by Zacki Jabbar and Lal Gunasekera
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) decision to contest the forthcoming Eastern Provincial Council Election (EPCE) on its own has the blessings of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and was on the understanding that it will not oppose the government.
Informed sources told The Island that when talks between SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem and the UPFA General Secretary, Susil Premajayanth, who was joined by Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa on signing a Memorandum of Understanding to contest the EPC on the UPFA ticket had failed last morning, Hakeem had informed President Rajapaksa that his party would contest under its own Tree Symbol, to which he had agreed provided the SLMC did not oppose the UPFA government, the sources said.
“The SLMC is a constituent member of the UPFA and as long as you do not campaign against us, it’s okay if you contest independently. But remember that we are trying to win the province as an alliance”, the President had told Hakeem, who had agreed to the arrangement.
The SLMC leader had during his discussions with Premajayanth and Basil Rajapaksa called for a MoU that gave his party disciplinary control over its members and 12 seats in the EPC which would include six from Ampara and three each from Batticaloa and Trincomalee. They had rejected the disciplinary clause outright, while explaining that it was not possible to allocate 12 seats in view of the demands made by the other constituent Muslim and Tamil parties.
The SLMC’s National Organiser, Shafeek Rajabdeen when asked if the number of seats his party had demand was reasonable, since the All Ceylon Muslim Congress led by Minister Rishad Bathiudeen and National Congress headed by Minister A. L. M. Athaulla also represented the Muslims, he said. “We obtained over 100,000 votes contesting under the UNP banner at the last provincial poll in the East. So it would not be fair to compare us with smaller parties and allocate seats on an equitable basis.”
Questioned, if the SLMC had dropped its demand from the UPFA for the post of Eastern Province Chief Minister in the event of a victory, he said that it could be discussed once the election was over. “We are confident of performing well on our own. The UPFA would have to talk to us when it comes to forming an administration in the East. Our demands would be put forward at the stage.”
Asked, if the SLMC was being over confident amidst allegations that it had failed to protect the rights of those who it claimed to represent against land grabbing in the East and attacks on their religious places of worship in certain parts of the country by extremist forces within the government, Rajabdeen said that the SLMC would continue to be the legal spokesman for the Muslims.
“The SLMC is not communal minded as alleged. It is a national party with a vision for a united Sri Lanka where all communities could live with equal rights. The East which is our main base also comprises a sizeable number of Tamils and Sinhalese. This fact cannot be ignored when discussing issues in a totality”, he noted. courtesy: The Island