Has backing of Russia, China

Sri Lanka won’t budge to EU

• Chief of UN panel severe critic of Lanka
• Constitutional reforms the moot point
• Ven. Medhananda Thera says his removal news to him
• Champika says leadership can change anyime

Sri Lanka had to suffer two hard blows internationally last week. The country suffered the first blow when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced that he had appointed a three-member panel of experts to advise him on reported human rights violations in Sri Lanka. The second blow came when the Europian Union (EU) stipulated a list of conditions that Sri Lanka should fulfill if they were to consider extending the GSP + duty free concession temporarily for a further six month-period.

Won’t bow down
The EU had also asked Sri Lanka to inform them before July 1 whether she was prepared to meet the conditions laid down as a prerequisite. The Cabinet that met last Wednesday decided to reject the conditions laid down by the EU. President Mahinda Rajapaksa took up the position that the government should not compromise the sovereignty of the country for the sake of gaining a concession worth US $ 150 million!

UN panel rejected
External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L.Peiris has already announced the government’s rejection of the three member-panel of experts appointed by the UN Secretary General and the decision not to issue visas to the three members of the panel to visit the country. Reacting to the stand taken by the Sri Lankan government, the panel’s chairperson former Attorney General of Indonesia Marzuki Darusman has said that the panel could record evidence inside or outside Sri Lanka. He also said the government’s decision to refuse the panelists the entry into the country would make harder for the truth to be unearthed. Darusman had told Australia Radio’s Asia Pacific programme that they regret the decision taken by the Sri Lankan government and they would obtain necessary information from Sri Lanka through the UN. Darusman has also said that they looked forward to looking into the actions of the LTTE as well during the last days of the war. He had also disclosed that he hoped to submit the report of the panel within four months.

Marzuki Darusman, chief of the panel on Sri Lanka appointed by Ban Ki-moon, is the Vice President of the Golkar party of Indonesia. A severe critic of the Sri Lankan Government, Darusman had been an MP in Indonesia from 1978 to 1999. He had from 1999 to 2001 functioned as the Attorney General of Indonesia. The impartiality of Darusman, a politician in an Asian country is not above question.
Yasmin Sooka, a member of this panel is known to be a close friend of UNHRC chief Navi Pilley. It has come to light that Navi Pilley of Indian origin, who has always been anti-Sri Lankan, had a hand in nominating Sooka as a member of this panel. The other panel member Steven Rattner is a person who had once been issuing frequent statements justifying the actions of the LTTE.

Not impartial
It is obvious that a fair and impartial report cannot be expected from a panel comprising individuals of this nature. UNSG Ban-Ki-moon has appointed this panel which is due to hold its inaugural sitting in New York tomorrow (June28) without a mandate from the UN General Assembly or the UN Security Council. Russia, China and several countries of the non-aligned movement have already articulated their opposition to the three-member panel.

UNSG Ban Ki-moon paid an official visit to Sri Lanka on May 23, 2009 soon after the ending of the war. He released a joint statement with President Rajapaksa at the conclusion of this visit. However, this joint statement carried no reference to any of the allegations relating to war crimes. However, the UN Secretary General in his statement on the appointment of the Panel of Experts released on June 23 has said that the panel was appointed in pursuance of the actions held out in the joint statement. .

Sri Lanka’s friends
Try hard as he might, the UN Secretary General, however, would not succeed in taking any action against Sri Lanka, no matter what panel or committee he would establish for this purpose, because UN Security Council members Russian and China holding veto power are expected to stand by this country. The action by the UN Secretary General would only further strain Sri Lanka’s relations with him.

New JHU leader
While the UNP is engaged in a long drawn process of consultation relating to party reforms after having appointed a committee for the purpose, the Jatika Hela Urumaya (JHU) with hardly any fuss had changed the party leadership last week.

Medhananda Thera sidelined?
Ven. Ellawela Medhananda Thera had been functioning as the JHU leader from the very inception of the party. However, at the JHU’s 7th annual convention held at the New Town Hall last Saturday, Ven. Omalpe Sobhita Thera was elected the party leader. JHU Parliamentarian Atureliye Ratana Thera was elected President, Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka the General Secretary, Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe the National Organiser and Anil Jayawardena the Treasurer at this convention. A Supreme Council of Sangha, an Advisory Council of Laymen and a 33-member- Central Committee too were elected, Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe had told media.

Accounting for not reelecting Ven. Medhananda Thera as the party leader, Warnasinghe had said that the Thera had been expressing his desire for sometime to be relieved of the party leadership so that he could devote more time to archaeological research and other academic activity, and in deference to his wishes, the party had decided to elect Ven. Omalpe Soratha Thera as the party leader.
However, asked about his not being reelected the party leader, Ven. Medhananda Thera had told media personnel that his removal from the leadership was news to him. “I was neither informed of the convention held on Saturday nor had I expressed my intention to quit the leadership,” he had said.

‘Not worth my sandals’
Responding to a query by the BBC about his removal from the leadership, Ven. Medhananda Thera had explained that he was not aware of the move to hold a party convention and on the day the convention was held he was engaged in archaeological research in Vavuniya and Mullaitivu areas. “I have never asked for positions in the party nor do I care for positions. The bhikkhuhood is the only thing I had asked for and got. As for me, party positions are not worth the sandals I use. The party members may have wondered as to why I was not reelected. Anyway, I convey my well wishes to the new office bearers,” the Thera had told the BBC. Asked whether he would not lose his parliamentary seat if he were removed from the party membership itself, the Thera replied, “I do not know of such a possibility. If there is someone coveting my parliamentary seat, let him have that too. I would not mind it.”

Replying to allegations made by Ven. Medhananda Thera, JHU’s Legal Consultant Udaya Gammanpila says that the letter informing Ven. Medhananada Thera of the party Convention held on Saturday was posted under registered cover on May 25 and if he did not receive the letter on time, it would have been due to a postal delay. Asked why Ven. Medhananda Thera was not reelected the party leader, Gammanpila said that it is a matter that should concern the members, and not the outsiders.
A leader being allowed to remain in office until he is deposed or dead is not an accepted tradition in our country. Ours is a democratic party. Therefore, the leadership may change as and when the membership wants it, said Minister Champika Ranawaka.

Looming loss
Meanwhile, JHU sources say that there was a section in the party that opposed appointing Ven. Medhananda Thera as a National List MP. The JHU at the last April 8 general election contested under the ‘Betel’ symbol of the UPFA which had included the names of both Ven. Omalpe Sobhita Thera and Ven. Medhananda Thera on its National List. The JHU was conceded only one National List seat when the UPFA slots were being distributed among its coalition partners. President Mahinda Rajapaksa offered this single seat to Ven. Ellawela Medhananda Thera.
However, the JHU had wanted the UPFA to offer this National List seat to Ven. Omalpe Sobhita Thera. Medhananda Thera had been under pressure from various sections of the party for the last few months to step down to make way for Ven. Sobhita Thera. However, Medhananda Thera had carried on regardless.

No longer
According to party sources, Ven. Medhananda Thera had not been elected a member of the Supreme Council of Sangha or as a member of the Central Committee either. This means that the Thera’s status in the party has been reduced to the position of an ordinary member. Now a group of front-liners of the party are planning to ask Medhananda Thera to quit his parliamentary seat as he is no longer an office bearer in the party.

Meanwhile, according to informed sources, the JHU is set to take a radical policy decision. The government has already informed India that it was planning to fully implement the 13th amendment as a solution to the ethnic problem. However, the JHU’s consistant stance had been that there is no ethnic problem in the country and therefore providing a political solution does not arise. Therefore, the JHU has to either make a ‘U’ turn in their policy stand on the national problem or fall in line with the government policy.
Minister Champika Ranawaka gave a hint of the party’s impending decisive moment when he warned the membership at the party convention that the party might be compelled to take ‘difficult decisions in the future.’ He said, “In the event of the party being compelled to take certain difficult decisions, the party activists should be prepared to make certain sacrifices warranted by the situation. We will have to take action against anyone who betrays the party irrespective of his status in such a situation. I, myself, am not above this party decision.”

Constitutional reforms
The Constitutional reforms that the government is planning to bring about shortly has become the main moot point in the political circles and among the civil society activists these days. The proposed constitutional changes are yet to be officially announced. However, judging by the statements being made by government ministers one of the proposed changes is to repeal provisions restricting the incumbency of a president to two six-year terms. This means the proposed Constitutional change will enable President Mahinda Rajapaksa to seek to serve a third term in office.

The Samajavadi Janatha Peramuna which represents the ‘old left’, whose constituents are the LSSP, CP, Sri Lanka Mahajana Paksaya, and the Democratic Left Front, has already articulated its opposition to the proposed Constitutional changes. These political parties say that the Executive Presidency should be abolished to make way for creation of the office of an Executive Prime Minister accountable to Parliament. The UNP, the JVP and the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) too have expressed their opposition to the move to remove the provisions restricting the tenure of a President to two terms. These parties say that they would stage countrywide campaigns to protest against the proposed constitutional reforms. Meanwhile, the UNP says that they would petition the Supreme Court challenging the government move to perpetuate the Executive Presidency against the wishes of the people.

The Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, Jatika Nidahas Peramuna and the Jatika Hela Urumaya have already announced their backing to repealing constitutional provisions restricting the President’s tenure in office to two terms. Jatika Nidahas Peramuna leader Wimal Weerawansa says that the number of terms that a President can hold office should be no question as long as he is elected to office by the people. MEP leader Minister Dinesh Gunawardena says that his party’s Central Committee which met on June 15 has adopted a resolution expressing support to the government’s proposal to repeal provisions limiting the incumbency of a serving President to two terms.

Minister Sarath Amunugama too argues in favour of extending the tenure of a serving President beyond two terms. “A general feeling of uncertainty about the future would grip a country as the second of term of a serving President draws to a close. This feeling of uncertainty could undermine the stability of the administration. Everyone would start wondering as to who would become next President. The work in government establishments would invariably suffer neglect. The typical situation arose on the eve of the ending of the second term of both J.R.Jeyewardene and Chandrika Kumaratunga. This can cause a setback to the development process in the country. Therefore, the tenure of office of the President should be extended beyond two terms,” says Sarath Amunugama.
JHU for Executive Presidency, but…

The JHU has already endorsed the proposal to extend the tenure of the President beyond the present two terms limit. “Placing a limit on the tenure of the serving President to two terms is not suitable for a country like Sri Lanka. If the people in the country are willing to elect the incumbent President to serve more than two terms, the JHU would not oppose it,” says Power and Energy Minister Champika Ranawaka. He also says that that his party is in favour of the Executive Presidency, but this should be an office accountable to both Parliament and the judiciary. Ranawaka says, “As the term of an incumbent president comes to an end, the lackeys and hangers-on would go on a spree of looting public property. We saw how the political henchmen and sychophants had a free run in the public sector during the terms of Presidents J.R.Jayewardene and Chandrika Kumaratunga. Appointing independent persons to Elections, Judicial Service and Bribery and Corruption Commissions is very important. We have seen in the recent past how certain Chief Justices were trying to guide the political destinies of our country,” Minister Champika Ranawaka told a media briefing held last Wednesday.

Legal shape
The department of the Legal Draftsman is busy beating into shape the Constitutional amendments which received the sanction of the Cabinet. The contents of the draft Constitutional amendments would reach the public domain only after being presented before the Cabinet again. Until then, the ministers representing the LSSP, CP and the Democratic Left Front would refrain from making comments on them, according to an agreement reached with the government leaders.

Supreme Court to examine
However, the draft Constitutional amendments should be first referred to the Supreme Court for a ruling on their constitutionality. Meanwhile, certain political parties and civil society organisations are expected to file petitions in the Supreme Court against the amendments. The government will have to hold a Referendum if the Supreme Court rules that the proposed amendments require a mandate from the people in addition to a passage by a two thirds majority in Parliament.

In case the government decides to go in for a Referendum following a possible ruling by the Supreme Court, it would cost the government exchequer a whopping Rs.1100 million, say the Elections Secretariat sources. Holding a Referendum at such a massive cost would certainly give an opportunity to people to register their reaction to undertaking such an exercise when there is a host of problems requiring the urgent attention of the government.

Foot dragging
The reforms committee appointed by the UNP is still entertaining representations from the party organisations. Meanwhile, the cold war between the Ranil loyalists and Sajith loyalists continues with the war hotting up intermittently, tipping the scales in favour of one or the other alternately. The Ranil group has also stepped up criticisms against the committee. It was Ravi Karunanayake who set the ball rolling by announcing that he had no faith in the committee. Another faction of Ranil loyalists says that of the six members of the reforms committee four are non-Buddhists. They say except Lakshman Kiriella and Wijedasa Rajapaksa, all others are either Roman Catholics or Muslims. They also charge that the committee members have so far failed to call on the Mahanayake Theras of Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters.
The committee is now receiving representations from the members of Pradeshiya Sabhas as well. The committee has turned down a request by Ranil Wickremesinghe to finalise the report without a hearing from the Pradeshiya Sabha members. About 90 members from the local government bodies in the Western province had presented their views before the committee when it held sittings at the Sirikotha party headquarters last Tuesday. The majority of them had insisted that a new team of office bearers be elected to replace the present office holders.

Ex-UNP MPs meet
A group of ex-UNP MPs from the Ex-UNP Parliamentarians’ Association held a media briefing at Nippon Hotel in Colombo on June 19 Saturday. About 20 former UNP MPs including M.D.Premaratne, Mano Wijeratne, Upali Amarasiri, Buddhika Kularatne, Upali Piyasoma, D.D. Abeyratne, Mahen Gunasekera, Gamini Rajapaksa, Vincent Dias and Ravi Samaraweera attended this briefing. They emphasised that the party needed a change in the leadership and a democratic Constitution. Buddhika Kurukularatne said that the need of the hour is a new leadership for the party. Former UNP Minister Dr. Ranjith Atapattu is the President and Chandra Gankanda is the secretary of this association. It was obvious that these ex-parliamentarians are supporting the bid to make Sajith Premadasa the leader of the UNP.

Meanwhile, Sajith Premadasa had invited a group of over 90 UNP PC members to a dinner arranged at a posh residence at Rajagiriya However, the UNP leadership who got wise to this move had asked the invitee PC members not to attend the dinner. Sajith had called off the dinner on being informed about the directive sent out by the party leadership. However, three PC members who had failed to hear about the cancellation of the dinner had turned up at the venue, party sources said.
However, Sajith Premadasa vehemently denies having organised a dinner for the PC members of the party. “If I really wanted to host the PC members to a dinner, I could have easily secured the attendance of a large number of PC members. My opponents have set afloat this talk about ‘unsuccessful dinner’ with the aim of slinging mud at me,” says Sajith