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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Govt in quandary as people support the UNP

Govt in quandary as people support the UNP
---- The Nation

The main question today is whether the UNP and its latest ally, the SLFP(M), can take on the government at the next budget as expected.
This question is being asked not only in UNP circles, but by the masses who have rallied around the UNP, hoping to create a major mid -term upset by forcing the government to dissolve Parliament.
The UNP’s Getembe Convention called upon the government to announce fresh elections, since people were undergoing tremendous hardships under the present regime. The cost of living is skyrocketing. There is hardly any rule of law prevalent in the country. People are being subjected to undue pressure by politicos and their cronies, on the roads and elsewhere: these are some of the pressing issues that the government has failed to solve, the public has charged.

UNP’s role

While more people are now rallying around the UNP as a major party that could challenge the government over its failure to resolve these issues, a pertinent question to ask is; Does the main opposition party understand the role it should play in order to come up with a solution to the present woes of the public.
In today’s context, it is obvious that the UNP campaign is being carried out by people who oppose the policies of the UNP, and not by the UNP’ers themselves. Speculation is rife as to whether the UNP has surrendered its rights to the SLFP(M) to speak on its behalf, thereby relinquishing its erstwhile significant role as the major party in the country, and forgetting its grandiose past.
The pact entered into with the SLFP(M) by UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, had caused some hiccups in the party from the beginning. Questions had arisen as to whether it was the best bargain that the UNP could have obtained from two maverick politicians such as Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathi Sooriyarachchi.

The counter argument is that their exit from the UPFA had given additional strength to the UNP to topple the government, following the defection of 17 of its members which had the grand old party reeling for some time.
While, under the circumstances it may have been a good opportunity for the UNP to add more muscle to its otherwise waning party, many party stalwarts feel that to concede so much to this duo, is unacceptable. Though they have not come out in the open to express this sentiment, this is the perception amongst UNP seniors today.

SLFP(M) issue

In other words, the UNP is like an elephant which does not know its ability and its size, and nobody is willing to explain why the single largest party in the country had to sacrifice its name just to accommodate two members who had made their exit from the government.
Today, the UNP can make it on its own without depending too much on its allies, as it did during the time of J.R. Jayewardene, who made it possible in 1977 with a five-sixths majority. The allies could very well tag behind the UNP if they wish to do so, or go on their own chosen path to political oblivion.
To understand this, all one has to do is look at the response the SLFP(M) receives in areas outside Matara. For instance, the seminar organised by the SLFP(M) in Kandy on the lines of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s policies turned out to be disastrous. The same thing happened in Anuradhapura. It has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the SLFP(M) is a peripheral party confined to certain areas in the country.
The UNP hierarchy thinks that if it could make a difference in three districts including Matara, Gampaha and Kurunegala, it would be a significant plus point for the UNP at the next election.
In Matara of course there is a considerable vote base for Mangala Samaraweera, and the UNP hopes that a similar thing would happen in Gampaha due to the influence of Chandrika Kumaratunga and Sripathi Sooriyarachchi, which will gradually spill over to the Kurunegala District.

Mr. Clean

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is quite confident that his party would be able to make it to power soon and his aim is to pull the government down at the next Budget in November. However, he is not certain about how much support he could solicit from the government benches or the JVP, which is now vowing to bring the government down.

The UNP’s thinking is that even if the government were to win, it would be by a whisker, which means that the government’s popularity would deteriorate by the day.
JVP K.D. Lalkantha’s recent remarks that Wickremesinghe’s image is squeaky clean even though the JVP had criticised him severely in the past, could be considered as the JVP positioning itself differently in the present political scenario, and getting ready to toe a different political line, averse to the government.
Lalkantha had said that there were many more UNPers of that caliber, and that their honesty should be appreciated even though they have sharp political differences – words which were very encouraging to the UNPers. Lalkantha made these remarks addressing the employees of the Badulla CTB depot recently.
The JVP as a whole is carrying out a massive campaign in the country against corruption and the misappropriation of public funds by government politicos. In this backdrop, giving Wickremesinghe a clean image, would compel the people to think twice about which party would serve them best in the future and put the country on the right footing economically and otherwise.
The UNP is poised to embark on a political campaign against the new tax bills the government is trying to introduce, shortly. It is learnt that not withstanding opposition protests, the Speaker has promised the government to give his consent to the bills, thereby giving legal effect to the so- called `passed bills’.

New tax bills

The UNP’s stand is that there are no provisions in the Parliamentary Standing Orders to facilitate an electronic vote in Parliament, unlike in India, and the agreed arrangement was to follow it up with the conventional vote. It is on that basis that the UNP and the rest of the opposition parties have launched a campaign declaring the new tax laws as illegal.
This week the UNP will launch another major campaign to switch off all mobile phones for two hours on an assigned day, as a mark of protest against the new mobile taxes that are to come into effect shortly.
The UNP, while allowing the tax bills to come into operation, simultaneously organised protests against them so as to step up their campaign against the government.
A positive outcome for the UNP Leader from the whole exercise in Parliament over the tax bills, was the unity the opposition displayed, when it came to voting. The UNP, TNA and JVP acted collectively to vote against the government, though the government had enough votes to circumvent the situation created by the joint opposition.

Be that as it may, the UNP is also taking a tough stance over the US$ 500 bond issue by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. The position taken by the UNP is that the bank would be violating many financial and other regulations, if it issues these bonds to the government.
The UNP has vowed not to honour the commitment by a future UNP government, if the bank goes ahead with the bond issue as scheduled. The UNP Leader in addition told the people to surround the bank if subsidies are cut by the government in order to obtain the bond.

HSBC bond issue

The position taken by the UNP in this connection, is that a private bank is unable to impose such conditions on a government or its people depending on the bond to be issued. It now appears that the bank is pondering the matter, and is very worried over the stance adopted by Wickremesinghe.
In this backdrop, the bank sought clarification from the UNP as to whether Wickremesinghe meant what he said at various forums. Wickremesinghe had replied in the affirmative, saying that he was very serious about the matter, and that he means what he says. He said that they were on a minefield as far as the Sri Lankan law was concerned.
Wickremesinghe later told some of his associates that the financial profile of the Bank in question is not globally sound, and that the London Financial Times had revealed its status quite correctly in the website. He said that the US and European sectors of the bank are not doing too well and it was the Chinese market and the Asian sector that derives profits for the bank.
However, Wickremesinghe is of the opinion that the bank would nevertheless go ahead with the commitment made to the government of Sri Lanka, but there could be a delay in the disbursement of the US$ bond, which would create problems at this end.
Naval success
Despite all this, the only plus point for the government in the present context is the recent naval victory in the south east seas off Sri Lanka, where the Sri Lankan Navy claims that it was able to sink three vessels carrying arms for the LTTE.
The story appears to be authentic and was a conspicuous success for the government. It would certainly lift the government’s standing among the people from the low ebb to which it has fallen due to the prevailing economic conditions. (Main article ends)


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