No Lanka Poll Pact to Woo Tamils: Sirisena
COLOMBO: Sri Lankan opposition unity candidate Maithripala Sirisena today made it clear that he would not go soft on Tamil hardliners or withdraw the army from the north in exchange for their support in Thursday’s crucial presidential election.
“I have no intention of withdrawing the army from the north. As president, national security will be my responsibility,” Sirisena told reporters.
He said he would not allow the country to be divided or allow the LTTE to regroup in Sri Lanka.
“We have not signed any agreement with the Tamil National Alliance or Sri Lanka Muslim Congress to devolve powers or divide the country,” he added.
Since both the TNA and SLMC came out in his support, his rival incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa’s campaign team has intensified efforts to influence the majority Sinhala voters on a possible deal between Sirisena and the minority parties.
Sirisena has been accused of pledging to create a separate Muslim administrative enclave in the east to win SLMC support.
He said that the political parties which are supporting him in the election have reached an agreement based on the 100-day election manifesto and nothing else.
The manifesto seeks to establish constitutional and electoral reforms rather than trying to address minority calls for political resolutions of issues concerning them, he said.
Rajapaksa suffered a major setback with the defection of Sirisena, his former health minister and General Secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) who is now his main challenger in the January 8 polls.
The TNA has maintained a demand for reduction of the Sinhala-dominated military from the Tamil north since the civil war with the LTTE ended in 2009.
Rajapaksa refused to deescalate the military presence citing national security considerations.
The US and western nations have also backed the TNA demand for reduced military presence in the former conflict zone in order to set up an active civil administration.
Meanwhile, international poll observers who have arrived to monitor the election said that they have heard concerns from parties over several issues – including the use of state resources and the possible use of the military for election purposes in the north.
A team of observers from the Asian Association of Election Authorities (AAEA) and the Commonwealth Secretariat are here.
Bharrat Jagdeo, the chair of the Commonwealth observers said that concerns were also raised on possible poll fraud.
On the concerns of the use of the military on or before election day, Jagdeo said that the Commonwealth observers will meet the army to discuss the concerns if necessary.
“Issues raised by those we met so far included on the abuse of state resources, violence and concerns on the potential role of the military,” he said.
The opposition leaders alleged last week that the military may force a vote boycott of the Tamils.
This is expected to help the incumbent as Tamils are expected in large numbers to favour Sirisena.