Fresh move to stop
- Fonseka’s missed
- Poll reforms on way
- ‘CMC canard’ denied
- Eran taken to task
- Amaratunga suspense
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
The president was not deterred by the demonstration or the
animosity shown by the supporters of former Army Commander
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
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
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
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
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
The tough stand taken by the government on Fonseka is
somewhat similar to the events unfolded in Malaysia in the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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