At least 10 cases are expected to the filed in the Supreme Court seeking a referendum on the proposed 20thConstitutional Amendment (20A), according to reliable sources in the Sri Lankan opposition.
As soon as the government placed the 20thAmendment bill on the table of the House on Tuesday (22), a lawyer filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging it and seeking a referendum on it on the grounds that the bill seeks to change the fundamental features of the Sri Lankan Constitution.
Any bill which alters a fundamental feature of the Constitution has to be ratified by the people at large in a referendum, apart from a two-thirds majority in Parliament.
“At least ten petitions seeking a referendum are expected to be filed in the seven-day period given to file petitions against the bill,” senior counsel and MP, M.A. Sumanthiran said.
Justice Minister Ali Sabry presented the 20th Amendment to Parliament yesterday amidst strong protests by Opposition MPs.
The Bill was presented to the House by Minister Sabry, whose voice was drowned by the din of shouts from MPs of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) whose voice rose in a chorus to the words “apita vissa epa” (“we don’t want 20”) and carried placards, wore black armbands and ‘No to 20’ badges as Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa described it as a “dark day for democracy”.
National Congress Digamadulla District MP A.L.M. Athaullah had to leave the Parliamentary Chamber yesterday owing to protests by Opposition MPs over his choice of attire to the House.
Athaullah deviated from the dress code for male MPs which is either national dress, full suit or tunic, long-sleeved shirts and trousers by wearing a sherwani with a waistcoat which prompted SJB MP Nalin Bandara to raise objection.
Several other SJB MPs including Harin Fernando and Dilip Wedaarachchi also objected with Bandara attempting to unbutton his shirt in protest and Wedaaracchi raising his sarong up to his knee.
By Austin Fernando (Former Secretary to the President)
Twentieth Amendment (20A) is reviewed by commentators from political, legal, journalistic, and religious angles. Not belonging to any such group, I do not venture to cover the multitude of discussions on 20A. My focus is to view 20A to understand how it affects governance and causes political contradictions.
In democratic good governance, there are essential elements, such as the rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, consensual oriented action, equity and inclusivity, accountability, and participation. Irrespectively, it is surprising to observe public administrators/their associations (except Auditors) in stoic silence on the 20A, though they will implement and experience fallouts of the 20A.
Ministerial Review Committee
The 20A created contradictory opinions even among the government ranks. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a Committee of Ministers to review 20A. When this Committee Report was handed over, the public expected a review by the Cabinet. But it did not happen. Responsiveness, inclusivity, and participation have been lost even before 20A is passed, with a presidential directive to discuss the revisions of the Ministerial Committee at the Committee Stage. Such directives are common in Executive Presidency though one may question the applicability of Article 42(2) – “collective responsibility.” Anyway, the revisions will hence lack prior legal or public scrutiny.
In November 1936, during the Battle for Madrid in the Spanish Civil War, Dolores Ibarruri or La Pasionaria as she came to be known, the impassionate Left orator and freedom fighter, issued the famous slogan ‘No Pasaran – They Will Not Pass’. Can similar sentiments be aroused about amendments to or repeal of a constitutional amendment aimed at strengthening parliamentary democracy through instituting checks and balances on the exercise of executive power and authority? After all, that no one arm of government should be so strong as to be able to lay down the law to the others, is a basic tenet of democratic governance.
Should the 19th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution be tampered with?
Basically the provisions of the amendment instituted checks and balances on the exercise of executive power and authority through reintroducing term limits on the presidency, declaring dual nationals ineligible for elected office, established the right to information as a fundamental right along with the Constitutional Council for major appointments to positions of the state and independent commissions for human rights, the police, public service and judiciary.
Most importantly it set limits on the power of the president to dissolve parliament, removed his/her legal immunity and required that he consult with the prime minister before acting in a number of instances as well as that the President’s Office and that of the Prime Minister be audited by the Office of the Auditor General.
Consultation with the Prime Minister and the removal of legal immunity ensures accountability as the President could be brought to Court and the Prime Minister was accountable to Parliament on a daily basis. What could possibly be the reticence for removing the President and Prime Minister’s office from the scrutiny of the Office of the Auditor General, particularly when the arguments about lack of accountability are trumpeted in respect of non-governmental organisations who are subject both to the NGO Secretariat – once again under the Ministry of Defence and for those so registered – the Registrar of Companies.
By D.B.S. Jeyaraj (This article was first published six years ago to commemorate the 25th death anniversary of Dr.Rajini.It is re-posted here without any changes to denote her 31st death anniversary)
It was 25 years ago on September 21st 1989 that Dr. Rajini Thiranagama nee Rajasingham was killed in Jaffna. She was 35 years old at the time of her death.The 25th anniversary of her death is to be commemorated through a series of events next week in the northern capital. This is the first time that such a commemoration of Rajini’s memorable legacy is to be held in Jaffna, since the one held in 1989, a month after her death.
Dr. Rajini Rajasingham Thiranagama (February 23, 1954 – September 21, 1989)
A Commemoration Meeting is to be held at the Medical Faculty, University of Jaffna on September 20th at 9.30 a.m. On the same day at 2 p.m a procession for peace, democracy and social justice will start at the Medical Faculty, University of Jaffna and end at the Veerasingham Hall with a short meeting.On September 21st a seminar will be held at 9 am on the theme “A more just and democratic society”.The venue is the Kailasapathy Hall, University of Jaffna.
Rajini was a contemporary of mine at Jaffna Collge,Vaddukkoddai where I completed my GCE- Advanced Level. Her father Mr.A. Rajasingham was the vice –principal during my time. Rajini born on February 23rd 1954 studied at Jaffna College(JC) from grade one till entering varsity except for a short period at Chundikkuli Girls College in Jaffna town. All of her sisters Nirmala,Sumathy and Vasuki were at JC too. In school she was known as Rajini but later on her name was spelled as Rajani .Yet we the old students of JC continue to refer to her as Rajini and I too am doing so while writing this article.
St. James Church graveyard, Nallur-in January, 2012-pic by Saba Thambi
It is hard to believe that twenty-five years have passed since Rajini was brutally gunned down at Thirunelvely, Jaffna on September 21st 1989 while cycling back home from the Jaffna University. She was Professor of Anatomy at the Jaffna Varsity medical faculty. The 35 year old mother of two daughters –Narmada and Sharika- was also a human rights activist, feminist, critic of narrow nationalism and opponent of irresponsible militarism.
The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC) yesterday filed six indictments against former Minister Ravi Karunanayake and Perpetual Treasuries Ltd. owner Arjun Aloysius at the Colombo High Court.
Both individuals have been charged under Section 19C of the Bribery Act, which concerns bribery in respect of Government business.
Today (16 September) is the 20th death anniversary of Mohammad Hussein Muhammad Ashraff, the legendary leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). He was the Cabinet Minister in charge of Shipping, Ports, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation in the Government of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga at the time of his death. He, along with 14 others, was killed in an air crash on 16 September 2000.
M.H.M. Ashraff had on that fateful morning boarded a Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) Mi-17 helicopter at the Police grounds in Bambalapitiya at about 9:30 am. Nine SLMC party officials and three bodyguards accompanied Ashraff. There were also two crew members from the SLAF. The flight destination was Ampara/Amparai.
Forty-five minutes later Air Traffic controllers lost radio contact with the helicopter being flown by squadron leader Shiran Perera. It was later discovered that the chopper had crashed over the Urakanda mountain range in the Aranayaka area in Kegalle District of Sabaragamuwa Province. Fifteen charred bodies were recovered from the burning wreckage. Ashraff’s funeral was held late night on the same day at Colombo’s Jawatte Muslim burial ground. He had earlier told family members that he should be buried within hours of his death. Continue reading ‘Legendary Muslim Congress “Thalaiver” MHM Ashraff and the Tamils of Sri Lanka’ »
Former Chief Justice Mohan Peiris has been picked to head the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations (UN) in New York, while senior journalist C.A. Chandraprema will go as Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, the Daily FT learns.
Peiris will replace Kshenuka Senewiratne, a career diplomat who headed the New York Mission since last August. She was recalled earlier this month.
The top spot at the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva has been vacant since last December, with Dayani Mendis as its Acting Permanent Representative. Chandraprema has been picked to fill this vacancy.
Their names have been set to the High Post Committee (HPC) of Parliament for confirmation, official sources said. Meanwhile the HPC is expected to consider six other nominees of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa named to head Sri Lanka overseas missions this week.
The government has announced that the draft 20th Amendment bill will be presented to parliament on Tuesday. It will be the same version that caught the country by surprise when it first made its appearance to the public on September 3. The extreme nature of the proposed amendment, which has been the cause of much disquiet, is epitomized by the power it seeks to give the President to sack the Prime Minister and ministers at his discretion and to dissolve parliament after a year of its election. Undoubtedly it was concerns within the ranks of those elected to parliament from within the government side itself that prompted Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to appoint a committee consisting of parliamentarians of stature to give their opinion on the proposed 20th Amendment and to suggest further amendments to it.
There are disturbing features about the draft 20th Amendment. The most significant is the overwhelming power it seeks to give the institution of the presidency by transferring the powers currently vested in other institutions to it. The proposed amendment immediately evoked protests from the opposition political parties and civil society and was soon followed by more subdued expressions of dissent from within the government itself. Government members have not openly criticized the erosion of parliamentary powers but instead appear to have chosen the option of stating their objections to less significant clauses in the proposed 20th Amendment. One of these is the removal of the ban on dual citizens from contesting for political office and the removal of the oath against promoting separatism in the country.
Former President Maithripala Sirisena had placed ex-Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando’s life at risk by issuing a media statement that the evidence given by the latter before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks was “malicious and fictitious”, Attorney-at-Law Dilshan Jayasuriya appearing for Fernando said yesterday.
Jayasuriya told the PCoI that by issuing that statement Sirisena had also undermined the PCoI.
Sirisena, on Sunday, issued a press release claiming that the testimony given by Fernando at the PCoI about his behavior was completely false.
Only the President had the power to give directions at the National Security Council (NSC) and former President Maithripala Sirisena never instructed those who attended its meetings to arrest NTJ leader Zahran Hashim during his tenure as Defence Secretary between November 2018 and April 2019, Hemasiri Fernando, yesterday, told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.
Fernando added that he had taken over as the Defence Secretary in November 2018 and no one had any idea where Zahran was hiding. If they could have arrested Zahran in 2018, the attack could have been prevented.
The Retired Judges’ Association (RJA) says it is “gravely perturbed” by the potential impact of the draft 20th Amendment on the constitutional separation of powers, particularly in relation to the selection and appointment of judges to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
In a letter to Justice Minister Ali Sabry, the association notes that as emphasised in the Commonwealth (Latimer House) principles on the three branches of government, an accountable and publicly transparent process of appointment of judges is integral to upholding the Rule of Law, engendering public confidence and dispensing justice.
Professional media industry bodies have raised concerns over certain clauses of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, saying it would have a detrimental impact on freedom of speech, expression and information in Sri Lanka.
The statement has been issued by the Sri Lanka Press Institute, the Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka, The Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka, the Free Media Movement of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association, the Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Unions, the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum, the Tamil Media Alliance and the South Asia Free Media Association.
Constitutions of democratic Republics should not be tailor made for individuals. Yet, Sri Lanka’s constitutional practice has been stubbornly reflective of this pattern, inclusive of the 19th Amendment and the proposed 20th Amendment alike.
Hypocritical homage to constitutional ideals
Veneration of the 19th Amendment by its proponents must give way to an understanding that playing to power politics of the day in sanctimoniously hypocritical homage to constitutional ideals while discarding these precepts in practice during 2015-2019 set the stage for the greatest threat that Sri Lanka faces to constitutional governance today.
That threat comes in the form of the draft 20th Amendment. What that teaches us is different to classical Aristotelian drama which turns on a fatal error of judgment of a single individual, bringing doom not only on that person but everyone else.
Here the error was not singular nor was it confined to the two comedic leading personalities forming the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe ill-fated coalition or their motley followers. Instead, the fault was collective. Supposedly impartial citizens’ groups did not speak out enough, did not criticise enough when democracy pledges of the ‘good governance’ coalition began unraveling, very early on with the first Central Bank bond scam followed by the second and then resulting in multiple failures of governance culminating in the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. That failure to maintain a steadfast focus on institutionally cementing the Rule of Law and bring a critical focus to counterbalance Colombo’s elite power games has cost us dearly. That much must be clearly acknowledged.
Former President Maithripala Sirisena, on April 24, 2019, had told former IGP Pujith Jayasundara that if the latter took the blame for the Easter Sunday bombings he would be given his pension and posted to any country of his choice as an ambassador, former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando yesterday told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.
Fernando said that Jayasundara had come to him for advice on the matter soon after Sirisena had made the offer. Fernando refused to advise him, given the sensitive nature of the proposal. “I told him that he should talk to his family members,” Fernando said.
Sri Lanka’s Tamil National Alliance (TNA), that chiefly represented the Tamils living in the north and east in the post-war decade, suffered a huge setback in the August general elections, losing six seats in Parliament. With the Alliance’s presence in the legislature having weakened and the Rajapaksas back in power at the Centre, that too with a thumping two-thirds, what are the prospects for TNA’s long-standing demand for a political solution? Alliance spokesman and Jaffna MP M.A. Sumanthiran weighs in…
The TNA has suffered a huge setback in the August parliamentary elections, and has ceded ground to both, hard-line Tamil nationalists and allies of the Rajapaksa government. What are the Alliance’s reflections?
It is a very serious setback. We have been reduced from 16 to 10 seats in parliament. This is not very different to the local authority election results of February 2018.
One of the primary reasons is that we supported the [Sirisena-Wickremesinghe] government in office from 2015 to 2019. The expectations of the people were very high then. They hoped that all their problems will be fully resolved during that period. Although there was substantial progress in most matters, all the issues [pending since the war ended] were not fully resolved. I think there was a lot of disappointment over that fact.
Even the political solution, which is a historic demand of the Tamil people, did not materialise by way of a new constitution that was promised. We made great progress on that front too, but finally the question is whether it was achieved or not. When it was not achieved, it was counted as a failure. In regard to the release of military-held lands, there were considerable gains. But overall, since the expectations were not met, we also suffered an anti-incumbency sentiment, although we sat in opposition right through that time.
Secondly, our party has been mainly, or one could say solely, looking for a political solution. We have been disregarding a lot of economic issues faced by our people. In that last five years we did try to address some of those economic issues, because the government in office was favourable to us, yet the people did not actually see the benefits realised. With the political solution also evading us, people who hoped that at least their economic lot would be made better were disappointed. There may be other reasons also, but I think primarily these are the two reasons that explain why we ceded ground on both sides – the hard-line Tamil nationalist side, who are looking for a final solution to the Tamil national question, and to government allies, who appealed to some of the people looking for better economic prospects.
All this unwanted fuss about the author or drafter of the 20A has led to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa making it clear he is the leader of the Government and the Pohottuva. Let’s have no doubts about it anymore. Let’s stop asking about any role that the Justice Minister Ali Sabry or Law Pundit and Education Minister G. L. Peiris had in this.
The five-member Cabinet Committee appointed by PM Mahinda Rajapaksa has also been pushed aside. This clearly shows the declining power-position of Rajavasala Mahinda himself. We are in the reality of a rising authoritarian rule, with a path to what the Pohottuva champions consider to be a “Democratic Dictatorship”.
It has all to do with the two-thirds majority in parliament. We are moving to the total sovereignty of the people-elected President … the stuff of a monarchy of the past that is being revived more than 70 years after independence from British colonial rule.
The assurance of Democracy in the role of the 20A comes from our acting Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Dayani Mendis, who told the 45th Session of the Human Rights Council that 20A would be discussed and debated in Parliament, following a complete democratic process, where all the stakeholders would have the opportunity to present their views.
What she did not say was that the final decision lay with the ruling majority of the Rajavasala Power Holders. She also said that the UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s comments on the 20A were unwarranted and pre-judgmental, based on presumption. What a wonderful diplomatic analysis of a rising threat to Democracy in this island.
The President’s gear-shift on 20A, which showed flexibility, followed by his shift-back to the original hawkish position and a posture of rigidity, made nonsense of some basic assumptions of the Opposition, and pointed to the imperative of correcting these dangerously flawed notions. What are the lessons of the recent dramatic turnaround?
It disproved the nonsensical assumption that the GR regime is a replay of the post-18th amendment MR regime and/or the post-1978 JR regime.
It was in the MR second term that he weathered a storm at the longest Cabinet meeting in post-independent Sri Lankan history, and pushed through the decision to hold elections to the Northern Provincial Council, while knowing the government would lose. Can anyone imagine GR doing that?
JR see-sawed from 1984 to 1987 on devolution because of crosscurrents in his Cabinet. Can anyone imagine GR doing likewise?
The GR regime is of a very different type. The Opposition must avoid the fatal error of those who regarded Germany in the 1930s as yet another rightwing, reactionary, conservative regime or the not-so-fatal error (unless you are a black youngster) of those who thought that Donald Trump’s administration was yet another Republican one, unaware that the far-Right or the Alt-Right is not just another conservative Right.
“When it is laid down as a maxim, that a king can do no wrong, it places him in a state of similar security with that of idiots and persons insane, and responsibility is out of the question with respect to himself” – Thomas Paine, ‘Rights of Man’
It is what it is. The 20th Amendment is a bill tailor-made for the Rajapaksa family.
Like the brand new Weeraketiya exit on the Southern Highway.
The Weeraketiya exit was not in the Southern Highway’s original plan or blueprint. It was constructed, reportedly at a ‘risky bent’, in three days, with no environmental impact assessment (The Morning – 20.3.2020). That exit has only one reason to exist, to make it easier and faster for the Rajapaksa family to get to their ancestral pile in Medamulana.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised to turn Sri Lanka into a country that works. The conditionality in small print said a country that works for the Rajapaksas. That promise is being kept. From the Weeraketiya exit to the proposed 20th Amendment, Sri Lanka is now a country working overtime for the benefit of the Rajapaksas family.
If passed in its current form, the 20th Amendment will enable the Rajapaksas to gather into their collective fists every tendril of power, and to bequeath that power seamlessly from brother to brother and uncle to nephew. The 20th Amendment not only renders President Gotabaya omnipotent; it also opens the door to a President Basil and a President Namal who will be equally omnipotent.
What is really surprising about the 20th Amendment is that anyone is surprised by it. Given what the Rajapaksas are, given their commitment to familial rule and dynastic succession, what other kind of amendment could they have created?
20th Amendment will return Sri Lanka to where she was constitutionally after the passage of the 18th Amendment.
The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna’s (SLPP) decision to revisit the draft 20th Amendment (20A) to the Constitution follows multiple dissensions over it both within the party and its alliance. Although the draft 20A was cleared by the Cabinet without objections and was even published in the gazette, the moment it came to the public domain, it ran into very rough weather inside the SLPP, the SLPP-lead alliance, the Opposition and the media.
This resulted in Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa appointing a committee to go into the controversial issues and submit a report to him by September 15.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would have been surprised when the Sinhala nationalist theoretician and Mahinda Rajapaksa acolyte, Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekere, and a Sinhala nationalist lawyer, Manohara de Silva, protested against some of the provisions of the draft 20A. Left with no option, Gotabaya was compelled to tell them he would issue an alternative draft.
Today marks the 20th death anniversary of M.H.M. Ashraff, the Founder Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). He died on 16 September 2000, when the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) helicopter he was travelling in crashed in the Aranayaka area in Kegalle District, leaving a void in the political sphere of the country, in which he was a rising star. In an exclusive interview with the Daily FT, Aman Ashraff, the son of the late SLMC Leader, spoke on a wide range of issues and gave his views on his father’s death, over which many questions remain unanswered. He also spoke on the challenges the community faces in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks and the need for all to work towards building a Sri Lankan identity.
Here are excerpts of the interview:
Q: The official versions of the helicopter crash that caused your father’s death say it was accidental. Twenty years later how do you see the tragedy?
After 20 years, having observed the dynamics since his demise, I find it hard to accept that it was an accident. There may have been a lot more to it than that. Of course, I have no evidence or anything substantial to hold onto and say, ‘This is there, so how do you say that?’ I do not intend to accuse anybody, but as an individual, not so much as his son, I feel there was more than meets the eye.
Q: If so, who do you think would want him out of the way or who do you perceive as his enemies?
He was certainly on the LTTE hit list. I would not go so far as to say he had enemies, but he had become the first ethnic politician to embrace national politics. And the speed at which his journey in national politics was taking off, he seemed to be garnering a significant amount of support from the populace and I suppose that may have been a threat to others, whosoever they may have been.
He was a very charismatic individual. He was capable of communicating in all three languages. His versatility was not just in politics but also his knowledge in law, being a President’s Counsel, which was significant. In a branding sense, it was a very appealing package to look up to and even accept as a leader. This could have ruffled feathers, but again, who is to say without evidence in hand?
Any collective, especially a minority community, is in the most serious kind of political trouble when its smartest representatives say things that are the exact opposite of smart—and that’s a polite euphemism—at exactly the wrong time.
Take MP M.A. Sumanthiran, quoted by Meera Srinivasan of The Hindu as follows:
‘… “While it is true that the draft 20th Amendment seeks to enhance executive powers, just as the 18th Amendment did, we should not lose sight of the need to abolish the extremely problematic Executive Presidency system itself. The Opposition to the draft Amendment should be centred on this,” Sumanthiran said, adding: “By focusing on the technicalities of the 19th Amendment, the Rajapaksas are trying to quietly erase the historic pledge from public discourse.” …’
Writing in The Indian Express, Sumanthiran says: “The Tamil people opposed the Executive Presidency both for its centralisation of power and also for its corrupting influence on democracy.”
The record shows that every single piece of discriminatory legislation, and every single discriminatory policy measure, from Sinhala Only to Standardisation, took place under the Westminster model, and none occurred under the Executive Presidency, while the 13th Amendment was passed under the Presidential system. And yet, “the Tamil people” or the TNA, or simply Sumanthiran, opposed the Executive Presidency and still do/does.
The 13th Amendment, the Indo-Lanka Accord and the very principle of provincial devolution stand in jeopardy. The electoral system will almost certainly be changed so that the system of proportional representation is replaced by a loaded dice. Any such constitutional change introduced by the regime, will win a huge majority at a referendum. The Tamils are cornered in a political dead-end.
Nearly 120 State-owned companies including the debt-ridden SriLankan Airlines will be exempt from Government audit under the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution.
Among scores of other business entities to be excluded are Lanka Electricity Company (LECO), Sri Lanka Insurance, Lanka Hospitals PLC, Litro Gas Lanka Ltd, Lanka Sathosa, multiple plantation and electricity companies and Lanka Coal Company Ltd.
The draft proposal this week drew strong protest from the Sri Lanka Audit Service Association (SLASA). When State-owned companies, in which the Government is majority shareholder, are audited by private entities, the reports are not required to be submitted to Parliament, the union said. This would undermine Parliamentary financial oversight.
Five United Nations Special Rapporteurs have written to the Government of Sri Lanka, raising serious concerns that journalist Dharisha Bastians is being targeted for her writing and especially for her work to defend human rights, saying the continued harassment could deter other journalists from reporting on issues of public interest and human rights.
The UN Special Rapporteurs holding mandates for freedom of expression, privacy, human rights defenders, extra judicial, summary or arbitrary executions and peaceful assembly and association told the Government of Sri Lanka they were seriously concerned that the seizure of personal and professional equipment and the exposure of Bastians’ call data records, could adversely affect her work and seriously endanger and compromise her sources.
“The reported acts of harassment and violation of the right to privacy against Ms. Bastians may deter other journalists from reporting on issues of public interest, and human rights, which are particularly pertinent at this time of global pandemic,” the joint letter to the Government noted.
Newly-appointed United National Party (UNP) Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene yesterday assured that he was ready to take up the challenge of rebuilding the party.
Speaking to the press following a religious function at Gangaramaya Temple yesterday morning, Wijewardene called on all those who once supported the party to rally around the green banner, and restore the UNP.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us; it is a challenge and I am ready to face it. We need to rebuild this great party. We have to restore confidence in our party members and give hope to the public. We have to rally all who support us under the UNP banner again,” Wijewardene said.
Former State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene was elected Deputy Leader at a secret ballot today.
UNP Legal Secretary Nissanka Nanayakkara told journalists that a secret ballot was conducted when both Mr. Wijewardene and Assistant Leader Ravi Karunanayake informed the working committee that they would contest for the post.
Mr. Wijewardene was apparently elected as the Deputy Leader with a majority of 18 votes. Accordingly, Mr. Wijewardene polled 28 votes while Mr. Karunanayake polled 10 votes.
It was reported that Former Ministers Navin Dissanayake and Vajira Abeywardene did not contest for the Deputy Leader’s post.
(The writer is President’s Counsel Member of Parliament for Jaffna and spokesman for Tamil National Alliance)
The Basic Structure Doctrine as developed by the Indian Supreme Court has not found favour in Sri Lankan constitutional law. However, the Sri Lankan Constitution (2nd Republican Constitution of 1978) provides a clear procedure on how the provisions of the Constitution can be changed.
The Constitution essentially recognises two categories of articles/provisions — those which can be amended by a two-thirds majority of members of Parliament and those which can only be amended if approved by the people at a referendum in addition to being approved by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The latter are often referred to as “entrenched provisions of the Constitution.”
These entrenched provisions often gain increased importance when a constitutional amendment is proposed. This is because the interpretation provided by the Supreme Court on the scope and meaning of these entrenched provisions, determines the fate of a constitutional amendment.
In the 42 years the Constitution has been in operation, not a single constitutional amendment or act of Parliament, for which the Supreme Court has mandated a referendum, has been submitted to the people for approval.
Instead, governments have preferred to shelve the proposed amendment or law or make changes to the draft law to bring it in compliance with the Supreme Court’s determination.
அமிர் அல்லது அமுதர் என்று வாஞ்சையுடன் அழைக்கப்பட்ட நன்கு பிரபல்யம் வாய்ந்த இலங்கை தமிழ் அரசியல் தலைவர் அப்பாப்பிள்ளை அமிர்தலிங்கத்தின் 93ஆவது பிறந்த தினம் அண்மையில் (ஆகஸ்ட் 26) வந்துபோனது.
அப்பாப்பிள்ளை அமிர்தலிங்கம் (26 ஆகஸ்ட் 1927 – 13 ஜூலை 1989)
நான்கு தசாப்த காலம் நீடித்த சிறப்பு மிகு அரசியல் வாழ்வில் அமிர்தலிங்கம் 20வருடங்கள் பாராளுமன்ற உறுப்பினராக பணியாற்றினார். சமஷ்டி கட்சி என்று அறியப்பட்ட இலங்கை தமிழரசுக் கட்சியினதும் தமிழ் ஐக்கிய விடுதலை கூட்டணியினதும் முக்கியமான தலைவர் அவர். 1956 – 1970வரை வட்டுக்கோட்டை தொகுதியில் தமிழரசுக் கட்சி பாராளுமன்ற உறுப்பினராகவும் 1977 – 1983 வரை காங்கேசன்துறை தொகுதியின் தமிழர் ஐக்கிய விடுதலை கூட்டணியின் பாராளுமன்ற உறுப்பினராகவும் அவர் இருந்தார். 1977 – 1983 வரை இலங்கை பாராளுமன்றத்தில் எதிர்க்கட்சித் தலைவராக பதவிவகித்த அமிர்தலிங்கம் 1989 ஜுலை 13 விடுதலைப் புலிகள் இயக்கத்தினரால் கொடூரமான முறையில் கொலை செய்யப்பட்டபோது அவர் தமிழர் ஐக்கிய விடுதலை முன்னணியின் தேசியப் பட்டியல் உறுப்பினராக பாராளுமன்றத்தில் அங்கம் வகித்தார்.
அமிர்தலிங்கமும் அவரது துணைவியார் மங்கையர்க்கரசியும் தனிப்பட்ட வாழ்விலும் பொது வாழ்விலும் பிரிக்க முடியாத இணையராக விளங்கினர். மங்கையர்க்கரசியின் வாழ்வு அவரது கணவரின் அரசியல் வாழ்வுடன் என்றுமே விடுவிக்க முடியாத பிணைப்பாக இருந்தது. அவரை பற்றிக் குறிப்பிடாமல் அமிர்தலிங்கத்தை பற்றி எழுத முடியாது. சிவபெருமானும் பார்வதியும்போல அமிர்தலிங்கம் சிவமாகவும் மங்கையர்க்கரசி சக்தியாகவும் வாழ்ந்தனர். Continue reading ‘ஆற்றல் மிகு தமிழ்த் தலைவர் அப்பாப்பிள்ளை அமிர்தலிங்கத்தின் வாழ்வும் காலமும்’ »
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has assured civil society groups, the National Joint Committee (NJC) and Yuthukama that the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution would be rescinded to pave the way for a new draft.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave this assurance at a meeting with Manohara de Silva, PC and lawmaker Gevindu Cumaratunga last Friday (11) evening at the Presidential Secretariat. Manohara de Silva is also a member of a special committee headed by Romesh de Silva, PC, to formulate a new Constitution.
The meeting took place close on the heels of Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, on behalf of the Federation of National Organizations (FNO) urging President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to alter the 20th Amendment.
Earlier, the SLPP said that changes, if necessary, could be made at the Committee Stage in Parliament.
The SLPP also dismissed the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) threat to move the Supreme Court against the 20th Amendment on the basis the Attorney General cleared the 20th Amendment draft.
In 2005, when Gotabaya Rajapaksa took over as Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary at the request of the newly elected President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the country’s armed forces were in a depleted, ill-equipped and dispirited state. They were being outwitted and outmaneuvered by the intrepid and innovative LTTE.
The Lankan Army, Navy and the Air force were short of manpower and suitable equipment. Their strategies and tactics were ill-suited to the new challenges posed by the LTTE, which kept coming up with innovations in asymmetric warfare to the discomfiture of the Lankan tri-forces.
Successive Governments contributed to the mess by their lackadaisical policies on war and peace, and by being subservient to external powers that poked their noses with their own ends in view. Adding insult to injury, a Sri Lanka which was battling for survival was being hammered internationally for denying minority and human rights.
But come Gotabaya Rajapaksa to the helm as Defense Secretary, a sea change occurred in strategy, tactics, manpower, leadership, training and equipment. With the full backing of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Treasury Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, Lanka’s demoralised armed forces were energised to the optimum. Continuous battlefield successes boosted troop morale and helped increase recruitment.
Gotabaya’s strategy of shelving the defensive approach and replacing it by an uninterrupted and multi-pronged assault on the enemy sealed the fate of the LTTE in less than three years.
As public concern over Sri Lanka’s draft 20th Amendment to the Constitution increases exponentially since this amendment was gazetted on 2nd September 2020, so do the sheer absurdity of the justifications thereto. Cunning and deplorably simplistic explanations are put forward by some in Government ranks.
The President as a ‘super-constitutional’ creature
It is bad enough that the Justice Minister asks as to what is the point of constitutional commissions when the narcotic trade cannot be eliminated in Sri Lanka? He needs to be reminded that the Constitution does not set up oversight agencies to curb the underworld. For that, he must look to the police who are hand in glove with politicians in profiting off these atrocities.
He also questions as to the point of having commission reports if these are not implemented? If so, the fault therein lies with the implementers; ie; the political authority. Commissions, constitutional or otherwise, can only act within their mandated parameters.
Less than a month into its five-year term, the Ninth Parliament of Sri Lanka achieved world-wide notoriety this week when a murder convict on death row was sworn in as a member of the august assembly, amid jeers and a walkout from Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MPs.
The swearing-in of Ratnapura district Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MP-elect Premalal Jayasekara was the first item on the agenda when sittings began on Tuesday (8). He was sentenced to death by the Ratnapura High Court on July 31 for the 2015 murder of an opposition activist, but was elected to Parliament at the August 5 election.
May I begin by expressing my appreciation to the Kandy Professionals Association for embarking on this very timely initiative of meeting every month, on a Sunday, to discuss in depth the issues involving constitutional reform, and the way forward in our country. I consider this an exercise of immediate relevance and value.
The decision by the Government to present to the Cabinet of Ministers the text of the 20th Amendment to modify significantly the contents of the 19th Amendment and, after obtaining the approval of the Cabinet, to move the Amendment in Parliament, has attracted considerable public interest and discussion. As a preliminary to this, I think it is important to explain to the country the need for this. The public should have a clear understanding of the rationale underpinning this reform. This is all the more necessary because of the elaborate myths which have been assiduously cultivated, skilfully spread, by vested interests throughout the spectrum of our society.
The core of their argument is that the retention of the 19th Amendment is essential to preserve seminal values which we all believe in – the Rule of Law, independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers. They contend that removal or reform of the 19th Amendment is an act of treachery and that all must stand firm against it. If this is allowed to happen, so they contend, the result will be a mortal blow struck against human rights, democracy and seminal institutions including Parliament. The argument, set forth in the most emotional terms, needs to be assessed in the light of cold reason. What is the truth of this? Nothing is more crucial at this point than to inform the public mind about the reality of the current situation.
It is strenuously contended by interested parties that the 19th Amendment brought immense benefits in its wake, and that it has to be protected at any cost. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is for the entrenchment of narrow vested interests that this intricately orchestrated campaign, fortified by abundant resources and closely knit organization, has been launched. Why is 20A necessary? For a variety of reasons, no doubt. But chief among them, indisputably, is the maintenance of law and order – essential as it is for the protection of life and limb. This takes precedence over all other obligations – development in the economic, social and cultural fields.
This, then, is the principal and indispensable obligation of the State. If this duty is not fulfilled, all else become illusory.
Early this month, the Sri Lankan cabinet approved a draft 20th amendment to the constitution, which would give sweeping dictatorial powers to the executive president if approved by the parliament. President Gotabhaya Rajapakse’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) government is planning to ram the bill through parliament in October.
Sri Lanka’s attorney general has given legal approval to the amendment and ruled that it can be imposed without a referendum, as constitutionally required, if enacted by a two-thirds majority of MPs.
The SLPP won about 145 seats in the 225-member parliament at the August 5 election, and is expected to secure, via backroom wheeling and dealing, the support of enough parliamentarians for a two-thirds majority.
Rajapakse and his SLPP campaigned during the presidential and general elections for repealing the 19th amendment of the constitution, which restricted certain presidential powers. This was necessary, they claimed, in order to establish “strong and stable” government to “develop” the country.
This is a lie. President Rajapakse, who came to power by hypocritically exploiting popular opposition to the previous regime of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, wants dictatorial powers in order to take on the working class. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the country’s economic, social and political crisis. Anger is rising amongst workers and the poor against escalating government and employer attacks on jobs, wages and living conditions.
When the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa got the unanimous approval of his parliamentary group for legislation to ban cow slaughter, it was not the first attempt to have the practice banned. Despite toying with the idea of banning cow slaughter from time to time, no government has thought it fit to legislate on it.
This is probably because cow slaughter is entangled with larger issues, which have been religious, social, economic and political. Of these, the most important one has been Buddhist-Muslim relations. The cow slaughter issue has tended to come up when these relations are strained, and brushed under the carpet when they are fine.
There is a clear duality in the prime minister’s decision on a ban on cattle slaughter. The cattle are slaughtered for the purpose of beef consumption. But the new slaughter ban will support beefeaters with imports of beef from abroad.
This duality may be part of the Lotus Bud or Podujana Peramuna political thinking, such as its desire for dual citizens to be able to contest parliamentary elections.
We are now told that the cattle slaughter ban move is not a government decision, but only of the parliamentary group, and further discussions are necessary. Will these discussions be to stop or slow down the ban, or get the best and most profitable decisions on the import of beef? Just keep guessing.
In an interview held in one of the TV channels on 07.09.2020 ending at midnight, Justice Minister Ali Sabry said that the National Procurement Commission (NPC), established among the several independent commissions under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, has not served any useful purpose during the 5 years of its existence and is a redundant organization. Perhaps during his short tenure as the Justice Minister, he appears to have not grasped the importance of the NPC and hence this write up.
NEED FOR PROCUREMENT GUIDELINES
Sri Lanka’s budget for 2019 has been LKR 2,365 Billion for capital and LKR 2,178 Billion for recurrent expenditure according to Central Bank of Sri Lanka Annual Report for 2018 (Table 100). Other than the payments on salaries and interest & capital repayment on loans, the rest will have to be spent on procuring goods and services both by the government institutions and semi-government institutions. Hence, it is important that there are norms and guidelines in place for incurring such expenditure to ensure that public funds are not siphoned out either by officials or by suppliers.
Originally, the Department of Public Finance (DPF) functioning under the Treasury played the role of managing the expenditure in public sector organizations and had the responsibility for a sound public finance regulatory framework which improves transparency, accountability and service delivery in the public sector. The DPF has issued several guidelines for the benefit of public sector organizations outlining procedures and methodologies for the procurement of goods and services.
However, media reports reveal that more often than not, public sector organizations act in violation of these guidelines causing millions of rupee losses to the government. One reason may be that DPF lacks a mechanism to monitor whether these organizations strictly follow these guidelines or not. Any shortfalls generally come to light only when their finances are audited when it is too late to take any corrective measures.
Military occupied lands in the North and East, which have tactical importance will not be given back to the people in view of national security as it is directly related to national economy, State Minister Sarath Weerasekara said today.
He told Parliament that 90 per cent of the military occupied lands have already been handed over to the people and that grounds of tactical importance would never be given back to the people as long as people with separatist agendas like C.V. Wigneswaran were there.
A Sri Lankan politician sentenced to death on murder charges was sworn in as a member of the country’s Parliament on Tuesday, escorted out of prison to take his oath amid jeers from opposition legislators.
The lawmaker, Premalal Jayasekara, was convicted in late July of opening fire on an election rally in 2015, killing an opposition activist. But the conviction and death sentence were handed down just days after Mr. Jayasekara had filed papers to run for re-election. Then his party swept to victory.
The decision to allow Mr. Jayasekara to conduct his parliamentary duties as a member of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party is the latest episode to unnerve opposition politicians and activists since Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidential election last November.
A Sri Lankan politician sentenced to death for murder has been escorted from prison to parliament to become the first convict to be sworn in as an MP, amid heckles from the opposition.
Premalal Jayasekara, 45, from the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party (SLPP), was convicted in August of murdering an opposition activist after opening fire at a 2015 election rally. As his conviction and sentence came after nominations for the 5 August poll, he was able to contest the election and take up his seat.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has proposed banning the slaughter of cattle for beef, according to the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP, or People’s Front).
Addressing the party’s parliamentary group at a meeting on Tuesday, Mr. Rajapaksa — while discussing the agenda for the week — made the proposal, Cabinet spokesman and Minister of Mass Media Keheliya Rambukwella said. Asked what the MPs said in response, Mr. Rambukwella told The Hindu: “They applauded. They appeared to welcome such a move.”
However, there is no policy decision on the proposal yet, he added. “The PM was just seeking the party legislators’ views on a possible ban.”
Apparently for the first time since the presidential election on November 16, 2019, dissension has emerged among the members or the groups of the Government. That is on the content of the bill titled ‘20th Amendment to the Constitution’ which primarily seeks to roll back the 19th Amendment.
The ruling party initiated action in this respect at its very first Cabinet meeting after the victory at the August 5 general elections. The Cabinet endorsed a concept paper in this regard immediately, and it approved the relevant draft legislation on September 2. It has to be presented to Parliament after two weeks upon announcement in the gazette.
Fundamentally, the ruling party has intended to undo the provisions in the 19th Amendment, bar four areas. If it is passed in Parliament and signed into law by the Speaker, the president would get back the sole authority to appoint the Cabinet, a task that should currently be done in consultation with the prime minister. Also, the present ceiling on the size of the Cabinet is sought to be done away with, enabling the president to determine it depending on the requirement.
The Government parliamentary group which met yesterday decided to appoint a seven-member committee to study the 20th Amendment to the Constitution after constituent parties expressed reservations over some contents in the draft Bill.
“If we are to advance as a united and prosperous Sri Lanka, political parties based on race and religion should be banned.” This was the rallying cry of the very pragmatic religious leader Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith. However, we should remind ourselves that this ideal was achieved, not by law but by consensus, 74 years ago when the United National Party was formed under the leadership of Don Stephen Senanayake on 6th September 1946. The original partnership of the Ceylon National Congress, Sinhala Maha Sabha and All Ceylon Muslim League was joined later by the All Ceylon Tamil Congress. Unfortunately, that ideal was disregarded over time and the great institution that offered shelter to all Sri Lankans, irrespective of the differing identities imparted by an accident of birth, has hit rock-bottom shortly before it reached its 75th year of existence.
Should the UNP be resurrected, could it be done and, if so, who could lead that revival” These are the questions people ask themselves. Although some commentators are already writing the UNP off, mostly because of the pathetic way in which the present leadership responded to the unexpectedly humiliating defeat, I would argue that the UNP should be resurrected and it could be done with proper leadership.
The UNP has risen from the ashes not once but twice before thans to its former leaders. On the two previous occasions the UNP faced the voter as a united party, but last month it had to compete with its off-shoot and the die-hard UNP voters were confused. They responded in different ways; some abstained from voting, some others spoilt their votes in sheer frustration while most others voted for the SJB. Will they stand by the UNP clone? Or, will they revert to the UNP? That will depend on the performance of the two parties, both not doing too well at present.
Governance-wise, the 20th Amendment can be described as a regressive step. In my opinion, with the enactment of the 20th Amendment, one era of Sri Lanka will come to an end.
The era that ends with the introduction of the 20th Amendment cannot be considered as an era of democracy. Similarly, the new era that begins with the 20th Amendment too, cannot expect to be an era in which the system of democracy will thrive in its true spirit except that it would herald a period in which a system of dictatorship will have more weight.
There cannot be a qualitative difference except a quantitative difference between the period ending with the 19th Amendment and the one that begins with the 20th Amendment. Since independence, Sri Lanka has generally been regarded as a country which has held elections continuously. That is why many consider Sri Lanka to be a democratic country.
Although the rulers who have come to power from time to time have been elected by popular vote, it cannot be said that much of the country’s affairs since independence have been carried out in a democratic milieu.
Minister of State for Fisheries Kanchana Wijesekera told Parliament yesterday (09) that the Security Council and the Navy had been informed of an increase in the number of Indian fishing vessels in Sri Lankan territorial waters during the past few days, and measures would be taken to beef up security in the Mannar sea area and arrest the Indian poachers encroaching on Sri Lankan territorial waters.
Former chairman of Arachchikattuwa Pradeshiya Sabha Jagath Samantha has been found to be the person behind the recent environmental disaster in the Anavilundawa sanctuary.
The panel of specialists appointed to probe into the incident by Wildlife and Forest Conservation Minister C.B. Rathnayake, has revealed this.
Jagath Samantha is also the brother of State minister r of Rural and Divisional Drinking Water Supply Projects Development Sanath Nishantha, who had ironically stated to journalists that he was not connected to the incident.
The committee report was tabled in Parliament yesterday (09) and concluded that the shrimp cultivation centre was contracted for reconstruction through Poruwathotage Sujith Nishantha Fernando the backhoe driver by Warnakulasuriya Nishantha Fernando, adding that the project was undertaken on the request by former chairman of Arachchikattuwa Pradeshiya Sabha Jagath Samantha.
The main problem with the 19th Amendment was not sourced in the legislation but in the illegitimacy of the political context: The Leader of the Opposition (from 2015 until 2019) was the TNA Leader who commanded only a minority of seats in the Opposition benches. Everything that was born in that Parliament was of questionable legitimacy as far as the Sinhala majority was concerned.
There were problems intrinsic to 19A too. They could easily have been rectified by ‘keyhole’ laser surgery. Power pivoted too far from the elected President towards the PM elected on a more parochial basis. That could have been corrected. Even the inclusion of unaccountable ‘civil society’, discredited in the eyes of the people, could have been excised from the Constitutional Council. The Ministry of Defence could have been vested once again in the President. The power of the President to dissolve Parliament could have been restored to a point between the original one year and the amended four years.
There was dysfunctionality on the national security front indirectly due to 19A, but it is a lie that the Independent Commissions as such, including the Constitutional Council, were an impediment to national security. If they were, how did President Mahinda Rajapaksa win the war with the 17th Amendment in place, when earlier Presidents could not, even when untrammelled by the 17th Amendment?
The Audit Service Commission and the Procurement Commission have been deleted by the draft 20th Amendment. Doubtless a purely technocratic streamlining of administration, making for greater efficiency and cleaner government.
Instead of a rebalance through re-set, the 19th amendment has been decapitated and disposed of. The 20th Amendment is indicative of the “spirit of the laws”, the logic of the coming Constitution.
(this Article was first Posted on 22 January 2016.It is being re-posted in view of its topical importance in the present context)
Imagine a scenario where no one in the country would be allowed to slaughter a cow. With religious fervour firing the imagination of many to call for such a ban, this could very likely be the scenario in the near future.
The issue here however is not religious and more to do with basic economics. With government announcing its vision to be self sufficient in milk production by 2016, the local dairy industry is geared up for major expansion which also means there would be many more cows in its future. A possible ban could not only leave us with a lot of old cows to deal with, but it could also be detrimental to the economics of all farmers, be they small or large.
Furthermore, letting cattle simply roam free as a solution for the farmer not having to look after the cows, when they are not profitable, could create serious damage to local flora and fauna as competition for food resources increase between cattle and wildlife. Unrestricted grazing is also known to cause serious damage to the environment. Then, there is also the question of public nuisance. Are we to become like India, where local cows compete with traffic on main roads?
All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) Jaffna District MP Gajen Ponnambalam told Parliament yesterday that people in the North and East are overburdened by loans and are caught up, not in a debt trap but a ‘death trap”, and called on the government to implement progressive policies to protect the economies of the war battered population in these districts.
“People affected by war for over 30 years were asked to compete with the rest of the country with absolutely no effort to try and create a level playing field. What was needed was to create a situation where you can have some progressive policies to declare the North East as “war affected areas” to protect the people’s economies and allow those economies to grow to some point where they can compete with the rest of the country but none of that was done,” Ponnambalam said.
The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) yesterday severely criticised Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena for allowing Parliamentarian Premalal Jayasekara, who was convicted of murder ahead of last month’s Parliamentary Election, to take oaths despite strong objections by Opposition members.
Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Ratnapura District MP Premalal Jayasekara, alias ‘Choka Malli’, and two others were found guilty of shooting one person to death and critically injuring two others during the 2015 Presidential Election campaign. They were sentenced to death by the Ratnapura High Court in the lead-up to the August General Election. Opposition members objected to the move, and wore black scarves or “sataka” to show their displeasure. The Opposition members also staged a walk-out in protest after Jayasekara took oaths.
“Today was a most unfortunate day for parliamentary democracy in Sri Lanka. The Speaker, in spite of strong objections by us, allowed a convicted murderer to take oaths as a Member of Parliament,” Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella said at a press conference held last evening. He was joined by SJB Parliamentarian Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka.
There are legal grounds to seek a referendum on the proposed 20 th. Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution, says M.A.Sumanthiran, spokesman of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and a leading Supreme Court lawyer.
According to Sumanthiran, the 20A seeks to change the basic principles embedded in the constitution. It gives all powers to the Executive President without any checks and balances. This is tantamount to changing the basic structure of the constitution. And if the basic features are to be changed, the amendment bill will have to be submitted to a referendum, Sumanthiran said.
A murder convict, elected from Sri Lanka’s southern Ratnapura district, was escorted from prison to Parliament on Tuesday as he took the oath as MP amid opposition protests.
Days before the August 5 general election, Premalal Jayasekara, a member of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP of People’s Front), was sentenced to death for murdering an opposition activist at a 2015 election rally.
Unable to attend the inaugural session of the legislature following the elections — since prison authorities refused him permission — Mr. Jayasekara petitioned the Court of Appeal that on Monday issued an interim order allowing him to attend parliamentary sessions. He has also appealed against the conviction and the death sentence.
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan has written to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa alleging that a Buddhist monk, who is a member of the Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province, had threatened a group of farmers in the Thiriyai area in the Kuchchaveli Divisional Secretary’s Division in the Trincomalee District.
Sampanthan said that the reverend monk, residing in the Arisimalai Buddhist temple, has threatened a group of farmers and prohibited them from farming on their private lands and other lands, for which they hold a Government permit.
When the Sri Lankan government recently gazetted the draft 20th Amendment (20 A) to the Constitution, it was merely keeping an election promise — to repeal the 19th Amendment of 2015 that clipped the Executive President’s unfettered powers, in turn empowering Parliament. With the necessary two-third majority on their side, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government is now closer to enacting it.
However, Opposition parties are strongly opposing the move that, they fear, will take the country back by a decade, to the days of the 18th Amendment.
Brought in by former President and current Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010, it added wide-ranging powers and sweeping immunity to the President’s office, while removing its term limit. Among the very few key features that the 20th Amendment Bill retains from the 19th Amendment are the five-year terms for the President and Parliament, and the two-term limit to presidency.
By Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel
The Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution Bill (20A) is in the public domain. If I were to describe it in one sentence — 20A seeks to take the country backwards to the 2010-2015 period. The only features introduced by 19A that would survive if 20A is passed in its present form would be the five-year terms of the President and Parliament, the Presidential term-limit and the fundamental right to access of information (RTI.
Several summaries of 20A have been published and I do not intend providing another. Instead, I will highlight its adverse impact on democratic governance and its prejudicial effects on the sovereignty of the People and argue that 20A needs the approval of the People at a referendum.
Dr. Colvin R. De Silva described the system of government under the 1978 Constitution as a constitutional presidential dictatorship dressed in the raiment of a parliamentary democracy. With 18A, the executive presidency in Sri Lanka became one of the strongest and vilest, if not the strongest and vilest, presidential systems in the ‘democratic’ world. Now, 20A seeks to reverse the gains of 19A and take the country backwards.
19A has its shortcomings, mainly due to the decision taken by the Yahapalanaya government not to completely abolish the presidential system of government, the dilution of the draft that went to Cabinet due to pressure from parties within the Government (read Sirisena-led SLFP and JHU) and concessions made to the Opposition in return for its support to obtain the required two-thirds majority. The experiences under 19A clearly show the need to completely abolish the Presidential form of government and move towards a Parliamentary form, not to go backwards.
Controversial and provocative statements made by the Tamil Makkal Thesiya Koottani (TMTK) MP and former Northern Province Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran are likely to result in a hardening of the majority Sinhala community’s stand on the contentious 13 th.Amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution.
The 13 A, enacted in 1987 at India’s insistence, gives Sri Lanka’s provinces a modicum of autonomy through devolution of power. However, the dominant view among the Sinhalas has always been that the 13A was an imposition by India and that it should be cast away at the earliest. But the Tamils, who bitterly opposed the 13A from 1987 to 2009 (in that period they were hooked on the dream of securing a fully independent Tamil Eelam) are now wanting it desperately.
The Tamils are now seized by the fear that the current Gotabaya Rajapaksa government is capable of jettisoning the 13A lock, stock and barrel, depriving the Tamils of what little autonomy they have under 13A.
When Justice AP Shah remarked recently that, ‘India is moving towards some form of elected autocracy’, he may have been speaking for the entire region and perhaps, swathes of the world in turmoil as it were.
Returning Sri Lanka ‘forward to the past’
But the fact that we are not the only comfortless creatures facing perversions of democratic governance is cold wisdom as Sri Lanka confronts another constitutional amendment drafted to suit political ambitions of men in power and their doubtlessly eager-to-please legal minders. Inflicted with some of those very same ills, the ‘yahapalanaya’ pioneered 19th Amendment spontaneously imploded as a President and a Prime Minister bickered. We should have learnt from that experiment which cost the country dearly and corrected those internal contradictions while preserving its admirable features.
Instead, the draft 20th Amendment to the Constitution proposes a travesty of concentration of power in the Executive Presidency. This Bill is virtually an inexpert ‘cut and paste’ job of the 18th Amendment, complete to the shade of making the same typographical errors in that amendment. It differs on three specific points. Retention of the two term limit of the Presidency is in line with the original formulation of Article 31(2) of the 1978 Constitution which was done away with by the 18th Amendment. That concession along with keeping the 19th Amendment’s five year duration of the Presidency and the Parliament and the constitutional right to information is certainly positive.
Sri Lanka is in the process of sending new envoys to three of its most important diplomatic stations, Beijing, New Delhi and Washington. Dr.Palitha Kohona goes to China, Milinda Moragoda to India and Ravinatha Aryasinha to the US. All three have had distinguished careers in diplomacy and administration, and all three are cerebral and nationalistic.
But work is cut out for them in their stations. Sri Lanka is now well and truly in the vortex of Indian Ocean geo-politics. Gone are the days when it only had India to contend with. With the outbreak of Eelam War IV in 2006, The Western bloc led by the UN, US and EU stormed into the Lankan scene, taking up war-related human rights issues at the UN to Colombo’s discomfiture. The EU stopped its GSP Plus tariff concessions to Sri Lanka with an intention to cripple its economy and force it to toe the Western line.
But the entry of China in 2010 gave Colombo much needed relief. It could now turn to Beijing for political and financial support denied by the West. But China’s entry was not an unmixed blessing. It created intense anxiety and hostility in New Delhi and worry in the Western capitals. Between 2010 and 2014, an expansionist China under President Xi Jinping had become a bugbear for the entrenched powers, especially the US.
by M. A. M. H. Barry PhD, LLM, MA, LLB. BA ,Attorney-at-Law
The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal(Aristotle)
Although much is spoken about ‘one country and one law’ in Sri Lanka, it is not a new phrase as all the countries in the world have one legal system. But this does not denote that there must be only one law for each and every aspect which everyone should follow. If this contention is correct, then no country will have different laws at the different levels or for different segments of people. For instance, if we take Sri Lanka, we have different laws in different provinces in some prescribed areas by virtue of the Thirteenth Amendment and Provincial Council Act No. 42 of 1987, and further we have different bylaws in various local councils.
Furthermore, we have several different laws which govern the administration and functions of the different religious places or institutions. For examples, we have Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance No. 19 of 1931 (as amended) governing the administration of temples, The Hindu Cultural Fund Act No. 31 of 1985, The Church of Ceylon (Incorporation) act (No. 43 of 1998), and Muslim Mosques and Charitable Trusts or Wakfs Act (No. 51 of 1956). These acts clearly indicate that different laws are necessary for the functioning and administration of different religious places/institutions.
No sensible person would argue that there should be one law to manage all these religious places because the diversity of the faiths and cultures demand such different laws. These laws exist because this diversity was recognized. It is not possible or correct to demand the people to give up their diverse faiths and to accept one law which could govern all religious places or institutions on the argument that all Sri Lankans should have only one law.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) yesterday lambasted the Government over moves to introduce the 20th Amendment to the Constitution and said it is anti-democratic, destructive and does not serve the interests of the people. “With this Amendment, we will go back from civilisation to tribalism where all the power will be concentrated in the hands of one person and one family,” JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said.
He said the 19th Amendment (19A) to the Constitution, which was passed in May 2015, is the first serious attempt made to reduce the powers of the Executive and give more power to the Legislature; and what the new Government, which has garnered a massive parliamentary majority, should’ve done is build on it instead of weakening it.
“There are certain shortcomings in 19A, which is why the JVP introduced the 20th Amendment (20A) to the last Parliament to correct those specific issues. Instead of correcting deficiencies in 19A, this Government is taking the country back to authoritarian rule,” Dissanayake told reporters at a press briefing yesterday.
India refuses to budge on its stance on the 13th Amendment despite reports of possible changes.
“The position of the High Commissioner has not changed. The High Commissioner reiterated India’s longstanding position on peace and reconciliation and the full implementation of the 13th Amendment,” a spokesperson for the Indian High Commission told The Sunday Morning.
After the Rajapaksas’ win in the November 2019 presidential polls and the August 2020 general election, the spotlight has fallen on two key legislations in Sri Lanka’s Constitution. One, the 19th Amendment, that was passed in 2015 to curb powers of the Executive President, while strengthening Parliament and independent commissions.
The Rajapaksa government has already drafted and gazetted the 20th Amendment. The other legislation under sharp focus is the 13th Amendment passed in 1987, which mandates a measure of power devolution to the provincial councils established to govern the island’s nine provinces.
What is the legislation?
It is an outcome of the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987, signed by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President J.R. Jayawardene, in an attempt to resolve Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict that had aggravated into a full-fledged civil war, between the armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which led the struggle for Tamils’ self-determination and sought a separate state.
The 13th Amendment, which led to the creation of Provincial Councils, assured a power sharing arrangement to enable all nine provinces in the country, including Sinhala majority areas, to self-govern.
Thinking Out of the Box is the catchline of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He gave this advice to the banking sector in May this year, and to the members of parliament in his opening address last month.
The need for new ways of thinking to overcome local and global challenges and revive the economy – out of the box thinking – is the declared stuff of his reasoning. The new ministerial structure was also with such thinking.
What is advocated with such emphasis for economic growth, has been wholly ignored for the progress and growth of democracy. It looks like economic growth has nothing to do with the advance of democracy. The rulers of the past, in many countries of the world, had their economic and wealth gains, with nothing to do with democracy or the sovereignty of the people. These were known as dictatorships, the power of colonialism, and Soveit and Communist power too.
Are we rapidly making a retreat to the proper Rajavasala Buddhiya – the Thinking of the Ruler Reign, a rush back to the Box of Dictatorship?
The 20th Amendment to the Constitution now made public shows a complete retreat to a non-democratic situation, and thinking that is entirely within the Executive Presidential Box.
The United States last week announced sanctions on 24 Chinese State-Owned-Enterprises, including five subsidiaries of China’s construction giant, China Communication Construction Company (CCCC), the main contractor of the Colombo Port City, effectively upping the ante of an increasingly open trade war between US and China.
The Chinese companies were added to ‘the Entity list’ of the US Department of Commerce ostensibly for their role in the construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea, where China has made expansive maritime claims to a sea area expanding up to the nine-dash line. The United States and nearly a dozen of rival claimant countries have rejected that as unlawful- and a Hague-based permanent court of arbitration in 2016 ruled China’s claims to historic rights there as having no validity under international law.
The Entity List is a tool utilised by US to “restrict the export, re-export, and transfer of items subject to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) to persons and organisations reasonably believed to be involved, or to pose a significant risk of becoming involved, in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.”
The US companies would need to obtain a waiver to conduct business with the sanctioned Chinese entities.
China Communications Construction Company has expanded economic interests in Sri Lanka. Its subsidiary, China Harbour Engineering Company is the parent company of the Colombo Port City, a multi-billion dollar project to build a new financial centre. China Harbours and CCCC has a history in Sri Lanka dating back to 1998 and were the contractor of Hambantota Port, Mattala International Airport, sections of the Southern Express Way, the Outer Circular Expressway etc.
A concerted move by five (four+One) stalwarts of the Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi(ITAK) – the chief constituent of the Tamil National Alliance(TNA) – to remove the party General- Secretary K. Thurairajasingham from his post through a no confidence motion ended in a dismal failure at a conclave held in Vavuniya on Saturday August 29th 2020. In spite of a lot of sound and fury being emitted by unruly members at the gathering, the meeting ended on a conciliatory note with a motion of censure being passed against the Gen-secy expressing disapproval for adopting incorrect procedure in nominating a national list MP to Parliament on behalf of the TNA.
Alok Deshpande, Devesh Kumar Pandey and Sonam Saigal
Last year, Sushant Singh Rajput shifted to the Mount Blanc apartment on Carter Road in Mumbai’s tony neighbourhood, Bandra. The actor had always longed for a sea-facing apartment, and Mount Blanc overlooked the Arabian Sea.
The move was also important for other reasons. Bandra is where several top actors of India live. For Sushant it had been a long journey from growing up in a middle class family in Patna, Bihar, to this prime locality. Sushant was a brilliant student. He had a passion for science, especially astronomy. He was a voracious reader. He won the National Olympiad in Physics. He joined the Delhi College of Engineering to pursue mechanical engineering, but left the course midway to pursue his dream of becoming an actor.
Sushant tried his hand at theatre and then television. His career as an actor began with the popular television serial on Zee TV, Pavitra Rishta, produced by Ekta Kapoor. Then, a silver screen debut in Abhishek Kapoor’s Kai Po Che gave him a much-needed toehold in the competitive Mumbai film industry. Sushant then slowly climbed up the ladder acting in popular commercial films such as Shuddh Desi Romance and M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story and critically acclaimed ones such as Sonchiriya and Chhichhore. In an interview to this newspaper in 2017, Sushant said he was a very shy child, an introvert. He confessed that he constantly craved approval.
In another interview to this newspaper in 2015, when asked whether it was difficult for an outsider to make a name in the Mumbai film industry, Sushant said, “Of course, it is. Tomorrow, if two of my films do not do well consecutively, I may not get another chance. You have to be sure of what you want. You have to keep thinking that you will survive, no matter what.”
Unfortunately, however, on June 14, Sushant was found dead in his home. His unexpected demise has not only overshadowed his struggle but has also led to an outpouring of emotions, pitted his loved ones against one another, led to a trial by sections of the media and triggered a political slugfest.
(Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University)
The treatment of the Sushant Singh Rajput case by some TV news channels is a good example of how the interrelated concerns about ratings and revenues drive news coverage in substantial parts of the electronic media. Many of the national news channels have been devoting most of their time covering the controversies surrounding the unfortunate death of the up and coming actor.
This is done in two formats. First, they attempt to provide “factual” coverage of the case through accounts by their reporters of the latest developments in the case that they have gleaned from their “sources”. Second, invited guests billed as experts on this and other similar cases analyse these developments. It is clear that many of these analysts’ comments based on incomplete information are akin to shooting in the dark.
Like many Sri Lankans, academic and filmmaker Visakesa Chandrasekaram has been struggling to come to terms with the civil war’s gory end in 2009. The graphic visuals of the bloodshed, which some “shared like trophies”, made him question what he’d thought were basic human norms.
When he decided to give it creative expression, he chose to tell the story of a mother’s quest for justice, after her son was forcibly disappeared by soldiers. Except, the story is not from the war zone where armed forces fought the LTTE for three decades. It is from an earlier chapter of brutal violence and state repression in Sri Lankan history
Mr. Chandrasekaram’s recently-released Sinhala film Paangshu, or Earth, zooms into the agony of dealing with an enforced disappearance of a loved one. It follows an aged mother from the marginal dhobi caste group in the island’s Sinhala-majority south, looking for her son, who, like scores of rural Sinhala youth, is drawn to the leftist-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led armed insurrection in the late 1980s.
Earlier this month, the United States banned the Chinese government-run Xinjiang Production Construction Core (XPCC), a paramilitary and business organization, and two of its top officials for depriving basic rights to Uyghur people working in their organisation.
The action was taken under the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act passed by the United States last May for their actions. At that time, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo said “the ongoing human rights abuses by the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang, especially against the Uyghur people and other Islamic minorities, are the biggest black spot of this century.” He also listed China’s ongoing actions against the Uyghurs including repression, incarceration of civilians without cause, constant surveillance, forced labour and compulsory family planning.
The Chinese government has condemned the United States, saying it was “constantly interfering in China’s internal affairs” and warned that the government would take appropriate action. This could be considered a major turning point in the rapidly declining US-China relationship.
In the world affected by the continuing Cold War between these two great nations, the attention is turning towards Uyghur people. As a result, support for them is growing in many countries. But Muslims of the world have not been so sympathetic to Uyghur Muslims.
Sri Lanka’s 20 th., Constitution Amendment bill, which was approved by the cabinet of ministers and published in the official gazette on Thursday, attempts to take the country back to the Executive Presidency which existed between 1978 and 2015.
In 2015, the 19th.Amendment reduced the powers of the Executive President although he was directly elected by the entire voting public of Sri Lanka. However, the division of power envisaged by 19A was neither rational nor democratic. The result was that the then President Maithripala Sirisena and the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe clashed almost on a daily basis, making the State machinery dysfunctional.
The current President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, had made the abolition of 19A a key promise in his election campaign in November 2019 and got an overwhelming endorsement of his plan to get rid of it.
The 20 th.Amendment bill is the result of this controversy. It is to be debated in parliament and will become an Act if it gets two-thirds majority support. The government is currently one short of a two thirds majority. It has 149 while the requirement is 150. It hopes to see it through.
The Cabinet has set up an experts’ committee to draft Sri Lanka’s new Constitution, even as the government gazetted the draft of the 20th Amendment that would reverse the preceding 19th Amendment, a 2015 legislation that clipped certain executive powers of the President.
The move follows the ruling Rajapaksa brothers’ poll pledge to abolish the 19th Amendment, introduced by the former government. After a securing a comfortable two-thirds majority in the August general elections, the government took up the promise swiftly.
The “Mathiya Seyal Kuzhu” (central working committee) of the Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi(ITAK) also known as the Federal Party will be meeting today (Aug 29) in Vavuniya. The committee is generally referred to as “Mathiya Kuzhu”(Central committee). The Central Working committee is the key representative body of the ITAK. It comprises representatives elected by each district as well as ex-officio members. The ITAK is the premier political party of the Sri Lankan Tamils of the Northern and Eastern provinces and the chief constituent of the three -party configuration known as the Tamil National Alliance(TNA).
Senathirajah, Thurairajasingham and Kalaiarasan
Earlier I had been looking forward to the ITAK central committee meeting taking place soon. This was because I expected the chief Tamil political party to discuss the prevailing political situation in the country and formulate a basic policy framework for the future. The election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa followed by the overwhelming electoral victory of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna(SLPP) has created an unenviable situation for the Sri Lankan Tamils in particular and the numerical minority communities in general. Continue reading ‘Internal Strife Within Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi (ITAK) Takes Disturbing Turn’ »
A successful strategy for the Opposition will have to contain three components: a lucid grasp of present oppositional realities and past errors, the ‘best practices’ of Oppositions – and comebacks in pertinent/related fields of endeavour—in the island’s contemporary history, as well as the best practices of Oppositions in contemporary world politics.
‘Facts as They Are’ was the translation of the title of a booklet (‘Athi Thathu’) authored by R. Premadasa, aged 31, and published by MD Gunasena in 1955. Taking a cue from him, facts should be grasped not as one thinks or wishes they are, but as they really are.
The Opposition has to grasp that what has taken place in 2019-2020 is not a ‘wave’ as in 2015, which will inevitably flow back. It is not a mood, though it partly is. It is an existential decision, though not all of it is. It is a tectonic shift in Sinhala-Buddhist and probably pan-Sinhala consciousness, which will never return to 2015, even in the direst economic circumstances, just as Russia will never go back to the Gorbachev-Yeltsin 1990s.
The shift is not basically a matter of ethno-religious chauvinism—that is the dark, toxic froth; the excrescence. Beneath the chauvinist excrescence, it is basically a matter of political nationalism, reacting (as Russians did) to a perceived weakening of the state through neoliberal reform. Nationalism is defensive and legitimate, while chauvinism is aggressive, offensive.
In 2018-9, the Alt-Right axis, namely Viyath Maga-Eliya-Yuthukama and the local FOX News, distorted and diverted the populist-nationalism of the 2015-2017 MR/JO surge, pumping in toxicity (from ‘infertility pills’ to ‘Dr. Shafi and The Tying of the Fallopian Tubes of 4000 Sinhala Women’). ‘Radio Bemba’-type propaganda was spiked with ‘instinctual fascistic’ messaging and personality cult-building (as US critics say of FOX and the ‘Trump cult’).
The Norwegians managed to secure peace talks between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the LTTE and the peace process continued for a number of years under successive Governments. Though Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim mediated between the GoSL and the LTTE under three Sri Lankan leaders, in the end attempts made by him and many others to ensure that the peace process continued failed. In an exclusive interview with the Daily Mirror online, Solheim revealed details of some of his discussions with the rebels and the GoSL as well as the role played by the international community.
You played a very critical and crucial role in Sri Lanka as peace envoy. Do you regret taking on that role considering the criticism and accusations you faced, especially at the latter part of your role as peace negotiator?
Look, this was one of the most bloody conflicts in modern times killing tens of thousands of people. There are so many people in Sri Lanka missing their loved ones. Whether they are soldiers from the village in the South or Tamil civilians in the North, people are missing. People are lost. So, my regret is that we couldn’t succeed. But we did try. The fact that we are attacked by extremists on both sides doesn’t concern me. Sinhalese chauvinists claim I was too close with the LTTE and Tamil extremists claimed I was personally responsible for the defeat of the LTTE or that the Norwegians were to blame for the killing of Tamil civilians during the end phase of the war.
Overall, I think you need to start blaming the war mongers and not those who try to make peace. Peace is what the Gods wants from us and peace is what the vast majority of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims wanted from us.
Was there a time when you were peace negotiator when you felt enough was enough due to much criticism?
Never ever. What counted for us was not about people criticizing us. That was normal. What counted throughout the peace process was that we had the confidence of both parties. Those were the people that needed to make peace. We had the confidence of Prabakaran, Balasingham and the LTTE leaders. We also had the confidence of Chandrika Kumaratunga, Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mahinda Rajapaksa; all the key leaders on the side of the State. So as long as they had confidence in us it didn’t bother us whether there were some critics here and there.
Q Based on your internal discussions with the LTTE did you ever think the LTTE was genuinely committed to peace?
I do not know Hejaaz Hizbullah. I have come to know of him from the several accounts published in the media over the past few months, by a classmate, a contemporary and colleague, a student and a brother. I do not know what pain of mind he must feel, isolated in a cell, without being charged, but accused of a heinous crime by the authorities and judged variously in the careless courts of public opinion. But I do feel pained, for him, for us on this island. This cannot be our lot, in this age, at this time. We cannot settle for such a future, for any of us.
I do not know why he chose to become a lawyer. From what I hear, he was extremely good at his job, ending up a Supreme Court lawyer at a young age. I do know what it is to want to study law, because that was my dream too, and qualified to do so at university entrance, although my life took a different turn. Despite all the failures, delays and shortcomings of the legal system, young people still aspire to practice law, and people still want to believe in the justice system, and hope against hope that it broadly works.
(The Writer is a Former Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India)
It is ‘Neighbourhood Policy, ‘Look East,’ ‘Act East.’ All deal with the Indian neighbours. A recent article motivated me to revisit this issue. The author has conveyed happenings between India, Nepal, and Bangladesh and proposed amending Indian policies and actions towards neighbours. For the sake of inclusivity, I wish to supplement some attributes on the subject.
India and Nepal
The friendly relationship between India and Nepal was affected due to an issue regarding the Kalapani District boundary. A new map produced by India after Article 370 caused it. Nepal objected to this map. The Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) responded that the Indian map accurately depicted the sovereign territory of India, and it had not revised the Indian boundary with Nepal. Nepal disagreed.
In May 2020, Nepalese PM said that Nepal would “bring back” the Kalapani-Limpiyadhura-Lipulekh area “at any cost.” However, India responded calmly. Minister MEA Dr. Jaishankar was reported saying that the “sharp positioning” by the leadership would have been “magnified by the media.” (Hindu-20-8-2020).
Recently, the Nepal Cabinet released a political map, which showed the questioned tri-junction as a part of Nepal. Nepal has two tri-junctions with India. The currently disputed is the Lipulekh Pass, at the border of Uttarakhand with Nepal. Nepal contends that the Lipulekh Pass belongs to them, as per the Sugauli Treaty signed between the British East India Company and Nepal in 1816. Nevertheless, India wishes to hold on due to strategic security reasons.
Today (26 August) is the 93rd birth anniversary of well-known Sri Lankan Tamil political leader Appapillai Amirthalingam, known affectionately as Amir and Amuthar. Amirthalingam served as a Parliamentarian for 20 years in an illustrious political career spanning four decades. He was a stalwart of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) known as the Federal Party and also the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). He was the ITAK MP for Vaddukkoddai from 1956 to 1970 and TULF MP for Kankesanthurai from 1977 to 1983. Amirthalingam, who was the Sri Lankan Leader of the Opposition in 1977-’83, was a TULF National List MP when he was brutally assassinated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on 13 July 1989.
Appapillai Amirthalingam (26 August 1927 – 13 July 1989)
Amirthalingam and Mangaiyarkkarasi
Amirthalingam and his spouse Mangaiyarkkarasi were an inseparable duo in personal and public life. Mangaiyarkkarasi’s life was inextricably intertwined with that of her husband’s political career. One cannot write about him without mentioning her. Like Lord Shiva and his divine consort Paarvathy, Amirthalingam was “Shivam” and Mangaiyarkkarasi his “Shakthi”.
There was a time when the political couple enjoyed the adulation and support of thousands of idealistic Tamil youths. Amirthalingam was “Amir Anna” (elder brother Amir) and Mangaiyarkkarasi “Mangai Akka” (elder sister Mangai) to them.
Mr & Mrs Amirthalingam
It must be noted that Mangaiyarkkarasi Amirthalingam was a Tamil leader in her own right, being a popular speaker and singer. Her renditions of Tamil nationalist songs on political stages were well received by the crowds. She used to accompany her husband everywhere.
Scarcely having sufficient time to properly settle into his Chair as Sri Lanka’s Parliament opened for business this week, the Speaker faced down two attempts to trespass on the ‘legislative power of the People,’ throwing up intriguing questions in regard to the country’s parliamentary process, or what is left of this.
Freedoms of Speech in the House
The first, disconcertingly enough, came from the infant parliamentary opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB). Its members were enraged over the maiden speech by new entrant to the House, CV Wigneswaran, former judge and now turned politician in a metamorphosis which continues to be somewhat disconcerting to lawyers who remember him on the Bench.
In a bid to rival nationalistic screeching of Government MPs, SJB parliamentarians demanded that references made by parliamentarian Wigneswaran to a historical Tamil homeland in the North and East be expunged from the Hansard.
(Gamini Weerakoon is a former editor of The Sunday Island,
The Island and Consulting Editor of the Sunday Leader)
Sri Lanka can truly claim to be a front runner in the war against the coronavirus pandemic with 2,984 infected cases reported and only 12 deaths while the pandemic is raging across the world with 24,662,073cases and 836,346 deaths by August 28.
The world’s most powerful country, the United States, has recorded 6,048,404 cases and 184,834 deaths while the world’s second most populous country, India, is accelerating its deadly pace — 3,392,295 cases and 61,725 deaths. Some reports doubt the accuracy of the Indian statistics due to the vastness of the country and the number of its people.
The government has made an official statement to the effect that it’s reconsidering the 19th Amendment but no such official statement has been made with regard to the 13th Amendment. However opposition politicians have expressed the view that the government is trying to use its two thirds majority to do away with the 13th Amendment as well.
The government does not have to take the trouble to do anything to get rid of the 13th Amendment. It has been tied up in knots by the yahapalana political parties including the Tamil National Alliance so effectively that all that the government has to do to get rid of it for good, is to do nothing. If the government is to restore the provincial councils system, they will need a two thirds majority to do away with its predecessor’s 2017 Act which sent the PC system into the limbo that it is in at present.
When the provincial councils system was functioning there was the oft heard complaint that it had not been made fully functional i.e. that the police and land powers of the provincial councils had not been implemented as originally intended. This has been a major bone of contention during the past three decades with the Tamil National Alliance calling for its full implementation and even demanding that the Sri Lankan government should go beyond the 13th Amendment in order to satisfy Tamil aspirations. One thing that we have to realize is that like so many other aspects of the 1978 Constitution, the 13th Amendment is a very badly drafted piece of legislation. When police and land powers were included in the 13th Amendment, they were copied wholesale from the Indian constitution with no consideration for its practicability in Sri Lanka.
(Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena is a civil liberties advocate, a columnist for The Sunday Times, Colombo and served on a Bar Council nominated committee in 2011 which drafted a Contempt of Court Act for Sri Lanka)
The recent judgement by the Indian Supreme Court which held prominent advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court will have a ‘chilling effect’, a term used authoritatively by the Warren Court to protect First Amendment rights of speech and expression in the US, beyond India.
It has grave resonance in countries like Sri Lanka which have a history of stifling dissent through the device of contempt.
The 19th Amendment to the Constitution is the desire and goal of Pohottuva politics today. It is now more important that the economic crisis faced by the country and people, especially in the Covid19 situation.
The strongest voice against 19A today is that of the highly learned Professor Gamini Lakshman Peiris, the GL swinger in governing politics in Sri Lanka; whose leaps to and from political parties and policies is a display of political manoeuvre with hardly any matching.
The two-thirds majority the Pohottuva government obtained, thanks largely to the UNPs disastrous leadership and party breakup, stands against the 19A, which is shown by GL and anti-19A players as the biggest threat to democracy today.
Let’s take a look at how the parliament at the time – in April 2015 – voted for 19A. In a 225-member parliament, it was passed by 215 voting for. One voted against, One abstained, and seven members were absent. That shows a huge parliamentary majority, much more than the small and shaky majority the UNP-SLFP – Maithri-Ranil – government of the day had.
The 19A was a constitutional amendment that obtained the huge support of the then opposition, who are now the leading and even hanging on members of the current Pohottuva regime, the hurray and hosanna ranks of the Rajavasala.
The recently concluded Sri Lankan parliamentary election resulted in the defeat of several veteran politicians. Among these was well-known Northern Tamil leader Somasundaram”Maavai” Senathirajah who had been representing Jaffna district in Parliament for 20 successive years since 2000. Very often the electoral defeat of a long established political leader causes political convulsions in its wake. In the case of Senathirajah the way in which he faced the hustings as well as the manner in which he is reacting now indicates that the ex-Jaffna MP is not likely to accept defeat gracefully. What many well-wishers of the ITAK fear is that a thoroughly disappointed Senathirajah may be encouraged by vested interests to pursue a course of action that may in the long run be detrimental to the party.
Somasundaram Senathirajah known popularly as “Maavai” Senathirajah is the leader of the Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi(ITAK) also known as the Federal Party(FP) in English. The ITAK is the chief constituent of the three party political configuration known as the Tamil National Alliance(TNA). The other two members are the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) and Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam(PLOTE).
Son Kalaiamuthan & Father ‘Maavai’ Senathirajah then & now
Senathirajah is also the
deputy – leader of the TNA which contests polls under the House symbol of the ITAK. He has been both a national list MP for five years as well as an elected Parliamentarian from the Jaffna district for 20 years. The septugenarian six-footer born in 1942 will celebrate his 78th birthday on October 27th.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has threatened to go to court if the Presidential Task Force on Archaeology in the Eastern Province acts contrary to the provisions of the Antiquities Act and usurps the powers of the Director General of Archaeology (DGA).
The Tamils have been dismayed by the fact that the Presidential Task Force has no Tamil or Muslim members, though the Tamils and Muslims together outnumber the Sinhalese Buddhists in the Eastern Province. However, TNA spokesman, M. A. Sumanthiran MP, said a legal issue would occur only when the Antiquities Act is violated or if the Task Force usurps the powers of the Director General of Archaeology as defined in the Antiquities Act.
“Therefore, we will have to wait and see how the Task Force functions,” he said.
அண்மையில் முடிவடைந்த பாராளுமன்றத் தேர்தலில் பல மூத்த அரசியல்வாதிகள் தோல்வி கண்டிருக்கிறார்கள். அவர்களில் நன்கு பிரபலமான வடபகுதி தமிழ்த் தலைவர் சோமசுந்தரம் மாவை சேனாதிராஜாவும் ஒருவர். அவர் 2000ஆம் ஆண்டு தொடக்கம் தொடர்ச்சியாக 20வருடங்கள் பாராளுமன்றத்தில் யாழ்ப்பாண மாவட்டத்தை பிரதிநிதித்துவம் செய்து வந்தார். வழமையாக நீண்ட கால அனுபவம் கொண்ட அரசியல் தலைவர் ஒருவர் தேர்தலில் தோல்வி கண்டபிறகு அரசியல் அமலி ஏற்படுகிறது. மாவை சேனாதிராஜாவை பொறுத்தவரையில், தேர்தலை அவர் எதிர்கொண்ட விதமும் தேர்தல் தோல்விக்கு பிறகு அவர் பிரதிபலிப்புகளை வெளிக்காட்டுகின்ற விதமும் அவர் தோல்வியை ஒரு பண்பு நயத்துடன் ஏற்றுக்கொள்வது சாத்தியமில்லை என்பதை வெளிக்காட்டுகின்றது. முற்றிலும் அதிருப்தியடைந்திருக்கும் சேனாதிராஜா சுயநல சக்திகளினால் தூண்டப்பட்டு மேற்கொள்ளக்கூடிய எதிர்கால நடவடிக்கைகள் நீண்டகால நோக்கில் தமிழரசுக் கட்சிக்கு பாதகமாக போய்விடலாம் என்று கட்சியின் நலன்விரும்பிகள் பலர் அஞ்சுகிறார்கள்.
மகன் கலையமுதன், தந்தை ‘மாவை’ சேனாதிராசா – அன்றும், இன்றும்
மாவை சேனாதிராஜா இலங்கை தமிழரசுக் கட்சியின் தலைவராக இருக்கின்றார். மூன்று அரசியல் கட்சிகளின் கூட்டணியாக தமிழ்த் தேசியக் கூட்டமைப்பின் பிரதான அங்கத்துவக் கட்சியாக தமிழரசுக் கட்சி விளங்குகிறது. தமிழீழ விடுதலை இயக்கமும்(ரெலோ) தமிழீழ மக்கள் விடுதலை கழகமும்(புளொட்) கூட்டமைப்பின் ஏனைய அங்கத்துவக் கட்சிகளாகும். தமிழரசுக் கட்சியின் வீட்டுச் சின்னத்தின் கீழ் தேர்தல்களில் போட்டியிடுகின்ற தமிழ்த் தேசியக் கூட்டமைப்பின் பிரதித் தலைவராகவும் சேனாதிராஜா இருக்கின்றார். அவர் முதலில் 5வருடங்கள் தேசியப் பட்டியல் பாராளுமன்ற உறுப்பினராகவும் 20வருடங்கள் யாழ்ப்பாண மாவட்டத்திலிருந்து தெரிவு செய்யப்பட்ட பாராளுமன்ற உறுப்பினராகவும் இருந்து வந்தார். உயர்ந்த தோற்றம் கொண்ட சேனாதிராஜா, 1942ஆம் ஆண்டில் பிறந்தவர். எதிர்வரும் ஒக்டோபர் 27 அவர் தனது 78ஆவது பிறந்ததினத்தை கொண்டாடுவார். Continue reading ‘தேர்தல் தோல்விக்கு பின் தமிழரசுக் கட்சியின் தலைவர் மாவை சேனாதிராஜாவின் எதிர்கால செல்வழி’ »
The Presidential Policy Statement delivered at the inaugural of the new session of Parliament had three key takeaways. Firstly, the 19th Amendment is to be demolished, not rectified. Secondly, by means of the 20th Amendment, the electoral system will be replaced by one which is only secondarily that of proportional (or more correctly, proportionate) representation and primarily that of a first-past-the-post mechanism. Thirdly, there will be a totally new Constitution.
A five-person committee has been named to draft the 20th Amendment. It comprises Ministers Ali Sabry, Prof. G.L. Pieris, Dinesh Gunawardena, Udaya Gammanpila, and Nimal Siripala de Silva. (Hopefully they’ll avoid the Felix Dias Bandaranaike path – and destination). There isn’t a single Tamil, and therefore no Tamil perspective, though the Tamil Question has been at the heart of constitutional reform efforts for four decades (since late-1983) and Douglas Devananda would have been an obvious choice.
Meanwhile the President added four senior members of the Buddhist clergy to the Task Force on Eastern Archaeological Heritage.
The strength of a state lies in avoiding the extremes of excessive loosening and tightening. The 19th Amendment and its precursor the 17th Amendment were the result of social shift against an excessively powerful presidency. More importantly they strove to rectify the partisan politicisation of the institutions, including the public service, identified by the post-1980s insurrection Youth Commission Report as a cause of revolt.
By eliminating rather than correcting the 19th amendment, the State is riskily re-installing two of the factors for revolt: an autocratic presidency and a re-politicised State apparatus.
As a child wandering between the legs of the aunts, uncles and family friends who filled her grandparents’ apartment in Chennai, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, a young Kamala Harris grew used to being addressed in Tamil.
Senator Kamala Harris
It was the main language spoken by her grandmother, who had only fragmented English, and over the years of Harris’s childhood trips from California to Chennai – which back then was called Madras – to visit her mother’s side of the family, she slowly learned to understand, if not speak, the mother tongue of her Indian relatives.
Standing at the Democratic convention podium last week accepting her historic nomination for US vice-president, Harris made a passing but significant nod to this aspect of her heritage. She said her mother had “raised us to know and be proud of our Indian heritage”, adding: “Family is my uncles, my aunts and my chithis.”
Sri Lanka’s minorities, namely, the Tamils, and Muslims, who are 25% of the island’s population of 21 million, were given short shrift in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s statement of government policy at the opening of the newly elected Parliament on August 20.
Ethnic issues, which had rocked Sri Lanka for over four decades, were not even mentioned in the speech. On the contrary, certain general announcements hinted that the rights and aspirations of the minorities, as visualized by them so far, will have no scope for realization under the current regime.
The Tamils’ 72 year old demand for a federal constitution was shot down with the declaration that the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) had a got a massive mandate to retain the constitution’s unitary character. The Muslims, who have been refusing to amend their personal laws despite an internal progressive movement, were told that the country will have a uniform law for all people.
In the constitution to be drafted, “Priority will be given to the concept of one country, one law for all the people. As representatives of the people, we always represent the aspirations of the majority. It is only then that the sovereignty of the people can be safeguarded. In accordance of the supreme constitution of our country, I have pledged to protect the unitary status the country and to protect the Buddha Sasana during my tenure,” he said.
Giving the Buddha Sasana a role in the governance of Sri Lanka, the president said: “I have set up an advisory council comprising leading Buddhist monks to seek advice on governance.” To buttress the historical claims of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, the president said he has set up a “Presidential Task Force to protect places of archaeological importance and to preserve our Buddhist heritage.”
The one word answer to the question “Did M. A. Sumanthiran of the Tamil National Alliance win in the Jaffna Electoral district by “stealing” the preference votes cast for another TNA candidate Ms. Sashikala Raviraj? is NO! Yet the 2020 Parliamentary poll in the Jaffna electoral district comprising the Kilinochchi and Jaffna administrative districts was marred by untoward incidents based upon unfounded allegations that Sumanthiran had “transferred” the preference votes of Sashikala in his favour and won the election. Moreover for the first time in Sri Lanka’s electoral history the Special Task Force(STF) had to be deployed to chase away a mob trying to invade the chief or primary counting centre of a district and seize ballot boxes therein. Furthermore the Jaffna poll incidents are still being distortedly falsified, maliciously mis -represented and disproportionately blown up by vested interests in a propaganda blitz to vilify and undermine the wrongly accused Sumanthiran.
Sumanthiran after voting on election day
It is against this backdrop therefore that this column focuses on the Northern election furore in a bid to inform readers of what exactly happened or did not happen last week at the counting centre located at the Jaffna Central College. We live in a time where the terms “Post-truth” and “alternative facts” are gaining wider currency. In the case of Sumanthiran too, the ridiculous charge of a “ vote stealing conspiracy”has been levelled. This article will try to present the facts and leave it to the readers to determine what the truth is. Continue reading ‘Failed Attempt To De-legitimize Sumanthiran’s Election Victory In Jaffna’ »
‘தமிழ்த் தேசியக் கூட்டமைப்பின் எம்.ஏ.சுமந்திரன் அதே கட்சியின் இன்னொரு வேட்பாளரான சசிகலா ரவிராஜுக்கு அளிக்கப்பட்ட முன்னுரிமை விருப்பு வாக்குகளை ‘களவாடியதன்’ மூலம் யாழ்ப்பாண தேர்தல் மாவட்டத்தில் வெற்றி பெற்றாரா?’. இந்தக் கேள்விக்கான ஒரு சொல் பதில் இல்லை என்பதேயாகும்.
இருந்தாலும், கிளிநொச்சி நிர்வாக மாவட்டத்தையும் யாழ்ப்பாண நிர்வாக மாவட்டத்தையும் உள்ளடக்கிய யாழ்ப்பாண தேர்தல் மாவட்டத்தின் 2020 பாராளுமன்றத் தேர்தல் சசிகலாவின் விருப்பு வாக்குகளை தனக்கு அனுகூலமான முறையில் சுமந்திரன் ‘மாற்றியிருந்தார’ என்ற ஆதாரமற்ற குற்றச்சாட்டுகளின் அடிப்படையில் விரும்பத்தகாத சம்பவங்கள் நிறைந்ததாக இருந்தன.
Mahendra Percy Rajapaksa known to the world as Mahinda Rajapaksa has been sworn in as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka for the fourth time at a grand ceremony held within the precincts of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara.
The Kelaniya Buddhist temple is venerated by Sri Lankan Buddhists who believe Lord Buddha visited the place during his third and last journey to the island. Besides the belief of being hallowed by the Buddha’s visit, the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara has also acquired a certain amount of political significance in recent times due to its linkage with leading families in the hierarchy of the United National Party (UNP). In the current situation where the UNP led by Ranil Wickremesinghe has been electorally vanquished by the Mahinda Rajapaksa-led Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the swearing in ceremony being conducted at the Kelaniya Vihara is somewhat symbolic of that political triumph.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as Premier for the first time in April 2004 under President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. It was that premiership which paved the way for Mahinda’s elevation as President in November 2005.
Mahinda’s second shot at being Prime Minister in 2018 was an ignominious fiasco. He teamed up with President Maithripala Sirisena who ousted the legitimate Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place as PM. Mahinda could not cobble together a majority while many of his MPs ran riot in Parliament. Finally the eight-week-long illegitimate Government was put out of its misery by conclusive verdicts from the Supreme Court as well as the Court of Appeal.
A delegation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) called on the Indian High Commissioner, Gopal Baglay, here on Friday. The High Commissioner congratulated the TNA for its performance at the recent general elections. He reiterated India’s longstanding position on peace and reconciliation and the full implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution which had created elected Provincial Councils in the nine provinces of the island nation with a modicum of devolved powers.
The 13A came as a result of the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. Though elected councils came into being as part of the Accord and the 13 th., Amendment, the powers that the councils should have got as per the 13A have not been devolved. Powers over land and police are still not devolved.
Speaking to newsin.asia, the TNA spokesman and Jaffna district Member of Parliament, M.A.Sumanthiran, said that High Commissioner Baglay assured the delegation that India has a “strong commitment to the principles underlying the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord and that the Accord cannot be viewed as a mere piece of paper.”
Inexplicably and not without heavy irony, former President Maithripala Sirisena chose to dwell on crop devastation caused by monkeys in Sri Lanka when contributing to the opening debate on the Government’s Policy Statement as Parliament met this week, fresh after a sparkling polls victory by the Rajapaksa headed Sri Lanka Podujana Party (‘pohottuwa’) alliance.
The dark comedy of our Parliament
Led by the alliance of which Sirisena is an unremarkable part, the House includes two parliamentarians on death row, several indicted for criminal misappropriation of public funds and yet others for assault. ‘Pohottuwa’ parliamentarians who threw chilli powder and chairs at the former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya in the unholy fracas during the unsuccessful grab for power in late 2018 are back and in leadership positions. A prime instigator who lobbied a chair at the former Speaker is a senior Minister and the Chief Government Whip.
This is an unmistakable message that party loyalty, despite rowdiness, intimidation and thuggery, will be rewarded in the new dispensation. Perhaps the country’s non-human primates may take umbrage at any comparisons to august parliamentarians elected through public will. Certainly the destruction caused by monkeys attacking crops is far less than the constitutional mayhem brought about by the human species. But was there any symbolism at all in the former President holding forth on these imperatives during the policy debate? It is hard to say given other absurdities that we were privileged to witness.
A District Development Committee (DDC) Co-Chair wrote to the District Secretary this week instructing him not to implement any ministerial development programmes or authorised projects without his approval in the district.
Parliamentarian Angajan Ramanathan, who was appointed as Jaffna DDC Co-Chair last week by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa during the Cabinet swearing in ceremony, wrote to the Jaffna District Secretary on Tuesday.
In the letter, seen by the Sunday Times, Mr Ramanathan requested the details of projects currently under the implementation process in the District’s Divisional Secretariats.
In his policy statement presented to Parliament on August 20 President Gotabaya Rajapaksa outlined his Government’s plans for the forthcoming year.
Among the measures he proposed was the one relating to the removal of the 19th Amendment as a prelude to enacting a new Constitution.
The President in his satement to Parliament expressed his intention in the following words:
“The basis of the success of a democratic state is its constitution. Our Constitution, which has been amended 19 times, since 1978, has many ambiguities and uncertainties, presently resulting in confusion. As the people have given us the mandate we wanted for a constitutional amendment, our first task will be to remove the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. After that, all of us will get together to formulate a new constitution suitable for the country. In this, priority will be given to the concept of one country, one law for all the people.”
“An unstable Parliament that cannot take firm decisions and succumbs to extremist influences very often is not suitable for a country. While introducing a new constitution, it is essential to make changes to the current electoral system. While retaining the salutary aspects of the proportional representation system, these changes will be made to ensure stability of the Parliament and people’s direct representation.”
One of the proposals made by the President which can have far reaching and dangerous implications for the country is the statement that in drafting a new Constitution “priority will be given to the concept of one country, one law for all the people.”
(Gamini Weerakoon is a former editor of The Sunday Island, The Island and Consulting Editor of the Sunday Leader)
Blackouts are a fact of Sri Lankan life in this second decade of the 21st Century. At Nawala where blackouts are of frequent, if not of daily occurrence, we asked a long-standing resident and legal pundit if anything positive can be done about it and he rejected it outright. Its Jus naturale (law of nature) in these parts for long years was his sardonic comment.
However, a six-hour islandwide blackout is rare and a much more serious thing, even a staunch supporter of the SLPP (Pohottuwa) Party admitted over the phone during the blackout.
Last Monday’s blackout will certainly have a negative fallout in many aspects, including the economy. We have looked at the political fallout on this new Rajapaksa government which is now revving up to take off to the promised ‘Vistas of Splendour and Prosperity’.
We see it not as a hiccup but a big dent in the sleek supposedly shatterproof political structure of the SLPP that arrived unscathed after going through two gruelling tests — presidential and parliamentary elections. After the two victories, the supporters of this party were convinced of the invincibility and the ability of their leaders to sail through hell fire and brimstone. Their hopes and emotions had risen to cocky heights.
After doing seven jobs in the last three years in and around Colombo, Simran Enric is now back home in Sri Lanka’s hill country. He escaped the pandemic that struck the capital, but his last job at a grocery store didn’t.
“I am ready to take up any job. It doesn’t matter which city, what work or how much they pay,” says the 19-year-old. He began working after dropping out of school before his Ordinary Level examination. His parents’ stagnant wages, from tea production on an estate in Maskeliya in the central Nuwara Eliya district, was not enough for three square meals for their family of five, including Enric’s two schoolgoing sisters. His Colombo income, they hoped, would support household finances. It barely did, but the family couldn’t afford to lose any additional source of income, however meagre, as they tried to cope. Over a period of time, Enric’s small savings proved valuable. And then the deadly virus arrived.
In Sri Lanka, though, the novel coronavirus didn’t seem all that deadly, going by the official data. While COVID-19 case numbers in the region and in powerful western countries increased rapidly, Sri Lanka stood out, drawing high praise, including from the World Health Organization, for containing the virus. To date, Sri Lanka has reported 11 deaths and fewer than 3,000 cases, of which only 127 are active.
After a stringent lockdown for two months and the efforts of the country’s efficient public health sector, aided by the military, Sri Lanka felt relatively fit to hold the twice-postponed parliamentary elections on August 5. Over 16 million of the country’s 21 million-strong population could vote in the elections, held with elaborate health guidelines mandated by the Election Commission. The turnout was 71%.
It has now been officially announced by the government that parts of the 19th Amendment are to be repealed even before a new Constitution is introduced. Our present Constitution has been amended on 18 occasions and not on 19 occasions as the numbering system may lead us to believe. The 12th Amendment is a dud entry and there is no such Amendment in the Constitution. Among the 18 actual amendments that we have had, some are useless like the 6th Amendment which was supposed to stamp out separatism, but has proved to be abysmally ineffective when compared to the piece of legislation it was supposed to modeled on – the 16th Amendment to the Indian Constitution. Some like the 15th Amendment which facilitated the fragmenting of political parties on ethnic and religious lines were counter-productive. Some like the 17th Amendment were ill conceived, confused and even comically tautological, being designed to take powers over high state appointments out of the hands of the politicians and give it to unelected individuals nominated by the political parties in Parliament. But by far the least well thought out Amendment of all was the 19th Amendment.
Ironically, at this moment when its repeal has been placed on the agenda, the biggest problem in the 19th Amendment which had a serious impact on the day to day governance of the country during yahapalana rule, has become largely irrelevant under the Rajapaksas. The problem most often mentioned with regard to the 19th Amendment was the creation of dual centers of power with the Prime Minister also having a share of executive power. During the five years of yahapalana rule, the effect of these provisions of the 19th Amendment were amplified by the fact that the President and Prime Minister were leading their own political parties and working to their own agendas. The way the 19th Amendment bifurcated executive power was by article 43 where the President was to have the power to determine at his discretion the number of Cabinet Ministers and the Ministries and the assignment of subjects and functions to such Ministers, but in the appointment of individual MPs to those ministerial positions the President was mandatorily required to act on the advice of the Prime Minister.
Thus the Prime Minister’s hold on power depended on his role as the effective appointing authority of Ministers. This was all that remained of the attempt made in the original 19th Amendment Bill which had sought to make the Prime Minister the head of the Cabinet of Ministers and to give the Prime Minister the power to determine the number of Cabinet Ministers and the assignment of subjects and functions to them. Such provisions were struck down by the SC on the grounds that they will require a referendum in addition to the two thirds majority in Parliament. All that remained standing was Article 43(2) which said that the President has to act on the advice of the Prime Minister in appointing MPs as Ministers.
Usually, when people speak of an electoral landslide, they exaggerate. But the word aptly describes what happened in Sri Lanka on August 5th. The island nation’s voters all but buried the grand old party that had led an outgoing coalition, the United National Party, reducing its 106 members in the 225-seat parliament to a humiliating total of exactly one.
They instead awarded a commanding 145 seats to a relative upstart, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, or People’s Party (slpp), a vehicle for the powerful Rajapaksa family. With smaller parties now flocking to their support, the Rajapaksas have grasped the two-thirds majority they need to rewrite the constitution to their liking, something they have said they intend to do. One of Asia’s oldest and most durable democracies has in practice entered a period of one-party, one-family rule.
(Text of Editorial Appearing in “The Hindu” of August 22nd 2020 Under the Heading “Repeal and reform: On Sri Lankan Constitution)
A two-thirds majority in the legislature is indeed a mandate for constitutional change, but the winner ought to decide whether the proposed change would bring about reform or impairment; whether it would strengthen democratic institutions or weaken them. In his first address to the newly elected Parliament, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has predictably declared his intention to repeal the landmark 19th Amendment to the Constitution, and, thereafter, to work towards a new Constitution.
The party he belongs to, the SLPP, has just garnered a historic two-thirds majority along with its allies in the parliamentary polls — unprecedented in an election based on proportional representation. Few would doubt that the party led by the President’s elder brother and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has the requisite mandate to overhaul the constitutional and electoral system. The abolition of the 19th Amendment was indeed the party’s major poll plank. However, does it necessarily mean that the gains of the 19th Amendment should be thrown out lock, stock and barrel?
The legislation that introduced it was also based on a popular mandate for change in the 2015 presidential election, and received more than the required two-thirds support in the previous Parliament. It not only curbed the executive President’s vast powers, by restoring a two-term limit, and making it difficult for the legislature to be dissolved at the President’s whim, but also sought to protect the independence of oversight institutions.
It would be a travesty of democratic principles if the independence of institutions such as the Election Commission is now curbed in the name of undoing the 19th Amendment. After all, it is now recognised that the largely peaceful and orderly polling was only because of the EC’s autonomy. If not for nothing else, but as an acknowledgement of the free election that enabled it to get a massive mandate, the ruling party should seek to prove its detractors wrong by preserving the democratic gains of the amendment.
Further, the plan to rewrite the Constitution under the rubric of a ‘one country, one law’ principle should not be at odds with the urgent need for a new inclusive Constitution that would put the country on the path of equality and reconciliation. The President’s address was also notable for the absence of any reference to ethnic minorities. For long, Sri Lankan leaders have maintained that they can give little by way of constitutional concessions to the minorities without the consent of the majority Sinhalese.
Given the dependence of the Rajapaksas on the majority, it is possible to look at the President’s remarks on the proposed Constitution in the portentous sense of moving away from the concept of devolution. While the abolition of the executive presidency appears no more realistic, it will be retrograde if the idea of sharing more power with the provinces is abandoned altogether.
The new parliament has begun to function with the formal policy statement by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. There were no armed forces parading or horse-ride escorts for the President, which took some of the colour of the traditional ceremony. Maybe such decorum was considered too costly in this hugely strained economic situation.
One MP from Kotte came to parliament by boat on the Diyawanna Lake, with promises of the new government taking action to have a complete waterway transport system to overcome traffic jams and road blocks in the Colombo region. Sailing should soon be a daily delight to our people, if that becomes real.
Amidst all the celebratory MPs in the House, there was one large missing image. It was the elephant, pushed out of the House for the first time since 1947, when Mr. D. S. Senanayake led the first government. It was the stunning shame suffered by the UNP led by Ranil Wickremesinghe; and also contributed to by the SJB team led by Sajith Premadasa, whose louder call was to capture Sri Kotha and not a majority in parliament. There is a bigger worry whether this absence of the elephant in parliament, is a pointer to the larger national issue of the crisis faced by the elephants in our jungles. Can any government that is elected to serve the people, do much to save the elephants? The current thinking on democracy is people centred and not jumbo focused! Will we be soon coming to a political reality of letting the elephants be part of our 2,500 plus history? Are we to begin exporting them to strengthen the economy and have more jungle land for people? Can a revived UNP and the SJB-led Opposition launch a proper Elephant Save politics, with sufficient influence on Pohottuva Power?
(Full text of the Inaugural Address of the 9th Parliament, August 20, 2020 by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa)
Honourable Prime Minister,
Honourable Leader of the Opposition,
Honourable Ministers, State Ministers,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
At the outset I would like to congratulate newly appointed Speaker Hon. Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene. I also extend my congratulations to Deputy Speaker Hon. Ranjith Siyambalapitiya and Deputy Chairman of Committees Hon. Angajan Ramanathan as the as well as all the elected Members of Parliament.
The election held on August 5th marked a turning point in the history of Parliamentary Elections in Sri Lanka. We asked the people to give us a 2/3rd majority to form a stable government.
August 20, 2020
First of all, I would like to thank and extend my gratitude to all the patriotic Sri Lankans for giving Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna and its allied parties a historic and resounding 2/3rd majority for the first time in the history in an election held under the Proportional Representation System.
Universal suffrage is a democratic right that we must all respect and uphold. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all Sri Lankan voters who exercised their voting right in this election.
During the Presidential Election held last November, over 6.9 million people gave me a decisive mandate, placing a very high confidence in me. So far through my actions, I have proved that I will uphold the promise that I will not violate the trust they placed on me.
The period between the Presidential Election and the Parliamentary Election has been very challenging for us. What we inherited was an economy that had collapsed. Since we did not have a majority in Parliament we were compelled to function with a minority government. In addition, we had to face the COVID-19 pandemic that disabled the entire world during that period. At a time when even the most powerful countries in the world were left helpless in the wake of COVID – 19 catastrophe, we were able to successfully face the challenge. Even foreign nations praised our efforts to prevent the spreading of the pandemic.
The historic mandate received by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna has proven that people are impressed with the way we have governed the country during the past 9 months despite various obstacles.
People appreciate the change taking place in the political culture of this country.
The Cabinet appointments and those of the State Ministers and Secretaries, ranging in the main from the unexceptionable to the positive, nonetheless leave me analytically pessimistic about the prospects of this regime and the experiment upon which it has embarked. Despite the fact that several of the appointments are good and the rest aren’t too bad—with a few exceptions—the reasons for my pessimism are not those of personality, but of structure and strategic direction.
It has been noticed that the strikingly successful election results of 2019-2020 are very close to the twin results of 2010 under the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Those results were reversed but not due to the reasons that either the Rajapaksas or their opponents think. The Rajapaksas think they left too many loopholes which they are determined to block by means of constitutional amendments followed by a new Constitution. Their opponents think that it was they, together with civil society and some foreign friends, who “flipped” the 2010 victories. Neither perspective is accurate.
I say this because the failure was predicted to me in 2010 itself, by one of the most intelligent people I have had the privilege of a discussion with, Singapore’s Foreign Minister at that time, Dr. George Yeo, a former Brigadier-General and former Chief-of-Staff of the elite Singapore Air Force, and a diamantine intellect. What he said held true then, and holds truer still of the Gotabaya administration.
“… the liberal-cosmopolitan intelligentsia … supported … the UNP. Few, very few, deigned to support the SJB.” Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka The Election Result and the Intelligentsia (Colombo Telegraph August 7, 2020)
“I survived once but he will finally get me killed. He will get Gamini Dissanayake killed. Then I am sure he himself will get killed.” Lalith Athulathmudali (The Print 27/12/17)
“An attack upon a King is considered to be parricide against the state, and the jury and the witnesses, even the judges are the children. It is fit on that account that there should be a solemn pause before we rush to judgement” Lord Chancellor Thomas Erskine
According to Karl Marx, history repeats itself, appearing the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce. This adage is very fitting when we look at last week’s Parliamentary election results, the political fate of the United National Party (UNP), and at events that occurred 30 years ago.
First the context: South Asia is a feudal society and is, therefore, subject to caste stratification and caste bigotry. And in Sri Lanka, too, caste consciousness and discrimination is pervasive. It determines political alliances, political fortunes and political history. The Sinhala Govigama elite did not see the other major castes, even after they had acquired wealth and education, as mere inferiors. They viewed them as lacking legitimacy because, as Professor K.M. De Silva explains in The History of Sri Lanka, “recent immigrants, from South India, and their absorption into the caste structure of the littoral, saw the emergence of three new Sinhala caste groups – the Salagama, the Durava and the Karava. They came in successive waves into the eighteenth century.”
When an elected-Ceylonese seat was introduced in the Legislative Council, in 1911, the Govigama leadership united behind the Tamil Vellalar Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan in order to defeat his opponent, the Karawe Sir Marcus Fernando, whose candidature was proposed by Sir James Peiris. This led Governor Sir Hugh Clifford to say that the election “was fought purely on caste lines … caste prejudice providing a stronger passion than racial bias.”
The UNP, founded in 1946, reflected this mindset. “D.S. Senanayake had entered independence with a basically Sinhala-Govigama and Tamil-Vellalar administration” observed Janice Jiggins in Caste and Family in the Politics of the Sinhalese. Inspector Malcolm Jayasekera, who was attached to Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake’s security detail, recalled that when ministers travelled to the provinces, Sir Ukwatte Jayasundera, the General Secretary of the UNP, would, at their Rest House stops, join the security detail for lunch, because, as a member of the Navandanna caste, he didn’t feel welcome at the table of his ministerial colleagues.
Wednesday, 5 August saw the landslide general election victory of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The vote sets Sri Lanka on a path likely to bring fundamental political and social change. With 59 percent of the vote, the SLPP won enough seats – together with allied parties – to achieve the two-thirds parliamentary majority they requested from voters in order to change the constitution. With executive power shared between the Rajapaksa brothers, the family and their party have the power to reshape Sri Lanka’s political institutions in fundamental – and potentially dangerous – ways.
The Sinhala nationalist ideology the Rajapaksas and the SLPP promote has long structured Sri Lankan politics, marginalising Tamils (about 15 percent of the population) and, in different ways, Muslims (who make up ten percent). The explicitly pro-Sinhala and anti-minority rhetoric of the SLPP’s campaign, the Rajapaksas’ demonstrated commitment to centralised and authoritarian rule – Mahinda’s presidency from 2005-2015 saw widespread human rights violations and numerous well-documented atrocities – and the comprehensive defeat of the political voices supporting a more liberal, pluralist and tolerant vision of Sri Lanka – together these threaten to entrench a more dangerously intolerant form of majoritarianism than Sri Lanka has seen before.
Following Gotabaya’s decisive victory in the November 2019 presidential election, and in light of the continued popularity of his elder brother Mahinda, few political observers doubted the SLPP would win a big victory. Given the mostly proportional nature of Sri Lanka’s electoral system, however, few expected it would win a two-thirds majority, something no party had achieved before in a single election. That it was able to cross this threshold is due in part to the long and bitter infighting that hobbled its main rival, the United National Party (UNP), which eventually split it in two just before the election campaign began. The historic decimation of the UNP – it gained just one seat from two percent of the vote, while its splinter formation, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), won 24 percent and 54 seats – was a public rebuke for the party’s disastrous incompetence when in power from 2015-2019.
The outcome of Sri Lanka’s August 5 general election had few surprises. The Rajapaksa family is decisively at the country’s helm for the next five years. The fragmented political opposition is struggling to come to terms with their decimated parties and in some cases, sealed fate.
In the north, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which almost solely represented Tamils living in the north and east for a decade since the country’s civil war ended, is swallowing a bitter pill. Its presence in the 225-member Parliament, where the Rajapaksas have just garnered a formidable two-thirds majority, has diminished from 16 to 10 seats.
Tamil voters in the north not only chose three candidates from hard-line Tamil nationalist groups critical of the TNA, but also elected four candidates from parties aligned to the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Front) of the Rajapaksas. In fact, they gave Angajan Ramanathan of the SLPP-aligned Sri Lanka Freedom Party the highest share of votes in Jaffna.
While the TNA has ceded ground to rivals on either side, political observers have read the outcome as an unmistakable shift. Voters, they note, have moved away from their chief political concerns — which the TNA sought to foreground — to their growing economic distress that the TNA is accused of ignoring.
The Rajapaksa clan is back at the helm in Sri Lanka after the people gave them a huge thumbs-up in the just-concluded general election. While Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the president, his brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is the prime minister.
While this was not unexpected, their Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party led by Mahinda won 145 seats, 15 more than what they had forecast. This was 59.09 percent of the votes cast. With three minor allies adding six to the tally, the SLPP alliance will be 151-strong, which is two-thirds of the 225-member house. A distant runner-up was Samagi Jana Baalawegaya (SJB), led by Sajith Premadasa, former deputy leader of the United National Party (UNP) and son of the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa. It secured 54 seats, polling 23.9 percent of the votes. Then came the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) winning 10 seats, but polling only 2.82 percent votes. It was followed by the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led National People’s Power alliance and other parties which could count their seats in single digits only.
As the headline of an article by former diplomat Dr Dayan Jayatilleke said, it was a “Battle of Breakaways”. Both the SLPP and the SJB had broken away from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the UNP, which had dominated national politics from the early years of independence. The SLPP came into being after the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential poll in 2015 after his long-term acolyte Maithripala Sirisena deserted him to become a challenger, and ultimately the victor.
Angajan Ramanathan’s victory in the August 5 parliamentary polls is historic, firstly because he secured the most preferential votes in the Jaffna electoral district, pushing Tamil nationalist candidates behind, and secondly, for being the only first-time MP in the country elected with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the one-time grand old party now in decline.
“I think people in the north have accepted me as a moderate politician, recognising the work I have done in the recent past and my future plans to develop the region,” Mr. Ramanathan said.
“They didn’t give importance to the national party they were voting for [the SLFP] but to the individual.”
He stressed that he had received a clear mandate for his progressive politics and for development of the region, which has seen little infrastructure boom in the post-war period.