President Gotabaya Rajapaksa questions EC’s conduct, faults it for suspending graduate training programme …assures won’t bring back 18 A, defends stand taken in Geneva
Posted on March 5th, 2020

By Shamindra Ferdinando Courtesy The Island

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday, (5) questioned the conduct of some members of the Election Commission (EC) during the last presidential election in Nov 2019.

Rajapaksa said he had recently raised the issue in the presence of the then Speaker Karu Jayasuriya at a meeting in Parliament. He said so at a meeting with representatives of print and electronic media at the Presidential Secretariat.

The EC consists of Mahinda Deshapriya (Chairman), Nalin Abeysekera, PC and Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole.

Acknowledging the right of EC members to express views on matters of public interest, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said they couldn’t pursue personal agendas at the expense of the EC.

President Rajapaksa questioned the neutrality and the independence of the EC established by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

Responding to another query, President Rajapaksa alleged that the neutrality and independence of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) couldn’t be ensured by making that particular appointment through the Constitutional Council.

The 10-member Constitutional Council appointed in terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution makes appointments to independent commissions.

President Rajapaksa expressed serious concern over EC Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya directive to suspend the countrywide training programme implemented for the benefit of unemployed graduates recruited to the public sector. The EC Chairman wanted the high profile project suspended pending the parliamentary election to be held on April 25.

President Rajapaksa said the government would take up this matter with the EC. Declaring that the suspension severely hampered the project, the President said that he couldn’t comprehend why the EC Chairman had intervened in that matter. Pointing out that nominations hadn’t been so far called for the general election, President Rajapakasa said there was no reason to suspend the training programme.

At the onset of the media briefing, President Rajapaksa emphasized that rapid progress in key sectors couldn’t be achieved unless the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was either amended or repealed. He said he was certainly not the only one keen to get rid of the 19th Amendment, which instead of addressing pressing issues had created additional problems.

President Rajapaksa said that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna needed to win the April 25 general election with a two-thirds majority to pave the way for far reaching constitutional changes.

Assuring that he wouldn’t seek to bring back the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which did away with the presidential term limit, Rajapaksa said that he could achieve what he wanted to within his first term unless the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was done away with.

Asked how his government intended to address grievances of the Tamil speaking people against the backdrop of his administration recently withdrawing co-sponsorship of accountability resolution in Geneva, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa emphasised the pivotal importance in addressing economic issues. He said difficulties experienced by all communities were alike and, therefore, the need for tangible measures to uplift the living standards couldn’t be ignored.

The President declared that economic problems manifested themselves as political issues.

Responding to questions on missing persons, President Rajapaksa alleged that interested parties used the issue to cause turmoil.

Recalling an operation undertaken in the Jaffna peninsula during Eelam War II, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that troops under him and Sarath Fonseka had undertaken an operation. Acknowledging they had failed to achieve the objective, Rajapaksa said that they had failed to retrieve bodies of those killed outside the Jaffna Fort. “Due to our failure to recover bodies, some families of those officers and men killed there considered them missing. Both communities suffered as a result of the conflict.”

President Rajapaksa recalled the government had not been able to recover hundreds of bodies following fierce battles, including the one at Muhamalai front line in 2006 because their identities couldn’t be verified.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that there were specific disappearance cases. Unfortunately, those with vested interests generalized on such cases, he added.

Responding to another query, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dismissed claims that there were political prisoners.

Rajapaksa said that a study undertaken by the UNICEF during the previous Rajapaksa administration had proved that a vast majority of those believed to be missing or in custody had actually died fighting for the LTTE, willingly or unwillingly.

The Island asked President Rajapaksa why Sri Lanka was without a proper strategy to expose the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and a section of the international community and civil society propagating allegations of war crimes after having backed General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential election. The Island pointed out that accusations as regards 40,000 killed on the Vanni east front became ridiculous after the war winning Army Commander had received the TNA’s backing with the blessings of the US.

President Rajapaksa strongly defended Sri Lanka’s decision to withdraw co-sponsorship of the Geneva resolution adopted on Oct 01, 2015. He said the US had quit the Geneva council in June 2018. The US alleged the UN body was a cesspool of political bias. The Sri Lankan leader said that the decision to withdraw support was in line with the mandate he received at the presidential election. President Rajapaksa said that his government had explained to those countries pursuing the accountability issue why Sri Lanka couldn’t continue to support a decision taken by a previous government. He said, “How could our own security forces were betrayed in Geneva?”

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