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Midweek Review

Daunting challenges ahead

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2020 general election:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), expected to comfortably win today’s parliamentary polls, has never been represented in parliament.

The SLPP is confident of a comfortable, simple majority, though, publicly, its leadership vows to secure a two-thirds majority. A two-thirds majority that hadn’t been achieved by any political party since the introduction of the Proportional Representation (PR) system, at the 1989 parliamentary polls, seems unrealistic.

The Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), certain to win the second highest number of seats, has also never been in parliament. The SLPP and SJB are led by prime ministerial aspirants, Mahinda Rajapaksa (74) and Sajith Premadasa (53), respectively.

There are similarities in the SLPP and the SJB. Political strategist Basil Rajapaksa got the Lanka Jathika Peramuna (LJP) re-named as the Ape Sri Lanka Nidahas Peramuna, a few weeks before the 2015 August parliamentary polls, and then again registered the party as Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, on Nov 1, 2016. Former external affairs minister Prof. G.L. Peiris and Attorney-at-Law Sagara Kariyawasam received appointment as the Chairman, and Secretary, of the SLPP, respectively.

If not for the last minute agreement, between the Mahinda Rajapaksa’s group and the SLFP, the former was to contest the 2015 August parliamentary election, under the Ape Sri Lanka Nidahas Peramuna ticket.

In early 2020, Ape Jathika Peramuna (AJP) was re-named Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB). Sajith Premadasa and Ranjith Madduma Bandara received appointments as the Leader, and the Secretary of the SJB respectively. Both the LJP and the AJP had been totally ineffective, as political parties, though, today, they enjoyed political clout.

Of the seven previous general elections, since 1989, simple majority had been secured by the winning party twice, in 1989 (UNP) and 2010 (UPFA) during the second JVP-inspired insurgency, and the first countrywide poll, after the annihilation of the LTTE, in May 2009.

For the first time, the parliament will recognize two parties hitherto not represented in the House. Both the SLPP and the SJB emerged as major parties, at the expense of the SLFP and the UNP respectively, during the previous administration. The newcomers changed the political landscape completely. The SLFP ended up, at the 2020 general election, contesting all districts, except Jaffna and Kalutara, under the SLPP ticket, whereas the badly depleted UNP is likely to take a distant third place, in terms of the numbers of seats. The SLFP, too, is expected to be reduced to less than 10 seats.

The SJB is most likely to secure more than double, perhaps treble the number of seats won by the UNP at today’s poll, the third since the successful conclusion of the war, 11 years ago.

Before discussing the delayed 2020 poll further, it would be pertinent to mention the composition of the last parliament (August 2015-March 2020). As the writer pointed out earlier, the SLPP and the SJB hadn’t been represented in any of the previous parliaments. The last parliament consisted of UNP (106), UPFA (95), TNA (16), JVP (6), SLMC (1) and EPDP (1). Having fielded its candidates, under the UNP ticket, in most districts, at the last election, the SLMC won just one seat.

The JHU, ACMC and Tamil Progressive Front, too contested under the UNP ticket at the last election, but have now switched their allegiance to Sajith Premadasa like the SLMC, at the expense of beleaguered Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Of the 106 elected, and appointed, on the UNP ticket, at the last election, over 80 are in the fray, on the SJB ticket, whereas Wickremesinghe managed to retain about a dozen. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya is among those who opted not to contest again. Jayasuriya, who had received significant backing from some members of the party, as well as a section of the civil society, to come forward as their presidential candidate, in 2019, quit the parliamentary contest, after having failed to thwart the break-up of the party.

Former National List member, Malik Samarawickrema, a close associate of Wickremesinghe, too, quit parliamentary politics. So did Mangala Samaraweera after having entered the fray from the Matara District on the SJB ticket.

Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri, who headed the high profile parliamentary probe into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, ended up in the SJB’s Moneragala District nominations list.

Having handsomely won the 2018 February Local Government election and the 2019 November presidential poll, the SLPP faces the parliamentary poll confidently. The SJB knows of its inevitable defeat at today’s poll, though it seems happy breaking away from Wickremesinghe for once and for all.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who never bothered to take the membership of the SLPP, in spite being its presidential candidate, spearheaded the parliamentary polls campaign. There had never been a president, previously, who shunned political party membership. In other words, the cabinet is headed by a person, who is apolitical, a situation never experienced before.

Politicians, former Member of Parliament and various other interested parties, speculated about the number of seats that could be obtained by contesting parties. A former lawmaker, a respected professional, asserted that the SLPP might secure about 118, SJB 64, UNP 15, Tamil political parties 19 and the JVP 9. The former MP is of the view that frustrated UNPers and Muslims may vote for the JVP led Jathika Jana Balavegaya, hence the opportunity to improve its position in parliament. But its image has been somewhat tarnished after having been seen as a passive partner of the UNP during the last regime. The UNP being a right wing party throughout its history is anathema to any true Marxist and its leader was clearly involved in the brutal crushing of the JVP’s second uprising in the late 80s and killing of its then entire leadership, barring late Somawansa Amarasinghe, who survived by fleeing abroad.

The JVP fielded its candidates, through a coalition, in a bid to attract wider support at the expense of contesting under its own symbol. The JVP will find it difficult to at least retain the number of seats it received at the last parliamentary election. The six-member JVP parliamentary group included two National List members (defeated candidates Sunil Handunnetti and Bimal Ratnayake).

SJB survives unexpected onslaught

Sajith Premadasa’s SJB experienced unexpected onslaught in the run-up to the Aug 5 poll. UNP

Colombo district candidate, Oshala Herath, caused quite a stir by challenging the EC over the re-naming of the Ape Jathika Peramuna (AJP) as the SJB under controversial circumstances. The deal earned AJP Secretary Diana Gamage a slot in the SJB National List.

Having unsuccessfully moved the Supreme Court against the EC, in this regard, Herath, who had twice served President Maithripla Sirisena’s staff, received UNP membership and an opportunity to contest.

Before Herath received UNP membership, as well as nomination, Sirikotha declared that the party had nothing to do with the court action. Subsequently, Herath lodged a complaint with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) as he pushed hard to disqualify the SJB.

In spite of his own party disowning him, the social media activist took on EC Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya. Herath released recorded conversations with Deshapriya as well as recordings at a church in Rajagiriya where he met Deshapriya in the company of UNP Assistant Leader Ravi Karunanayake in a bid to settle the matter. However, the SJB had the last laugh when all other contesting political parties accepted the EC’s version of events.

The UNP refrained from exploiting Herath’s shocking revelations that may have caused quite serious problems for the SJB. In a way, the SJB should be grateful to the UNP for not jeopardizing its campaign.

The SLPP and the JVP, too, conveniently refrained from taking up the issue, while election monitors, too, played it safe, much to the disappointment of Herath whose emergence as a UNP candidate, especially from Colombo, was made possible by the unprecedented UNP split.

Of the 11 elected from the Colombo district, at the last general election, eight (Patali Champika Ranawaka, Hirunika Premachandra, Dr. Harsha de Silva, Mujibur Rahman, S.M. Marikkar, Mano Ganesan, Eran Wickramaratne and Sujeewa Senasinghe), switched allegiance to Sajith Premadasa, who moved from Hambantota to Colombo. Except Eran Wickremaratne who opted to join the SJB National List, others are in the fray. Only Ravi Karunanayake remained with Wickremesinghe while the remaining ex-lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, joined the SLPP.

A humiliated UNP struggled to field a team in Colombo. Its list is undoubtedly the weakest ever fielded in Colombo. The UNP in its desperation even accommodated tainted businessman A.S.P. Liyanage, who had received diplomatic postings both from Presidents, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena for being publicly servile to them. Of the 22 UNP candidates fielded in Colombo, there were only four former members of parliament (Ranil Wickremesinghe, Ravi Karunanayake, Daya Gamage and Sunethra Ranasinghe). Daya Gamage contested the last parliamentary polls from Digamadulla, while Sunethra Ranasinghe hadn’t been in parliament in its last term.

Oshala Herath is among those lucky to receive UNP nomination due to damaging split caused by dissidents. However, he proved his mettle as a fighter by pursuing an unprecedented strategy that exposed the utterly corrupt political set up.

UNP leader Wickremesinghe, SJB leader Premadasa and JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake are in the fray in Colombo. Premadasa, who lost the last presidential election by a staggering 1.3 mn votes to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is expected to win his contest with his former leader. Will Premadasa be able to poll the highest number of preferences in Colombo by a candidate representing any party? Or will retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, or National Freedom Front leader Wimal Weerawansa, both contesting on the SLPP ticket take the honours.

Weerasekera is among nine candidates fielded by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, through his ‘Viyathmaga’ organization. Other ‘Viyathmaga’ contestants are Dr. Nalaka Godahewa (Gampaha), Anura Fernando (Colombo), Engineer Nalaka Kottegoda (Matale), Dr. Tilak Rajapaksha (Digamadulla), Dr. Upul Galapatti (Hambantota), Prof. Channa Jayasumana (Anuradhapura), Prof. Gunapala Ratnasekera (Kurunegala) and Attorney-at-Law Udayana Kirindigoda (Mahanuwara). The SLPP has also accommodated two ‘Viyathmaga’ members, Ajith Nivard Cabraal and Dr. Seetha Arambepola, on its National List.

Ratnapura HC ruling, other issues rattle SLPP

If not for the unprecedented crisis caused by the corona epidemic, the SLPP could have easily secured victory at the parliamentary polls, originally scheduled to take place on April 25. Unfortunately, for the SLPP, corona derailed its plans. However, even if election was held in a corona-free environment, as previously scheduled, the ruling party couldn’t have obtained a two-thirds majority. Seeking two-thirds, in terms of the PR system, is not possible at all.

Had the election been held on April 25 as previously scheduled, the SLPP could have avoided the fallout of the demolition of a part of an historical building in Kurunegala and death sentence given to an SLPP candidate. The delay, on the part of the government, resulted in some protests. A section of the assembly hall of King Bhuvanaikabahu II had been demolished on the orders of the Kurunegala Mayor. A divided SLPP struggled to cope up with the issue as Kurunegala heavyweight Johnston Fernando; one-time UNPer threw his weight behind the Kurunegala Mayor. The SLPP could have also avoided Ratnapura HC sentencing Ratnapura District candidate Premalal Jayasekera to death over his involvement in the 2015 January political murder, in the Kahawatte area on the eve of the January 2015 presidential election.

The protests by Colombo port workers, over Sri Lanka’s deal with India against the transfer of control of the ECT (East Container Terminal), too, disturbed the government as it sought Indian financial backing to overcome the crises caused by the corona pandemic. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda

Rajapaksa seeking Indian Premier Modi’s intervention, in the last week of May, led to July negotiations on re-scheduling of Lanka’s debt repayments.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa faces an unprecedented challenge. In fact, the economic challenge is even bigger than the conventional LTTE threat, previous presidents faced. Under the former Defence Secretary’s leadership, the new administration will have to work with the Opposition, whether it likes it or not, if it is genuinely interested in the wellbeing of the country. However, the SJB is unlikely to provide the required support, in parliament, to do away with the 19th Amendment, though the two parties can explore ways and means of reaching consensus on some matters.

With the country is in such a bad shape, economically, pivotal importance of consensus, among those political parties represented in parliament, at least between the government and the main Opposition, cannot be ignored.

The SLPP cannot pursue strategies, disregarding ground realities. With nearly one fifth of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term over, the SLPP has no option but to move fast, without getting embroiled in useless political dogfights.

Let us hope political parties wouldn’t seek to do away with the provision in the 19th Amendment to appoint no more than 30 ministers. The UNP conveniently reached an agreement with a section of the SLFP to form a national government in the wake of the 2015 general election. The UNP-SLFP arrangement paved the way for them to appoint more than 30 ministers, at the expense of the much-touted good governance promise.

Challenges in 2020 and beyond

The parliament comprises 196 elected and 29 appointed members. The SLPP and the SJB will face daunting challenge in picking their National List members. In the last parliament, the UNP had 13 National List slots, the UPFA 12, the TNA 2 and the JVP 2. The lion’s share of 29 National List slots is expected to be shared by the SLPP and the SJB, with the UNP most likely to obtain a couple of slots, though very much lower than the last time. The SLPP faces the daunting task in forming a 30-member cabinet with the inclusion of some new members. Will any successful ‘Viyathmaga’ candidates receive cabinet portfolios?

With the new parliament, scheduled to meet on August 20, the SLPP will have an opportunity to explore the possibility in reaching a consensus, with the Opposition, to secure the required two-thirds. If not there is bound to be plenty of horse trading to secure that illusive majority.

The case of misappropriation of billions of rupees that was lying at the Central Cultural Fund is certain to be a big stink with the active support of the UNP as was seen in the document leaked to the Sunday Times last weekend. Since Sajith Premadasa has much to answer it would be quite interesting how he deals with the victorious SLPP.

The government will have to address several issues. Among the contentious issues are (1) the proposed agreements with the US (MCC and SOFA) as President Sirisena finalized ACSA in August 2017, the controversial Singapore–Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement, entered into in January 2018, co-sponsorship of the Geneva Resolution, in Oct 2015, bringing investigations into Central Bank bond scams to a successful end, tangible action on forensic reports that dealt with Treasury bond scams, and other major financial irregularities, both during UPFA and UNP-SLFP administrations, and the toxic UK garbage dumped, in the port of Colombo, et al. With the national economy in tatters, the parliament, as an institution, will have to play its classic role.

Ensuring financial discipline, and the introduction of new laws, must be the parliament’s primary objective, neglected by successive governments, over the years. It would be pertinent to remind what no less a person than the former Central Bank Governor Dr. Indrajith Coomaraswamy said before the Presidential Commission, probing public sector corruption. Coomaraswamy urged the electorate to elect lawmakers capable of understanding public finance.

Dr Coomaraswamy said that the country was facing a non-virtuous cycle of debt and it was a very fragile situation which could even lead to a debt crisis. Arjuna Mahendran’s successor said that people should elect MPs who were prudent enough to handle fiscal and monetary matters of the country. “I’m not referring to any government, but it’s been the case ever since independence.

 

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Midweek Review

20 A: Govt. takes a step back…

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Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, receiving his letter of appointment from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) National List nominee, Attorney-at-law Shiral Lakthilaka, teamed up with the editor of Anidda, Attorney-at-law K.W. Janaranjana, on August 9, 2020, on Derana ‘Aluth Parlimenthuwa’ to target the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution. They took on former President of the Sri Lanka Bar Association (BASL) U.R. de Silva PC, and Attorney-law-Kanishka Vitharana.

The writer participated in the live two-hour discussion, anchored by Attorney-at-law Sanka Amarjith. The programme dealt with 19th and 20th Amendments.

During the debate, both De Silva and Vitharana acknowledged the need to amend the proposed draft 20th Amendment. The former President of the BASL revealed that Justice Minister Ali Sabry PC accepted the need to retain Article 53 of the Constitution which required Ministers to take an oath against separatism. De Silva said so in response to the writer seeking an explanation why such a dangerous lapse was allowed to slip through by the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna).

The writer pointed out even the treacherous yahapalana administration, that betrayed the war-winning armed forces, in Geneva, in Oct 2015, didn’t let through something so obvious.

The National Joint Committee (NJC), in a statement issued on Sept. 6, 2020, raised the issue in respect of Article 53 of the Constitution. The NJC said: “We are astonished at the decision of the Government to amend Article 53 of the Constitution which mandatorily requires Ministers to take the oath against supporting and promoting a separate state, (i.e. the 7th Schedule introduced by the sixth amendment) and by restricting it to the original oath prescribed in the fourth schedule. Article 61D of the proposed amendment; too, require the public officers to take the fourth schedule oath that existed in the original Constitution and not the oath prescribed in the seventh schedule introduced by the sixth amendment.”

The NJC also emphasized the urgent need to repeal the 13th and 16th Amendments. The Sept. 6 statement was the second issued by the NJC, on the same matter.

The writer, on Sept, 10, 2020, raised serious concerns expressed by the National Joint Committee (NJC), Federation of National Organizations (FNO) and Manohara de Silva, PC, at the post-cabinet media briefing, at the Government Information Department. The media received an assurance from Co-cabinet spokesperson and Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) Leader Udaya Gammanpila that the government would definitely look into concerns expressed by nationalist groups and Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Myanmar Prof. Nanlin de Silva.

Cabinet spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella and other co-cabinet spokesperson Dr. Ramesh Pathirana did not comment on the matter. Prof. De Silva strongly criticized some sections of the 20th Amendment. The academic, in a statement sent to The Island, alleged that the media didn’t provide sufficient coverage to his concerns.

 

SJB et al exploit 20 A

The continuing controversy over the 20th Amendment drastically changed the political situation. Unexpected opposition from even those who campaigned against the yahapalana administration, throughout its rule, really unsettled the SLPP. The badly depleted Opposition received a tremendous boost, by way of the 20th Amendment, replete with obvious flaws. The main Opposition SJB swiftly exploited the situation to its advantage.

Lakthilaka, who had been an advisor to the then President Maithripala Sirisena, before switching allegiance to the SJB, expertly demolished the draft 20th Amendment. The prominent civil society activist, however, repeatedly emphasized that he solidly stood for the presidential system of governance though he strongly disliked, what he termed, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s move to secure dictatorial powers for himself, at the expense of the Parliament.

The writer asked those who backed the 19th Amendment whether the public demanded an elected President, deprived of the right to hold a defence portfolio? Having pointed out that the draft 20th Amendment accommodated some key features in the 19th Amendment, such as five-year terms for both the President and Parliament and two-term limit for a person to hold presidency, the writer reiterated concerns expressed by those who backed Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the SLPP at the Nov. 2019 presidential and Aug 2020 general election, respectively.

Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, on behalf of the FNO, on Sept. 09, 2020, requested President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to review the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution. Dr. Amarasekera requested the President not to abolish Article 53 of the Constitution and raised matters related to the formulation of a new Constitution.

The FNO asked the SLPP government to establish a mechanism to (1) accept public proposals as regards a new Constitution (11) suspend Provincial Council polls until the enactment of the new Constitution and (111) far reaching alterations to the proposed 20th Amendment approved by the Attorney General before the Government Printer issued the relevant gazette.

The FNO also called for rectification of technical and wrongful policy decisions, in addition to members of the cabinet given an opportunity to provide comments, in writing. Having rectified mistakes, the government would have to amend the draft 20th Amendment and re-gazette it, Dr. Amarasekera told the writer.

The civil society group emphasized that it would be a mistake to bring in amendments at the committee stage as it could create a situation, similar to that of the passage of the 19th Amendment.

The FNO also requested the following provisions altered: (1) do away with the proposal in the 20th Amendment to reduce the number of days from 14 to seven available for the public in respect of enactment of urgent bills (ii) abolish provisions relating to the enactment of urgent bills as successive administrations abused them (iii) rescind the proposal to amend Article 53 of the Constitution which required members of Parliament to take an oath against supporting and promoting a separate State (iv) remove proposal to allow dual citizens to enter Parliament. In addition, it urged the government to extend that law to cover the Governor of the Central Bank, Attorney General, IGP, Auditor General, Service Commanders, Judges of the Supreme Court, and Secretaries to Ministries and (v) abolish the move to do away with the National Audit Commission and also to ensure that no state institution is exempted from audits.

The FNO appreciated the SLPP decision to retain the two-term limits on presidency as well as the five-year terms for both the President and the Parliament.

 

BASL, PM step in

Interventions made by nationalist organizations didn’t receive sufficient coverage in both the print and electronic media. Some sections of the media conveniently refrained from reporting their concerns.

Amidst growing opposition to the much touted 20A, because of its glaring flaws, the BASL, on Sept. 11, 2020, appointed a special 14-member committee, headed by Nihal Jayamanne PC, to inquire into the 20th Amendment. Secretary to the BASL, Rajeev Amarasuriya, in a statement, explained that the Jayamanne committee would also address law’s delays and other related matters undermining the administration of justice. The committee also comprises Ikram Mohamed PC, M.M. Zuhair PC, L.M.K. Arulanandam PC, Prasantha Lal de Alwis PC, Nihal Jayawardene PC, Nalin Ladduwahetty PC, Maithri Wickramasinghe PC, Uditha Egalahewa PC, Anura Medagoda PC, Mohan Weerakoon PC, S.T. Jayanaga PC, Priyal Wijayaweera PC, and Maurapada Gunawansha,PC. Ravi Algama and Shantha Jayawardena are its convenors.

Among the group, M.M. Zuhair is the only former Member of Parliament. Zuhair represented the People’s Alliance (PA) as a National List member, during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s tenure as the President. It wouldn’t be too hard to reach a consensus on required amendments to the proposed 20th Amendment.

The current political leadership, the Opposition and the BASL, should take into consideration concerns raised not only by nationalist groups but those who backed the enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, in early 2015. Having made the UNP project to dilute powers of the President, by way of the 19th Amendment, a reality, SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena, as a candidate at the 2020 general election, campaigned for the abolition of the same.

Let us hope that the Executive Committee of the BASL and the Bar Council act on recommendations made by Jayamanne’s committee. The BASL announcement made it clear that the 20th Amendment is a flawed document, though the Attorney General cleared it, in terms of the Constitution. The AG asserted that the 20th Amendment could be adopted by a two-thirds majority in Parliament, sans a referendum.

Regardless of that, in addition to the Opposition, and some sections of the civil society, the government, too, realized the rapidly developing crisis, caused by the draft 20th Amendment.

Despite having secured a historic near two-third majority last month, the SLPP self-inflicted a major injury by way of the draft 20th Amendment. Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision to name a nine-member group, consisting of SLPP lawmakers,to examine the draft 20th Amendment, is also evidence that in its current form the draft is a flawed document. The Premier’s Office made the announcement on Sept. 12.

The Premier’s team comprises SLPP Chairman and Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, Justice Minister Ali Sabry PC, PHU leader and Energy Minister and Attorney-at-law Udaya Gammanpila, Labour Minister and Attorney-at-law Nimal Siripala de Silva, Jathika Nidahas Peramuna leader and Industry and Commerce Minister Wimal Weerawansa, Education Reforms, Promotion of Open Universities and Distance Learning State Minister and Attorney-at-law Susil Premajayantha, State Media Minister Sathasivam Viyalendran, MP Dilan Perera and MP and Attorney-at-law Premanath C. Dolawatte.

Nimal Siripala de Silva represents the SLFP whereas the appointment of Viyalendran, a former Tamil National Alliance lawmaker, is significant.

Premier Rajapaksa called for the report by Sept 15, according to his office. However, Minister Weerawansa, on Saturday (12), said that examination led to the SLPP paying a huge price for not being tactful in handling the 20th Amendment. However, the SLPP’s readiness to address the concerns, raised by various parties, should be appreciated and recognized as a positive development to openly accept shortcomings, when pointed out.

 

Prez Gotabaya’s response

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on Friday (11), assured Manohara de Silva, PC, and SLPP National List member Gevindu Cumaratunga, of his readiness to submit a fresh draft by rescinding the controversial current draft of the 20th Amendment. The President’s Counsel, and the MP, met the President, on behalf of the National Joint Committee (NJC) and civil society group Yuthukama. The assurance was given in the wake of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, assuring SLPP coalition partners a new draft would be presented in Parliament. The Premier’s move was revealed by Minister Wimal Weerawansa, at a public rally he addressed, at Avissawella, a on Saturday (12).

The government responded quite wisely by deciding to withdraw the draft 20th Amendment, amidst the Opposition, and those opposed to the SLPP, exploiting the situation to their advantage. The SLPP struggled to cope up with the Opposition attacks as well as criticism directed by several civil society groups.

Polls monitoring group PAFFREL (People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections) warned the SLPP that though the coalition secured a nearly two-thirds majority, at the recently concluded general election, it was not empowered to introduce whatever it desired. In a strongly worded statement, issued on Sept. 13, PAFFREL’s Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi pointed out that the electorate twice endorsed the SLPP’s move to abolish the 19th Amendment. However, the SLPP shouldn’t abuse the people’s mandate to introduce an Amendment merely to suit its agenda, regardless of hostile public sentiment. While recollecting how only UPFA lawmaker Rear Admiral (retd.) Sarath Weerasekera voted against the 19th Amendment in 2015, Hettiarachchi urged members of the 9th Parliament not to do anything they would regret later.

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), too, expressed serious concern over the proposed 20th Amendment when its Executive Director Asoka Obeyesekere recently explained how the proposed law could undermine the monitoring of public spending, Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), curtailment of the Election Commission’s powers and operation of RTI (Right to Information) Law.

Obeysekere didn’t mince his words, at a recent media conference at the TISL office, where he declared: “The proposed 20th Amendment also removes the Audit Service Commission and National Procurement Commission, key institutions intended to act as a check on public spending. By removing any mention of the Audit Service Commission, the proposed 20th Amendment effectively renders the National Audit Act obsolete. The National Audit Act provides the Audit Service Commission with considerable powers, including the ability to impose surcharges on public officials, who cause losses to the state. The removal of the Audit Service Commission will invalidate this essential power.

Despite the mandate of the National Procurement Commission not being fully operationalized, the existence of the institution is nonetheless important to ensuring a transparent and accountable procurement structure. Public procurement is a high-risk area for corruption. Whilst recognizing the importance of the President’s own commitment as clearly enunciated in his manifesto to eradicate corruption and promote efficiency, we call on the government to recognize the importance of the institution of an independent procurement commission to realize this commitment.”

The TISL refrained from commenting on other contentious matters, such as the proposed setting up of a five-member Parliamentary Council in place of the highly flawed 10-member Constitutional Council, abolishing limit on the number of cabinet and non-cabinet ministers, doing away with the prohibition on dual citizens to contest parliamentary election, denying the citizens right to file fundamental rights cases against the President, naming the Attorney General as the respondent. Many an eyebrow was raised when the age limit of those seeking the Office of the President were lowered to 30. Some of the provisions in the 20th Amendment disappointed the public. In fact, the proposed 20th Amendment diminished the importance of restoring the President’s right to hold a defence portfolio by resorting to a despicable political agenda. The SLPP could have easily avoided the embarrassing situation if the proposed amendment was at least discussed among members of the cabinet, as well as the parliamentary group. There hadn’t been a genuine effort, within the SLPP, to reach a consensus on the vital amendment. In fact, the SLPP could have easily discussed the matter informally with the parliamentary opposition. The consensus with the Opposition could have been reached, especially against the backdrop of the SLPP retaining three key provisions in the 19th Amendment, namely restriction of the number of presidential terms to two and five-year tenure for the term of the President and the Parliament.

The crisis over the 20th Amendment should be examined also taking into consideration the SLPP MP-elect for the Ratnapura District, Premalal Jayasekera, taking oaths as a Parliamentarian, on Sept, 8, 2020, subsequent to the Court of Appeal taking a stand, contrary to that of the Attorney General. State Minister Sanath Nishantha’s brother Jagath Samantha caused media furore by destroying a part of Ramsar wetlands at Anavilundawa. Former Chairman of Arachchikattuwa Pradeshiya Sabha Jagath Samantha is alleged to have got part of the sanctuary bulldozed to establish a shrimp cultivation centre. This was revealed by a ministerial committee that inquired into destruction of the wetlands. Wildlife and Forest Conservation Minister C.B. Ratnayake, and some of his officials, recently struggled before the media. State Minister Nishantha, having admitted to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, when inquired from him about the Anavilundawa incident, however denied responsibility. The State Minister refrained from mentioning his brother being wanted by the police in that regard. The destruction of a part of a historical building, allegedly at the behest of the Kurunegala Mayor Thushara Sampath, also did immense damage to the SLPP, regardless of action taken by the government to save face.

The SLPP needs to review its strategies or prepare to face the consequences. What is really praiseworthy about the line up behind this government are the brave faces among its frontline partners who are willing to call a spade a spade to correct things in the bud as is proved by their willingness to speak out to correct those at the helm for the good of the nation, where necessary, as in the case of 20A, or rape of the environment.

 

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‘Elina wanted Premadasa to succeed JRJ’: correction

 

 

In last week’s Midweek article, titled ‘Elina wanted Premadasa to succeed JRJ’, on the Sept. 09 edition of The Island, the writer inadvertently identified Lilani de Silva as an aide to Elina Jayewardene. Lilani is a neighbour of the Jayewardenes. The relevant section should read as: ‘Elina Jayewardene’ is based on interviews with several persons, including Pradeep Jayewardene, Rukshan Amal Jayewardene (the second grandchild JRJ and Elina), Charmaine Mendis, first wife of late Ravi Jayewardene (their only son), close relatives, Professor Asvini Fernando and Lakshmi Suneetha Subasinghe. The author also interviewed Dr. Sathis Jayasinghe and Nalini Mapitigama. In addition to them, the author talked to several female aides, who had been with EJ until the very end. Among them were Galahitiyage Lilawathie and Hettiarachchige Magilin and the Jayewardene’s immediate neighbour, Lilani de Silva. The Jayewardenes’ third grandson Amrik, hadn’t been so excited about the brief biography about their late grandmother, and the author did not get an opportunity to speak with him. The author also quoted from the work of the late senior government servant, Amara Hewamadduma. The error is regretted.

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Midweek Review

Genealogy of Concept and Genesis of 13th Amendment-1

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By Prof. Gamini Keerawella

Those who oppose devolution of power are up in arms now against the 13th Amendment, believing that the Provincial Council system has created a political space for the sub-national groups in the North and East to share power at the regional level. They allege that the 13th Amendment was an externally engineered move, and the Provincial Council system is a parasitic organ planted in the body politic of Sri Lanka by India and, therefore, they should be abolished without delay.

When one traces the chain of dramatic events leading to the 13th Amendment, it is clear that the immediate compulsion that forced President J.R. Jayewardene to present the 13th Amendment to the Parliament was India’s coercive diplomacy against Sri Lanka, which was known as ‘Parippu Diplomacy.’ However, the concept of devolution of power and the idea of Provincial Councils as a unit of devolution had been at the centre of political discourse well before the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace accord, at least from the 1920s. The Provincial Councils did not come from the blue sky with the Indian dhal cannon in 1987. The concept of devolution had surfaced again and again in the post independent political discourse in the course of sporadic attempts to accommodate political interests of sub-national groups. However, the manner in which the Provincial Council system was established in 1987 and the presence of the IPKF destroyed the legitimacy of the provincial council system at its inception. It does not negate the validity of devolution of power as a devise of unity in a fractured society. This essay intends to debunk certain misperceptions relating to the origins of the Provincial Council system by tracing the genealogy of the political discourse on devolution of power embodied in the 13th Amendment.

The conceptual origins of the Provincial Councils could be traced back to the Donoughmore Report in 1928. Conceptualizing it within the framework of local government, it presented a proposal to establish Provincial Councils to delegate certain administrative functions of the Central Government. More important is the rationale presented by the Donoughmore Commission for Provincial Council in 1928.

The argument in favour of the establishment of a Provincial Council in each Province is that such a scheme might result in a large part of administrative work now carried out in the Legislative Council coming into the hands of persons permanently resided in the country districts and thus more directly in contact with their needs; in the relief of the departments of the central government of much detailed work and in their being thereby set free to consider and advise on the larger affairs of the country: in the special views of the different races predominant in the different part of the Island having effects in the administration of these parts; in members of growing body of politically-minded persons in the country being placed in an honourable position to render real assistance in administration.

The Commission recommended that the new department without delay should explore the possibility of establishing Provincial Councils. Further it proposed that ‘an experiment with a council of this nature may be made in a more highly developed province within the next few years, and if that should prove successful, the system rapidly extended throughout the island’. The Issue of Provincial Councils came to discussion at the State Council in 1940 when R.S.S. Gunawardena proposed a motion on 10 July 1940. The The motion declared, “This Council is of the opinion that immediate effects should be given to the recommendation of the Donoughmore Commission with regard to the establishment of Provincial Councils”. Following the Motion, S.W. R.D. Bandaranaike as the Minister of Local Administration placed a detailed report of the Executive Committee of Local Administration on Provincial Councils before the State Council. It identified functions of proposed Provincial Councils in three main classes: supervisory, direct executive and advisory. The proposal was soon overtaken by other developments relating to the transfer of power and the issue of representation. Referring to the Provincial Councils, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike stated in December 1947 during the Budget Debate that: “I do not think I shall be able to introduce the Bill relating to Provincial Councils before January next year. The Bill is ready, but as it impinges on the functions of my colleagues in the Cabinet, I have to obtain their consent to all the implications of the Bill before I can introduce it in this House”. It is important to note that even in the 1940s the Tamil leadership had not taken the issue of Regional Councils and devolution of power to regions into their hands.

When the transfer of power to Sri Lanka was in sight after the 1943 Declaration, the issue of how to reconcile the competing claims to present a constitutional arrangement satisfactory to all stakeholders came to the forefront. The 1943 Declaration requested the Board of Ministers to proceed with the framing of their constitutional proposals. At the same tine it emphasized that the proposals should obtain a three-fourth majority. One of the key issues that cropped up in this process was the basis of representation. Both, the purely population basis as well as communal representation were found to be not acceptable. Accordingly, the method of one seat for every 75,000 of population and one seat for every 1,000 square miles of territory in each province was worked out. It was at this point the British Government appointed the Soulbury Commission. The Tamil Congress under G.G. Ponnambalam was not prepared to accept the Ministers’ proposals and presented their own instead. After the experiences of the Donoughmore Constitution, the main Tamil leadership insisted on balanced representation, i.e. fifty percent of the seats for minorities including ‘Ceylon Indians’ – term used then to identify the Tamils of Indian origin. As I. D. S. Weerawardena pointed out when the Ministers drafted their proposals they pledged to give some weightage to all the minorities. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike offered a scheme of 60:40 as a basis of representation. The proposals of the BOM were accepted by the Soulbury Commission and incorporated into the new constitution. In I. D.S. Weerawardena’s words, “From the point of view of the minorities, the new Constitution of Ceylon was the point of balance among the various conflicting communal claims”. Ultimately, the Tamil Congress of G.G. Ponnambalam agreed to settle for the unitary form of constitution with balanced representation based on 60:40 formula negotiated by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike on behalf of the Ceylon National Congress. The one of very first acts of the rulers of Independent Sri Lanka disrupted this balance setup by the Soulbury Constitution ‘among the various conflicting communal claims’. The Citizenship Acts of 1948 and 1949 changed the political scenarios. This move not only made the earlier formula of distributing seats to provinces meaningless but also created an unresolved issue between Sri Lanka and India, leaving room for India to intervene. “The Soulbury Constitution received minority support (without which it could not have been implemented) because it arranged to enable the minorities to win a certain number of seats. The Ceylon Indians were among these minorities. To deny them the vote is to deny them the seats. One moral undertaken has been done away with. To deny the vote to Ceylon Indian is also to reduce the total number of seats available to all minorities. That is a broken pledge to all minorities…. The moral basis of the Soulbury Constitution has been wiped away. To attempt to prove the constitutionality of the position is not to attempt to prove its justice”.

Its implications for the new political environment as well as for Tamil political circles were far reaching. Within the Ceylon Tamil Congress a group led by S.J.V. Chelvanayakam left the party to form the Federal Party on a regional agenda. At first, however, the regional agenda put forward by the Federal Party did not have any serious impact on Tamil politics and in the 1952 general elections the regional agenda was clearly rejected by substantial margins in the North and East in favour of the Ceylon Tamil Congress candidates. This situation rapidly changed in the period 1952-1956.

In 1955 the Commission of Local Government was appointed with N.K. Choksy as its Chairman. In its report the commission admitted that there was a strong support in favour of the establishment of Regional Councils in the country. However, the Commission strongly presented the case in favour of the Provincial Committees and not Regional Councils.

The phenomenon of regional councils based on existing provinces came into political discourse once again in the history of post-Independence Sri Lanka in 1957, with the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact, three decades prior to the 13th Amendment. Part –B of the Pact contained the Joint Statement on Regional Councils. According to the provisions of the agreement regional areas were to be defined in the Bill and the Northern Province was to form a regional area but the Eastern Province was to be divided into two or more regional areas.

 

Provision was to be made in the Bill to enable two or more regions to amalgamate beyond the provincial limits and for one region to divide itself subject to ratification by Parliament. Parliament was to delegate powers and specify them in the Act. The Central government would provide block grant to the Regional Councils. At the same time, the Regional Councils would have powers of taxation and borrowing.

The unilateral abrogation of the B-C Pact in the face of articulate small group of political activists belied an early opportunity of accommodating the interests of sub-national groups. Bandaranaike did not address the broader constituency over the heads of these elements using his mass appeal to save the B.C. pact. In the face of a lack of support within the government quarters itself, Bandaranaike did not have courage to confront the anti-Pact forces. What happened to the B-C Pact is now well known. However, the political dynamics of post-colonial Sri Lanka linked with multi-ethnic social reality did not allow burying the basic principles embodied in the B-C Pact and they conjured up again and again in different garb.

The UNP, which took to the streets in opposing the B-C Pact was forced to come to terms with the Federal Party in 1965. The Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Agreement of 1965 covered three issues: the language rights of the Tamil people, granting of land in colonization schemes and regional devolution of power. According to Article 3 of the Agreement, “Action will be taken to establish District Councils in Ceylon vested with powers over subjects to be mutually agreed upon between the two leaders. It was agreed, however, that the Government should have power under the law to give directions to such Councils under the national interests”.

The main Left parties (the CP and the LSSP) who were the champions of equal language rights in their good old days now joined hands with the SLFP to oppose the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Regulations. In the light of the antipathy created by the opposition in the country, the UNP-led coalition government was faltering in presenting District Councils provisions to the Parliament. Ultimately a White Paper on proposals for the establishment of District Councils under the control of the central government was presented to the Parliament in 1968. The SLFP boycott the debate at the Parliament and campaigned against it outside. In view of a possible backlash on the part of the Government caucus itself, Prime Minister Senanayake decided not to go ahead with the White Paper.

It is important to note that Mrs. Bandaranaike also had to grapple with the issue of regional devolution of power. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam resigned his seat in protest following the adoption of the first Republican Constitution. After much delay the UNF government decided to have s bye-election in1975. The United Front decided to field V. Ponnambalam, a veteran Communist Party member against Chelvanayakam. Despite the unfavourable political climate in the country in general and in the region in particular, V. Ponnambalam fared comparatively well (9457) vis-à-vis Chelvanayakam (25,927). After the bye-election, V. Ponnambalm resigned from the C.P. It was later revealed that Ms Bandaranaike had promised V. Ponnambalam that a statement will be issued before the Election Day promising regional devolution. Santasilan Kadirgamar refers to the book Senthamilar Ahuvom written by V. Ponnambalam in which he reasoned out why he resigned from the C.P. According to Kadirgamer, “he revealed how he and the Tamil supporters of the left movement who had worked hard at the 1975 bye-elections had been severely let down. The United Front had given him the assurance that 48 hours before the poll the Kankesanturai electorate would be flooded with pamphlets promising a substantial degree of autonomy to the North and East, that would gone beyond the abrogated Bandranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957. At the last minute the SLFP high command went back on this promise and the CP leadership succumbed to this betrayal”. (To be concluded)

 

 

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Midweek Review

Labs, Literature and the Driving Seat

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By Lynn Ockersz

They once told you,That there’d be National Schools,All over your far-flung wastes,At the Land’s widening margins,To give your children,Said to be enjoying,A ‘free education’ legacy,Cutting edge knowledge,Born of Labs, Literature,And mathematical ingenuity,But all that you have for yourselves,Are dimming dreams,And a citizenship of least standing,Though you’re touted as the driver of history.

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