Govt. fast-tracks to appease JVP ahead of crucial Budget vote

  • Gunning for COPE Chairman continues
  • Will Karu be called to form a government?

Sri Lanka is heading for yet another week of political turmoil, with the government and the opposition braving for the third reading of the Budget scheduled for Friday, December 14.
At this juncture, the point to ponder is how some of the political parties manoeuvered to vote for the Defence Budget last week.

The JVP, which opposed the second reading of the third Budget of the Rajapaksa administration, however, voted with the government in this instance, drawing the attention of the entire country.
The more plausible reason for this is that the JVP is more or less obsessed with the security situation in the country and are seasoned campaigners against the terror tactics of the LTTE against the state. If the JVP decided otherwise, it would have had a negative impact on them, politically, hence, the “aye.”
However, it may not have a bearing on the third reading of the Budget, and the JVP is very likely to revert to its earlier stance and vote against the government, as they did during the second reading on November 19.
The emerging political scenario is that there could be a split in the JVP right down the middle during the week, with the more vociferous Wimal Weerawansa siding with the government. Several other members, including Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Vijitha Herath, have had discussions with the UNP too.

Sensing disastrous political consequences if the JVP votes against the government and the opposition manages to get seven members from the government benches, the government has done everything at its disposal to appease the JVP.
Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama’s onslaught on the UNICEF is also a part of the government’s effort to win over at least a section of the JVP.

What the government wants at this juncture is the JVP to abstain from voting at the third reading, which would be considered as a great favour towards sustaining Parliamentary power, by the Rajapaksa administration.
In a worst case scenario, where the government is defeated at the third reading, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is likely to call upon Karu Jayasuriya to form a government, instead of UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, expecting more defections from the UNP to form a national government, while the JVP is poised to assume the role of the main opposition.
At the government Parliamentary group meeting held on the President’s birthday, just prior to the second reading of the Budget, a resolution was adopted by the government group to refrain from inviting UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to form a government. It was moved by Deputy Minister Nirmala Kotalawela.

However, it is too premature to predict as to how the UNP would react to such an emerging scenario, and simultaneously, it is difficult to asses as to whether the government could expect more defections from the UNP, in the event Minister Jayasuriya is called upon to form a government.

Gunning for Rajapakshe
In the meantime, government is closely looking at a motion filed in the Supreme Court last week by Attorney-at Law Sudath Perera, stating that the 33rd Respondent in the Fundamental Rights case filed against the privatisation of the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation (SLIC), had, in fact, rendered professional services to the PERC, in his capacity as a lawyer.
The 33rd Respondent in the case is Parliamentarian Wijedasa Rajapakshe, who is also the COPE Chairman, which revealed acts of corruption and mismanagement within government institutions.
The motion also states that Rajapakshe provided professional services and a legal opinion dated July 24, 2006, on the sale of shares of the SLIC, to PERC, at its request.
The motion further states that Nihal Amarasekara as PERC Chairman, in his personal capacity, had complained to the COPE, where Wijedasa Rajapakshe is Chairman.
It states that the Aitken Spence & Co. Ltd. and Aitken Spence Insurance (Pvt) Ltd. believe that the matter contained in the said legal opinion is of the utmost importance and material for due adjudication of the application pending before court, challenging the privatisation of the SLIC.

However, Amarasekara is now trying to dispute the position taken by the said respondents, by another motion to be filed in court shortly. His position is that he resigned as PERC Chairman long before PERC consulted Rajapakshe. Amarasekara states that he resigned in Novemeber 2005, whereas the said respondents have cited a legal opinion obtained in July 2006.
What the government is interested in is to find out as to whether Rajapakshe had levied professional fees for services rendered as a lawyer cum Parliamentarian, in a bid to ask court to invoke provision 91(1) (e) of the Constitution, which states that “a person is not qualified to be elected as a MP or to sit and vote in Parliament, if he has any such interest in any such contract made by or on behalf of the state or a public corporation, as Parliament shall, by law, prescribe.
What the legal experts say is that there should be corresponding law made by Parliament prescribing the nature of the contract, if the court is to take action against Rajapakshe. They point out that in the absence of such law, it is difficult to sustain the case and ask for relief under the Constitution.

They also point out that this provision flows down from the Soulbury Constitution promulgated in 1947 and since then, there has been no effective law to deal with such situations.
However, in the 90s, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne was unseated under the same provision by the Court of Appeal, though there were no laws to prescribe contracts with the government.
Dr. Senaratne told this column that the court unseated him despite Senior Counsel K.N. Choksy’s submissions to this effect, on a petition filed by present Justice Minister Dilan Perera in the Court of Appeal and it was Rajapakshe, a close friend of Dr. Senaratne, appeared for Perera.

It is very clear from the foregoing, that the government and the opposition are getting ready for a big tussle during the week in the run up to the third reading of the Budget. Though the government is aware that it is not in a position to oust Rajapakshe from Parliament in a hurry, it is exploring all possibilities to find a way out of the situation and oust him from Parliament.