Peace for the World

Peace for the World
First democratic leader of Justice the Godfather of the Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle: Honourable Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Constitutional Politics

2017-11-20


Why is there so little interest about a political solution among the people throughout the country? How is it that the reactionary forces in the South and the North have taken the upper hand in the public domain and gaining ground in rejecting the constitutional
reform process?  

The problem I would argue is the lack of political vision of both the Government leadership and the TNA leadership. Three valuable years after regime change have been wasted without engaging and mobilising the people towards a political solution. Furthermore, the constitutional reform process was delinked from the everyday concerns of the people and their social and economic aspirations.  

Past, present and the future

The call for a political solution came out of our tragic history. Nationalist polarisation and a majoritarian post-colonial state tore apart the country for decades. If our leaders failed to stitch together an inclusive polity in the decades after Independence, the armed uprisings of later generations of youth in the South and the North resulted in immense of loss of life. Such tremendous violence and destruction requires deeper reflection about our past. And a political solution should internalise such self-critical reflection. Furthermore, a political solution can bring those who have lost faith in the democratic possibilities of our society, into meaningful participation with reformed state structures.  
While addressing such a divisive history is crucial, engaging people also requires starting from their current concerns. In this context, throughout the country there is increasing disenchantment about the deteriorating economy. There is little faith in the Government’s neo-liberal pronouncements about economic development and the war-torn regions in particular are trapped in a post-war economic crisis. How will the proposed constitutional reforms address such everyday concerns of the people?   
Those of us who are advocating devolution should link the constitutional debate to the travails of the people including the drought, lack of decent jobs and the rising cost of living. We have to articulate the implications of such constitutional reforms for the contemporary concerns that are topmost in the minds of people. Otherwise, why would the people listen to us, much less join the campaign for a constitutional solution? Therefore, devolution and its implications for regional development and rural rejuvenation have to be at the centre of the constitutional reform debate.  
A new Constitution is about our political future. How do we communicate the importance of a plural and democratic society? In a time, when ethnic polarisation and a majoritarian world view is projected nationally and regionally, the political vision of rebuilding inter-ethnic relations in all parts of the country is an urgent need. The constitutional reform process then has to be part of a larger vision of forging a consensus about rebuilding state and society around pluralism and equality. Such social diversity and economic equality should be emphasised, not just as mere legal enactments, but as central principles determining state policies. In other words, the political solution should address not only the ethnic question, but also class, gender and caste differences in our society.  

Chauvinists to the fore

The failure of those leading the constitutional reform process to articulate a vision that speaks to the people has provided an opportunity for the chauvinists in the country to divert the debate. In fact, the subtle message from the Government and the overt pronouncements from the TNA claim that the importance of such constitutional reforms is to win the confidence of the international actors; including for foreign investment and to relieve pressure in international forums. I would argue, the international actors have little interest in the constitutional reform process in Sri Lanka. In fact, international attention has shifted to other conflicts in other parts of the world, and the public discourse in Sri Lanka places excessive importance on geo-political interests.
The public discourse here is still stuck in the internationalised environment, at the height of the war, of a decade ago. In this context, the chauvinists in the South have made it a debate about sovereignty, international intervention and division of the country. The chauvinists in the North, on the other hand, claim it is about the TNA leadership succumbing to Colombo and betrayed Tamil aspirations by undermining international pressure.   
These chauvinists in the South and the North, even though they seem to be worlds apart, are in fact objective allies in their quest to keep the country polarised. They both either whip up fears through conspiracy theories or deploy grand narratives, about the same issues of separatism and international intervention; issues of little relevance in the post-war context. Furthermore, Sinhala and Tamil chauvinism converge and expose their character when the Muslim question arises. These chauvinists, regardless of their political location, are unashamedly anti-Muslim in their campaigns.   
Attacking the current efforts towards constitutional reform are now the proxy for the nasty political campaigns of the Joint Opposition seeking to mobilise Sinhala Buddhist nationalists and the number of narrow Tamil nationalist groupings now part of the recently formed Tamil Peoples Council. Neither of these forces have any meaningful solutions for the problems of the people, much less a political solution. Rather, their manoeuvres will only disrupt yet another opportunity to address the national question. Such cynical politics has been the curse of our destructive history.  

No easy road ahead

What the legal experts in Sri Lanka who have been involved in drafting new Constitutions have consistently failed to address is the class question, not just in the structure of the Constitution, but also in the broader process of mobilising for it. How do we make a new constitution speak to the mass of working and rural people belonging to the various ethnic communities in the country?  
People all over the country are resentful of the power in Colombo, just as people in the periphery of the North are resentful of the power concentrated in Jaffna. That has to do with a history social exclusion with uneven development as well as class and caste power intertwined with administrative state power. Is this not the basis for dismantling the unitary structure of the state which has concentrated power in Colombo? Such a move away from centralised state power should be coupled with means of protecting the concerns of the numerically smaller minorities and the socially excluded in the regions.   
While the media and our liberal elite are focused on corruption, issues such as uneven development and regional inequalities are rarely considered. Neither those advocating for a constitutional solution nor those opposed to it, have seriously addressed the issue of increasing inequalities in our society.   
The difficult road ahead for the political solution is dependent on engaging the people. For progressives in the North, devolution of power is crucial in order to put to rest Tamil nationalism. The progressives in the South, on the other hand, have to think more about how they can make devolution work for the people in the country rather than as something only important for Tamil aspirations. Regardless of where the constitutional reform process is headed, we have no choice but to engage in this political debate, as it is bound to determine the trajectory of our democratic future. 

Mangala’s Mangala Budget – Part 2: Go for reforms but permanently fix the country’s rising debt prob

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Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera delivering Budget 2018

Implementation is more important than presenting a Budget

Monday, 20 November 2017

Mangala’s Mangala Budget was approved in its Second Reading by a two-thirds majority in Parliament last week.

It would have certainly boosted his morale. Yet, so were the budgets presented by his predecessor as well. But, ex ante, as private research institute Verite Research had found (available at: http://www.budgetpromises.org/en), the Budget 2017 had gone into a dark abyss with only 3% of the proposals being implemented by mid-2017 and a further 32% remaining at various stages of implementation.

In Light Of Dr Nalaka Godahewa’s Speech At The UNHRC In Geneva – Part III

By Lionel Bopage –20November 2017


[Part 2 of this series was published on Thursday, the 16th November 2017]
Points Dr Godahewa has raised


imagePost-independence Sri Lanka offered equal rights to all citizens and communities; no minority is discriminated by any constitutional, legislative or judicial provision in Sri Lanka; all are citizens of equal rights in a unitary state; even after the war, bulk of development expenditure were routed to the north and the east;
The Soulbury Constitution of 1947 established the island’s first unitary state. It is a western constitutional construct that was imposed upon a country that was up to then under a decentralised administration. The new governance was based on majoritarian democracy, assuming a homogeneous populace ignoring the ethnic, religious and geographic diversity. The will of the majority was taken to form the basis of Lanka’s democracy. However, at least for the last several centuries, Lanka has not been a homogeneous society. The new unitary state almost always gave effect only to the views of the majority, thus at times undermining the human and democratic rights of the non-majority people.

Non-majority community rights

In a heterogeneous society, the will of the majority does not necessarily form the basis of democracy, unless proper checks and balances are incorporated in the application of basic law. Such checks and balances also need to be genuinely implemented to safeguard the just rights and fair interests of the non-majority people. Only such a governance system will prevent possible usurpations of their human and democratic rights. If not, representatives of the non-majority people will not be able to stop enactment and implementation of legislation that are designed to usurp their democratic rights or even safeguard those rights.

Sub-section 29(2) of the Soulbury Constitution was an exclusive clause designed for ensuring protection of non-majority peoples’ rights. It excluded the power of the Parliament to enact legislation that would limit the existing status or privileges of, or that will provide special status or privileges to any one language or religion. However, history has conclusively proven that Sub-section 29(2) did not stand in the way of enforcing the rule of the majority on non-majority people.

Post-independence Sri Lanka did not offer equal rights to all citizens and communities. Non-Sinhala people were pushed further away from the centres of power; in a similar vein, even the Sinhala people did not get the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of independence. Real independence was only granted to the upper echelons of the social strata who became the ruling elite of Lanka, who in turn were to represent and safeguard the colonial interests and pro-colonial privileges.
The Lankan ruling elite transformed themselves by changing their mother tongue and faith to pose as protectors of the Sinhalese and Buddhists. The first post-independence government of Mr D S Senanayake was confronted with political instability and a looming socio-economic crisis. This led to a political crisis that later culminated in the general strike in August 1953. The ruling elite used the majoritarian democracy to divide and rule people of Lanka based on linguistic, religious and caste background. To safeguard the class interests of the ruling elite from the challenges of the left, the Malaiyaha (plantation) Tamil workers’ trade union base was targeted, who before their franchise rights were extinguished, voted in large numbers for left wing parties.

Ceylon Citizenship Act

One of the first acts of the post-independence government was to disenfranchise almost one million Malaiyaha Tamil workers, effectively making them stateless under The Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948. The Parliamentary Elections Act of 1949 denied them their citizenship and voting rights. For the first time, a Sinhala majoritarian government took the basic human rights of the Tamil workers away. This step had limitless political ramifications among the non-Sinhala people, and it paved the way for reinforcing ethnic politics.

The bourgeois leaders made use of ethnic politics not only to challenge the growing working-class influence, but also to divert their attention away from the growing socio-economic crisis. This gave an outward expression to the class interests of the “national” bourgeoisie. Harmonised feelings of national awakening against colonial subjugation started to unfold with streams of discordance emanating from diverse ethno, linguistic and religious viewpoints.

Colonisation

Colonisation[i] is another significant issue that has affected Tamils in Lanka. In 1949, the first elected post-independence regime commenced settling large numbers of Sinhalese in the areas where a diverse population prevailed. With no amicable policy position or approach not to disturb the hitherto existing ethnic population ratios in such districts, settling of Sinhala people by the State in areas where Tamils historically prevailed continued unabated. This led to a perception of alienation of land of the Tamil-speaking people. In 1956, the first ethnic based riot in Lanka targeting Tamils was reported in Gal Oya, which was a new settlement in the Eastern Province, with 150 dead.
Again, the 1958 riots led to an estimated 300 dead, mostly Tamils. This paved the way for the inflamed ethnic relations in the island later. The riots against Tamils became more repetitive. In the years 1963, 1977, 1981 and 1983 many hundreds of Tamils tortured and killed, thousands of their properties looted and set on fire and many Tamil women raped. Many of these riots were instigated by spreading rumours. Riots appear to be mostly led by goons abetted by certain politicians. Tamils felt more vulnerable, as their land was also subjected to gradual Sinhala colonisation.

Manal Aru to Weli Oya – Overnight

A good example for this would be a place called Manal Aru located in the Mullaitivu and Vavunia Districts in the Northern province. Many thousands of Tamil families had lived there in 42 villages for generations. In 1984, the military had notified them to vacate their homes within 48 hours or they will be evicted. The 99-year leases given in 1965 to 14 Tamil entrepreneurs were also cancelled. A special regiment established in the colony provided security to Sinhala settlers that replaced the original Tamil inhabitants. The initial settlement of Sinhalese began as a dry zone farmer colony under the jurisdiction of the Land Commission. The Tamil families became refugees without receiving any assistance for resettlement.

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CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM

A reply to Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakse



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By Dr Nihal Jayawickrama-

The lengthy article by Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse PC on constitutional reform published in the newspapers recently appears to contain several errors of fact and of law. I have no wish to argue with the former Minister of Justice on his views on the legality of the current constitutional reform process in which he participated until his removal from office. However, any debate should proceed upon the basis of accurate information and correct statements of the law.

(i) Dr. WR: "We gained Dominion Status which did not amount to full independence with Soulbury Constitution and Ceylon Independence Ordinance in 1947/48."

The Ceylon (Constitution) Order in Council 1946 granted full self-government to Ceylon based upon a draft constitution that had been approved in the State Council by 51 votes to 3, including the affirmative votes of members belonging to the Tamil, Muslim and Burgher communities. That Constitution provided for a Governor, and established a House of Representatives and a Senate. The Ceylon Independence Act 1947, enacted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the Ceylon (Independence) Order in Council 1947, both of which came into force on 4 February 1948, granted "Dominion Status" to Ceylon. From that day, Ceylon was "fully independent", except that the Queen was the Head of State and was represented in Ceylon by the Governor-General who was appointed in consultation with, and thereafter acted on the advice of, the Prime Minister of Ceylon.

(ii) Dr. WR: "The Soulbury Constitution did not confer the power on the Parliament to replace it with a new constitution."

This is a misinterpretation of the law. Section 29 of the 1946 Constitution stated explicitly that "Parliament may amend or repeal any of the provisions of this Order". The exceptions were that "(a) no law could prohibit or restrict the free exercise of any religion; (b) make persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of other communities or religions were not made liable; (c) confer on persons of any community or religion any privilege or advantage which was not conferred on persons of other communities or religions; or (d) alter the constitution of any religious body except with the consent of the governing authority of that body". That restriction on legislative power was the compact between the majority and the minority communities, and the basis upon which Independence was granted to Ceylon. It was the condition precedent to Independence. Subject to that restriction, Parliament had the power to repeal and replace every other provision of the Constitution. The power to "amend or repeal" necessarily includes the power to replace. In fact, in 1970, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was replaced by our own Court of Final Appeal, and in 1971 Parliament abolished one of its constituent units, the Senate and chose not to replace it with another second chamber.

(iii) Dr. WR: "Dr Colvin R de Silva, with his wisdom realizing the legal barriers of the Soulbury Constitution to replace it, advised to form the said Constituent Assembly outside the Parliament." . . . "Since the Soulbury Constitution had not provided the authority and a procedure to adopt a new constitution by repealing the existing one, the government elected in 1970 had no option but to establish a Constituent Assembly operating outside Parliament".

This is not a correct statement of fact. The Common Programme drawn up by the SLFP, LSSP and CP in early 1968, in anticipation of forming a government at the next general election stated quite explicitly that "A Constituent Assembly will be established, and a new Constitution will be introduced. This Constitution will declare Ceylon to be a free, sovereign and independent Republic". There was no legal impediment to Parliament enacting the necessary legislation to declare Ceylon to be a Republic, a course which several other Commonwealth countries had already followed. Nor was there any legal impediment to Parliament establishing a Constituent Assembly as India had done. However, Dr Colvin R de Silva refused to consider the perfectly practical option of terminating Ceylon’s link with the British Crown through the powers conferred on Parliament by the British Crown. He argued that freedom should be asserted by a free people through a body constituted outside the legal order established by the British Crown. This was a principled stand by one of the twentieth century’s greatest lawyers who had consistently refused to apply for "silk" since he had no wish to be one of "Her Majesty’s Counsel Learned in the Law". That exercise in autochthony – in establishing a new legal order that sprang from our own native soil – was a bold, idealistic, exciting, even romantic, experience not only for those of us who steered it through possible legal pitfalls, but also for a great many constitutional lawyers and academics worldwide for whom this legal revolution was a rare precedent.

(iv) Dr. WR: "The draft of the constitution made by the constitutional assembly was presented to the Parliament and it passed with a majority of 2/3 on 22nd May 1972 by replacing the Soulbury Constitution."

This is a complete misstatement of facts. Following the July 1970 ceremonial meeting at the Navarangahala of the elected members of the House of Representatives at which they constituted themselves as the Constituent Assembly, it was resolved that all future meetings would be held in the parliamentary chamber. Nearly two years later, following the final meeting of the Constituent Assembly, at which the draft constitution was adopted by 119 votes to 16, the members (including those from the UNP who had voted against) adjourned to the Navarangahala. There, at the auspicious time of 12.43 pm, the President of the Assembly, Stanley Tillekeratne, certified the adoption and enactment of the new constitution by the Constituent Assembly. Immediately thereafter, Mrs Bandaranaike took her oath of office as Prime Minister. She then nominated William Gopallawa as the President of the Republic, whereupon he took his oath of office. The focus then shifted to President’s House (until then, Queen’s House) where superior court judges, ministers, permanent secretaries and service commanders took their oaths of office. Ceylon ceased to exist, and in its place the Republic of Sri Lanka arose. The new constitution was never submitted to Parliament.

(v) Dr. WR: "When Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Mr J.R. Jayewardene wanted to enact new constitutions in 1970 and 1977 respectively, they did not seek advice of any overseas experts or spend public funds in millions on expert advice. If the members of the legislature are not competent or have capacity to make the laws necessitated for the country, what is the use of maintaining such a Parliament?".

None of our constitutions were "drafted" by members of the legislature. The drafting history of the 1946 Constitution is too well known to require recounting here. The 1972 Constitution was drafted by a 12-member Drafting Committee consisting of lawyers, academics and political scientists (in which I had the privilege to serve), and thereafter channelled through a Ministerial Sub-Committee and a Steering and Subjects Committee to the Constituent Assembly. The Assembly then divided itself into eleven committees, with each committee examining a chapter in detail and receiving oral public representations, after which the Drafting Committee prepared the final draft for submission to the Assembly. The 1978 Constitution was also drafted by "experts" (believed at the time to have included Gamini Dissanayake and Mark Fernando). It was tabled at the final meeting of a Select Committee of the National State Assembly that had been appointed to consider the revision of the 1972 Constitution. The Committee had held several meetings, some of which I attended as an advisor to the Opposition Members on it, Mrs Bandaranaike and Maithripala Senanayake. It had heard oral representations, and then considered draft revisions, including a new chapter on fundamental rights that I prepared for submission by the SLFP. Much to our astonishment, it became apparent that what the government had in mind was not the revision of the existing constitution through the Select Committee, but its repeal and replacement by a wholly new constitution prepared outside the Select Committee.

It is not a reflection on our own abilities to seek the wisdom of others in fulfilling our responsibilities. When we drafted the Administration of Justice Bills of 1974 and 1975, we benefitted greatly from the reports and recommendations of the Law Reform Commissions of Canada, United Kingdom and Australia. When I was drafting the Bill to abolish the right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, I sought the experience of countries that had already done so, and found their contributions to be extremely valuable.

(vi) Dr WR: "In 1940 people of Korea never aspired or dream to divide Korea. But the United Nations was instrumental in dividing it into South Korea and North Korea".. . "UN was instrumental in dividing Kosovo from Serbia, and also dividing Sudan in 2011"

This is a serious misreading of contemporary world history, apparently intended to denigrate the United Nations and its perceived "interference" in Sri Lanka’s "domestic affairs". At the end of the Second World War, upon the surrender of Japan, the Korean peninsula was divided into two zones, with the north being occupied by the Soviet Union and the south by the United States. The United Nations had not even been formed at the time. Kosovo, which since the Ottoman Empire had been a part of Serbia, declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. Although recognized by 111 states so far, Kosovo is not yet a member state of the United Nations. The Republic of South Sudan was formed following a referendum in which 83% of the population voted to secede from Sudan. The UN was not instrumental in "dividing" Sudan, as claimed by Dr Rajapakse.

(vii) Dr WR: "Whose need is to have a new constitution devolving powers enabling the conversion of this country to a federal state with the right of self-determination for Tamils in North and East and also by removing the foremost place and protection given to Buddhism? . . . The question that has arisen is whether a new constitution should be promulgated just to satisfy 2.5 million votes of the minority communities, ignoring 9.4 million votes of the Sinhalese. . . Laws must be enacted with the majority opinion; not with the minority opinion."

It is sad when a person who is educated, both in law and in ecclesiastical matters, expresses such lack of respect for communities other than his own. It is socially obnoxious, politically reckless, and economically ignorant to cheapen the presence of any community in one’s country. As a distinguished jurist has observed, "it is only the weak-minded people incapable of comprehending the origins of the modern state, its philosophy, its instruments, and its edicts, that resort to such approaches in managing the expression of disagreement". The strength and beauty of Sri Lanka lies, not in its rivers and its mountains, but in its people: multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-linguistic. That is what creates the mosaic of one nation.

I am compelled to repeat what I stated 21 years ago, in the Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike Memorial Lecture, since the sentiments I expressed then are, unfortunately, as relevant today as they were then:

"Constitution-making becomes a meaningless exercise if it does not respond to the evolving aspirations of the people of the country. The voice of the minority communities in the North and East has been loud and clear in its support for genuine autonomy. They ask for space; space which they are entitled to as of right in this multicultural state of which they are an integral part; space in which to preserve their unique identities, because identity is the central issue of being; space in which to keep alive their languages and their history, their legends and their stories. The identity of a community is inviolable. It is not enough to be who we are; we must also be seen and heard and respected for who we are. When that basic right is denied, by force or otherwise, peoples will struggle and fight to regain it. The space that a minority community seeks is not negotiable, and therefore ought not to be conditional upon, or indeed to await, a referendum or national consensus or even a cease fire. The initiative rests with the government to do that which the law and common-sense demand."

Therefore, it seems to me that, whatever agreement may be reached on governance at the periphery, it is vital and fundamental that there should be power-sharing at the centre. That cannot be achieved by the inclusion of Colombo-based unelected Tamils in the Cabinet, such as C. Kumarasuriar and Lakshman Kadirgamar, who represented none but themselves. Power sharing at the centre is a requirement that should be incorporated in the Constitution. Whichever political party forms the government, it should be mandatory for the different ethnic groups to be represented in the Cabinet, at least in proportion to the number of such members elected to Parliament. Thereby, the minority communities will be constitutionally guaranteed not of token but of genuine representation, both in the legislature and in the government. Policy formation will then be by consensus of the different ethnic groups, which is how it should be if multiculturalism is accepted, recognized, and celebrated; not brushed under the carpet as a canker on the body politic.

Improving the quality of policy proposals in the Budget


Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera

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Monday, 20 November 2017 


Every Budget Speech includes complex policy measures. Given the traditions associated with the Budget Speech, it is not possible to conduct public consultations on each of the measures beforehand. But without extensive consultation and input from persons with deep subject knowledge, the proposals will be half-baked. They are likely to contain significant errors, may not achieve the stated objectives and worst of all may cause harm.

Ideally, teams of officials in the line ministries as well as in the ministry or ministries responsible for overall coordination (e.g., Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance) will be permanently engaged in research on solutions to various policy problems. Their findings will be easily retrievable by senior policymakers on occasions when they have to respond to a crisis or demand of some kind or have to prepare a Budget Speech or brief a new Minister. These occasions are described in the academic literature as policy windows.

Lack of knowledge within Government

Unfortunately, this ideal scenario is unlikely under the conditions currently prevailing within Government in Sri Lanka. Senior officials are consumed by mundane matters and ceremonies. With a few exceptions, most are not attuned to research or even to systematic data collection and synthesis.

The proposal included in the 2018 Budget Speech to impose a levy of Rs. 200,000 per mobile antenna tower, per month, is a good example.

The Minister is ill-informed even on the number of towers that are to be subject to the levy. In Parliament he had stated that there are 50,000 towers. If Rs. 2.4 million is collected annually from 50,000 towers, the yield will be Rs. 120 billion, eight times what the Budget Speech states is the expected yield from both the tower levy and the tax on bulk SMS, Rs. 15 billion.

The tower levy is unlikely to result in the quick consolidation of antennae to fewer towers because tower sharing is already happening and in most cases, mounting additional antennae on existing towers is not practically possible because of the weight they (or the underlying structures) have been designed to carry. The likely outcome is the shutting down of marginal towers, harming the quality of service in the cities and loss of service in some rural areas.

The evidence suggests that the drafters of the speech failed even to consult the Telecom Regulatory Commission, which is the governing body with the relevant expertise. Ignorance of technology is rife. According to a Minister who has an engineering degree, a total of nine towers can carry all mobile telecom signals in Sri Lanka.

The claim that fewer towers will yield health benefits is also fallacious. The fact that cellular networks require a large number of low-power base-transceiver stations because the same frequencies are reused in non-adjacent cells appears to have been missed by those who grew up in the age of tall analogue broadcast towers that transmitted at full power.

A second-best solution

Until such time as we can reform the administrative service and remedy the ignorance of our ministers, what can be done to avoid the embarrassment of half-baked policy measures that have to be walked back or quietly buried when stakeholders and outside experts demonstrate their flaws?

The solution is for think tanks to conduct research on various policy options and make available their findings to policymakers in easily absorbable forms. And for policymakers to be open to such research.

The 2018 Budget’s proposal contains a proposal that exemplifies the elements of workable solution:”Farmers are constantly at the mercy of the weather gods and successive governments have been doling out funds to the farmers whenever there has been a drought or floods in an indiscriminate manner. It is in this context that the weather indexed insurance scheme has been designed. The insurance cover will be a minimum of Rs. 40,000 per acre for six crops including paddy and other five emerging crops such as maize, soya, big onion, potato and chilli. This will be a contributory scheme with the premium being borne by both the farmer and the Government.

The Government will invest Rs. 3,000 million in 2018. To support such ventures we will also upgrade the Department of Meteorology with state-of-the-art technology and elevate the capacity of the personnel.

Weather-indexed crop insurance is gaining acceptance in countries such as India, Kenya and Ethiopia as an alternative to indemnity-based crop insurance. It is new to Sri Lanka. The payout in the index-based form is based on a parameter such as rainfall. It does away with field assessments and closes off opportunities for extracting bribes. It is characterised by low transaction costs and addresses the moral-hazard and adverse-selection problems associated with indemnity-based insurance.


The language in the Budget Speech did not emerge fully formed from within the Finance Ministry. Late last year, the Institute of Policy Studies posted an entry in its ‘Talking Economics’ blog describing the policy instrument and identifying problems such as the lack of weather stations and delays in reporting. In November 2016 and January 2017 local newspapers carried reports on IPS’ work on weather-indexed insurance. Possibly more coverage occurred in electronic media and the Sinhala press. The message got through.

The very fact that Rs. 200 million is to be allocated to the Department of Meteorology for upgrading its technical and human capabilities is indicative that the research had impact. The fact that the proposal is for six crops at the outset suggests that the need to start small and learn from the first few seasons has been internalised.

Why can we not have more of these successes? More policy-relevant research being conducted by think tanks and greater receptivity to policy research on the part of Government officials and politicians would shield the Government from much embarrassment and save the taxpayer a lot of money.

LIRNEasia, the think tank I am associated with, may be able to contribute to effective implementation of weather-indexed crop insurance. In collaboration with the University of Moratuwa, we are in the process of obtaining funds for research on how to tell localised weather from the mobile networks using a method proven in the Netherlands and Israel. It will use the rain-induced attenuation of microwave signals among the ubiquitous mobile antenna towers (that the Government is trying to shut down) to supplement the rainfall data from conventional weather stations.

In an ideal world, a small part of the Rs. 200 million allocated for buying equipment for the Department of Meteorology would be used to support this kind of direct policy-relevant research. But the research will be done and the findings shared with policymakers, even in the non-ideal world we live in.

Time to turn a new page


2017-11-20
The latest budget is out, and the electronic media is going full-throttle interviewing the ‘man and woman on the street’ to get his and her opinion. He or she is indeed a valid voice in the situation, they are the ones who are directly affected by the ‘mangala mohotha’ of Minister Samaraweera. He sure is on a high and the budget has triggered a tendril of hope among the masses, maybe it could be termed as a beginning of a ‘new page,’ which is so badly needed in today’s Sri Lanka. Of course, the proof of the pudding is yet to come, but at least for the moment we do have a new pudding to eat.
There has been a fair share of distrusts and negativity about the proposed budget. especially from those who rode bicycles to the parliament. There are others, non-political, who see all this as another mirage of unreality. They too could be right, after all, we did have a pocket full of promises that were made at the onset of the Yahapalanaya that simply fizzled out leaving a sky-wide void of disappointment which closely matched the misgivings of the previous regime.   

That being the case, amidst these pluses and minuses in the budget equation, let us hope Minister Mangala is getting off the blocks turning a new page to usher a new dawn.
It was a week ago, I wrote that all our woes come from Diyawanna-Oya. People are still scrambling to get fuel into their empty tanks and queuing up around petrol stations. We must be grateful that the lines are now shorter, and things seem to be moving on. This is certainly an incident that has left a big dent in the minds of the people and drained what little confidence they had in the system that governs us. The fact remains crystal clear that someone made a mistake. There should be no cheering squads for not accepting the fuel that sailed into the harbour that was not up to specifications. The rejection of that shipment was the ‘lo and behold’ duty of the ministry in question. The ‘Mia Culpa’ comes from the fact that there were no adequate reserves to handle a simple shipment that went sour. Someone did blunder in this instance and that is a foregone conclusion. As I write this article, Minister Sarath Amunugama leads a special team investigating the fuel crisis. Once the facts are found out on what went wrong, then only can the leaks be plugged to avoid a repetition. Let’s hope this is a new page we are turning without sweeping the dirt under the all-covering Diyawanna-Oya carpet.   

Relative to pages being turned, let’s look at a mega happening that took place recently. Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera’s second death anniversary was sacredly commemorated recently. He was the perfect patriot and the greatest strength this country has had as a deterrent to corruption and bad governance. During the ceremony there were two excellent speeches that addressed the current calamities of the country. One was by Prof. Sarath Wijesooriya which was followed by an address by President Maithripala Sirisena. Prof. Wijesooriya spoke mainly on the valiant efforts made by the late prelate to stem the tide of the rulers of that time and bring in a change which was named the Yahapalanaya. He then went on to make a critical analysis of the current regime, the pros and cons of promises made and promises broken. The renowned civil activist wasn’t mincing any words and laid it all bare in front of the gathering which included President Sirisena himself. It was freedom of speech and an erudite activist having the courage to voice the truth in matters that matter most.  

There has been a fair share of distrusts and negativity about the proposed budget

Recent fuel crisis has left a big dent in the minds of people

Ven. Sobitha was a perfect patriot and the greatest strength this country had

As much as there are culprits, there are honest men who occupy the benches of Parliament

The law is for everybody,
it should apply to all

President Sirisena on his turn spoke glowingly of the service rendered by the late Sobitha Thera and praised him for his invaluable commitment and wisdom to bring about a regime change in 2015. It was a sincere appreciation that had gratitude laced in every syllable he uttered. Then he moved on to the current political situation and came out strong to state his position as the leader of the coalition Government and its ramifications. “Have we done what we were supposed to do?” That was the theme. “Have we curbed corruption? “Have we brought to justice those who broke the law of the land?” Such were the questions he aimed at himself and at those who ruled along with him. Hard challenges for the ‘powers that be’, more than two years wasted playing ‘Hora Police’ where it was difficult to establish who was a hora and who would be the police.   

That is politics for you. The president vehemently made it clear that he would do his utmost to make things right irrespective of who was guilty. “The law is for everybody, it should apply to all and sundry with the same equality and intensity.”
Maybe the President is turning a new page looking for changes for the better. He must be well-aware that time sure is in short-supply before the elections arrive in 2020. Maybe he’s had enough of the nonsense that has been the hallmark of some who hold power in Diyawanna-Oya. As much as there are culprits there are honest men too who occupy the benches of the Parliament. That fact could be the catalyst to bring about a much-needed change in the culture of governance, which has hitherto given birth to fledgling vultures of all sizes and shades, who have brought about the annihilation of our beloved homeland. 
Will we really see a change in the two years that remain before we go to the polls again? Will those who abused power and robbed the country of its meagre resources of prosperity be brought to justice? Or will history repeat itself, where if one is politically connected, he is generally exempted from every sin.

Avoiding Another Gintota – Lessons To Be Learnt!


By Mohamed Harees –20November 2017


That man does not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach’ ~ (Case of Voluntary Ignorance in Collected Essays (1959).

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Reports of the Gintota communal violence reached even beyond the borders of Sri Lanka. Under various headings,  New York Times , BBC, Xinhua , NDTV, Indian Express and many global news-agencies covered the story in a positive manner – of how a major danger waiting to happen was averted, by and large due to the timely intervention of the government, security forces, STF and the Police. Thankfully, the confrontations between the usually peaceful Sinhala and the Muslim communities did not flare up further to become another Aluthgama. Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka thanked everyone who “acted with responsibility to avoid a bloodbath”. However, as Keerthi Tennakoon, of Sri Lanka Human Rights Centre says,  this was not a Sinhala Muslim riot but part of regional and national political clashes to gain dominance. Thus, failure of all of us whether Sinhala or Muslim to understand these racist designs behind the scene in the real light, will lead to more minor clashes of this sort being branded  as communal riots and pollute the peaceful relationships between communities, by vested parties purely to gain political gain.

Many culprits have been arrested, responsible for turning basically a minor incident into a major flare-up with  communal overtones and they should be dealt with sternly under the law without fear or favour. Much damage was caused to property and many were injured in the process. However the worse damage was caused to the peaceful, mind-set of the and relationships between the communities who have been living in harmony in the past. Thus, there is much work to be done to repair the broken  hearts and minds, and to restore the lost trust and confidence to live again as friendly neighbours as they once were, more than just compensating for the material losses of the victims. Many apt lessons are there to be learnt, if only one wants to! 
1. Starts with a minor incident, and inability to treat at source: As in any racist conflict of this nature, it all starts with a minor incident. I recall in 1982,  an argument between two drunken friends – One Sinhala and one Muslim in Galle aggravated to become a fully blown communal violence, shattering the peace and harmony among two peaceful communities which led to many deaths and severe destruction to property. It took a long time to mend the hearts and minds of the people. In Aluthgama too, once again the start up was also a minor incident which could have been settled amicably at a local level.  Even the start-up to the Gintota violence too was a minor bike incident. However, communities were woefully unaware of the racist vultures operating above them to arouse their base racist instincts and emotions to make these minor incidents mere opportunities to gain political capital.   


There should therefore be more awareness building at the local level ( school, temple/mosque level) to build more maturity among local communities without falling prey to the machinations of these lowly racist elements. Further. the local community/ religious leaders should take charge and intervene on time to avoid any aggravation as we have seen in the above riots. Otherwise, outside forces will barge in for parochial and political gains and take control. Police too has a major role to play in an even handed manner.   

2. Vested Interests fishing in troubled waters : In all these cases, as stated, many other vicious elements and groups with vested interests from outside, got involved,  to make a hill out of a molehill, exaggerating the issue, giving racist favour, hijacking all forms of discussions and imposing their will, thereby not allowing local parties to discuss and find an amicable settlement  among themselves. In Galle in 1982 , thankfully, a leading Muslim organization-Galle Muslim Cultural Association, along with the mosque trustees in the areas took a leading role and had discussions with the Maha Sangha and Sinhala community leaders at the local level, which paved the way for the return to normalcy. All matters were dealt with maturity and according to law. Many attempts to widen the conflict was averted thanks to the maturity of the community leaders.  

However, in the case of Aluthgama. we saw how BBS rogue monks and goons came from outside and virtually hijacked all efforts to bring some sanity at the local level. Many affected residents in Dharga Town also vouched that those who attacked came from outside. This was the same situation in Gintota too where outside troublemakers such as Mahason Balakaya and the likes brought in goons from Dadalla. Boosa and Rathgama to create more problems in the area.

It is therefore the duty of the local community and religious leaders as well as the Police to ensure that these outside forces are kept at bay without infiltrating into the affected areas to arouse religious tensions  for their own gains.
3. Will of the Government in power and the Forces: We saw in 2014 in Aluthgama, how the then government not only failed to extinguish the communal fires which were raging in a full blown manner, both MR as well as Gota by their patronage also ‘encouraged’ the perpetrators through word and deed. In fact the MR government also unsuccessfully tried to portray the victims as the perpetrators of the tragedy at the Global Human Rights Council meeting.


However, there were many instances  that this government too began to play into the tunes of the anti-Muslim hate lobbies.However, in this instance all credit to the Government of the day and the politicians! In the case of Gintota, they acted with maturity and vision and prompt action was taken to quell the riots without allowing the goons and groups from outside to continue fishing  in troubled waters. Besides, the STF, the tri-forces and the Police too acted with insight and even handedness to control the explosive situation (of course there were cases reported of partisan attitudes which will have to be looked into). This prevented a possible refugee influx too, as we saw in the Aluthgama situation.

It is imperative that the Police deal with the culprits in a firm manner without any racial  considerations and also take action to arrest all those extremist leaders who came from outside to cause trouble. Serious allegations were levelled against the Police and STF during Aluthgama riots for failing act in a just manner. Further, the CID initiate an inquiry about the groups and forces behind the scene which instigated the riots. in order to avoid other places becoming another Gintota and even Aluthgama. 

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Gintota clashes 19 remanded Govt on desperate mission to arrest extremists

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan and Galle Correspondent T. Withanawasam-2017-11-19

Following last Friday's late night riots in Gintota, the Government has launched a desperate mission to clampdown on extremists who are using social media networks to incite violence in the country and has geared itself up to arrest violators under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act, No. 56 of 2007.

The 19 suspects who were arrested will also be dealt with under the ICCPR Act, Police spokesman SP Ruwan Gunasekera said.

The Government has also informed its intelligence unit to monitor social media sites where personal videos are openly being uploaded in a bid to incite racial and religious hatred.

"We know there are several videos being uploaded by certain extremist groups wanting to disturb the peace of this country. We are now investigating those who are inciting racial and religious extremism using the social media and will soon take legal action against them too," he said.

SP Gunasekera added that they will hunt down and arrest inciters under the ICCPR Act and produce them in Court.

The Government, on seeing the continuous fake news and rumours spreading on social networks, on the Gintota incident, in order to keep the situation under control for the second day, too, had imposed curfew from last night (18) till today morning 9 a.m. (19) in Kurunduwatte, Mahapugala, Welipitimodera, and Ukwatte of the Gintota GS Division.

The Government beefed up security, using the armed forces and special Police teams, from the 17th night, following a minor accident, involving motorists and a trishaw that unexpectedly turned the atmosphere in Gintota violent.

SP Gunesekara told the media in Galle last evening that religious and racial extremisms caused the violence and not the minor accident that occurred prior to that. He also noted that the violence was politically motivated because mobs from various other villages gathered in Gintota over the misunderstandings that prevailed between the two parties that have been clashing from 16 November.
He said others exploited the accident that occurred in Vithanegama to suit their own agendas. They were politically and racially motivated.

Following that minor clash right after the accident, three persons were arrested and on the 17th they were produced before the Galle Magistrate and the investigation is in progress, noted the SP.
While they were ordered to be in remand custody till 20 November, again a tense situation erupted at about 7p.m. on the 17th. It was caused by another extremist group, following which security was beefed up in Gintota.

According to Police, five persons were hospitalized with minor injuries and the Police had been receiving complaints that several houses, shops and vehicles had been damaged in the violence.
SP Gunesekara said after several complaints had been lodged with the Police, they were able to arrest a total of 19 suspects involved in triggering violence. He said they were produced before the Galle Magistrate and remanded till 30 November.

The Government deployed additional Police battalions, the Police Special Task Force, the anti-riot squad and the military on the 17th night to bring the situation under control.

Yesterday morning, Minister of Home Affairs Vajira Abeywardane met Galagoda Atthey Gnanasara Thera at the Gintota Tuparama Temple to explain the situation.

Prior to the meeting, the Minister met several religious leaders and officials at the District Secretariat and urged them to be aware of the situation because unscrupulous elements are triggering communal disharmony in the country.

Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka yesterday said the tense situation that occurred in Gintota has been completely brought under control.

The Minister noted some political groups are now on a desperate mission to turn this minor brawl into a Sinhala-Muslim clash and he urged the public not to be misled by their false propaganda. "The same elements are now in the process of disseminating false videos and news on social media platforms to stir up communal sentiments. I reiterate that stern action will be taken against everyone, irrespective of their positions and political affiliations, attempting to resort to racist propaganda.
The same will apply to the rumour-mongers trying to capitalize on this opportunity to achieve petty political gains," the Minister asserted.

According to Police media unit, the late Friday mob attack was due to nasty social media notices, comments and fake messages posted.

SP Gunasekara said a woman was also arrested for spreading rumours that a Buddhist temple was about to be attacked by members of another community.

Only LG elections can prevent a Sirisena dictatorship


by C.A.Chandraprema-

The incident at Gintota in the Galle district appears to be at least on the face of it, a private dispute that got out of hand. The Aluthgama incident in 2014 was also sparked off in a similar way. When things begin to go wrong, the very elements seem to conspire to get things going in the wrong direction. The developments in the Galle district on Friday night was perhaps not unexpected given the developments on the political front in the past few weeks. Members of the Joint Opposition have been saying for months if not years that if this government is unable to prevent an election from being held, there would be a communal riot to head off the elections. Some months ago, we saw such a situation developing with petrol bombs being thrown at mosques.

That sudden flare up ended with Gnanasara Thera setting an all time record being granted bail on three occasions in a single day and even having his charges amended. The next week will bring the simmering showdown between the two factions of the government to a critical point, with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to appear before the bond commission on Monday and a demonstration being organized by the UNP in Colombo against the Bond Commission on the same day. Apart from the PM’s impending appearance before the commission, the telephone records which show that Arjun Aloysius was in contact with members of COPE during the inquiry has done immense damage to the UNP.

The attempt by the Sirisena faction of the SLFP to get the elections postponed through litigation went awry with the identities of the persons who had petitioned the Appeal Court asking for an enjoining order on the gazette relating to the delimitation of local government wards being revealed. That the UNP has become an intervenient in the case asking that the elections not be postponed shows that they are not behind this latest move. Indeed from the earliest days of yahapalana rule, it was the Sirisena faction of the SLFP that was fighting shy of elections – not so much the UNP. At a certain point, especially when it came to holding elections to the Sabaragamuwa, NCP and Eastern Provincial Councils, the UNP also got the jitters. That is why they all cooperated in getting those elections postponed.

After having literally moved heaven and earth to get the provincial council elections postponed, it just does not make sense to now have the local government elections in January. The reason why the UNP decided to go ahead and have the elections even at the risk of an embarrassing performance, it was obviously to politically finish off Sirisena before the he finishes off the UNP. The fact that Maithri Gunaratne’s newly formed United National Freedom Front has also joined as an intervenient in the case filed in the Appeal Court shows that they are not a fifth column of the SLFP Sirisena faction as originally thought by many within the UNP but an independent entity that is seeking to carve out a niche for itself. With the PM appearing before the bond commission, we are now seeing the unraveling of the process that began in 2014 against the Rajapaksa government.

Remembering

Robespierre’s end

What we are now seeing is a drama worthy of a Shakespearean play. This writer has read how during the Stalinist purges in Russia one set of purged officials were tortured and executed by their successors only for the torturers and executioners of today to fall victim later to the very repression machine they had created. The man who led the great terror during the French revolution Maximilian Robespierre was himself executed in exactly the same manner and by the same executioner that he had kept busy with countless beheadings of real or perceived enemies of the revolution. This is a recurring theme in history but this writer never thought he would actually see such a process taking place in real life. The term ‘hoist with your own petard’ is now beginning to acquire a new meaning.

The conspiracy of the Sirisena group is obviously to render the UNP rudderless before the Presidential elections and for Sirisena to become the UNP’s presidential candidate once again. This writer said it earlier, and the subsequent events have confirmed that this is indeed what is happening. Readers should understand that there is now less than two years for the next presidential election process to start. The 19th Amendment reduced the term of the President to five years and Article 30(2) of the Constitution now reads as follows – "The President of the Republic shall be elected by the People and shall hold office for a term of five years". Yahapalana ministers have been arguing that even though the term of the President has been reduced by the 19th Amendment, that applies only to future Presidents and that since Maithripala Sirisena was originally elected for a six year term, he will serve out that term before the next Presidential election is held.

Even though Sirisena was originally elected for a six year term, the 19th Amendment reduced the term of the President to five years and Section 49(1)(b) of the transitional provisions of the 19th Amendment clearly states that  "For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that, the persons holding office respectively, as the President and Prime Minister on the day preceding April 22, 2015 shall continue to hold such office after such date, subject to the provisions of the Constitution as amended by this Act…" The above mentioned provisions of the 19th Amendment have to be read together with Article 31(3) of the constitution which goes as follows -  "The poll for the election of the President shall be taken not less than one month and not more than two months before the expiration of the term of office of the President in office". Thus, according to the provisions introduced by the 19th Amendment, Maithripala Sirisena’s term as President ends on January 9, 2020. When Article 31(3) of the Constitution is applied to this date, the next Presidential election has to be held between 9 November and 9 December 2019.

This is why the two partners in the government are now at each other’s throats. Sirisena’s game plan appeared to be to destroy all possible contenders both within and outside the government so that by the time the next presidential election comes around, only he will be left standing. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s appearance before the Bond Commission will achieve part of that. The entire UNP has been seriously undermined by the revelations of phone conversations between COPE members and Arjun Aloysius, and they are hardly in any position now to be able to face a presidential election.   The Chairman, General Secretary, Assistant Leader and Leader of the UNP have been hauled before the Bond Commission and now several State Ministers, Deputy Ministers and backbenchers have also been implicated. Never before has any political party been made to suffer such ignominy.

Green frog in the cooking pot

Furthermore, once the report of the Bond Commission is in his hands, Sirisena will have a weapon to use against the UNP. Hence there is a need for the UNP to checkmate him with the holding of the local government elections. While the UNP was thus being assailed by Sirisena, the UNP itself was making plans to set up special courts to try members of the former regime accused of corruption so that they could be put in jail before the next presidential election. A decision was made at the UNP Working Committee to set up these special courts and to expedite cases against members of the former regime. This must be the first time in Sri Lankan history that the decision making body of a political party is deciding on changes to the courts structure of the country. Since the purpose of this change in the courts structure is to hear cases against political rivals, that amount to a clear politicization of the administration of justice. 

While the UNP is busy making plans to finish off their political rivals, they themselves are being finished off by their allies. The biggest irony is that the UNP that is behind this move to persecute their political enemies, are themselves on the dock for massive corruption in a case that is now clearer than any corruption probe ever held before in this country. All this is a result of the cycle of betrayal, treachery, conspiracy and deceit that started before the Presidential elections of 2015. The UNP is like that apocryphal frog being cooked in a pot over a slow fire. What is supposed to happen is that since the frog changes its body temperature to suit its environment and as the heat in the pot increases, the frog keeps increasing its body temperature to keep up and ultimately dies without knowing what happened. That seems to be exactly what is going to happen to the UNP.

Having a demonstration against the Bond Commission on the day that the UNP leader is being brought before it serves no purpose except to portray the UNP in a bad light for trying to protest against an investigation that has unearthed so much undeniable evidence. This is one of the cleanest investigations ever held in this country. It should be noted that not a single person has been arrested so far in the bond investigation. All the evidence that has been unearthed is based on technology or on witness statements given voluntarily. Usually a yahapalana investigation takes the form of arresting someone and keeping him in jail or threatening to do so until he says something that implicates the main target. That in fact is how the FCID which is controlled by the UNP carried out the Malwana mansion investigation. This is a remarkably effective method.

In the Malawana case, even though its owner originally claimed the property as his, later he said that the property was not his, and he even wrote to the Inland Revenue Department asking for a refund of the income tax he had paid over a number of years for the money used to build the house which he had declared as his house to the IRD! The UNP could have given Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor a run for his money. Even while the UNP is engaged in perpetrating such horrors, they themselves are being slowly cooked to a finish by the bond commission. This is now a race against time. The UNP needs the local government election to put an end to Sirisena’s political future before he puts an end to theirs.

The Joint Opposition for its part needs the local government election in order to effect a change in the political situation firstly to prevent Sirisena from taking disciplinary action against its members for striking out on a different path. In this respect at least there was a favourable development for the Joint Opposition last week. One of the ways in which the Sirisena faction sought to bring the Joint Opposition to heel was by holding disciplinary inquiries against them so that they can be expelled from the party and eventually removed from their parliamentary seats. A test case in this regard was the disciplinary inquiry that had been started by the SLFP into Puttalam District MP Sanath Nishantha Perera for having criticized the party leader President Maithripala Sirisena. The disciplinary inquiry was headed by one Champani Padmasekera and MP Sanath Nishantha was represented by President’s Counsel Ali Sabry.

The right to dissent

The disciplinary committee did not allow witnesses to be cross examined by Sabry and confined the evidence to affidavits.  When Sanath Nishantha filed action in the District Court against the findings of the disciplinary committee, the court issued an enjoining order on the proceedings of the disciplinary inquiry. If he had been sacked from the SLFP and he lost his seat, that would have placed the entire JO in jeopardy. Now however with the next local government elections coming due, if the election is held, that will destroy the Sirisena faction and take the pressure off the Joint Opposition. In any event, this question of taking disciplinary action for ‘criticizing the leader’ raises some interesting questions. Are the members of a political party not supposed to criticize their leaders? What constitutes acceptable criticism and unacceptable criticism? Furthermore in this instance, there is an acknowledged split in the SLFP with one part of it serving in the government and the other half remaining in the opposition.

The half that is in the opposition routinely votes against the budget presented by the government and even speaks against it in parliament. They routinely oppose decisions made by their other half in government and hold separate political rallies. In such circumstances, how are they not to criticize their leader because their very action of remaining in the opposition constitutes a criticism of their leader who heads this government. Be that as it may, since the strategy of the Sirisena camp hinges on destroying both the UNP and the Joint Opposition, both these latter political parties have an interest in getting rid of him. This is why a yahapalana website has already mooted the possibility of an impeachment motion being filed against Sirisena by the UNP. An incipient coming together of all political forces opposed to Sirisena was seen in the political parties that joined up as intervenient petitioners in the case filed against the gazette notification regarding the delimitation of wards.

The JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake too made it known that they would join up even with people they would not otherwise join with for the purpose of having the local government elections held. The Sirisena group’s willingness to undermine democracy has made the local government election a need even for the JVP which has hitherto been a fellow traveler of the yahapalana camp. The way in which Sirisena benefited and then turned against the UNP and Lanka e News when it suited him, is obviously not lost even on the JVP. The struggle to have the local government elections held has now become the main rallying cry for all political parties other than the Sirisena faction.  Last week, as soon as Prof. G.L. Peiris, the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna heard that six petitions had been filed in the Appeal Court asking for a writ against the Gazette regarding the delimitation of wards for the local government elections, he had instructed Manohara de Silva PC to file papers on his behalf as an intervenient against this attempt to get the elections postponed. It was almost immediately established that the petitioners were people linked to Sirisena loyalist SLFP ministers including Dayasiri Jayasekera, Dilan Perera, and Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena. It was revealed that the lawyer appearing for the petitioners was a junior lawyer working for Faizer Mustapha’s father’s law firm. Minister Mustapha has not denied the allegation. The SLFP (Sirisena faction) was also conspicuous by their absence among the intervenient petitioners opposing the request for a writ against the LG delimitation report.

The possibility of the Joint Opposition once again being hoodwinked into contesting under one banner with the SLFP seems remote for many reasons. Firstly the lessons of what happened last time is not lost on the MPs representing the Joint Opposition. Then there is a visceral dislike of Sirisena among the supporters of the Joint Opposition and there is the likelihood that many voters will keep away from voting in the event of a tie up. Thirdly, the Joint Opposition will not be able to claim that they are contesting against the government if a partner in the government is contesting on the same list. Furthermore, the two sides of the SLFP have been drifting apart and now are for all practical purposes two different organizations. Almost all members of the SLFP who decided to take Mahinda Rajapaksa’s side have lost their SLFP organizer positions and other people have been appointed to fill those slots.

Besides, the appeal of the Joint Opposition is because they are the only genuine opposition left in the country. They would not be in a mood to give up this advantage by contesting together with the now irreparably discredited Sirisena faction. Another practical difficulty is that the Joint Opposition has already divided up all the local government wards among themselves in many districts and this process is going on even as this is being written. A tie up with the SLFP is now virtually impossible due to practical reasons because there aren’t enough slots to go around even within the ranks of the JO.