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Popularity of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has collapsed, says SLOTS

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‘Gota Go Home’ protest held yesterday in Colombo (26) pic by Jude Denzil Pathiraja

The popularity of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has collapsed, especially among women, the poor, urban and Sinhala adults, IHP Sri Lanka Opinion Tracker Survey (SLOTS) revealed.

SLOTS is run by the Institute for Health Policy (IHP) and the lead investigator is Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya.

“At the Institute for Health Policy (IHP), we have been tracking favourability of several institutions and political personalities since last year. The past two months has seen substantial declines in favourability of all politicians. This has affected politicians in both government, such as the President or Prime Minister, and opposition politicians, and in opposition, such as Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, JVP leader Anura Dissanayake and UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe. Also hit is the favourability of politicians who were previously popular, such as former minister, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, who has consistently remained the most popular politician we track,” he said.

However, the study has shown that the public displeasure is specific to politicians. Favourability of state institutions or other organisations, such as the Ministry of Health, the GMOA, or the armed forces, has remained positive and largely unaffected. These low levels of favourability of politicians may matter, since the willingness of the public to acquiesce in painful, but necessary, actions may depend on how they feel about the political leaders calling on them to sacrifice.

The survey report says that until early 2022, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s net favourability rating remained positive, although gradually slipping from the high +50 levels during the August–September 2021 lockdown to the low tens by January 2022.

“This can be contrasted with Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, whose net favourability was often negative throughout this period, largely because of high levels of unpopularity amongst better-off Sri Lankans. The President also maintained a higher favourability rating than Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, other ministers, and other opposition party leaders, although lower than a few ministers, notably Dr. Fernandopulle,” the report said.

Excerpts of the report: “That changed in the last two months: the President’s favourability ratings have cratered. His net favourability fell from +20 during February to below -80 during the first three weeks of April, meaning that for every member of the public who has a favourable opinion about him, there are now nine others who say they have an unfavourable opinion. This decline in favourability has been faster and more substantial than most other politicians. Consequently, during March-April, the President’s favourability rating (-40) fell below those of both Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa (-33) and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa (-26).

“Analysis of our data indicates that the most significant declines in the President’s favourability have been amongst women, the poor, urban and Sinhala adults. In the case of women, this has lost him the edge in favourability that he has long enjoyed over Sajith Premadasa. Women view both unfavourably now, but the President more than the Opposition Leader. The only segment of the population where the President has managed to retain his former favourability was the Southern Province, but elsewhere his favourability fell. Interestingly, his colleague, Dr Fernandopulle, former state health minister, not only managed to retain more of her favourability, but our data also indicates a significant gain in favourability amongst government employees. In contrast, Sajith Premadasa’s more modest decline in favourability was more dispersed, although he also suffered a further loss in favourability amongst women, albeit less than the President.

The current economic crisis that the country is now in will require adjustments that are difficult and painful in the short-term. Taxes need to go up and prices will increase for most things. Living standards will fall for most Sri Lankans in the short-term, whether we take action or not to improve our long-term prospects. How the burden of these painful adjustments will be distributed between poor and rich, how these sacrifices are communicated and justified to the public, how social cohesion is maintained, and social unrest is prevented will require effective and determined national leadership to make the correct choices, and to communicate clearly to the public. That is the need of the hour, but the evidence of widespread disillusionment with all politicians makes the challenge even greater. It points to the need for fresh thinking by the political establishment on how to make the correct choices on economic policy, and how to provide the leadership needed to sustain the painful measures that are undoubtedly needed over the coming months and years.”



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Weerawansa’s wife sentenced to RI

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Lawyers appearing for Shashi Weerawansa, MP Wimal Weerawansa’s wife, yesterday (27) appealed against a Colombo Magistrate’s Court decision to sentence their client to two years rigorous imprisonment.Colombo Chief Magistrate, Buddhika Sri Ragala found her guilty of submitting forged documents to obtain a diplomatic passport circa 2010. The Colombo Magistrate’s Court also imposed a fine of Rs. 100,000 on Mrs. Weerawansa. If the fine is not paid she will have to serve an extra six months.

Additional Magistrate Harshana Kekunawala announced that the appeal would be called for consideration on 30 May.The case against Mrs. Weerawansa was filed by the CID after a complaint was lodged on 23 January 2015 by Chaminda Perera, a resident of Battaramulla.

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Unions predict end of energy sovereignty

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow all privately-owned bunker fuel operators to import and distribute diesel and fuel oil to various industries was a rollback of the nationalisation of the country’s petroleum industry and another severe blow to energy sovereignty of the country, trade union activist of the SJB Ananda Palitha said yesterday.Earlier, Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera Tweeted that ‘approval was given to all the Private Bunker Fuel Operators to Import and provide Diesel and Fuel Oil requirements of Industries to function their Generators and Machinery. This will ease the burden on CPC and Fuel Stations provided in bulk’.Commenting on the decision, Palitha said that according to the existing law those companies only had the power to import, store and distribute fuel for ships. Those companies did not have the authority to distribute fuel inside the country, Palitha said.

“Only the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) can distribute fuel inside the country. There is a controversy about the licence given to the LIOC as well. If the government wants other companies to import fuel, it needs to change the laws. The Minister does not have the power to make these decisions. A few months ago the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration used to rush Bills that adversely affected the country through Parliament. Now, since they don’t have a majority in parliament, they are using the Cabinet to make decisions that are detrimental to the country’s interests.”

Palitha said that the controversial government move would further weaken the CPC, and that the ultimate aim of the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government was to make the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) purchase fuel from private distributors. With a weakened CPC and a CEB under the mercy of private companies, the Sri Lankan state would have little control over the country’s energy sector, he warned.

“The CEB already can’t pay the CPC, and therefore how can it pay private companies? It will have to sell its assets. This is another step in the road to fully privatise the energy sector. When this happens no government will be able to control inflation or strategically drive production through fuel and energy tariffs. The people will be at the mercy of businessmen and the government will only be a bystander,” he said.

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Modi government moves to ‘solve’ Katchatheevu issue

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The Narendra Modi government is mulling restoring the traditional rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen in Katchatheevu, an uninhabited island of 285 acres, sandwiched between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Bay, with the BJP hoping the move could lift its political fortunes in the southern state.The government will push Sri Lanka to implement “in letter and spirit” the 1974 agreement reached between Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then prime ministers of India and Sri Lanka, on the island.This will have to be done by withdrawing the “Executive Instructions” issued in 1976 without questioning Sri Lanka’s “sovereignty” over Katchatheevu, sources aware of the internal discussions in the BJP told the Indian newspaper, Deccan Herald.

Sources added that the discussions were “ongoing” at “various levels” including reaching out to Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka. The recent visit of TN BJP chief K Annamalai to Sri Lanka is also part of the outreach. Many feel the instructions issued in 1976 “superseded the provisions of the legally valid” pact between India and Sri Lanka, thus making Katchatheevu a subject of dispute in the Palk Bay.While the 1974 agreement gave away Katchatheevu, which was part of the territory ruled by the Rajah of Ramanathapuram, to Sri Lanka, the 1976 pact drew the maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka in the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal.

“We cannot disturb the agreement signed in 1974. We are now finding ways and means to implement the agreement in letter and spirit. All we plan is to ask Sri Lanka to invoke Article 6 of the Katchatheevu pact. If Sri Lanka agrees, the issue can be sorted through Exchange of Letters between foreign secretaries of both countries,” a source in the know said.Another source said the time is “ripe” to push forward on the issue. “With fast-changing geopolitical situation in the region, we believe Sri Lanka will slowly come around and accept the rights of our fishermen,” the source said.

“The opinion within the party is that time is ripe to push this cause, with Sri Lanka beginning to realise that India can always be relied upon, given PM Ranil (Wickremesinghe) is pro-India.”

Articles 5 and 6 of the 1974 agreement categorically assert the right to access of the Indian fishermen and pilgrims to Katchatheevu and state that the “vessels of Sri Lanka and India will enjoy in each other’s waters such rights as they have traditionally enjoyed therein”.

However, fishermen from India were prohibited from fishing in the Sri Lankan territorial waters around Katchatheevu in 1976 following the signing of an agreement on the maritime boundary. The battle for fish in the Palk Bay has often ended in Indian fishermen being attacked by Sri Lankan Navy for “transgressing” into their waters.The BJP, which is yet to make major inroads in Tamil Nadu, feels a “solution” to the long-standing issue will give the party the much-needed momentum ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and provide a chance to get into the Tamil psyche. Political analysts feel that it might also allow the BJP to needle the DMK and the Congress by pointing out that it has restored the rights “surrendered by them,” to Tamil fishermen

Senior journalist and Lanka expert R Bhagwan Singh said: “If BJP succeeds in its efforts, it will certainly help the saffron party in the coming elections.”

But a source said the move will “take time”. “We don’t want to rush and create an impression we are forcing Sri Lanka. We will take it slow. We will take every stakeholder into confidence and reach an amicable settlement with Sri Lanka. All we want to do is restore traditional rights of our fishermen,” the source said.CM Stalin also raised the issue at an event on Thursday, telling Modi that this is the “right time” to retrieve Katchatheevu.

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