• Eastern CM gives in to pressure
  • Mangala plays anchor role
  • Basil and Hakeem in key talks
  • Legal tangle over Nipunarachchi
  • Nehru’s book to inspire ex-army chief

Concern grows over new local poll plan

There are apprehensions among smaller parties over the proposed local government (special provisions) bill, which is to be debated in parliament shortly.
The doubt and the fear of the smaller parties are not without reason.

Their thinking is that it would seriously affect the representations of smaller parties at local level.
Some think that the proposed amendment would consolidate and fortify the two-party system in Sri Lanka forcing the smaller parties to take shelter under the two major parties, namely the UNP and the SLFP.
In other words, they say that this would cause a major setback to the representative democracy on which Sri Lanka’s election system built and relied upon for so long.

It appears, however, that the UNP has no major objection to the proposed bill since the UNP groups in almost all the Provincial Councils voted with the government to give assent to the bill at provincial level, while the UNP group in the Western Provincial Council approved it subject to certain amendments.
The government, however, was encountering a difficult situation to get it approved through the Eastern Provincial Council since Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan had expressed his reservations on the proposed legislation.

But he had to give in to the pressure exerted by the centre after he was summoned to Colombo and given him piece of the government’s mind.
The proposed bill was referred for discussion and subsequent approval of the Provincial Councils in terms of the provisions of the 13th amendment to the constitution.

UNP position
The UNP’s position is that they would move several amendments to the bill in order to ensure greater representation to the youth and women, which should be in the region of 40 percent, senior UNP parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake told this column.
He said the UNP would also lobby for another amendment that would enhance the people’s right to elect members to the local councils.
Karunanayake also said the first-past-the-post system introduced after a lapse of nearly 30 years would enable the people to elect members to their respective wards.
In the circumstances, it is nothing but reasonable to put an end to horsetrading in politics after an election, by introducing another amendment which would require a member who intends to cross over to another party leaving the party from which he or she is elected to face a by-election if he is representing a ward.
He, however, was not very clear about the 30 percent of members who would be nominated to local council under the proportional representation system.
This too could be sorted out if the prevailing provisions are adhered to strictly that members who are elected under the proportional system would forfeit their seats in the event of a cross over since under the PR system the seat belongs to the party and not the individual.

SLMC stance
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress is vehemently opposing the move by the government to introduce the first-past-the-post system, coupled with the proportional representation.
They are of the view that it would affect the prospects of the SLMC as a party since Muslims are scattered all over the country with a few concentrations in the Eastern Ampara district.
In the circumstances, the SLMC had proposed that the matter should be discussed at length at a parliamentary select committee to arrive at a pragmatic solution reasonable to all parties concerned.
SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem, on Wednesday, had lengthy discussions with Minister Basil Rajapaksa to tell him as to why they were opposing the bill.
It is the concerted view of the SLMC that it would not augur well for the party and that they could not just put up their hands in support of the government and thereby get the party destroyed.
“It will not augur well for the party since there would be a serious split if they support this move,” an SLMC high command member told this column.
He said party general secretary Hassan Ali has a different view point altogether on the matter especially on the powers of the delimitation commission.
The SLMC’s objections, however, came a cropper following the
meeting Hakeem had with Minister Basil Rajapaksa.
Minister Rajapaksa, who listened to Hakeem attentively, solicited the SLMC’s support for the passage of the bill after pledging that those amendments would be effected shortly. Hakeem, a shrewd politician by nature, agreed.
What crossed his mind would be difficult to fathom.
However, some think that he was not ready to be in the bad books of the government by opposing their move now, yet some others feel that Hakeem was more interested in a ministerial portfolio more than anything else which may come his way by November when the President takes his oaths for a second term
What Hakeem told the people whom matter to him was that they should not run the risk of destroying the party (SLMC) by opposing them at this point of time.

Hakeem’s proposal
Hakeem, nevertheless, proposed that if the mayor or a chairman of a local government body loses the vote on the budget at the annual presentation, the entire council or the local authority should be rendered dissolved as against the new provision included in the proposed bill.
This will prevent horsetrading by powerful political parties and would not necessitate the government to appoint a special commissioner or a competent authority run the government.
This is likely to happen in the councils won by the opposition rather than the government.
The new provision states that once the mayor loses the vote on the budget he automatically loses his mayoralty or the chairmanship of the council but does not forfeit his seat.
In the meantime, the SLMC is likely, through a third party, to invoke the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to compel the authorities to hold a proper census of the population in the Northern Province before holding the elections for the Northern Provincial Council.
In their view, the electoral lists are prepared depending on the census of 80s which is no longer applicable in these areas, after the accomplishment of the war.

Census in North
A proper census would also help the delimitation commission to accomplish its duties effectively, since many people have either left their homes and gone overseas or displaced due to the war.
The SLMC, therefore, attaches much importance to this matter, though it has had no direct reference to the subject in issue the local government amendment (special provisions) bill, this too was discussed at length at the SLMC political and legal circles.
Coming back to the issue concerning the local government (special provisions) bill, it has been noted that although the main opposition UNP supported the bill at the meeting of the Western Provincial Council acting upon the instructions of the party hierarchy, they also had detected serious flaws in the law.
The UNP, however, had submitted a list of amendments that the government should consider seriously before it becomes law after going through parliamentary procedures.
Some of the party activists were lamenting that lack of consensus and co-ordination in the main opposition UNP led to this uncanny support and the Western Provincial Council approved the bill with serious flaws.
Nevertheless the two members representing the SLMC abstained from voting, which necessitated the government to talk to SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem in a bid to persuade him to support the bill.
The government means business and presented the proposed bill in parliament on Thursday to become law within the shortest possible period in time for the impending local government elections, next year.
The Provincial Council members representing the UNP say that there are serious grammatical and language errors in the proposed bill, the quota of 25 percent of the membership in local government bodies allocated for women, and youth has not been made a mandatory provision.
They, however, point out that tendering the birth certificate has been made mandatory by making the law contradictory to its own provisions.

Chance for youth
It is their view that if the nomination of 25 percent youth and women are not mandatory, producing of the birth certificate at the time of nomination could not be mandatory at all.
A salient feature in the proposed bill is that the provision enabling the votes to be counted at the polling booth itself.
At the same time, the provision enables the presiding officer concerned to change the venue at his or her discretion on security concerns but however it needs prior approval from the returning officer.
Some opposition councillors feel that the presiding officer should not be given the discretion to act on his whims and fancies and are of the opinion that this would leave room for abuse if this provision were exercised without proper monitoring.
Although the UNP had established that some of the provisions in the proposed local government (special provisions) bill are inconsistent with that of the constitution, had allowed the bill to go through subject to several amendments at provincial level maybe with an after thought to challenge the same at the national level.
The UNP, however, had not shown any serious discontent against introducing the first past post system, which they did away with the promulgation of the 1978 constitution.
Nevertheless, it could not be ruled out that the UNP may obstruct the passage when it becomes crucial for the government; however, it is difficult to read now as to what the UNP would do given the internal bickering in the party.

Norway visit
The UNP crisis may heighten in the days to come when the leader is out on an official visit to Norway and the Europe, similar to what happened in the past, but UNP leader Wickremesinghe, a leader with political acumen had been able to overcome all that with wit and grit.
The question that remains unanswered is whether he could repeat the same again.
Mangala Samaraweera, the UNP’s new find, plays the anchor role for Wickremesinghe forgetting his past performance where he acted as the hatchet man for the SLFP instrumental in destroying the political image of Wickremesinghe.
Samaraweera has now put Wickremesinghe at ease carrying Wickremesinghe’s burden and kept Wickremesinghe’s opponents at bay a sigh of relief for the UNP leader, who is saddled with numerous problems with rebels.
In the contrary, it is the general perception of the SLFP and more with the government supporters that it would be much easier for them to run amok politically with Wickremesinghe at the helm of the UNP. Hence, they take no risk of losing Wickremesinghe as the leader that is advantageous to them.
The general belief of the rebels is that Wickrmesinghe’s utterances connecting Tiran Alles and the government during the working committee meeting was an inspired leak from the higher echelons of the government, to put the opposition in total disarray.
The UNP hierarchy is aware of the connections the Sajith Premadsa group maintains with the government and their contradictory approach to the other burning issues which plague the country.
This prompted Mangala Samaraweera to say that when the country and its administrative machinery needs reforms, speaking only about the reforms in the UNP is surprising and an indirect support rendered to the government.

Relentless battle
It appears that the Sajith Premadasa group is indulging in a relentless battle to rid Wickremesinghe from the UNP leadership.
The Premadasa group is likely to make optimum use of the December convention to challenge Wickremesinghe and the present hierarchical arrangement in the party.
What they want is to present the constitutional reforms to the party convention in December after being ratified by the working committee in November.
Once the reforms are ratified by the party convention in December, it would go back to the working committee where there would be a session that would get the general approval of the working committee and the parliamentary group on the office bearers.
If there are two or more names for one position there would be an election for such post, within the working committee and the parliamentary group.
The Sajith Premadasa group, however, alleges that the Wickremesinghe group is hell bent on preventing the party convention being held in December, by any means.
It has now been revealed that an unknown person would challenge the party’s decision to hold the convention without holding the all island national executive committee meeting.
It is a constitutional requirement according to the party constitution that the national executive committee be held before the party convention.
It is learnt that plans are afoot to obtain an injunction preventing the holding of the party convention.
The national executive committee of the party is unable to be summoned since the party has so far not appointed the district organisations, which is the basis on which the National Executive Committee is appointed.

According to article 16(5) of the UNP constitution, the status quo will remain if the party fails to hold the convention in terms of the constitutional requirement.
This means the present office-bearers would continue to function without any hindrance.
The UNP’s game plan is clear and the rebels on the contrary are planning to summon all Provincial Council and Pradeshiya Sabbah members to Colombo in a bid to show their strength in the event of the failure of the party leadership to hold the convention.
The main objective behind the move is to steam roll the rebels and make the path clear for Wickremesinghe to be at the helm of the party without facing an election of which the main contender would be Sajith Preamdasa.

Vajira criticised
The Premadasa group has also launched an offensive against southern top notch of the UNP Vajira Abeyewardene for the sentiments expressed by him against party reforms.
The Premadasa group finds fault with Abeywardene for going against the decision of the party’s working committee, which recommended drastic reforms to the party structure and the constitution.
Ranjit Aluvihare, in a letter addressed to the party leader, had requested him to take disciplinary action against Vajira Abeywardene for this misdemeanour.

Aluvihare’s letter states thus:

Hon Ranil Wickremesinghe MP, Leader of the UNP,
Kotte Road,
Sirikotha, Pitakotte.

Dear Sir,
I wish to bring to your attention statements made by Mr Vajira Abeywardena, ex-parliamentarian from the Galle District which have been given wide publicity in the print and electronic media in the last few days including news items in the ‘Daily Mirror’ of October 6 2010 and ‘Lankadeepa’ of October 7 2010. In fact you were questioned by the media about these statements by Mr Abeywardena at a press conference which was broadcast over several TV Channels on October 6 2010.
Mr Abeywardena has stated in these statements that the UNP constitution should not be changed and he will object to any attempt to change it.
Mr Abyewardena was a senior member of parliament from 1994 until the last general election in April 2010 and a longstanding member of the party working committee.
He is therefore well aware that a committee headed by senior parliamentarian Mr Joseph Michael was appointed to consider and recommend any necessary reforms to the party constitution.

These recommendations were tabled at the party working committee and fully approved. Thereafter a committee headed by Mr Tilak Marapana, President’s Counsel, was appointed to draft a new constitution in accordance with the suggested reforms. At the last meeting of the working committee held on September 18, 2010 Marapana tabled an interim report giving the progress of the work of his Committee.
Therefore, the adoption of a new UNP constitution in line with the reforms has been accepted on many occasions by the Party Working Committee of which Mr Abeywardena is a member.
Further, the party working committee has decided that party discipline must be enforced strictly as public statements such as the ones made by Abeywardena contrary to express party decisions and party policies are detrimental to the reputation of the party and will cause severe damage to it. It will lead to even more dissension amongst members.
At a time when all forces of the party are seeking to unify and bring together all people with diverse ideas, Mr Abeywardena is acting in a manner which will damage the UNP even further, derail the reform process and prevent consensual action to appoint or elect people to its high posts.
In this situation, where the party working committee itself has decided to change the UNP Constitution, Mr Abeywardena as a member cannot be permitted to make statements which are totally contrary to its decisions.
Therefore, I request you to immediately take appropriate disciplinary action against Mr Abeywardena for the public statements made by him as referred to above and to expressly direct him not to make such statements in the future which will cause further loss to the party’s reputation and will lead to more erosion of its discipline by senior members such as Mr Abeywardena and by other members as well.
I also suggest that meetings such as the one organised by Mr Abeywardena and held at his residence in Galle last week should not be held in the future as they work against the party’s interests and create dissension within the party. This particular meeting caused further disrepute to the party as it was reported in the media that even you had been subjected to jeering. Therefore, similar meetings must not be held again.
I also suggest that wide publicity be given to the actions you take against Mr Abeywardena so that others will not follow in his footsteps by making statements contrary to decisions by the party working committee.
Yours faithfully,
Ranjith Aluvihare

Be that as it may, the UNP has now decided to take on the JVP once again and had warned them not to make Fonseka a scapegoat to achieve their political ends.
This was after the JVP decided to go it alone and its decision not invite UNP leader for the demonstration they held near the Welikada prisons to secure the release of the former General.

Propaganda campaign
The UNP says that though there is a big propaganda campaign to secure the release of the former army commander very few parliamentarians actually visit him in the prisons.
The other day, the UNP’s Ravi Karunanayake and Mangala Samaraweera visited him and had a responsive chat with him while handing over him a book on the autobiography of late Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru; the former General is also in the process of reading ‘Discovery of India’ authored by the late Nehru.
It was the opinion of the two UNP parliamentarians that it would give Fonseka much-needed political inspiration and strength to spend his time in jail that would eventually make him a strong politician with vigour to face vicissitudes in political life.
In the meantime, President’s Counsel Romesh De Silva argues the case where the General has challenged the decision of the parliamentary secretary-general and the election commissioner to declare that his parliamentary seat has fallen vacant consequent to him being convicted by the general court martial.
Counsel De Silva argues that a general court martial is not a Court of Law within the meaning of the constitution or the general law of the country and is being appointed by the President under the army act.
He also argued that the sentence does not flow from the GCM itself after conviction unlike in a court established under the normal law of the country but the sentence handed down by a GCM has to be affirmed by the appointing authority - the President.
Hence, he argues a conviction by the GCM does not render his seat vacant.
He also states that the Commander–in-Chief had only affirmed the sentence, and not the conviction by the GCM.
He said the letter sent by the attorney-general to the Paul Ratnayake Associates does not mention anything about a conviction.
Nevertheless, the deputy solicitor general, who appears for the attorney-general, argued that the GCM is similar to any other court of law in the country, and said that it could even hand down a death sentence.
She argued that it is a court within the meaning of the constitution.
Some others point out if this argument is accepted then the Labour Tribunal should also be accepted as a court and state that it is only an institution set up under the law to resolve industrial disputes.
While the case against the parliamentary secretary-general and the elections commissioner is being argued at the Court of Appeal, the army had taken appropriate action in terms of the first court martial.
The Army Headquarters, in a communiqué sent to all branches, had said that General G S C Fonseka RWP, RSP, VSV, USP, rcds psc (retd) was convicted by a GCM on 13.08.2010 and sentenced to be cashiered. The said sentence was confirmed by the President on 14.08.2010.
In consequence of the said sentence awarded by the general court martial (which was confirmed by the President) the person aforesaid has ceased to be an officer and shall not be entitled to the following
To be referred to by his former military rank under any circumstances in correspondence or otherwise.
For military titles, decorations, medals etc to be indicated along with his name
Entry into any military installation except under the express authority of the Commander of the Army.
Photograph and portrait to be displayed at military installations
Names to be displayed in plaques boards etc
Major General
However, the campaign to secure the release of the former General is said to be gathering momentum here and elsewhere in the world.
The New York Buddhist Vihara that hosts SLFP meetings in New York organised a Pinkama (religious ceremony) to invoke divine blessings to the incarcerated former general to which a large number, in terms of the Sri Lankans in New York, gathered.
In addition to Fonseka, supporters there were many who did not support him politically but who stood for justice and fair play.
They were of the view that law, order situation in the country is fast deteriorating, and immediate steps should be taken to rectify the situation.

Apsara appeal
Apsara Fonseka, the elder daughter of Sarath Fonseka, participated in the religious ceremony and thanked all who gathered in support of her father.
Speaking to crowd in attendance, she said, “I feel stronger than ever before” and said her father was a strong person and his endurance would make him a giant personality with a greater enthusiasm to serve the people.
The prelate in-charge of the New York Buddhist Vihara Ven Kurunegoda Piyatissa invoked blessings while Ven Akmeemana Nagitha conducted the religious ceremony.

A portrait of former General Fonseka was garlanded on this occasion.
The other main problem discussed in political and legal circles in Colombo is the legal hiatus created by the JVP’s Lakshman Nipunararchchi not accepting the seat purported to have been vacated in consequent to the conviction by the GCM of Sarath Fonseka. Although certain lawyers have expressed various legal opinions on the matter and when some had gone to the extent of saying that the matter should be referred to the Supreme Court for a ruling or the constitution should be amended since the constitution is silent on such an event, some others think it is not necessary.
They say that if the nominated member fails to turn up within a period of three months it should go to the next person in the list.

Accordingly, it is likely that Jayantha Katagoda, who is next on the list would accept the nomination at the expiry of three months following the nomination of Nipunarachchi by the election commissioner.
However, in all probability they think that it would have been better if the election commissioner delays the nomination pending the ruling of the Court of Appeal.
In the event Katagoda accepts the seat and the Court of Appeal declares the seat of Sarath Fonseka had not fallen vacant by virtue of the sentence awarded by the GCM, there once again creates a legal hiatus, which would require a declaration that the nomination of Katagoda is invalid.


Basil, Douglas praised for development role in North

On Wednesday, when the Cabinet met for the weekly deliberations, the President said he participated in many progress review meetings on a district basis and could only be satisfied with the development work that is taking place in the North.
He praised the efforts of Basil Rajapaksa and Douglas Devananda who had made an immense contribution towards developing once war-torn north.
The President said he was dismayed when compared south to that of North.
He looked worried and perturbed when he spoke of the unfolding events in the Ruhuna University and said Vice-Chancellor Professor Susiirth Mendis spoke to him.
The vice-chancellor had apparently told the President that his injury on the forehead prevented students from clashing and averted possible deaths.
The President, who admitted there should be a leeway for the students to protest by jeering, emphasised that it should not go beyond that.
Thereafter, he inquired as to whether Minister S B Dissanayake was present at the meeting when somebody replied in the negative, the President said, he should have been there to discuss the issue concerning the university students.
In the meantime, the government is considering curtailing the powers of the Provincial Councils now enjoyed by the provinces under the 13th amendment to the constitution.
According to the proposal, if the Provincial Council undertakes any work that has a direct link to the centre it requires the PC concerned to obtain the prior approval of the line ministry concerned.
Political sources pointed out that the move would further centralise power that had been devolved to the provinces under the constitution.
The government had already given approval to the proposal, which is likely to be implemented as an administrative regulation initially, but would be given legal effect under the 20th amendment to the constitution which resolves do away with reserve list in the PCs.
The government is likely to discuss the issues relating to the 13th amendment with the Indian Foreign Minister, who would be in Colombo next month.
Tamilnadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi too wrote to the President recently urging the Sri Lankan government to expedite the resettlement process and give a better deal to the displaced people now that the government is enjoying a two-third majority in Parliament.