Fresh move to stop intra-party rivalries
  • Fonseka’s missed opportunities
  • Poll reforms on way
  • ‘CMC canard’ denied
  • Eran taken to task
  • Amaratunga suspense

The government announced last week that it intends to amend the Local Government Election Act to introduce sweeping changes to the existing system.
It appears that the main objective behind the move is to eliminate intra-party rivalries among candidates and possible internecine feuds among them.

The move seems to be apposite, if this objective could be achieved through the proposed system that virtually goes back to the first-past-the-post system coupled with the proportional representation (PR) system.
According to Minister Dinesh Gunawardene, the mixed system will elect 70 percent of a council’s representation from the first-past-the-post system and 30 percent from the PR system.

The Minister, however, did not elaborate on how the 30 percent on the PR system would be elected.
In the absence of a proper explanation, the assumption would be that once the number of seats is allocated, the members would be elected according to the priority list submitted by each party at the nominations.
What could be assumed in the circumstances is that there would not be a preferential vote system to decide on the elected members on the PR.

This move will certainly lessen the existing acrimonious political culture, and is a commendable feat.
However, the move by the authorities to introduce the mandatory 50 percent or more seats for a party to decide on the mayoralty of a Municipal Council or chairmanship of any other subordinate council will not augur well for democracy in the end.
It will clearly create a situation where the bargaining power of each council member being enhanced by manifold.
It will also lead to horse-trading among rival political parties giving rise to inter party rivalry and acrimony following an election.

The move will certainly lead to plutocracy where the influential rich party would prevail over others since crossing the line is an accepted norm in Sri Lankan politics.
There seems to be another addition to the local political culture that needs a comprehensive study and review.
The provision that the head of the council should resign if the budget is defeated is nothing but democratic. However, here the inclusion of this provision as against the earlier arrangement that does not necessitate the head of the council to resign would leave room for political mechanisation and manipulation.
There is probability that once defeated the council could be taken over by the ruling party in power.
In parliament, this provision slightly defers from the new system to be introduced in the local government system.
In the parliamentary system, the prime minister only resigns if the budget is defeated for the second time in succession.

Many think that this provision is included aiming the Colombo Municipal Council and other important city councils such as Kandy and Galle.
Manipulations in politics is nothing new and not strange to Sri Lanka, since always the party in power resort to this kind of tactics to grab power in councils that are strategically important for the ruling party.
During the time of Felix Dias Bandaranaike as the Minister of Public Administration and Local government, the UNP Mayor of Colombo at that stage A H M Fowzie broke ranks with the UNP to join the United Front government of Prime Minster Sirima Bandaranaike.

What is important for the government is to step in and put an end to acrimonious politics at local level to ensure peaceful existence by allowing them to look after their own affairs if we are interested in social integration than division on party lines at village level. Besides, there is a hullabaloo in the UNP political circles over an alleged move by the government to convert the Colombo Municipal Council into an authority.
The UNP is firing all the salvos in its armoury to prevent the government from doing so, since CMC is known to be a political oasis for the opposition UNP.
The opposition’s apprehensions are understandable in the given political climate, where the government juggernaut is slowly but steadily moving towards establishing what is called a one-party-rule similar to that in Malaysia and Singapore.

The objective behind the J R Jayewardene constitution may have been to establish a government on the lines of that of Singapore but JRJ failed in his endeavour owing to the bad management of the ground situation and his hostile India policy at the beginning.

If he had such an idea conceived in his mind, the LTTE acted as the spoiler.
However, for the present government there is no obstacle or roadblock in the vicinity or at any visible distance to achieve their desired target.
The only obstacle that the government may encounter is India’s apprehension over the expansion of Chinese interest in the country.

Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, in his views recently, has said that China would like to have a foothold in South Asia and we have to reflect on this reality. According to international wire services the Prime Minister had been quoted in the Times of India, as “We have to be aware of this”.
He added: “There is a new assertion among the Chinese. It is difficult to say which way it will go, so it is important to be prepared.”

He has also said that China could use India’s soft “under belly” of Kashmir to keep India in low equilibrium.
It is patently clear that India is anxious to see a South Asia free of Chinese influence and Sri Lanka for that matter would not be an exception. Enhanced defence co-operation and trade links with China and Chinese investments in the North and South are matters of concern for the neighbour who is in the throes of becoming a global power.
India simultaneously is aspiring for a seat in the UN Security Council, and forging a close policy relationship with India therefore would help Sri Lanka to a certain extent to surmount the global political hurdles over allegations of human rights violations and other similar problems.

Obama visit
The impending visit of President Barak Obama to India in November will give it an image boost which is already shrouded in a controversy over the Commonwealth games.
The Times of India suggests that Obama would use a seat at the UN Security Council in return to a solution for Kashmir.

The newspaper said Obama might dangle the UN Security Council membership carrot during his forthcoming India trip in return for New Delhi promising to hammer out a solution.
India being so sensitive and conscious to the Chinese issue, Sri Lanka has to take cautionary steps and keep India abreast of the developments taking place in Sri Lanka, if Sri Lanka is to reap benefits from both these global economic giants.
Coming back to the moot point on the one party rule, which is more likely to be established, if the main opposition party UNP fails to put their act together, it should be acknowledged that such a political arrangement does not fit into the Sri Lankan society given its political heritage since achieving universal suffrage in 1931.

The counter argument is that far eastern countries such as Singapore and Malaysia achieved much economic progress through a determined one party rule.
However, when a country’s political heritage is based on a two-party system masses tend to frustrate when they are unable to see and feel changes in the administrative machinery and at the higher political echelons after some time, this evidently happened in 1994 where Chandrika Kumaratunga was propelled into power with an overwhelming majority. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution invariably provides the necessary conditions for one party rule with powers arrogated to an individual.
What is important at all times is to achieve economic prosperity through developing our own system and through what we have inherited for so long as a vibrant democracy. Adopting a model alien to our culture would at all time lead to disastrous consequences which would finally lead to establishment of despotic regimes.

Sri Lanka should learn lessons from the past and the present as well in shaping its democratic model, according to the aspirations of the people.
However, there is yet another school of thought supportive of the 18th amendment to the constitution.
The government and some of the eminent lawyers are of the opinion that the 18th amendment is more effective than the repealed 17th amendment since the appointing authority of the commissions is responsible to the people whereas under the 17th Amendment, the Constitutional Council it established was answerable to none. Under the 17th amendment, the members of all commissions should be appointed on the recommendations of the Constitutional Council.

Gomin Dayasri puts it thus, “Remember, it was always the prime minister or president that appointed the key nominees and members of commissions since the time of independence until the birth of the 17th amendment. Most often, such appointments were proper and correct. It is in recent times that political interference has raised its ugly head. For a government that badly needs the support of the public sector to achieve its endeavours in the second term in office, it will be suicidal to have a disgruntled public service, if a Public Service Commission slants politically. Last time the public service voted overwhelmingly for the president. The work of the presidential nominees for the PSC may determine the next election for him”.
The main point of contention is that the Sri Lankan presidential system lacks checks and balance unlike in the US or the French system.

The Jayewardene constitution appears to be a mixture of both but it lacks clarity when it comes to checks and balances which is important to prevent dictatorial tendencies of the executive.
In the circumstances, some feel that the 17th amendment would have rendered a great service to the society under which independent commissions could have functioned. However, there was a strong argument that these commissions are appointed on the recommendations of the Constitutional Council that is responsible to none.

What is important to note is that the 17th amendment was passed with a rare unanimity in parliament.
Therefore, some think that it could be construed as a baby of all parties concerned and hence all parties represented in parliament are responsible to the people for the commissions and the omissions of the Constitutional Council.

The parliamentary select committee appointed under the chairmanship of Minister DEW Gunasekera after perusing the pros and cons of the 17th amendment submitted an interim report when the Constitutional Council encountered few problems relating to the formation of the Constitutional Council.
Nevertheless, all these were rendered fruitless with the advent of the 18th amendment that restored the powers of the executive that prevailed before the enactment of the 17th amendment to the constitution.
Notwithstanding the political acrimony that is building up in the country under the aegis of the main opposition UNP and the JVP, it appears that the government is moving at a rapid pace discharging all its duties by the people.

Assertive remark
The President at the UN General Assembly made it a point to make a very assertive remark that the international humanitarian laws should be changed depending on the present global needs, especially when dealing with terrorism.
Yet, there were elements in the New York City who thought it fit to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka when the world leaders converged for the important global forum.
These unruly elements flew over the city in a light aircraft with a huge banner fitted to it, demanding the release of incarcerated former army commander Sarath Fonseka.

It never appeared that the Sri Lankan delegation was in any way affected by the demonstration in skies above the New York City, which most of the UPFA supporters saw as an ugly way of showing resentment and bringing internal political matters to the fore in the presence of the international community.
The president was not deterred by the demonstration or the animosity shown by the supporters of former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka.

Back home after a 10-day visit to the UN General Assembly, the President affirmed the sentence passed by the Military Tribunal and gave his assent to incarcerate Sarath Fonseka for 30 months.
Fonseka apparently lost his last chance for a clemency by the President when some interested parties intervened to stop Fonseka’s two daughters from seeking an appointment with the President to secure their father’s release.

Fonseka’s daughters living in Oklahoma in the US were in New York City during the time the President was there.
It was a missed opportunity for Fonseka who is now facing another trial before a Trial-at-Bar of the High Court over the white flag story.
President Rajapaksa’s decision to jail Fonseka came a day after his arrival from New York. Before making his final decision, he looked at the pros and cons of the case against Fonseka.

Following the affirmation of the sentence, Fonseka was brought in a Black Maria to the Welikada Prison through the Wanatamulla entrance avoiding the glare of the media.
On Friday morning, the former General of the Sri Lanka Army, the only commander promoted to the rank of General while in service, was given the normal costume of a prisoner.
He was assigned the same cell where film idol Vijaya Kumaratunga was incarcerated with an identification number O-22032.

UNP Parliamentarian Palitha
Thevarapperuma and DNA Parliamentarian Tiran Alles spent some time with Fonseka where Palitha also partook in the meal given to Fonseka with dhal, fish, mallum and cucumber.
The previous night Anoma, Fonseka’s wife, had the opportunity of meeting him at the Naval Headquarters for the last occasion who took the dinner for the former commander. There she told her husband that there were moves to transfer him to Welikada that night. Until then Fonseka was not aware that he would be taken to Welikada on Thursday night.

The same night many people gathered at the main entrance expecting his arrival, but nobody could get a glimpse of Fonseka as he was taken through the rear entrance to the Prison.
The national newspapers carried headlines on the incarceration while the Daily Mirror and the Island carried editorials analysing the verdict and the consequences the government may have to face owing to this.
Simultaneously, it appears that the government is prepared to soften the grip on Fonseka, if the beleaguered former Army Commander makes a personal appeal for clemency from the President.

Review of verdict Defence Secretary Gotabhaya
Rajapaksa had told the media that the President was ready for a review of the verdict of the second court martial, if there is a plea from Fonseka. Nevertheless, it appears that either Fonseka or his wife Anoma or the daughters were not ready for such an eventuality given the remarks made by Mrs Fonseka addressing the media.
She said that it is better to die with your feet rooted to the ground than going on your knees for a pardon.
She said her husband played a vital and progressive role in vanquishing the most ruthless terrorist outfit, the LTTE that held the whole country to ransom for nearly 30 years.
“It was a rigorous fight and for that the government has given him a gift of 30 months of rigorous imprisonment.”

There is speculation among political circles that if Fonseka loses his seat in parliament owing to him being incarcerated that Anoma Fonseka will make way to parliament to replace the former general and take the struggle forward to secure his release.
Some think that Tiran Alles, who forged a close link with Fonseka would resign his seat to pave the way for Anoma, although there is no final decision on the matter.
The contemporary political history records a similar case though it occurred under different political dimensions.
It is important to explore how former President Chandrika Kumaratunga acted when her husband Vijaya Kumaratunga was incarcerated by the J R Jayewardene regime over a Naxalite charge soon after the 1982 presidential election.

Ms Kumaratunga explored all possible avenues of securing the release of Vijaya Kumaratunga, went up to the then powerful President Jayewardene seeking his release. Vijaya was the key figure who took charge of the political campaign of the then presidential candidate Hector Kobbekaduwa who pitted against Jayewardene throughout the country when Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike was relegated to back seat due to civic disabilities placed on her by a presidential commission and later ratified by parliament.

Be that as it may, one legal luminary who is well known to express his views openly recently said that by incarcerating Fonseka the government had given birth to a fine politician in Anoma Fonseka.
It was the fervent opinion of many that had Fonseka been allowed to move freely following the Presidential election he would have committed political hara-kiri by now, but the entire scenario has changed following the detention and the subsequent incarceration.
The tough stand taken by the government on Fonseka is somewhat similar to the events unfolded in Malaysia in the late 90s.

Malaysian case
Some political analysts had attempted to draw parallels between the situation here and there referring to the battle between former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar bin Ibrahim.
Anwar bin Ibrahim who served as Malaysian deputy prime minister from 1993 to 1998 was sentenced to six years imprisonment in 1999 for corruption.

Early in his career, Anwar was a close ally of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, but subsequently emerged as the most prominent critic of Mahathir’s government.
In another case in 2000, he was sentenced to yet another period of nine years for homosexuality. In 2004, the Federal Court reversed the second conviction and he was released. In July 2008, he was arrested over allegations over having homosexual relationship with a former male aide of Prime Minister Najib, and faces new sodomy charges in the Malaysian courts. On August 26, 2008, Anwar won re-election and returned to Parliament as Leader of the Malaysian Opposition.

He has lobbied for liberalisation, including an independent judiciary and free media, to combat the endemic corruption that he considers pushes Malaysia close to failed state.
In Sri Lanka too, the main opposition lobbies for media freedom and restoration of democratic norms and other basic rights of the people.
The main opposition UNP at the same time condemned the ratification of the jail term on Sarath Fonseka with contempt.
Both Mangala Samaraweera and Tissa Attanayake vowed to protest against the arbitrary manner in which the government handled the Fonseka issue even ignoring a plea by the prelates of the four chapters representing the Buddhist clergy.

Besides, the President briefed the cabinet on the opposition propaganda on the Colombo Municipal Council would be converted into an authority.
The President told that there was no truth to this and said that even in the US he studied as to how some cities are running as city corporations, that was only a study and there is no such plan he said.
One minister said that it sparked off after a news item in the media, and Minister Wimal Weerawansa who made these utterances admitted that he made a mistake.
However, legal experts point out that there is a stumbling block which prevents any government from converting CMC into an authority.

One school of thought is that if this is done the effect of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution aimed at resolving the ethnic crisis would be diluted and there is another school of thought that it may even need a referendum to change the provisions therein.
In the main opposition UNP it appears that the internal squabbles are continuing unabated.
At present, there is a controversy over John Amaratunga, who has returned to the country after a tour of the US.

There is a growing demand among the party seniors that he should be removed forthwith from the
position of opposition whip, while others are pondering as to what Amaratunga’s next step would be.
There are conflicting reports on his political future in the UNP and the Gampaha District. Some are of the opinion that he may cross the line while sources close to the party leadership believe that he may not leave the party though he maintains close links with the higher echelons of the government.
The other main problem at present appears to be over a certain remarks made by National List parliamentarian Eran Wickremeratne, who said that there should be some thing similar to a leadership council in the UNP.

He made his observations at a press conference and there had been apprehensions in the party hierarchy over what he uttered.
Though what Wickramaratne meant was that all concerned should work together for the betterment of the party, his comments were misconstrued by some seniors in the party, virtually took him to task.
Presently there is no cohesive plan in the UNP to take their message to the masses although there are enough and more issues that concern the general public.
The government’s success at present appears to be the disillusionment in the opposition ranks that a divided opposition would always put the government in an unassailable position.

Rationalist Karunanidhi slips through the side gate

Karunanidhi is now the target of ridicule. The 86-year-old Tamil Nadu chief minister is being mocked for slipping into the Thanjavur Periya Kovil (Big Temple) through the side gate.
Karunanidhi had preached rationalism all his life. He had scorned superstition.
Last Sunday, he showed that when it concerned his life and power he too was not free of superstition.
It is an age old belief that kings and rulers who enter the temple through the main gate would either lose their life or power.

It is believed that that gate is solely reserved for the builder of the temple Raja Raja the Great.
In recent times, former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi who entered the temple through the main entrance was assassinated within a year.
And former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M G Ramachandran who used the main gate suffered a stroke and died within a few months.

Karunanidhi also did not sport his trademark yellow shawl. Instead he wore a white shawl. He avoided the yellow shawl because he did not want to earn the anger of the temple’s presiding deity, Lord Siva named Brihadeswarar. He even ignored the challenge thrown to him by his political opponents.
Thamizhchelyan, one of the challengers, said “If he wants to prove to his party cadres that he is a true rationalist, disciple of EVR and follower of Annadurai, he must enter the temple through the main entrance.” EVR was E V Ramasamy Periyar, the founder of the Dravida Kalazhgam, who preached atheism and Annadurai was the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu and founder of the Dravida Kalazhgam.

The Tamil Nadu chief minister went to the temple to preside over the closing session of the millennium celebration of the Brihadeswarar temple built by Raja Raja Cholan in 1010 AD. He also witnessed the Bharatanatyam programme by over 1,000 dancers, organised as part of the millennium celebrations. The dance programme was specially organised because Raja Raja introduced dancing in temples and 1000 dancers performed to denote the completion of 1000 years.

The temple is the world’s first complete granite temple and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 216-feet about (70 metres) tower (gopuram) above the sanctum is one of the tallest in the world. The topmost portion called sigaram is carved out of a single granite rock weighing 81.25 tonnes. Engineers marvel how that rock was transported from a mountain 60 kilometers away.
Raja Raja Cholan (985-1014), who established the Chola empire was the king who destroyed the 1,400-year-old Anuradhapura city.

During that period Pandya, Chera and Anuradhapura kings opposed the Chola kingdom. Raja Raja first conquered the Pandya and Chera kingdoms and wore the crowns of the three Tamil kingdoms of South India. He then crossed the Palk Straits by ships and destroyed Anuradhapura in 993 AD. He shifted the capital to Polonnaruwa and renamed it Jananathamangalam. The temple he built there for Siva still stands. His son Rajendra Chola brought the entire Sri Lanka under his control. Cholas controlled the entire Sri Lanka from 1018 to 1070.

Raja Raja Chola and his son Rajendra Chola had been the inspirers of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka and former Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) leader A Amirthalingam was their admirer. LTTE leader Velupillai Pirapaharan was also inspired by the Cholas. He adopted the Tiger flag of the Cholas as LTTE’s flag.
The five-day millennium celebration organised by the Tamil Nadu government last week was the second attempt by Karunanidhi to whip up Tamil nationalism. The first was the holding of the Classical Tamil Conference in the last week of May.
Karunanidhi is whipping up Tamil nationalist sentiments as a counter to the Tamil activist groups in Tamil Nadu.

Tamil activist groups that supported the LTTE are gaining support among the younger generation of students. They are attacking Karunanidhi of looking after his family only and neglecting the interests of the Tamil people. Karunanidhi wants to show that he is the best Tamil leader.
Incidentally, Karunanidhi’s strategy is similar to the one adopted by former President Ranasinghe Premadasa. He blunted the JVP image of anti-IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) and anti-India by adopting a more strident anti-IPKF and anti-India posture. He went to the extent of talking to the LTTE and even giving arms to them.

Karunanidhi is also making use of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal (Freedom Leopards) headed by Thol Thirumavalavan to counter the Tamil activist groups.
He announced last month that he is going to hold a conference to consider the question of sovereignty of the Tamil people.

He has postponed the conference for December but had commenced a propaganda blitz. Village level meetings are being held to educate the people on the question of sovereignty of the Tamil people.
The feeling that the Tamil race with a population of 80 million is without a state of its own is steadily growing among the Tamil people.

Thirumavalavan is trying to win that group of people into the Karunanidhi camp of which his party is a partner.
Analysts from Tamil Nadu have expressed the fear that Karunanidhi’s strategy might create conditions that would result in a student revolt similar to that taking place in Kashmir. In Kashmir, stone-throwing students had succeeded where Kashmiri militants had failed.
Home Minister P Chidambaram’s son Karthi, a member of the Indian Congress Central Committee, has recently administered a warning about this development.

He said a generation had grown in Tamil Nadu which is not concerned about India.
He charged the Tamil Nadu leadership, especially those of the DMK and ADMK, of not speaking about India but about the Tamils and Tamil Nadu.

He proposed to the Congress to concentrate in the cultivation of Indian sentiments among the Tamil people.
I wish to go back to history again. When Raja Raja’s troops landed in the northern coast, Tamils living there rallied around it and helped it to march to Anuradhapura. Indian air drop of July 4, 1987 is recent history. People of the south demonstrated against it. People of the north were overjoyed.