Opposition leader wants public debate with President

[TamilNet, Friday, 05 November 1999, 15:47 GMT]
The leader of Sri Lanka's main opposition United National Party (UNP), Ranil Wickremesinghe, has challenged the Sri Lankan President, Chandrika Kumaratunge to a series of public debates on live television and radio. He was responding to a letter from the President accusing the UNP of obstructing a solution to the island's conflict.

"Now you have called the Presidential Election for 21st December, people in Sri Lanka have the right to hear your view and my on the main issue facing our country, especially the need to resolve ethnic strife," the UNP leader wrote to President Kumaratunge.

ranil_wickramasinghe_5-p.gif"If you believe in true democracy and free speech, you will agree to a series of public debates on live radio and television. I suggest we hold three debates during the campaign around the country and involving audience of people who represent all parties of our country," he said.

"If you have the courage of your convictions, you will readily agree to debate. If you refuse, people will conclude you are scared that you will lose the debates," Wickremesinghe said.

"I trust the people. Do you?" he challenged.

He was responding to a letter from President Kumaratunge in which she demanded the opposition explains its own solution to the island's protracted war and comment on the ruling People's Alliances' devolution proposals.

chandrika_kumarathunge"You give no indications as to whether you are in a position to accept any of the proposals that we presented to the people of Sri Lanka on 3rd August 1995.," said President Kumaratunge.

"In these circumstances it appears to me that your are refusing to engage on any meaningful dialogue on the only set of proposals that have received the approbation of all the elected representatives of the minorities, namely my Government's proposals that could lead to a solution of the ethnic problem," she said.

"You say that you "stand ready to respond speedily and constructively so that we could together proceed, on an urgent basis, to move this important process forward". I am sorry to have to say this again, but I find your attitude to be extremely cynical when you had our proposals in your hands for four years with out slightest indication that you felt implied to respond to them "speedily and constructively," she said further.

"For all these reasons, I have to regretfully conclude that you do not have any genuine interest in developing a bipartisan approach to the solution of our ethnic problem. In these circumstances, I intend to wait no longer for you respond to the proposals we made four years ago. Instead I intend to initiate discussions with the Liberation LTTE as soon as it is practically possible to do so," President Kumaratunge.

Political analysts say the Sri Lankan government has been forced on the political backfoot by major advances by the Liberation Tigers in the past few days.

They said the opposition UNP's chances in the forthcoming Presidential and Parliamentary elections have been enhanced by the government's military setbacks.

UNP activists today dismissed the President's letter, noting that she herself had described the bi-partisan agreement between the UNP and the PA, arranged with British involvement, as "a farce".



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