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LG polls: EC Chief won’t disclose AG’s opinion

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PAFFREL warns of irreparable damage if commission succumbs to political pressure

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Election Commission Chairman Nimal Punchihewa yesterday (30) said that he wouldn’t disclose Attorney General Sanjaya Rajaratnam’s opinion on whether he could conduct Local Government polls against the backdrop of the enactment of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution.

Attorney-at-Law Punchihewa said so when The Island asked whether he would share the AG’s letter with Rohana Hettiarachchi, Executive Director of PAFFREL (People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections). PAFFREL yesterday requested Punchihewa to share the AG’s response with the polls monitoring body.

Declaring the AG’s response as an internal communique between him and the Election Commission, Punchihewa said that such information couldn’t be even sought in terms of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Punchihewa emphasised that he wouldn’t change his stand on the issue, at hand, under any circumstances.

The Election Commission consists of Nimal Punchihewa (Chairman), S.B. Divaratne, M.M. Mohamed, K.P.P. Pathirana and P.S.M. Charles.

Confirming that he received the AG’s opinion, Punchihewa said that his outfit would make its announcement on LG polls at the appropriate time.

In his letter to Punchihewa, Hettiarachchi said that PAFFREL would expect a quick response from the EC as it was responsible for ensuring the rights of 16 mn voters. In his letter to Punchihewa, Hettiarachchi said that PAFFREL felt that there was no requirement to seek the AG’s opinion on this matter.

Hettiarachchi said that the EC could set the date for the election now. Referring to various obstacles experienced by the EC with regard to the preparations for the election, Hettiarachchi insisted that there was need to further delay the announcement. The whole process had been completed and there was no justification in further delaying the announcement, the civil society activist said.

Responding to another query, Hettiarachchi warned if the Election Commission failed to fulfill its mandatory obligations to the electorate, the public would surely lose faith not only in the Election Commission but the entire set up.

Hettiarachchi said that there was no basis for claims that the enactment of the 21st Amendment crippled Election Commission. All Commissions established in terms of the 20th Amendment enacted in Oct 2020 would continue to function until the setting up of new Commissions, Hettiarachchi said, appealing to the Election Commission not to deprive the electorate of an opportunity to exercise their franchise.

The independent Election Commission on Sept. 20, this year received constitutional right to call for LG polls.

Last LG polls were held in Feb 2018. Former Provincial Council Minister Roshan Ranasinghe put off LG polls by one year claiming the threat posed by covid-19.

Political sources said that senior representatives of political parties recently made representations to the Election Commission regarding the urgent need to set the process in motion.

Prof. Charitha Herath, MP, said that they realized the growing reluctance on the part of the government to face LG polls. Speaking on behalf of Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa, the SLPP National List MP asserted that the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government was so unpopular, the UNP and the SLPP would do everything possible to postpone polls indefinitely.



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Supreme Court Judge, President of the Appeal Court, Appeal Court Justice took oath before President

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(pic PMD)

Justice K. P. Fernando, President of the Court of Appeal took oath as a Supreme Court Judge before President Ranil Wickremesinghe this morning (06) at the President’s House in Fort.

Court of Appeal Justice Mr. Nissanka Bandula Karunaratne took oath as the President of the Court of Appeal while High Court Judge M.A.R. Marikkar was also sworn in as a Judge of the Court of Appeal before President Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Minister of Justice Wijayadasa Rajapaksha, Secretary to the President Mr. Saman Ekanayake, Commanders of the Tri Forces and other officials attended this event.

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Strong earthquake hits south-eastern Turkey near Syria border

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BBC reported that a powerful earthquake has hit Gaziantep in south-eastern Turkey, near the border with Syria.

The US Geological Survey said the 7.8 magnitude tremor struck at 04:17 local time (01:17 GMT) at a depth of 17.9km (11 miles) near the city of Gaziantep.

The quake was felt in the capital Ankara and other Turkish cities, and also across the region.

Reports are coming in that several buildings have collapsed, and a number of people may be trapped.

A BBC Turkish correspondent in Diyarbakir reports that a shopping mall in the city collapsed.

Rushdi Abualouf, a BBC producer in the Gaza Strip, said there was about 45 seconds of shaking in the house he was staying in.

Turkish seismologists estimated the strength of the quake to be 7.4 magnitude.

They said that a second tremor hit the region just minutes later.

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13 A: Political parties miss Ranil’s Feb. 04 deadline for submitting their proposals

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Udaya compares constitutional threat with Indonesian crisis in late ’90s

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government hasn’t received proposals from political parties regarding President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s decision to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution fully.

President Wickremesinghe, on January 26, requested party leaders to furnish their suggestions, if any, by Feb. 04 as he intended to brief Parliament on Feb. 08 as regards the implementation of land and police powers.

Political parties, represented in Parliament, had not responded to President Wickremesinghe’s request so far, authoritative sources told The Island. Responding to another query, sources said that the President’s Office hadn’t received proposals in support of President Wickremesinghe’s declaration or against it.

Several political parties, including the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) spurned the President’s invitation.

Having declared his intention to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in Nov. 1987, during Thai Pongal celebrations, in Jaffna, on January 15th, 2023, President Wickremesinghe warned party leaders on January 26 he would go ahead with plans unless the parliament repealed it. Both declarations were made in the presence of Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.

Sources noted that though several political parties declared opposition and some issued statements supportive of the President’s move, they haven’t submitted proposals in writing.

President Wickremesinghe prorogued Parliament, on January 27, the day after setting Feb. 04 as the deadline for political parties to submit proposals. The new session of Parliament begins on Feb. 08.Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) General Secretary, Sagara Kariyawasam, MP, told The Island that the decision to fully implement the controversial amendment shouldn’t be taken hastily.

“We are certainly not opposed to the devolution of power. However, we cannot under any circumstances support an agenda that may cause chaos,” National List MP said.

The Attorney-at-Law said so when The Island asked him whether the ruling party submitted its proposals to President Wickremesinghe.The lawmaker said that there was no requirement to do so as he on behalf of the SLPP explained to the January 26 meeting chaired by President Wickremesinghe why 13th Amendment shouldn’t be fully implemented without examining the ground situation.

“Seven past Presidents didn’t do that. Why didn’t they do so? We’ll have to study why they refrained from granting police and land powers in spite of them being part of that Amendment. If the reasons that compelled them not to do so no longer exist, we can consider the proposals,” lawmaker Kariyawasam said.

Declaring SLPP’s commitment to maximum possible devolution, MP Kariyawasam warned of dire consequences if decisions were made on the basis of language and religion.The SLPP that secured 145 seats at the last general election remains the largest party in parliament though over two dozen MPs quit the government group.

MP Kariyawasam emphasized that they couldn’t act recklessly on the issue at hand.Those who quit the SLPP parliamentary group, too, have strongly opposed the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader Udaya Gammanpila, MP, compared the developing crisis here with Western project that divided Indonesia in the late 90s.Attorney-at-Law Gammanpila explained how Western countries exploited the economic crisis in Indonesia to compel Jakarta to grant independence to East Timor.

Addressing a public rally at Dehiwela on Feb. 02  in support of Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya contesting March 09 Local Government polls, former Power and Energy Minister said that the challenge faced by Sri Lanka owing to the continuing balance of payments and debt crises was very much similar to the circumstances leading to East Timor independence.

The 13th Amendment would split Sri Lanka on ethnic lines, the Colombo District MP warned.The MP recalled how external powers created an environment that compelled Indonesian President Suharto to resign in May 1998 to pave the way for Megawati Setiawati Sukarnoputri to win the next presidential election. The MP said that Sukarnoputri granted independence to East Timor.

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