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DateLine Sunday, 23 September 2007

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President's open challenge to Ranil

President Mahinda Rajapaksa last week threw an open challenge to the United National Party (UNP) to topple the Government during this year's Budget, if the Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe could secure an absolute majority in Parliament.

Immediately after the 2005 Presidential Election victory, many expected President Rajapaksa to dissolve Parliament and call for fresh elections. But the President thought otherwise as the members elected at the 2004 General Election had a mandate until 2010.

Since then, the UNP has been dreaming of regaining power and looking for short cuts to secure a majority in Parliament to form a Government. That too is understandable as the UNP is obliged to do 'something' to boost the morale of its supporters who have been utterly disappointed after losing 14 successive elections, including two Presidential battles under Wickremesinghe's leadership.

Hence, the UNP has been setting short-term goals as morale boosters. First, they said they would topple the Government in March and then put it off for the end of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year in April.

President Rajapaksa's decision to sack Ministers Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathi Sooriarachchi infused fresh hopes for the UNP and they declared that they would regain power by June.

They went a step further and coupled it with astrology. They compared the horoscopes of President Rajapaksa and that of the Opposition Leader as the so-called astrologers made various predictions of a Raja Yoga. That was a part of the UNP's strategy and master plan.

However, there was precious little or nothing that Samaraweera and Sooriarachchi could do to boost the fading colours of the UNP. In fairness to Wickremesinghe, the UNP's dream of toppling the Government too is understandable because Samaraweera gloated that he could bring many ruling party Parliamentarians under the wing of the UNP leader.

Hence, one cannot blame Wickremesinghe for falling for the rosy picture painted by Samaraweera.

Initially, Samaraweera and Sooriarachchi said they would get 18 MPs to form an SLFP rebel group of 20.

Believing that Samaraweera is a hero and an opinion maker who has a huge personal vote base in the SLFP, the Opposition Leader hurriedly signed a pact with the sacked SLFP Ministers, promising equal rights and privileges to Samaraweera's rebel team with the UNP.

Wickremesinghe promised an equal number of Ministerial portfolios in a future UNP Government and a similar number of nominations at a future General Election. The UNP was even considering to abandon its long-standing Elephant symbol and to contest future elections under a common symbol with Samaraweera's team.

That too is understandable as Samaraweera and Sooriarachchi's impressive promises sounded magical to Wickremesinghe, who has been desperately looking for an instant method to topple the Government.

Samaraweera and his close buddy have now cut a sorry figure as they have failed to get even a single MP amongst the Government ranks to support their deal with the UNP. The duo has now been postponing their 'dream target' and the UNPers are having many sleepless nights, in the belief that their leader would become the Prime Minister overnight.

The UNP's latest target is the forthcoming budget.

They have been bragging that they would definitely topple the Government in November.

There is no point in building castles in the air about anticipated crossovers and dreaming about forming governments. The President has now thrown an open challenge and it's up to the Opposition Leader to prove his mettle.

President Rajapaksa and his Government have given the right leadership to our gallant Security Forces to achieve some great victories. Apart from liberating the entire Eastern Province from the vicious clutches of the LTTE terrorists, the brave sons of our soil have embarked on another humanitarian mission in the North; to liberate innocent Tamil civilians who have been virtual slaves of Velupillai Prabhakaran's barbaric-style rule.

On the other hand, our sailors have achieved the greatest victory in the annals of Sri Lanka's Naval history by destroying three Tiger arms ships. That is definitely a severe blow as well as a great loss to the LTTE. The surveillance activities of the Navy have helped the Security Forces to curb the LTTE arms smuggling to a great extent. That has made life miserable for the Sea Tigers.

Let the people decide what the country needs most. No doubt democracy and the rights of the people should be respected at all times but that does not mean that power-hungry politicians should be allowed to play political games at the expense of our national security.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told the business community recently that we must first protect the country to do business, politics or any other activity. Once we eradicate terrorism through a combined effort, then we could settle our own differences, political or otherwise.

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