Tough fight predicted for four in Sri Lanka election

The four candidates in fray for Sri Lankan president are (clockwise from left) Mahesh Senanayake, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sajith Premadasa and Anura Kumara Dissanayake. The vote is set for Nov. 16. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 02 October 2019

Tough fight predicted for four in Sri Lanka election

  • Voters from minorities such as Muslims and Tamils ‘will be the deciding factor’

COLOMBO: As Sri Lanka gears up for its presidential elections on Nov. 16, prospective candidates were preparing to submit their nominations on Oct. 7, officials told Arab News on Tuesday.

The incumbent, President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, hasn’t announced his decision to contest the polls yet.

However, in January 2015, when he took his oath as president, he said that he would not re-contest for the presidency after the completion of his term.

Four candidates have so far announced their intentions to contest the post. The first is the deputy leader of the United National Party (UNP), Sajith Premadasa, son of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa; the second is former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who claims that he was responsible for the victory over Tamil rebels on the island and brought an end to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka; the third is Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who says he is determined to free Sri Lanka of nepotism, corruption and work toward economic development. 

The latest addition to the fray is Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake, who retired recently and believes that the country can move toward prosperity only with proper discipline.

Besides these four candidates, six more have expressed their desire to contest the presidency.

Born in 1967, Sajith Premadasa, cabinet minister for housing, construction and cultural affairs and Member of Parliament for the Hambantota district, is well known for his hard work. 

He developed more than 125 villages in various parts of the country to ameliorate the conditions of the poor.

An acclaimed social worker, he claims to understand the needs of the common man, while reiterating the fact that he was the only person who carried out development programs with the cooperation of commoners.

Major minority parties — such as the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the Sri Lanka Makkal Congress, headed by Ministers Rauf Hakeem and Rishath Bathiudeen — are backing Premadasa, supported by Tamil leaders such as former Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran.

Sri Lanka Pohottuwa Party nominee Gotabaya Rajapaksa, brother of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has been named in several murder, abduction and anti-Muslim cases, believes he could win the presidency with the votes of the majority Sinhalese, who form 85 percent of the island’s population.

Rajapaksa was instrumental in beautifying Colombo city and improving the road networks in the country and says that the need of the hour is to give adequate security to the people, which he is confident about doing.

A problem looming over his candidacy is that he holds dual citizenship with the US, but he claims to have relinquished the foreign citizenship recently.

Mahesh Senanayake, who is the presidential candidate of the National People’s Movement and People’s Forum Organization, said on Monday that he had come forward as a presidential candidate to safeguard the country which is in turmoil, adding that he intended to develop the country by working with patriots.

JVP leader MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who will lead the National People’s Power (NPP) movement, says that Sri Lanka will be converted to a proud and unshaken country in the world. 

He invited capable people who love the country to join his effort to lead the country toward this target.

M. Ameen, veteran journalist and Leader of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka said that this is going to be a tough election where four candidates will have equal shares of voters. 

He added that the voters from the minority communities such as Muslims and Tamils will be the deciding factor in the election.


Thai rice farmers shun ‘big agribusiness’ and fight climate change

Updated 5 min 25 sec ago

Thai rice farmers shun ‘big agribusiness’ and fight climate change

  • Traditional Thai rice farmers earn around 3,000 baht a month ($100)
  • Rice is a staple in the diet of around three billion people globally
MAE RIM, Thailand: Battling drought, debt and ailments blamed on pesticides, rice farmers in northern Thailand have turned to eco-friendly growing methods despite powerful agribusiness interests in a country that is one of the top exporters of the grain in the world.

Walking through a sea of green waist-high stalks, farmer Sunnan Somjak said his fields were “exhausted” by chemicals, his family regularly felt ill, and his profits were too low to make ends meet.

But that changed when he joined a pilot agricultural project for the SRI method, which aims to boost yields while shunning pesticides and using less water.

“Chemicals can destroy everything,” the 58-year-old said, adding that the harvest in his village in Chiang Mai province has jumped 40 percent since employing the new method.

There have been health benefits too. “It’s definitely better, we don’t get sick any more,” he added.

SRI was invented in the 1980s in Madagascar by a French Jesuit priest, and the technique has spread globally.

It works by planting crops wider apart — thus drawing in more nutrients and light — and limiting the amount of water that gets into fields, which helps micro-organisms flourish to act as natural fertilizers.

In a plus for debt-laden farmers, it also uses fewer seeds, and they are encouraged to use plants and ginger roots that naturally deter insects rather than chemical alternatives — meaning fewer expenses.

Traditional Thai rice farmers earn around 3,000 baht a month ($100) but Sunnan was able to increase his income by 20 percent after adopting the SRI method.
“I’ve finally got rid of my debts,” he told AFP.

Rice is a staple in the diet of around three billion people globally. But agricultural workers are locked in a vicious cycle: beset by drought and floods brought on by climate change, the farmers contribute to the disruption as their fields release methane and nitrous oxide, two greenhouse gases.

With SRI, paddy fields are not permanently flooded, which reduces methane emissions by 60 percent, according to Tristan Lecomte, founder of Pur Projet, a French company supporting the technique.

The project also helped Sunnan plant trees around his crops to reinforce the water table.

According to Lecomte, rice yields can jump from 20 percent to more than 100 compared to the traditional method.

Southeast Asia, where agriculture supports millions, is slowly embracing SRI.

The US-based Cornell University created a center specializing in the technique in 2010 and more than two million farmers in the region — especially from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos — have been trained.

In Bac Giang province in northern Vietnam, net profits for farmers were as much as 226 percent higher after adopting the SRI method than when using traditional ones, according to Abha Mishra, who led a large project on behalf of the Asian Institute of Technology.

The Philippines, which grows rice but is also one of the world’s leading importers, is also interested in this method and the Ministry of Agriculture has started training farmers.

The method is also used in parts of India, China, and Africa. But, while there is support from NGOs, as well as some scientists and authorities, it still has a long way to go before widespread adoption.

It faces resistance domestically from agribusiness as there is no new hybrid seed or fertilizer to sell.

Industry lobbies are very active in Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand, one of the largest users of pesticides in the world.

And they recently won a big battle over chemical use in agriculture.

Thai authorities, who had committed to ban controversial glyphosate, backtracked at the end of November, deciding that “limited” use would eventually be allowed.

The use of two other herbicides has also been extended. Lecomte says the other challenge potentially impacting the rate of adoption is the SRI method is quite complex to learn and it is labor intensive.

“You have to plant one by one and closely control the amount water,” he explained, adding that the extra manual effort required means some farmers don’t want to try the method, and others give up early on.

Sunnan admits that his workload is heavier but the financial and health benefits make it worth it in the end. He added: “It is safe for our body, and the environment.”