35 vie for Lanka’s President post

Sri Lanka People's Front party presidential election candidate and former wartime defense chief Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (L) and his brother, former president and opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, show victory signs as they gesture at supporters after handing over nominations papers at the election commission ahead of Sri Lanka's presidential election, in Colombo, Sri Lanka October 7, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 08 October 2019

35 vie for Lanka’s President post

  • The nominations were processed under tight security in the city of Colombo

COLOMBO: Thirty-five out of the 41 candidates who paid their deposits to contest the island’s Presidential elections were accepted by the Elections Commission in Colombo on Monday.

The incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena did not contest for the second time for the President’s post. His party, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) did not nominate anyone for the election, which shocked voters since the Bandaranaike clan, so long the dominant political force in the country, will not be backing any political party in the election.

The candidates include the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa, United National Front Candidate (UNF) Sajith Premadasa, National People’s Power (NPP) Candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayake and former Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake.

The nominations were processed under tight security in the city of Colombo. Some of the schools close to the headquarters of the Elections Commission were closed during the day, roads were blocked and more than 1,200 policemen and 500 members of the special forces were deployed in the capital to ensure a calm nomination day. Processions and demonstrations were banned on Monday.

Sri Lanka police said that the displaying of posters, banners and cut-outs related to the forthcoming presidential election is prohibited with effect from Monday. Police spokesman SP Ruwan Gunasekara said as per the provisions of the Presidential Elections Act, the displaying of posters, banners and cut-outs will be prohibited from Monday subject to certain exceptions. According to the provisions in the act election-related parades, including vehicle parades and processions of people, will also be prohibited from today, he said, adding that these regulations apply to the entire island.

Chairman of the Elections Commission Mahinda Deshapriya said that out of the 41 candidates who had paid their deposits, were from 19 recognized political parties,19 from independent parties and three from other political parties.

Deshapriya said that the cost of the elections would be at least 10 million rupees ($55,000) which is an increase over the previous elections. “This is due to the increased number of candidates, the rise in stationery costs and the increase in the number of polling stations,” he added. He said that there were two objections raised against the candidacy of the nominees during the nominations and they were dismissed since they were baseless.

The chairman also urged all trade unions to call off their strikes during the election period till November 16 to ensure a smooth election without violence and disturbances.

Western Province Governor A.J.M.Muzammil received one of the main contenders, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, at the Wijerama Temple in Colombo following the nominations. Najeeb Mowlana, a prominent social worker who was present at the temple, said that Rajapaksa is an independent who will serve all communities without any discrimination.

National Unity Alliance Leader and former Governor of the Western Province Azath Salley said on Monday that 29 out of the 35 candidates are from the majority community and they all are vying for the 70 percent majority community votes. “The votes from the majority community will be divided among the first four contenders and they have to depend on the minority votes to win the election,” Salley said.

M.R.M.Waseem, political journalist from a reputed local daily, said that the absence of SLFP candidate in the presidential polls, is a major drawback. “President Maithripala Sirisena is from SLFP and it was founded by late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and had ruled the country for decades,” Waseem said, lamenting that its absence in the election will lead to the natural death of the powerful party.

Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

Muslims attend Friday Prayers at the Great Mosque of Al Azhar in Jakarta, Indonesia, as government eases restrictions amid a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, June 5, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 05 June 2020

Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

  • Mosque capacity reduced to half, with health protocols in place
  • Jakarta remains center of the pandemic in Indonesia

JAKARTA: Mosques in Jakarta welcomed congregations for Friday prayers for the first time after an 11-week shutdown due to coronavirus curbs as the Indonesian capital began to ease control measures.

“I am grateful I can perform Friday prayers again after almost three months,” Ilham Roni, a worshipper at Cut Meutia Mosque in Central Jakarta, told Arab News.

“As a Jakarta resident, I have been complying with city regulations. Now that we can pray again, I follow the health protocols by maintaining social distance, wearing a facial mask and washing my hands (before entering the mosque).”

Mosques are opened by a caretaker 30 minutes before prayer starts and are closed 30 minutes after the conclusion of the congregational prayer.

Caretakers at Al I’thisom Mosque in South Jakarta have been preparing since Tuesday, even before Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan announced on Thursday that the city is extending its COVID-19 restrictions for the third time since measures came into force on April 10.

The capital is easing lockdown curbs in phases, starting with the reopening of places of worship on Friday, although capacity has been halved and strict health protocols put in place.

“We did not know if we would be allowed to reopen the mosque, but we kept preparing to put out markings just in case, and on Thursday we got the confirmation,” one of the mosque caretakers Sumidi, who goes only by one name, told Arab News.

He said the mosque now can only accommodate 400 worshippers out of its normal 1,000 capacity.

Caretakers have put up markings to keep a 1.2-meter distance between worshippers inside the mosque, while in its parking lot, the distance is maintained at 97 cm. Hand-washing facilities have been installed at the entrance.

The governor did not set a fixed date for the extension to end, although the most likely time frame is until the end of June as the city is in a transition mode throughout the month.

Workplaces and businesses with standalone locations can open from June 8, to be followed by non-food retailers in malls and shopping centers from June 15. Recreational parks will be allowed to reopen on June 21.

“Essentially, all activities are allowed to accommodate 50 percent of their normal capacity and by strictly maintaining social distancing measures. The movement of people has to be engineered to meet this criteria,” Baswedan said during a live press conference. “This is the golden rule during the transition phase.”

"If we see a spike in new cases during this phase, the city administration will have to enforce its authority to halt these eased restrictions. It is our ‘emergency brake’ policy,” Baswedan said.

Jakarta remains the center of the pandemic in Indonesia, although infections in the city no longer account for half or more of the national tally, as has been the case since the outbreak was confirmed in Indonesia in early March.

As of June 5, Jakarta accounts for 7,766 cases of infections out of the 29,521 in the national total, with 524 deaths out of 1,770 who have died in the country.

Baswedan said since the introduction of restrictions in mid-March, the city has seen a significant drop in infections and deaths following a peak in mid-April.

But the transition phase depends on the residents’ continued strict compliance with virus-control measures, he said.

“We will evaluate by the end of June. If all indicators are good, we can begin the second phase,” Baswedan said.

“We don’t want to go back to the way it was in the previous month.”