- Dr Jayalath
- TNA left in the
- Cader’s case
- Seniors meet
week was politically significant to Sri Lanka with two
important personalities visiting Colombo for bilateral
Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna preceded the
visit by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari who arrived in
Sri Lanka on a four-day visit.
India being the closest neighbour and the proponent for a
viable settlement for the ethnic question bore much
significance to many including the Tamil diaspora outside
However, what baffled all was as to what prompted the Indian
Minister to cancel the scheduled meeting with the Tamil
political parties scheduled for Sunday.
National Alliance (TNA) sources say that it could have been
because he was compelled to put off the inauguration of the
Indian Consulate in Hambantota till Sunday owing to
incriminate climate prevailed over Sri Lanka. The original
plan was to visit Hambantota on Friday.
On Sunday, the TNA was told that the meeting was rescheduled
for noon from the original time 10am.
The Minister, however, could not make it on time and left
for India at 1:30pm local time on Sunday, virtually leaving
the TNA on the lurch.
The TNA appears to be in a flat spin over the issue since
they were readying for a useful discussion with the Indian
Minister on various issues including devolution and
resettlement of the displaced.
He met many important political leaders at a reception held
at the Taj Samudra Hotel on a casual basis, which did not
bear much political significance.
However, Krishna was nudging for a political settlement for
the Tamils in the North and the East during his talks with
President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The more extremist pro-Sinhalese political entities, led by
Wimal Weerawansa and Gunadasa Amaresekara, are reported to
have been uncomfortable with Indian Minister’s remarks on
The government, however, was smart enough to avoid any
reference to the 13th amendment to the constitution and
thereby talking about an extensive devolution package for
the ethnic question.
While in Colombo, the Indian Minister called upon Pakistan
to dismantle the ‘terror machine operating with impunity’
within its territory and bring all the perpetrators of the
Mumbai terror attacks to speedy justice.
His statement coincided with the second anniversary of the
2008 attack on Mumbai.
He said it was a stark reminder that no cause can ever
justify terror, either by state or non-state actors.
India sought peaceful, stable and co-operative relations
with Pakistan and it was committed to resolving all
outstanding issues through dialogue.
Krishna’s diplomatic disposition could have had cross
border effects on the eve of Ali Zardari’s visit to Sri
Lanka on bilateral matters and defence cooperation.
Though there was talk of enhanced defence co-operation with
Pakistan maybe to the much chagrin of India, nothing
surfaced during the visit of the Pakistani President Zardari
to Sri Lanka.
In the meantime, India is making diplomatic moves to have
its presence in a big way through aid and assisting the
resettlement process of the war displaced in a bid to offset
the imbalance created by the Chinese presence in the region.
On top of this, Sri Lanka forging close ties with Pakistan
for defence co-operation means something inimical to India’s
interests in the region.
Having elevated India’s status in the global political
context by the US President Barack Obama during his recent
visit to India, India now plays an important role in the
region ensuring democracy and security in the South Asian
region. Therefore, any step towards defence co-operation
with Pakistan should be viewed in the context of the present
regional political atmosphere before embarking on such a
India also wants to register its presence in the East, and
likely to make necessary arrangements to sign the two-stage
1000mw Sampur coal power project even with conditions set
out by Sri Lanka, though there was no specific reference to
the matter during the Indian External Affairs Minister’s
visit to Sri Lanka. The joint venture is between the Ceylon
Electricity Board (CEB) and the National Thermal Power
Corporation of India.
Three weeks ago, the Attorney General’s Department was
busy studying the draft agreement and the Attorney General
forwarded some fresh queries to Delhi for their response.
The earlier plan was to sign the agreement during Krishna’s
visit to Sri Lanka that was dragging since 2006 due to
Soon after President Rajapaksa’s visit to India in June,
when the Indian Government pledged a massive US$200 million
loan to the cash strapped CEB to undertake required
construction work of power transmission lines, the papers on
the draft MoU were sent to the AG for his observations.
The draft agreement includes a 500-acre land lease, power
purchase agreement, and a Board of Investment joint venture
deal which would assure a 25-year tax holiday.
What is interesting to observe is how India is using its
diplomatic skills to keep its neighbours under their thumb
to ensure their own security in the region.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was in a different mood
altogether when he addressed parliament on the invitation of
Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa.
President Zardari spoke of goodwill between the two
countries and outlined the need to improve security and
“Sri Lankans should think of security and infrastructure,”
Simultaneously, he emphasised that it could not be achieved
President Zardari said that they posses the necessary
technology and would be happy to co-operate with Sri Lanka.
Addressing parliament, the visiting President also declared
that there are no political prisoners in Pakistan.
Speaking further, the President said both countries have a
rich cultural heritage and the friendship dates back to
thousands of years.
He also proposed that both countries could engage in
dollar-free trade in the absence of a common currency,
meaning the bartering system.
President Zardari’s speech could be described as a hint
that Sri Lanka should develop its own security to face any
future security challenges and is a soft diplomatic missive
The President was indirectly encouraging greater defence
co-operation between the two countries that could eventually
be the bugbear of India.
However, Sri Lanka has to be cautious in view of the present
global position India has achieved as an economic giant. At
the same time, Sri Lanka could learn lessons from the past,
especially the political complexities encountered by the J R
Jayewardene regime, owing to his policies slanted towards
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was at the Bandaranaike
International Airport to receive President Asif Ali Zardari,
left for the United Kingdom on Sunday after playing host to
the visiting President while the visiting President was
still in the country.
President Rajapaksa was scheduled to address the Oxford
Union on December 2, which was, however, cancelled by the
Oxford Union on a unilateral decision taken by them after
they came under heavy pressure owing to mounting protests by
the Eelam lobbyists in the Europe, which could have been a
security threat to the visiting President.
The speech President Zardari made in parliament was good
material for Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who
cashed in on it to call on the government to immediately
release former army commander Sarath Fonseka, who is
languishing in jail following a decision by a court martial.
Wickremesinghe said that there are no political prisoners in
Pakistan and not even in Myanmar, pushing the government to
a tight corner.
But, Leader of the House Nimal Siripala de Silva was quick
to respond saying that Fonseka is not a political prisoner
and that he had been incarcerated after a due judicial
Sarath Fonseka’s case is taking a new turn after the
exoneration of Deputy Minister Abdul Cader by the High Court
after the Attorney General submitted that he could not
maintain charges against Cader in the absence of original
documents pertaining to the offence alleged to have
committed by him.
The senior counsel appearing for Sarath Fonseka, Nalin
Ladduwahetti, cited Abdul Cader’s case and said the same
terms should be applicable in Sarath Fonseka’s case.
Abdul Cader, a political turncoat, was acquitted by the High
Court recently after the Attorney General maintained that
the original documents pertaining to the transaction could
not be traced.
Cader was charged for criminal misappropriation of Rs.1
million. He was the minister of cooperatives of the
2001-2003 UNP regime under the then Prime Minister, Ranil
In the meantime, the Supreme Court this week will decide on
the important constitutional question whether or not a court
martial could be considered a court of law within the
meaning of the constitution.
Lawyers argue that only a writ jurisdiction could be
exercised against a court martial since it is not a court
established under the normal law of the country, but a
special institution set up under the military law.
They also argue it is a court within the meaning of the Sri
Lankan Constitution then the convicts of such courts should
have the right to appeal.
The Supreme Court determination on the matter this week will
end speculation whether or not a military court could be
considered a court within the meaning of the normal law that
entails the disqualification provision specified in the
The decision either way is likely to benefit Sarath
If the Supreme Court decides that a military court is
similar to a normal criminal court then there arises the
question whether the proper criminal procedure had been
followed when arriving at its decision.
If it is a court of first instance, the due procedure has to
be followed in terms of the criminal procedure code.
Accordingly, Fonseka will be entitled to bail as in other
cases and other convicts.
If the court decides that the ‘military court’ is not a
court within the realm of the normal law, the whole matter
ends there which means the question whether Sarath Fonseka
is entitled to sit and vote in parliament ends there in
favour of Fonseka. Legal experts predict that either way it
would benefit Sarath Fonseka and the landmark judgment of
the Supreme Court will create precedence in the annals of
the Sri Lankan legal history.
In the present political context, concerning Sri Lanka what
should take precedence over other matters is endurance to
heal the wounds and scars of ethnic disharmony that bled the
country for 30 long years.
The protests in London and the subsequent cancellation of
the President’s address to the Oxford Union shows that the
ethnic hatred is high and widespread elsewhere though it
appears to have subdued here.
It is now time opportune for the government to address these
issues on a priority basis with the help of India so that
the present administration would be viewed in different
perspective here and elsewhere as who had done the utmost to
douse the fires of ethnic hatred.
The Wikileaks website, known to be a whistleblower, had
described how former British foreign secretary David
Milliband had used the Sri Lankan situation to increase his
vote base back home.
It also put the war crime charges on the doorstep of the
present administration, which could be a sheer embarrassment
to the country as a whole, and it reminds everybody the need
for a strong mechanism to counter these allegations
surfacing in the international political arena.
The country has bitter lessons to learn through trial and
error methods and rectify the errors to project a better
image of Sri Lanka internationally.
Nobody doubts the bona fides of the President and the
government but the question is whether the government is
availing itself of proper advice to forge ahead as an
emerging and a vibrant democracy in the Asian continent.
Under any situation the endurance of President Rajapaksa
should be appreciated when he remarked after the
cancellation of the address to the Oxford Union: “I will
seek venues in the UK and elsewhere to talk about my future
vision for Sri Lanka.”
British Defence Secretary Liam Fox and James Langman,
president-elect, Oxford Union, met President Rajapaksa
following the cancellation of the speech at the Oxford Union
to express their regrets for the unforeseen incident that
prevented the President from delivering his speech at
The tremors of the London protest by the unruly ‘Eelam’
lobby groups were felt in Sri Lanka’s parliament on Thursday
when government parliamentarians including several ministers
allegedly attempted to manhandle UNP parliamentarian Dr
They charged that Dr Jayawardhana led the protests
against the President in London.
In the parliament lobby too, there had been unpleasant
incidents when several government parliamentarians hurled
insults at Dr Jayawardhana.
Eventually, he and several UNP members lodged a complaint
with the Speaker over the matter.
Dr Jayawardhana explained matters to the Speaker who
promised to inquire into the incidents that took place
within and outside the well of parliament.
Several Ministers surrounded Jayawardhana in a bid to
attack him. However, several UNP parliamentarians intervened
to avert a possible exchange of blows.
The UNP later held a press conference at its headquarters to
denounce the attack on one of its members.
UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe said the UNP was not in any
way involved in such protests and said Dr Jayawardhana was
in Rome when the President arrived in London.
He said that the government had created a bad precedence by
It was started with attacking journalists and now it has
been extended to parliamentarians as well, the leader of the
He also reminded how a parliamentarian threw a bottle of
water at him since they could not meet argument through a
He also said that if there is an issue in focus, they could
resolve it through democratic means through discussion and
debate and not by resorting to violence.
“If this continues it will develop into a crisis,” he added.
Dr Jayawardhana at this point of time showing a
blood-splattered wound on his arm said he was subjected to
bodily harm by some politicians.
Many in the private gallery of parliament including
schoolchildren were removed following this incident and the
Speaker suspended sittings for nearly 25 minutes.
Lobby correspondents and other observers were aghast by the
behaviour of chief government whip Dinesh Gunawardene, given
his credentials as a politician who commanded respect among
others in the past.
The turmoil and conflict which had embraced the Sri Lankan
society today could have been derived from the political
system in force from 1978 where power centres around a
Many experts, political and legal, see that there is an
acute imbalance in the system so created due to lack of
proper checks and balances and proper separation of powers
among the institutions came in to being following the 1978
Hence, in the present state of affairs it is important to
note the submissions made by eminent judge Christy
Weeramantry who appeared before the Lessons Learnt and
Reconciliation Commission, headed by former Attorney General
C R de Silva.
Judge Weeramantry said: “In 1978, when President Jayewardene
sought to introduce the presidential system I realised in
the light of the studies that I have done the proposed
constitutional structure opened up possibilities for
authoritarian rule through the violation of the principle of
separation of powers and the departure from the basic tenets
which had thus far protected the liberty of the subject in
At a meeting with President Jayewardene, Judge Weeramantry
pointed out that the presidential power under the system was
so great as to place democratic principles in danger.
He also had pointed out that President Jayewardene had
created a serious concentration of presidential power with
serious implications for the future.
However, Judge Weeramantry was not successful in convincing
the former president to pursue him to desist from the course
“The excessive use of power, in denial of democratic
rights which I anticipated in 1976 when I first studied the
question received strong confirmation in the Mahinda
Chinthanaya, which said that the executive presidency in the
past had been used to postpone elections, topple elected
governments, to disrupt the judiciary, to ban political
parties. Suppress demonstrations and lead the country
towards a violent culture, to sell state institutions at
under-valued prices, to defend criminals and to concessions
to unscrupulous businesspersons. Agreements that betrayed
the country were entered into by using the powers of the
This categorical statement that judge Weeramantry made
was a strong indictment on the presidential system.
He said that if the presidential power was capable of being
used to disrupt the judiciary, to ban political parties and
to betray the country, the fundamental principles of
democracy were in danger. Then this is the strongest
possible reason that it should be subjected to necessary
checks and balances.
“It is true President Rajapaksa gave a categorical assurance
that he himself would convert the executive presidency into
a Trusteeship, which honours the mandate given to
parliament, establishing equality before the law, being
accountable to the judiciary and not being in conflict with
the judiciary. Trusteeship is indeed a noble concept and
such an assurance by the President is most honourable and
welcome. Yet, it still personal to him and does not have the
force of law, however noble the intention behind it. Nor
does it bind the future holder of the office.”
To create harmony, judge Weeramantry believes that the
confidence of the minorities should be built on a firm
foundation with their rights guaranteed and upheld without
fear or favour.
As a prerequisite he proposes, “A constitution which shields
all citizens from abuse of power and authority and
guarantees them against any denial or erosion of their
rights, the freedom of information and complete
If achieved, he is of the view that it could foster peace
and create a united Sri Lanka which will be a model to the
rest of the world.
In another political development last week, the Beliatta
Pradeshiya Sabha, known to be a stronghold of the
Rajapaksas, was in the news when the opposition with the
help of several ruling party members defeated the annual
budget of the Pradeshiya Sabha.
The PS chairman, though said that the budget would be
presented for a second time, it is doubtful whether he would
be able to muster the necessary vote.
However, there is provision in the present act to pass the
budget even if it failed to go through the Pradeshiya Sabha
with a majority vote. The PS chairman could use the
executive power to pass the budget under the present Local
However, with the introduction of the new act that was
examined by the Supreme Court for its constitutionality, if
the Pradeshiya Sabha failed to pass the budget with a
majority, it may face dissolution requiring fresh election
or it would come under the administration of a special
commissioner appointed by the minister in-charge of local
The defeat at the Beliatta Pradeshiya Sabha, though would
not change the status quo, had sent a strong signal to the
government that the people are not too happy with the
economic and political disposition of the government.
The credit according to the UNP sources goes to none
other than Sajith Premadasa who is also the district leader
Last Tuesday, Premadasa made a valuable contribution on
behalf of the UNP in parliament participating in the budget
debate where the party leader made it a point to
congratulate Premadasa on his fine delivery.
Premadasa, while acknowledging the sentiments expressed by
the leader, told him that he was able to add more
significance to his achievement by defeating the ruling
party in Beliatta.
Beliatta may not be a big problem for the government given
the parliamentary power enjoyed by them, but there are
several issues at hand concerning the Senior Ministers.
Several Senior Ministers had a meeting with Economic
Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa in a bid to sort out
the problems arising from these appointments.
Attorney General Mohan Peiris too was present on the
occasion to explain the aims behind such appointments but
several Ministers including the former Prime Minister
Ratnasiri Wickramanayake showed his resentment by saying
that here was no legal issue but a political one.
In the mean time, one senior minister has called the line
ministry of which he is playing a supervisory role to
inquire as to whether he could assume duties, but the reply
was in the negative saying that they were still seeking
clarification on the matter.
Several Senior Ministers seemed frustrated while the others
maintain a stoic silence wandering as to what would be their
They were in fact not happy when heard that all “seniors”
irrespective of their responsibilities would be housed in
The fate of these ministers were the focus of attention of
Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe when he addressed
parliament on the budget debate and elsewhere he said the
government had sent all the seniors to Vishramapaya (a home
dedicated for those in retirement) while sending the people
to Apaya – the home of misery.