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Winner should be decided on the number of electorates won, not popular vote-SLPP MP

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Presidential election

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP National List MP Gevindu Cumaratunga yesterday (5) said that he strongly believed Sri Lanka should adopt a system similar to that of the US as part of the overall measures to ensure a level playing field at the presidential election.

Convenor of Yuthukama civil society organization Cumaratunga said that he would soon hand over their proposals to a Committee led by Romesh de Silva, PC, tasked with formulating the new Constitution.

Lawmaker Cumaratunga said so when The Island asked him whether he still wanted an electoral system similar to that of the US in the wake of unprecedented turmoil caused by President Donald Trump threatening to seek Supreme Court intervention, having declared himself the winner.

MP Cumaratunga said that regardless of the chaos caused due to President Trump’s stand, the US system ensured political stability by preventing a particular candidate from exploiting special circumstances to his or her advantage.

Asked to explain, the lawmaker said that ‘Yuthukama’ was of the view that like in the US the winner shouldn’t be decided on the popular vote. Instead, Sri Lanka should go for a system that decided the winner on the number of electorates won by him or her instead of the number of votes.

Responding to another query, Cumaratunga pointed out that as electorates were constituted on the basis of territory and population, the winner at presidential election should be decided on that. The NL MP emphasized ‘Yuthukama’ never advocated a US electoral college system where each State is worth a certain number of electoral college votes depending on the size of its population.

Referring to the 2015 presidential election lost by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Cumaratunga said that President Rajapaksa lost the election though he comfortably secured a far larger number of electorates than Opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena. However, Sirisena secured certain electorates in the Northern and Eastern Provinces as well as Nuwara Eliya on the basis of agreements with members of the UNP-led unholy alliance, MP Cumaratunga said.

Appreciating the enactment of the 20th Amendment as a sort of stop gap measure to restore stability, lawmaker Cumaratunga emphasized the importance of thwarting political maneuvering.

He recalled how all electoral districts in the Northern and Eastern Provinces were delivered by one-time LTTE mouthpiece, the TNA to the then Opposition candidate General Sarath Fonseka. Having accused the war winning Army under Fonseka’s command of war crimes on the northern battlefields, the TNA had no qualms in backing him, MP Cumaratunga said, pointing out such political maneuvering wouldn’t be practical if Sri Lanka decided the winner on the basis of the total number of electorates secured by a candidate than the number of votes.

National Freedom Front leader Wimal Weerawansa has backed Cumaratunga’s call for far reaching changes in the presidential election system.

MP Cumaratunga alleged that UNP leader JRJ granted citizenship to Tamils of Indian origin in the run-up to the 1982 presidential election. Acknowledging that the matter shouldn’t be politicized under any circumstances and the needs of those who had been brought to Sri Lanka by the British considered humanly, MP Cumaratunga said however developments invariably paved the way for promotion of agenda often inimical to the State.

The MP also cited President Ranasinghe Premadasa bending backwards to appease the SLMC at presidential election in late 80s for the same reason. MP Cumaratunga alleged that both JRJ and Premadasa sought to win over selected sections of voters even at the expense of stability.

President Trump’s strong reaction to his rival Biden’s challenge shouldn’t deter Sri Lanka from introducing much required change. The MP blamed the crisis on the President, emphasizing it shouldn’t be, in anyway considered a defect of the system.

Pointing out that the Constitution that had been enacted over 40 years ago was repeatedly tinkered over the years and a new Constitution was long overdue, the ‘Yuthukama’ Chief called for uniformity and streamlining of the entire electoral process. The MP expressed the view that the success of the new Constitution making process depended on cohesive action to deal with both constitutional and electoral issues.



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COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk

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Top medical man in North threatens lockdown

Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area

20% of IDH patients need oxygen

By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita

Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.

Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.

“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”

He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.

 

Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.

One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.

On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.

Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.

Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.

PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.

“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.

Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.

All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.

Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.

Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.

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Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.

President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”

The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.

“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”

Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.

“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”

Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.

“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”

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CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.

Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.

“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said

About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.

“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”

Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.

“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”

 

 

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