Sri Lanka’s Presidential hopeful Sajith Premadasa on Thursday promised to complete the constitutional reform process initiated by the current government, if elected to the office.
The ruling United National Party’s (UNP) candidate released his election manifesto in the central city of Kandy, a fortnight ahead of Sri Lanka’s presidential election.
“The Constitution reform process on the executive President acting with the concurrence of the Prime Minister, devolution and electoral systems begun by this Parliament will be completed without delay, along with all stakeholders,” his manifesto said, adding that the “new constitution” will be approved by the people through a referendum.
Addressing pending concerns of war-affected communities in the island’s north and east, Mr. Premadasa promised to release the remaining military-held land belonging to civilians; to appoint task forces for development in the regions; and to release persons who had been detained for long periods without being charged.
The manifesto would be closely read by Tamils who voted against former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015.
While acknowledging the initiatives of the successor government, which many argue were inadequate and slow, the Tamil constituency remains sceptical. Sri Lanka’s Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main political grouping representing Tamils of the north and east in Parliament, is yet to endorse any of the presidential candidates. Its leader R. Sampanthan earlier said the alliance would decide after looking at the manifestos of all key candidates.
Mr. Premadasa’s main opponent, Gotabaya Rajapaksa of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (People’s Party, or SLPP), launched his manifesto last week, which emphasised the need for focussed interventions in education opportunities, technology and development, for youth of the war-hit areas. He had earlier said he would not honour Sri Lanka’s commitments to the UN, on accountability and justice mechanisms.
National security and religious extremism have emerged popular concerns ahead of the November 16 presidential election, which comes seven months after the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka that claimed over 250 lives and injured hundreds. The targeted violence against Muslims, witnessed after the attacks, heightened fears over religious tensions in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious country. Promising to create a “democratic and pluralistic” society, Mr. Premadasa assured voters that the beliefs of all people will be respected.
Mr. Rajapaksa’s camp has, in turn, pitched Mr. Rajapaksa as a “strong leader and efficient administrator”, who will give top priority to national security.
On foreign policy, Mr. Premadasa said his government would base it on the premise of ‘friendship with all, enmity with none’, a stance similar to Mr. Rajapaksa’s promise of a neutral, non-aligned approach to international relations.