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The transitional 1990s and beyond (JVP-III)

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by Rajan Philips

If the 1980s were tumultuous, the 1990s were more transitional, even if not less tumultuous. In this ‘potted’ history, it is not necessary to recount all the details of the 1990s and the first decade of the new 21st century. Suffice it to focus on developments that have had a continuing influence on current events and the farce of 2021. The UNP and the JVP, which more or less came together in 1977, were gone by 1994, after seventeen years of assorted achievements. The UNP would never return to the same pinnacle of power that it seized in 1977. The JVP with a new generation of leaders transformed itself into a democratic political party with mixed results. The first half the decade saw the disintegration of the UNP under the weight of the presidential ambitions of three rival contenders – President Premadasa and his two younger challengers, Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake. The LTTE took out every one of them in 1993 and 1994.

LTTE violence took off in the 1990s after the JVP had been finished off in the late 1980s. In a telling commentary on that period, Wikipedia lists the names of political leaders, parliamentarians, professionals and political activists who were killed by the JVP, the LTTE, other Tamil groups and the armed forces over three decades of violence. The 1990s began with the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and ended with the killing of TULF MP and Legal Academic Neelan Tiruchelvam in 1999. The old leadership of the TULF, with the exception of M. Sivasithamparam, had been wiped out in the late 1980s. That included TULF leader A. Amirthalingam, a consummate politician and parliamentarian, who started off as a fiery federalist and turned himself into a mellowed separatist.

As the 90s wore on, the LTTE asserted itself as the sole representative of the Tamils. It waged war against the state and its forces but not to capture the state of Sri Lanka but to establish a new state of Tamil Eelam. The JVP’s mission was different, but its ultimate objectives were never clear. Lacking the LTTE’s military prowess, it never seemed plausible that the JVP was serious about capturing state power through violent means. Politically, the JVP swung from its ultra-left attacks on a manifestly leftist government in 1971, to undertaking ultra-right attacks against the most rightwing government in Sri Lanka’s modern history. The left-right cleavage was not part of the LTTE vocabulary.

On the other hand, although it railed against the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord and the presence of Indian armed forces in Sri Lanka, the JVP scrupulously avoided taking potshots at the Indian Army. The LTTE, in contrast, cut its military teeth fighting the Indian army and found common cause with the Sri Lankan government under President Premadasa to fight a common enemy. There was even grudging admiration among sections of the Sinhalese for the LTTE’s choosing to take on the Indian Army. For the record, the Indian Army came to Sri Lanka on the invitation of one Sri Lankan President and left Sri Lanka at the request of the succeeding Sri Lankan President. Hardly the modality for an occupying force. War or peace, Sri Lanka was again left to its own devices.

 

Illusions of Peace

The second half of the 1990s and the first half of the next belonged to Chandrika Kumaratunga. Her presidency began with a bang of charismatic inspiration but petered through for want of a clear focus and purposeful efforts. Perhaps her singular failure was not single-mindedly moving to abolish the executive presidency as she was universally expected to do. She was also the first and, until Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrived on the scene 25 years later out of nowhere, the only person to become President without previously being a Member of Parliament. Her parliamentary inexperience, untrammeled access to presidential power, not to mention her political ego, all combined to vitiate the promise with which she had led the People’s Alliance to power.

With the benefit of hindsight, we might say that parliament started becoming inexorably poorer from thereon. It is far worse now, in 2021, and for many new reasons. And it has taken a JVP MP, in Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, to take a spirited stand in defense of parliament and parliamentary democracy in Sri Lanka – against presidential authority and media hypocrisy. The ironies of history, you might say, but more on it later.

Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (CBK) deserves full marks for starting the peace process during her presidency, but she showed inexplicable naivete in choosing to rely on people from her social circles to take the lead in serious peace mediation. The LTTE was going to be a difficult peace-dance partner anyway, and it required much more than social brokering to make any headway. In the end, the LTTE almost succeeded in assassinating her during her election campaign for a second term in office in 1999.

The main irony of that period was the nasty competition between Chandrika Kumaratunga (leading the SLFP) and Ranil Wickremesinghe (leading the UNP) for leadership in the peace process. It was a total about-turn from previous decades when the two main Sinhalese parties fought one another over who was giving more concessions to the Tamil Federal Party, even though what was on offer was way less than what would be included much later in the 13th Amendment. In any event, the CBK-RW competition over peace turned out to be counter productive both to the peace process and to their respective political calculations.

It may not be wholly accurate to say that presidential politics was the main driver of the peace rivalry, but it is impossible to view the rivalry in isolation from presidential ambitions. All the constitutional changes proposed by the CBK government included provisions to protect her powers, which made it even easier for RW and the UNP to reject the proposals out of hand and even, in one instance, make a bonfire of them right in the well of parliament. As for Ranil Wickremesinghe, his obsession with becoming a President, or at least a presidential candidate one more time (after two attempts in 1999 and 2005), became quite obvious when he deliberately subordinated every initiative of the yahapalanaya government (2015-2019) to that single obsession.

Back during his rivalry with CBK over peace initiatives, Ranil Wickremesinghe stunningly turned to the LTTE to strike a counter peace partnership to CBK’s peace partnership with the TULF. I am not aware of any public recounting of the mediation that brought RW and the LTTE together in a peace initiative. But objectively, it fair to surmise that Ranil Wickremesinghe reached out to the LTTE as a counter to CBK’s peace alliance with the TULF. What was fairly well known throughout the JRJ presidency was that President Jayewardene cunningly kept not only the TULF but also the JVP from joining forces with the SLFP/Left opposition at that time. In the end, there was no ultimate benefit to anyone from JRJ’s Machiavellian politics. The presidential house he built so adroitly would be eventually lost to the UNP. Now it seems it is lost forever. And it will be for other more upstart aspirants as well.

As JRJ’s successor, President Premadasa took a different tack, reaching out to the LTTE to get the Indians out. We know how that tack or track ended. The TULF that was left hanging, or what was left of its depleted leadership, broke with the UNP and turned to Chandrika Kumaratunga and the People’s Alliance for a new kick at what had become the proverbial viable solution, while Ranil Wickremesinghe modified the Premadasa approach to re-engage the LTTE with Norwegian insurance. To their credit, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe ‘fought’ over how to make better peace with Tamils, rather than about waging a more brutal war with the LTTE. They both admitted that the Sri Lankan state had failed in the building of its nation and were committed to creating a plural and inclusive polity. While their political spirits were willing their presidential flesh led them astray.

And their peace-fight was nasty. They could not work together even when they were forced to cohabit as President and Prime Minister between 2001 and 2004. Ranil Wickremesinghe, as Prime Minister, dashed everyone’s expectations of peace dividends by giving, not for the last time, free rein to corruption in government. For her part, and in what she would later admit to being among her more grievous mistakes, President Kumaratunga dismissed the Wickremesinghe government in 2004 (which she had the power to do under the pre-19A Constitution, unlike Maithripala Sirisena who flouted his own 19th Amendment in October 2018), dissolved parliament and won the parliamentary election in April 2004 with provisional support from the JVP.

The results of the April 2004 parliamentary election gave false hopes to President Kumaratunga and the JVP (that won 39 out of 105 UPFA seats in parliament, its highest on record), relegated Ranil Wickremesinghe to the opposition backwaters for the next ten years, and signaled the emergence of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the next presidential candidate from the true south. The country went through the tsunami devastation in December 2004, but that did not help the political leaders getting any wiser about working together. The Supreme Court abandoned President Kumaratunga when it rejected her bid to extend her second term by one year. Ranil Wickremesinghe even thought that Chief Justice Sarath Silva was helping him for not impeaching him earlier!

Those who had serenaded CBK during her rise lost no time in leaving as she declined. Mahinda Rajapaksa became the SLFP-UPFA candidate by acclamation. He reached a new agreement with the JVP. The unkindest cut of all was delivered by the LTTE to Ranil Wickremesinghe who thought that it would be a no contest. Mahinda Rajapaksa won the November 2005 presidential election by the squeakiest of margins, while Tamil voters in the north were ordered to stay home. Basil Rajapaksa’s familial prophesy that there will be a President from the south was finally fulfilled. But there were other dynamics at play.

 

Illusions of Restoration

In my last installment published two weeks ago (April 25), I alluded to Mahinda Rajapaksa becoming the presidential beneficiary of a new strand of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism fueled by the Jathika Chinthanaya school of thought. The school of thinking that JC advocated has not universally been accepted in Sinhalese political society. At one level, the electoral victories of Chandrika Kumaratunga (PA) and the partial successes of Ranil Wickremesinghe were moments of political pushbacks to the creeping influence of JC thinking. At another level, both the SLFP and the UNP were forced to come to terms with ‘JC forces’ and include them in their political alliances often on their (JC’s) terms.

The presidential system and proportional representation in parliamentary elections facilitated the emergence of alliance politics. The era of programmatic united fronts of political parties was gone. Serious political programs gave way to lawyerly Memorandums of Understanding. Multiple parties with bilateral/multilateral MOUs could come together under an umbrella alliance for contesting elections. The April 2004 parliamentary elections were the breakthrough election for the new Sinhala Buddhist nationalist organizations.

The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), the most electorally successful offshoot from the JC school, won nine seats in the election, all won by Buddhist Monks. The JVP which had been courting JC ideologues and followers from the 1980s, was part of Chandrika Kumaratunga’s alliance (UPFA) and won 39 seats. It was the JHU that successfully challenged President Kumaratunga’s attempt to extend her second term limit in the Supreme Court in August 2005. JC’s political consummation came within months, with the victory of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the November presidential election. That it came with support from the not so hidden hand of the LTTE did not dampen the significance of the moment. Mahinda Rajapaksa was recognized as the most authentic Sinhala Buddhist political leader since independence.

In terms of political analysis, the victory of Mahinda Rajapaksa has been described as the restoration of the linkage between the Sri Lankan state establishment and the political hegemony of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. The linkage had apparently been ruptured since July 1987 when JR Jayewardene and Rajiv Gandhi signed the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. Looked at in another way, the state of Sri Lanka which has traditionally been accused of alienating the Tamil and Muslim minorities, would seemed to have found a way to alienate even the Sinhalese majority.

And the restoration that was apparently achieved with the victory of Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005, has not turned out to be as consequential as anticipated. To wit, the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord and the Thirteenth Amendment that it created have survived two terms of Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency and may yet survive the first term of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency. At the same time, a full restoration of the linkages between the state of Sri Lanka and all its ‘peoples’ will require a more sensitive and nuanced understanding as well as appreciation of the nationalist compulsions of the Sinhalese, Tamils and the Muslims. Anything less can be nothing more than a farce. (Next week: The farce of 2021).



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Features

TNGlive relieving boredom

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Yes, indeed, the going is tough for everyone, due to the pandemic, and performers seem to be very badly hit, due to the lockdowns.

Our local artistes are feeling the heat and so are their counterparts in most Indian cities.

However, to relieve themselves of the boredom, while staying at home, quite a few entertaining Indian artistes, especially from the Anglo-Indian scene, have showcased their talents on the very popular social media platform TNGlive.

And, there’s plenty of variety – not just confined to the oldies, or the current pop stuff; there’s something for everyone. And, some of the performers are exceptionally good.

Lynette John is one such artiste. She hails from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, and she was quite impressive, with her tribute to American singer Patsy Cline.

She was featured last Thursday, as well (June 10), on TNGlive, in a programme, titled ‘Love Songs Special,’ and didn’t she keep viewers spellbound – with her power-packed vocals, and injecting the real ‘feel’ into the songs she sang.

What an awesome performance.

Well, if you want to be a part of the TNGlive scene, showcasing your talents, contact Melantha Perera, on 0773958888.

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Supreme Court on Port City Bill: Implications for Fundamental Rights and Devolution

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The determination of the Supreme Court on the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill was that as many as 26 provisions of the Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution and required to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The Court further determined that nine provisions of the Bill also required the approval of the people at a referendum.

Among the grounds of challenge was that the Bill effectively undermined the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and infringed on the sovereignty of the people. It was argued that several provisions undermined the legislative power of the People reposed on Parliament. Several provisions were challenged as violating fundamental rights of the People and consequently violating Article 3, read with Article 4(d) of the Constitution. Another ground of challenge was that the Bill contained provisions that dealt with subjects that fall within the ambit of the Provincial Council List and thus had to be referred to every Provincial Council for the expression of its views thereon as required by Article 154G(3).

 

Applicable constitutional provisions

Article 3 of our Constitution recognises that “[i]n the Republic of Sri Lanka, sovereignty is in the People and is inalienable”. Article 3 further provides that “Sovereignty includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise”. Article 3 is entrenched in the sense that a Bill inconsistent with it must by virtue of Article 83 be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approved by the people at a referendum.

Article 4 lays down the manner in which sovereignty shall be exercised and enjoyed. For example, Article 4(d) requires that “fundamental rights which are by the Constitution declared and recognised shall be respected, secured and advanced by all the organs of government and shall not be abridged, restricted or denied, save in the manner and to the extent hereinafter provided”. Article 4 is not mentioned in Article 83. In its determinations on the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2002 and the 19th Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2002, a seven-member Bench of the Supreme Court noted with approval that the Court had ruled in a series of cases that Article 3 is linked up with Article 4 and that the said Articles should be read together. This line of reasoning was followed by the Court in its determination on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution Bill.

Under Article 154G(3), Parliament may legislate on matters in the Provincial Council List but under certain conditions. A Bill on a matter in the Provincial Council List must be referred by the President, after its publication in the Gazette and before it is placed in the Order Paper of Parliament, to every Provincial Council for the expression of its views thereon. If every Council agrees to the passing of the Bill, it may be passed by a simple majority. But if one or more Councils do not agree, a two-thirds majority is required if the law is to be applicable in all Provinces, including those that did not agree. If passed by a simple majority, the law will be applicable only in the Provinces that agreed.

 

Violation of fundamental rights and need for a referendum

Several petitioners alleged that certain provisions of the Port City Bill violated fundamental rights. The rights referred to were mainly Article 12(1)—equality before the law and equal protection of the law, Article 14(1)(g)—freedom to engage in a lawful occupation, profession, trade, business or enterprise— and Article 14(1)(h)—freedom of movement. Some petitioners specifically averred that provisions that violated fundamental rights consequently violated Articles 3 and 4 and thus needed people’s approval at a referendum.

The Supreme Court determined that several provisions of the Bill violated various fundamental rights and thus were required to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The question of whether the said provisions consequently violated Article 4(d) and thus Article 3 and therefore required the approval of the People at a referendum was not ruled on.

The Essential Public Services Bill, 1979 was challenged as being violative of both Article 11 (cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment) and Article 14. Mr. H.L. de Silva argued that a Bill that violates any fundamental right is also inconsistent with Article 4(d) and, therefore, with Article 3. The Supreme Court held that the Bill violated Article 11 but not Article 14. Since a Bill that violates Article 11 has, in any case, to be approved at a referendum as Article 11 is listed in Article 83, the Court declined to decide on whether the Bill offended Article 3 as well, as it “is a well-known principle of constitutional law that a court should not decide a constitutional issue unless it is directly relevant to the case before it.”

A clear decision on the issue came about in the case of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution Bill; a seven-member Bench of the Supreme Court held that the exclusion of the decisions of the Constitutional Council from the fundamental rights jurisdiction of the Court was inconsistent with Articles 12 (1) and 17 (remedy for the infringement of fundamental rights by executive action) and consequently inconsistent with Article 3, necessitating the approval of the Bill at a referendum.

When the 20th Amendment to the Constitution Bill sought to restore the immunity of the President in respect fundamental rights applications, the Supreme Court determined that the “People’s entitlement to remedy under Article 17 is absolute and is a direct expression of People’s fundamental rights under Article 3 of the Constitution.”

In the case of the Port City Bill, however, the Supreme Court only determined that certain provisions of the Bill violated fundamental rights and thus required a two-thirds majority, but did not go further to say that the offending provisions also required approval of the people at a referendum.

Perhaps, the Court took into consideration the Attorney-General’s assurance during the hearing that the impugned clauses would be amended at the committee stage in Parliament.

However, Parliament is not bound by the Attorney-General’s assurances. In the absence of a clear determination that the clauses concerned required a referendum as well, Parliament could have passed the clauses by a two-thirds majority. The danger inherent in the Supreme Court holding that a provision of a Bill violates fundamental rights and requires a two-thirds majority but makes no reference to the requirement of a referendum is that a government with a two-thirds majority is free to violate fundamental rights, and hence the sovereignty of the People by using such majority. It is respectfully submitted that the Court should, whenever it finds that a provision violates fundamental rights, declare that Article 3 is also violated and a referendum is necessary, as it did in the cases mentioned.

 

The need to refer the Bill to Provincial Councils

The Port City Bill had not been referred to the Provincial Councils, all the Provincial Councils having been dissolved. The Court, following earlier decisions, held that in the absence of constituted Provincial Councils, referring the Bill to all Provincial Councils is an act which could not possibly be performed.

In the case of the Divineguma II Bill, the question arose as to the applicability of the Bill to the Northern Provincial Council, which was not constituted at that time. The Court held while the Bill cannot possibly be referred to a Council that had not been constituted, the views of the Governor (who had purported to express consent) could not be considered as the views of the Council. In the circumstances, the only workable interpretation is that since the views of one Provincial Council cannot be obtained due to it being not constituted, the Bill would require to be passed by a two-thirds majority. Although not explicitly stated by the Court, this would mean that if the Bill is passed by a simple majority only, it will not apply in the Northern Province. The Bill was passed in Parliament by a two-thirds majority. The Divineguma II Bench comprised Shirani Bandaranayake CJ and Justices Amaratunga and Sripavan, and it is well-known that the decision and the decision on the Divineguma I Bill cost Chief Justice Bandaranayake her position.

It is submitted that Article 154G (3) has two requirements—one procedural and one substantive. The former is that a Bill on any matter in the Provincial Council List must be referred to all Provincial Councils. The latter is that in the absence of the consent of all Provincial Councils, the Bill must be passed by a two-thirds majority if it is to apply to the whole country. If such a Bill is passed only by a simple majority, it would apply only in the Provinces which have consented.

The Divineguma II determination accords with the ultimate object of Article 154G(3), namely, that a Bill can be imposed on a Province whose Provincial Council has not consented to it only by a two-thirds majority. It also accords with the spirit of devolution.

A necessary consequence of the Court’s determination on the Port City Bill is that it permits a government to impose a Bill on a Provincial Council matter on a “disobedient” Province by a simple majority once the Provincial Council is dissolved and before an election is held. What is worse is that at a time when all Provincial Councils are dissolved, such as now, a Bill that is detrimental to devolution can be so imposed on the entire country. It is submitted that this issue should be re-visited when the next Bill on a Provincial Council matter is presented and the Supreme Court invited to make a determination that accords with the spirit of devolution, which is an essential part of the spirit of our Constitution.

 

 

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‘Down On My Knees’ inspires Suzi

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There are certain songs that inspire us a great deal – perhaps the music, the lyrics, etc.

Singer Suzi Fluckiger (better known as Suzi Croner, to Sri Lankans) went ga-ga when she heard the song ‘Down On My Knees’ – first the version by Eric Guest, from India, then the original version by Freddie Spires, and then another version by an Indian band, called Circle of Love.

Suzi was so inspired by the lyrics of this particular song that she immediately went into action, and within a few days, she came up with her version of ‘Down On My knees.’

In an exclusive chit-chat, with The Island Star Track, she said she is now working on a video, for this particular song.

“The moment I heard ‘Down On My Knees,’ I fell in love with the inspiring lyrics, and the music, and I thought to myself I, too, need to express my feelings, through this beautiful song.

“I’ve already completed the audio and I’m now working on the video, and no sooner it’s ready, I will do the needful, on social media.”

Suzi also mentioned to us that this month (June), four years ago, she lost her husband Roli Fluckiger.

“It’s sad when you lose the person you love but, then, we all have to depart, one day. And, with that in mind, I believe it’s imperative that we fill our hearts with love and do good…always.”

A few decades ago, Suzi and the group Friends were not only immensely popular, in Sri Lanka, but abroad, as well – especially in Europe.

In Colombo, the Friends fan club had a membership of over 1500 members. For a local band, that’s a big scene, indeed!

In Switzerland, where she now resides, Suzi is doing the solo scene and was happy that the lockdown, in her part of the world, has finally been lifted.

Her first gig, since the lockdown (which came into force on December 18th, 2020), was at a restaurant, called Flavours of India, with her singing partner from the Philippines, Sean, who now resides in Switzerland. (Sean was seen performing with Suzi on the TNGlive platform, on social media, a few weeks ago).

“It was an enjoyable event, with those present having a great time. I, too, loved doing my thing, after almost six months.’

Of course, there are still certain restrictions, said Suzi – only four to a table and a maximum crowd of 50.

“Weekends are going to be busy for me, as I already have work coming my way, and I’m now eagerly looking forward to going out…on stage, performing.”

In the meanwhile, Suzi will continue to entertain her fans, and music lovers, on TNGlive – whenever time permits, she said,

She has already done three shows, on TNGlive – the last was with her Filipino friend, Sean.

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