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General election: GTF discourages voters from backing major parties…

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…warns of authoritarian rule

The UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF), which has been working closely with Tamil National Alliance (TNA), has urged the Tamils to vote for those only contesting the northern and eastern regions. In addition to the TNA, the Thamizhi Makkal Tesiya Kootani or the Tamil People’’s National Alliance led by former Northern Province CM C.V. Wigneswaran are in the fray in the former war zones.

 The GTF, in a statement issued yesterday said: “First and foremost, ensure that people appreciate the significance of this election and the power of their vote – every vote matters. Second, no vote should be wasted on the multitude of independent groups and those representing countrywide parties, as these could only dilute the strength of the Tamil representation for future political engagements. Overly unrealistic agenda and an inward-looking insular political strategy is not the most suited in the present circumstances. The question for the Tamil voters is among the parties that represent Tamil national interest, which party and candidates are the best suited to navigate Tamil politics through the turbulent times ahead.”

  The GTF urged all citizens of Sri Lanka, including those from Tamil and Muslim communities, to view the election with long-term perspective and exercise their franchise prudently and responsibly. Otherwise, the price of apathy could be too high.

 The GTF alleged the election was being held amidst authoritarian presidential rule through decrees and task forces, key civilian functions entrusted to serving and retired military officers (some of whom credibly implicated in serious human rights violations), an atmosphere of intimidation and fear leading to media self-censorship and silencing of civil society activists, and insecurity among the minority communities.

 The GTF said: “It is in this atmosphere that Rajapaksas are seeking 2/3rd majority to change the constitution, in particular, to abolish the 19th Amendment. It is not difficult to contemplate where this will lead to – executive power without checks and balances, marginalisation of Parliament and Judiciary, and key institutions made irrelevant. In such a quasi-democracy, rule of law and human rights will become expendable, and impunity will reign. The argument that a strong leader with unconstrained power is a must for development and prosperity is phony and self-serving.”

 The GTF statement: “The last two attempts at constitution making (1972 and 1978), where the political parties that drove the process had 2/3rd majority, were disastrous, and their effects are still crippling the country. Democratic fundamentals and the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious character of the state were severely compromised to satisfy the power greed of the rulers. There is no indication that politics or statesmanship will be any different this time. In fact, if history is a guide, the outcome could be worse than what was achieved during the last two attempts. It is crucial, therefore, that all citizens should unite in denying the present rulers unfettered freedom for constitution making, rather ensure that only a widely consulted and compromised charter will be possible.

 “While a functioning democracy with checks and balances are important for all citizens, it is so paramount for the minority communities. When the fangs of the majoritarian state unfairly target minority communities, even the theoretical possibility of legal recourse can be significant. So, it is vital that Tamil, Muslim and Christian communities study their electoral options and act wisely.

 “Eleven years after the end of war, re-evaluating political circumstances and electoral possibilities is a must for the Tamil community. Gaining a respectable and secure status in the country is still a dream and there are many disappointments to contend with – no tangible outcomes on constitutional and accountability fronts, lack of momentum in returning to normalcy for the war-affected, and lingering concerns about protecting identity of the Tamil majority North-East. However, it is also undeniable that during the last five years there was notable relief for the Tamil people due to de-escalation of the military stranglehold in the North-East and people enjoyed some normalcy and freedom which included the right to memorialize the war-dead. How much of these could be lost due to the electoral outcomes is one important question to consider.

 “The Tamil political leadership during the last decade has earned some positive marks on the national politics of the country – its role in the 2018 constitutional crisis being one notable example. A far-sighted political approach has somewhat weakened the apprehensions and animosities existed between the Tamil and other communities. Further, the Tamil nationalistic politics in Sri Lanka is viewed in the major capitals of the world as a far more progressive one than what it used to be. These fundamental building blocks are crucial for future political settlements, and need to be further strengthened, not weakened, as Tamil struggle moves on.

 “Tamils in Sri Lanka is a significantly weakened community today – the population is relatively small with reduced electoral strength, and its educational and economic performances are among the worst in the country. Meeting political aspirations, though overwhelmingly the dominant issue for Tamils, is one of many objectives for the rest of the country. While the Tamil community should never take its eyes off from achieving political outcomes, it is no longer tenable that it be approached in a sequential manner, i.e. – ‘political resolution first, economic development later’. It is crucial that the Tamil political leadership become more cognizant of this reality and take necessary initiatives in this direction.

 “The Sri Lankan political leadership’s intransigence in accommodating the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil community, made the Tamils look to the international community and India, with hope and expectation. While this is an integral part of the Tamil political struggle and need to be strengthened and leveraged to the maximum, this cannot substitute an effective political and civil society engagement with all communities in the country. This, too, needs to be a factor when Tamils consider their political choices.

 “The Tamil community faces monumental challenges today. The Rajapaksas-led political ‘movement’ does not have many parallels in Sri Lanka’s history. It relies entirely on Sinhala-Buddhist vote and highly insensitive to the concerns and aspirations of the minority communities. No commitment to accountability and reconciliation (withdrew from co-sponsorship of UNHRC resolution), increased militarisation of civil functions (military officers for every village in the North-East), and the appointment of all-Sinhala task force to ‘preserve the historical heritage of Sri Lanka’ in the multi-ethnic Eastern Province are a few examples. More ominous is the possibility of losing some of the fundamental reforms such as power devolution under 13th Amendment and the parity status for Tamil language. A major economic contraction Sri Lanka is expected to undergo could lead to intensifying authoritarianism and militarisation, and in all likelihood the minority communities will be used as scapegoats for the wrong doings of the powerful.

 “The period ahead will test the capability of the Tamil political leadership. Forming effective partnerships with the elected representatives from all minority communities and with those from the majority community with progressive views could be critical, so is fostering effective engagement strategies with the international community and India. If Rajapaksas are denied 2/3rd majority, such coalitions would be particularly powerful in preventing the constitution being amended on their own right. Perhaps the better strategy for the Tamil community could be protecting its hard-won gains, while exploring opportunities for furthering its community interests.

” Despite the fundamental weaknesses in Sri Lanka’s democracy, the country is often viewed favourably by the international community because it unfailingly conducts elections which are viewed largely as free and fair. In such circumstances, voting is fundamental and in fact the most powerful tool available to effect political, social and economic transformations in the country. The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) appeals to every citizen of Sri Lanka, and the Tamil people in particular, to cast their precious votes and cast it wisely, keeping the long-term interest of the country and their political, economic and democratic rights in mind.”

 



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Death threats won’t deter us – EC Chairman

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Nimal Punchihewa (Chairman ECSL) picture by PRIYAN DE SILVA
Chairman of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka Nimal Punchihewa told The Island that members of  the election commission won’t be deterred by death threats.
He said that members of the commission  M M Mohamed,  K P P Pathirana and S B Diwarathne have been repeatedly threatened and the police have not been able to apprehend the perpetrators.
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Three people dead after torrential rain in New Zealand

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At least three people have died due to flash flodding in Auckland (picture BBC)

BBC reported that at least three people have died and one is missing after New Zealand’s largest city experienced its “wettest day on record” on Friday.

Auckland is said to have received 75% of its usual summer rainfall in just 15 hours.

A local state of emergency was declared as authorities managed evacuations and widespread flooding.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins thanked emergency services for their swift response to the disaster.The new prime minister travelled to Auckland, where he also expressed his condolences to the loved ones of those who died in the floods.

“The loss of life underscores the sheer scale of this weather event and how quickly it turned tragic”, he said in a news conference on Saturday afternoon.

The downpour flooded the airport, shifted houses and resulted in power cuts to homes for hours.

New Zealand’s defence forces were mobilised to assist with evacuations and emergency shelters were set up across the city.

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Parliament prorogued on Friday night

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President says cabinet agreeable to fully implementing 13 A until party leaders decide whether or not to abolish the Amendment

Parliament was prorogued from midnight Friday (27) by President Ranil Wickremesinghe under powers vested in him by Article 70 of the Constitution, parliamentary sources said on Friday.

The Department of Government Printing was due to issue the relevant notification on Friday night but it was not out as this edition went to print.However the President’ Media Division (PMD) confirmed the prorogation on Friday evening saying that President Wickremesinghe “is expected” to make a policy statement based on the decisions taken after the 75th Independence anniversary when parliament recommences on Feb.8.

A separate bulletin said that the president had informed the party leaders Conference on Reconciliation that the cabinet was agreeable to “fully implementing (the) 13th Amendment until party leaders decide whether or not to abolish the Amendment.”

Parliamentary sources explained that a prorogation which is a temporary recess of parliament, should not extend to a period of more than two months, However, such date for summoning parliament may be advanced by another presidential proclamation provided it is summoned for a date not less than three days from the date of such fresh proclamation.

Political observers believe that the prorogation is related to the president’s effort to secure as wide a consensus as possible on the National Question. They dismissed speculation that it is related to the scheduled local elections. This issue was clarified by the PMD bulletin.

When parliament is prorogued, the proclamation should notify the date of the commencement of the new session of parliament under Article 70 of the Constitution.During the prorogation the speaker continues to function and MPs retain their membership of the legislature even though they do not attend meetings of the House.

The effect of a prorogation is to suspend all current business before the House and all proceedings pending at the time are quashed except impeachments.A Bill, motion or question of the same substance cannot be introduced for a second time during the same session. However, it could be carried forward at a subsequent session after a prorogation.

“All matters which having been duly brought before parliament, have not been disposed of at the time of the prorogation, may be proceeded with during the next session,” states the paragraph (4) of article 70 of the constitution.

In the light of this constitutional provision, a prorogation does not result in an end to pending business. Thus, a pending matter may be proceeded with from that stage onwards after the commencement of the new session.

At the beginning of a new session all items of business which were in the order paper need to be re-listed, if it is desired to continue with them.At the end of a prorogation a new session begins and is ceremonially declared open by the president.

He is empowered under the constitution to make a statement of government policy at the commencement of each session of parliament and to preside at ceremonial sittings of parliament in terms of the provisions of paragraph (2) of article 33 of the constitution.The president is empowered to make a statement of government policy at the commencement of each new session. In the past, it was known as the Throne Speech which was delivered by the Governor-General.

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