The Nation Sunday Print Edition - page 5

5
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Politics
By Rasika Jayakody
N
o confidence motion, which
was presented against Pub-
lic Order Minister John
Amaratunga with the signatures
of 114 MPs in the House, certainly
came as a shock to the UNP-led
Maithrpala Sirisena government.
It was a clear indication that the
United People’s Freedom Alliance,
which is the main opposition co-
alition at the moment, still wields
the majority power in Parliament.
By presenting a no-confidence mo-
tion with the endorsement of 114
MPs, the opposition showed that it
could still ‘topple’ the government
although the government managed
to get its interim budget passed
with a majority of 163 votes – a ma-
jority that set a new record in the
country’s political history.
It was no coincidence that the
handing over of the no-confidence
motion and the second reading
vote of the interim budget of the
new government fell on the same
day. The opposition, which had al-
ready decided to vote in favour of
the budget, knew that the budget
would receive almost unanimous
endorsement from the House, giv-
ing a strong political edge to the
United National Party. The opposi-
tion needed a simultaneous exer-
cise to show its strength in Parlia-
ment, while supporting the interim
budget which introduced a string
of subsidies and price reductions
to the general public of the country.
That was where the no-confidence
motion against Minister John
Amaratunga came into play.
Pensions at risk
Prime Minister Ranil Wick-
remesinghe, being the astute politi-
cian he is, came up with a master-
stroke to hamper the no-confidence
motion presented by the opposi-
tion. Speaking to the Working
Committee of the party on Sunday,
the Prime Minister said the Parlia-
ment would be dissolved in the face
of the no-confidence motion’s de-
feat. The Prime Minister made this
remark with the knowledge that he
was in possession of a great trump
card that could turn the tables on
the opposition.
At the Working Committee meet-
ing of the United National Party,
which was held a day after the
second reading vote of the budget,
the Prime Minister said he would
dissolve Parliament if the ruling
party failed to defeat the no con-
fidence motion presented against
Amaratunga. Wickremesinghe was
aware of the fact that 69 MPs would
lose their pensions if the President
dissolved Parliament. The major-
ity of Parliamentarians who would
lose their pensions, needless to say,
were from the United People’s Free-
dom Alliance as it has the bigger
share in the house.
Soon after the Prime Minister
made the announcement about
the dissolution of Parliament, the
top rung leadership of the UPFA
came under heavy pressure from
its MPs to hold the no-confidence
motion back. It was crystal clear
that the MPs were more concerned
about their pensions than the issue
they had with Public Order Min-
ister John Amaratunga who was
accused of encouraging an attack
against the Chairman of the Wat-
tala Pradeshiya Sabha. Following
this development, the seniors of
the UPFA said the no-confidence
motion against Amaratunga would
not be taken up immediately.
In an interview with a state
run newspaper on Friday, Oppo-
sition Leader Nimal Siripala de
Silva played a different tune on the
matter.
Nimal Siripala’s spin
“Tabling a no confidence mo-
tion has its own dimensions. We
have to highlight the police inac-
tion and violence that had been
perpetrated against our support-
ers. Therefore, Parliament would
be the best forum to do that. It is
with this intention that we have
brought this no confidence motion
against Public Security, Christian
Religious Affairs and Disaster
Management Minister John Ama-
ratunga. I think as a result of the
no confidence motion that we have
brought, there are some positive
aspects. The Prime Minister and
the President had appointed some
special committees to go into vari-
ous post election violence issues
and settle them and to bring the
culprits before court and give af-
fected and victimized people relief.
Therefore, that was the purpose of
the no confidence motion.
The no confidence motion has
not yet been included in the Order
Paper. But, once it is included in
the order paper, depending on the
government business etc., and on
how many days would be available,
it can be debated. That is a matter
for the party leaders to take into
consideration and initiate a debate.
But as an opposition, we have ful-
filled our duty by bringing the mo-
tion and now it is in the hands of
the House,” the Opposition Leader
said.
According to Opposition Leader
Nimal Siripala de Silva, it was the
Parliamentary group of the UPFA
who presented the no-confidence
motion against the Minister of
Public Order, without consulting
President Maithripala Sirisena.
Had they said they decided to post-
pone the no-confidence motion in
support of the 100 day program of
the government, the entire process
would not have reflected badly on
the opposition. With the way the
opposition reacted to the dissolu-
tion claim of the Prime Minister,
it was quite evident that they put
their personal interests before the
collective interests of the party.
It gave rise to a serious ques-
tion about the credibility of the
country’s opposition.
More power-less good
governance
On the other hand, the ruling
party too acted in a despicable
manner when it came to the con-
troversy involving Public Order
Minister. No independent inquiry
was carried out into the Minister's
involvement in the assault on the
PS Chairman of Wattala and no ac-
tion was taken to arrest those who
were responsible for the attack. It
was, needless to say, a mere con-
tinuation of the practices adopted
by the previous government when
it came to issues involving its poli-
ticians. Instead of taking action
against its own party member,
the government talked about dis-
solving Parliament in an attempt
to circumvent the no-confidence
motion. This speaks volumes of
the government’s commitment to
the basic tenets of ‘good gover-
nance’ which was the theme of its
election campaign.
It does not require Einstein Wis-
dom to understand that both the
government and the opposition
are not reluctant to play ‘games’
with the mandate of the people
for their perks, privileges and ben-
efits. It also suggests that the new
government does not show a “true”
willingness to change the core of
the political culture of Sri Lanka
which is characterized with oppor-
tunism, duplicity and hypocrisy.
Electoral reforms
Another area that they hardly
focus on is the proposed amend-
ment to the electoral system of the
country. Although the proposed
amendments to the electoral sys-
tem made inroads into the 100 day
program of the government, it is
clear that the amendment has now
been put on the backburner. Ac-
cording to official spokespersons
of the government, the forthcom-
ing general election will be held
under the present system although
the proposed amendments will be
passed by Parliament within the
100 days.
However, MPs of both camps
have now proposed to prolong the
100 day program to ensure amend-
ments to the electoral system of
the country. Several key politi-
cians of the government and the
opposition have proposed to post-
pone the Parliamentary election,
especially to ensure the proposed
change in the electoral system in
the country.
Colombo District UPFA Parlia-
mentarian Thilanga Sumathipala
has already proposed to postpone
elections to ensure essential
reforms, especially of the elector-
al system. State Minister of Higher
Education Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha,
responding to Sumathipala’s state-
ment, also said that it was a good
move to postpone elections if there
is no pressure from the Sri Lanka
Freedom Party.
“Otherwise, everyone will pri-
oritize electoral consideration, not
work or reforms,” Wijesinha said
on Saturday on his Twiitter ac-
count.
There is pressure building up
from both camps that the Gener-
al Election should be held under
the new electoral system which
has already been proposed to the
country’s legislature. They are of
the view that the 100 day program
of the government will be mean-
ingless if the forthcoming elec-
tion is also held under the present
electoral system.
Despite pressure exerted by
MPs, it is learnt that the govern-
ment has already conceded that
the next General Election is likely
to be held under the existing elec-
toral system if Parliament is dis-
solved immediately after April
23 at the end of the 100 Day Pro-
gram of President Maithreepala
Sirisena.
By J Yogaraj
S
ri Lanka’s minorities especially,
TNA and SLMC, have voted
for a change in a bid to solve their
problems. Has the new government
done enough to solve these issues?
At present the focus is on how far
the government has progressed in
the 100 day program. We see and
hear news relating to many cor-
ruption charges, highlighted by the
media. We rarely get to hear news
relating to the progress of the 100
day program. It is important that if
there are serious corruption charges
those culprits should be brought to
book. But merely attacking individu-
als through unauthenticated alle-
gations will not serve the purpose.
If there is prudent and sufficient
evidence, then why hesitate? These
types of allegations will only slow-
down the implementing of the 100
day program. The 100 day program
is expected to bring relief to different
sections of the community.
Already the TNA has encoun-
tered internal problems. Many of
its members have protested against
their Parliamentary leader R. Sam-
panthan and M. Sumanthiran who
attended the 67th Independence
Day celebrations. The actions of
these two give the message that the
TNA has accepted the present con-
stitution of the country. The TNA or
Tamil National Alliance, as a matter
of policy, kept away from attending
the Independence Day celebrations
for a long time. This is because they
felt if they did, it would have given
the impression that they accepted
the present constitution of Sri Lan-
ka and also the ruling government,
which the Tamils claim has not ad-
dressed the real grievances of this
minority community.
The TNA is in loggerheads with
the SLMC regarding the issue re-
lating to the eastern province chief
minister. Finally the SLMC won the
battle, but it has created an issue
to the TNA. The alliance has not
shown its displeasure to the Gov-
ernment still. Why? No one knows
the answer. A moderate Tamil may
suspect the moves of the TNA as a
double game.
The State Minister of Defense Ru-
wan Wijewardena recently reiterat-
ed that the National Security cannot
be compromised. The government
will not remove any army camps in
any part of the country including the
north and east. Also the new gov-
ernment will never ever reduce the
military strength from north as well.
The TNA has not responded to these
statements. But Pon Selvarasa from
TNA condemned these statements
in Parliament.
Some members of the de facto
UNP government are still concen-
trating on highlighting the corruption
allegations of the previous regime.
They are not focusing on the 100
day program. These members think
that through corruption charges they
can provoke some senior members
of the SLFP and thereby create a rift
between SLFP members and Presi-
dent Maithripala Sirisena, the pres-
ent SLFP Chairman. But that has
not happen as of this date. There-
fore, in one way SLFP members are
trying to be patient, mainly to show
respect to President Sirisena. The
UNP should not take the stance tak-
en by the Opposition as weakness
because the political environment
can change.
The rift between the Opposition
and the UNP de facto Government
has surged during the last few days.
This has gone to a level, where the
Opposition has placed a no-con-
fidence motion against Minister of
Public Order, Disaster Management
and Christian Affairs John Amara-
tunge. As many as 114 members
have signed the motion paper. If 100
day program is to proceed without
facing obstacles, these rifts should
be avoided. President Maithripala
Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe should carefully
handle this situation and iron out the
differences between these two main
parties before it is too late.
Appropriation Bill
The House, on January 29, made
amendments before passing the
second reading of the Appropria-
tion (Amendment) Bill. The bill at-
tracted164 votes in favor and one
against. But this was again an ex-
tension of the budget of the previous
regime.
The Opposition should be com-
mended for helping the government
to pass this Interim Budget. We
should recall that even when the pre-
vious regime (Mahinda Rajapaksa
Government) presented the annual
Budget in October 2014, the oppo-
sition UNP had opposed the entire
proposal. The then Opposition, UNP
(now considered as ruling party),
had less than 50 UNP members in
parliament. The present opposition,
which has the clear majority in Par-
liament, has unanimously supported
the interim budget and set an ex-
ample by making history. The ruling
minority should take a positive note
from this and they should learn a
lesson from the opposition. Even the
TNA, despite being displeased over
current happenings, voted in favor.
Only parliamentarian Ajith Kumara
voted against the Interim Budget.
Few Parliamentarians including
D.E.WGunasekera, Tissa Vitharana,
Dinesh Gunawardena, Geethanjana
Gunawardena, Vasudeva Nanayak-
kara, Wimal Weerawansa, Chan-
drasiri Gajadeera, Y G Padmasiri,
Weerakumara Dissanayaka and
Sriyani Wijewickrama refrained from
voting.
Making the reply speech regard-
ing the debate, Minister of Finance
Ravi Karunanayaka said this in-
terim budget has been prepared for
the entire year. He said the budget
was not targeting the 100 days of
government, which will be followed
by the general election. Every gov-
ernment has these types of typical
statements, but we need to wait and
see what happens after parliamen-
tary elections.
Two deadlock issues
There are two important issues to
be addressed immediately by the
present government. President Mai-
thripala Sirisena will have an uphill
task in resolving these. Regarding
the issue revolving around the east-
ern province chief minister, the TNA
might put pressure on the govern-
ment.
As for the issue of ‘territory’, with
the State Defense minister’s state-
ment on the military presence in the
north, we cannot expect any imme-
diate progress in releasing lands in
HSZ to civilians. Similarly we can
also expect that there won’t be any
compromise when it comes to the is-
sue of providing police powers to the
provincial council.
Whatever said and done, some
western countries including US, Brit-
ain, India and China have praised
the new government’s approach but
, look forward to many changes and
targets in near future.
US and Geneva moves
The United States recently com-
mended the steps taken by the new
government in Sri Lanka to address
post-war reconciliation and long-
standing crucial issues such as ac-
countability. The USA pledged to
assist the new government in cre-
ating a more open and democratic
society.
State Department Spokeswoman
Marie Harf said at a media briefing
recently that the United States “com-
mended steps taken by the new Sri
Lankan Government to address
things like reconciliation - long-stand-
ing issues, right - democratic gover-
nance, accountability.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. National
Security Adviser, Susan Rice in a
speech presenting President Barack
Obama’s 2015 National Security
Strategy said the United States will
help “countries in transition” includ-
ing Sri Lanka.
Earlier, the U.S. Assistant Secre-
tary of State for South and Central
Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal, the first
high ranking U.S. official to visit Sri
Lanka after the election of new Presi-
dent Maithripala Sirisena, said there
is a lot more work to be done for
Sri Lanka to pursue a future that is
peaceful, inclusive, and prosperous.
Concluding a two-day visit to the
country recently, Biswal expressed
the United States’ willingness to work
with the Sri Lankan government.
It is learnt that the Sri Lankan gov-
ernment seeks the support of US –
UN for an internal probe mechanism
on the latter stages of war. Unofficial
reports quote that UN might post-
pone the Human Rights probe where
a report in this regard is scheduled in
March in Geneva.
Good signs
Anyway, as far as the new interim
government is concerned, it has got
some time to act and implement
important reconciliation programs.
President Sirisena should take this
interim period seriously and put the
maximum effort to reconcile the lives
of Tamils. This minority should be
encouraged to be a part of the na-
tional policy generated programs.
(The author is a senior journalist)
Gambling with
People’s Mandate
MP Pensions are clearly more important than accusations against Minister
John Amaratunga of encouraging an attack against the Chairman of the
Wattala Pradeshiya Sabha
(File Photo)
New administration hasn’t solved
key issues of the Tamil people
AFP
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central AsianAffairs Nisha
Biswal (Right) had said that there is a lot more to be done for Sri Lanka to
pursue a future that is peaceful (AFP)
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