Doug Bracewell to remove both Jayawardene (6) and Dimuth Karunaratne (16). New Zealand seamer Trent Boult also dismissed Karunaratne for the third straight innings after taking him out in both innings at Christchurch.

Thirimanne fell for a duck to Bracewell, who replaced Neil Wagner in the New Zealand lineup and captured 3-23.

“On a pretty scratchy wicket, I think the boys did well to hang in there to get so many runs on the board,” Boult said. “We knew the wicket was going to do enough and to get them five down for 78, 15 wickets in the day, made it a pretty successful day.”

IT

Tamils protest against Salman Khan over his support to Mahinda Rajapaksa

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A Tamil group on Sunday protested against actor Salman Khan outside his residence in Mumbai over his support to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

According to reports, the protesters have said that they will continue to hold protests until the actor apologies for his campaigning in support of Rajapakasa. According to police, 16 protesters have been detained.

Khan, along with Sri Lankan-born Jacqueline Fernandez and five other Bollywood performers were roped in to campaign for Rajapaksa in the upcoming Presidential elections.

MDMK and DMK criticised Salman Khan and said it was not just the issue of Tamils in that country, but also that of the Indian fishermen.

MDMK founder Vaiko had criticised Khan for campaigning for Rajapaksa, who is testing his fortunes in next month’s Presidential elections in Sri Lanka, eying a third term.

Rajapaksa is under fire from political parties in Tamil Nadu as he was at the helm of affairs in 2009 when civilian casualties in the Tamil-dominated areas in Sri Lanka’s northeast reportedly peaked during the last leg of the war between Lankan army and LTTE.

The presidential election will take place on January 8 as Rajapaksa called the election two years ahead of schedule in an apparent attempt to seek fresh mandate before his party’s popularity tumbles further, after dropping over 21 per cent in September local elections.

IT

Buckingham Palace denies sex charge against Prince Andrew

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London: Buckingham Palace today denied “any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors” by Britain’s Prince Andrew, after he was named in US court papers for allegedly having sexual relations with a girl.

A woman named him in documents she filed in a Florida court over how prosecutors handled a case against financier Jeffrey Epstein, a friend of the prince. She claims that between 1999 and 2002 she was forced by Epstein to have sex with the prince when she was a minor. In 2008, Epstein was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to a single Florida state charge of soliciting prostitution. He remains a registered sex offender.

Andrew, 54, is the second son of Queen Elizabeth II and fifth in line to the British throne. He was Britain’s Special Representative for International Trade and Investment for 10 years until 2011. The palace said it would not comment in detail on the legal proceedings. But a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said, “This relates to long-standing and ongoing civil proceedings in the United States, to which the Duke of York is not a party.

“As such we would not comment on the detail. However, for the avoidance of doubt, any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue,” she said. The woman says she was forced to have sexual relations with the prince in London, New York and on a private Caribbean island owned by Epstein.

FPJ

Split in TNA Likely to Affect Sirisena’s Chances in Poll

COLOMBO: The open split in the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) over the leadership’s decision to support the joint opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena in the January 8 election, may adversely affect Sirisena’s chances of victory against his rival, incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Tamil National Alliance stalwarts, Prof C K Sittampalam, Ananthy Sasitharan and M K Sivajilingam, on Saturday tore into the decision to support Sirisena, saying that the Tamil National Alliance should be neutral and merely ask the Tamils to vote according to their conscience.

Ananthy said that it is wrong to support Sirisena because one of his principal supporters is former President Chandrika Kumaratunga under whose rule forced disappearances of Tamil youth were galore. The Krishanthi abduction and murder case was a cause célèbre.

It was during Operation Riviresa, conducted under her regime, that lakhs of Tamils had to flee from Jaffna to the Wanni jungles. Sirisena was part of her government, Ananthy Sasitharan said.

“Sirisena has not had the courage to talk about the Tamil question in the run up to the election for fear of losing Sinhalese votes. How can the Tamils be persuaded to believe that he will address their demands after being elected?” Ananthy asked. Not more than 35 or 40 per cent of the votes may be polled this time, she predicted.

M K Sivajilingam charged that the Tamil National Alliance ‘s leaders had cast their lot with Sirisena after getting an assurance that the TNA will be given a place in his cabinet.

Sivajilingam then went on to warn that the Tamils will never accept any proposal to join a government in Colombo unless their long standing demands are met.

A Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian, who did not want to be named, said that the alliance’s leaders had not consulted anybody before pledging support to Sirisena.

Asked if the Northern Tamils will accept the decision, the MP said that people are “confused” and that the Tamil National Alliance is yet to begin mobilising the people.

“Polling will be as low as 50 per cent, with half of them voting for Rajapaksa. While Rajapaksa is better organised, being able to deploy government officers and the army to bring voters to the booth, Sirisena is not. He will be depending on the inactive Tamil National Alliance ,” the MP said.

TNIE

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