Politics witnessed one of the most hectic weeks, with the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and the Tamil National Alliance – engaged in roping in members to the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) that remained hung. Finally, the lid was placed on the problem by the UPFA which managed to draw the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) into its fold.
The SLMC leader, after much bargaining, agreed to settle for two ministerial posts in the provincial board of ministers. The party also agreed to compromise on the chief minister’s post, which was offered to Najeeb Abdul Majeed, a member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the largest party in the ruling coalition.
The September 8th provincial council election ended with SLMC winning seven seats, a number large enough to determine who should form the council. The UPFA, which won 14 seats, and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which won 11 seats, started wooing the SLMC to form the council, based on their political rationales. For the ruling party, it was a tough game. Two Muslim parties contested on the UPFA ticket, namely the All Ceylon People’s Congress of Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen and the National Congress of Provincial Council and Local Government Minister A.L.M. Athaullah. These parties won three seats each in the east. The demand for the chief minister’s post was initially put forward by the National Congress. The party nominated former councillor Uthuma Lebbe for the position. A demand also came from the All Ceylon People’s Congress. The party projected former Minister Amil Ali for the post.
Yet, the SLMC, which contested under its tree symbol and won the most seats vehemently opposed any of these two Muslims being picked for the top most post in the Provincial Council. Both the National Congress and the All Ceylon People’s Congress are breakaway groups of the SLMC.
“We do not want any of our defectors being appointed as the chief minister,” SLMC leader Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem told Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa during a weekend meeting.
All in all, the SLMC asked for the post. Along with the chief ministership, the SLMC demanded another post in the provincial board of ministers. But, the government took a different tack in this case. Minister Rajapaksa said that along with the chief minister, the SLMC could be offered the chairmanship of the council, but not a ministerial post in the provincial board of ministers. The SLMC, which viewed the chairmanship only as a ceremonial post, was reluctant to accept it. The party wanted to appease the members elected on its ticket. Therefore, the SLMC leadership, after a careful calculation of events unfolding, decided to forgo the chief minister’s post, and asked for only two ministerial posts in the council.
Eventually, the deal was sealed. It was agreed to appoint two members from the SLMC to the provincial board of ministers. Amid strong opposition from the SLMC against the appointment of Amir Ali or Uthuma Lebbe for the chief minister’s post, the government chose Najeeb Abdul Majeed, the SLFP organiser for Muttur, as the new chief minister of the east. Mr. Majeed, once a deputy minister of the UPFA government, has been from a Muslim family traditionally aligned with the SLFP. So, for his appointment, there was not much resistance from the rank and file of the UPFA.
But, there is one agreement with the SLMC – the sharing of the chief minister’s post during the five-year term of the council. For the first half, he will be the chief minister, and the next period, will see one agreed upon by the SLMC.
The SLMC leader felt relieved after things were finalised. Every day, his house on Alfred Place in Colombo 3 was flooded with party supporters staking claims for positions, and making inquiries about happenings behind the screen.
Rauff in hiding
On Monday night, the SLMC supporters gathered in large numbers at the residence of Mr. Hakeem in their eagerness to know who would be the chief minister, and what would be the perks ensured for the party, in case it decided to team up with the UPFA for the formation of the EPC.
Already stressed over complicated manoeuvring involving the EPC, Mr. Hakeem had to take refuge at the Galle Face Hotel to avoid such big crowds approaching him. But, the pressure did not stop at that point. Party members elected gave him a torrent of calls, and asked for portfolios.
The SLMC MP for the Trincomalee district, Mohamed Thowfeek, is one among them. Mr. Hakeem was having his dinner on Tuesday when he got a call from Thowfeek who asked for a ministerial post at the next Cabinet reshuffle.
“I want at least a deputy minister post. Otherwise, I cannot face my people,” he told Mr. Hakeem.
A decision on the allocation of ministerial posts to members from the provincial councils will only be taken after President Mahinda Rajapaksa returns to the country from his Indian tour.
Though the case is, more or less, settled in the east after much trouble, the problems are yet to be resolved in the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils.
A lady minister from the Ratnapura district rushed to President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees recently, and asked for a post for her husband elected to the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council. A furious President reportedly retorted saying, “I cannot give posts to all family members. If you want something for your husband, you’d better resign from your Cabinet post,” the President remarked angrily.
SM pursues battle
Agrarian Services Minister S.M. Chandrasena hurried to meet the President on Tuesday before his departure to India. The Minister’s younger brother, S. M. Ranjith, who outdid former Chief Minister Bertie Premalal Dissanayake in preferential votes, is demanding the chief minister’s post. The Minister, in fact, told his Cabinet colleagues that he was confident of getting the post for his brother.
Two whips, no seats
Chief Government Whip Dinesh Gunawardane and Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunga were among the invitees for a meeting in the parliamentary complex with the high-profile Chinese delegation visiting the country. At the function, they were in for a rude shock to find that two separate seats had not been assigned for them. Embarrassed to see the two MPs standing, ruling party MP A.H.M. Azwer tried to bring two chairs from a nearby room for them. Annoyed by the failure on the part of the parliamentary authorities to make proper seating arrangements, they even refused to occupy the two seats brought by Mr. Azwer.
“You should not have brought us seats. It is the duty of those who organised this event. Let them rectify their shortcoming,” he told Mr. Azwer. Later, Leader of the House NImal Siripala de Silva intervened and arranged for two separate seats in the front row for them.
Dayasiri in SF camp
UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekara who is at the centre of a controversy decided a few days ago to join the political movement formed by former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka . Mr. Jayasekara, along with UNP MPs Palitha Range Bandara and Palitha Thewarapperuma, are now with Sarath Fonseka advocating for a common opposition formidable enough to unseat the present government at a future election.
CP delegates in North
Internationally, the past few days were significant for the government. The conduct of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference (CPC) and the visit of US Assistant Secretary of State Robert O’ Blake refreshed the attention of those interested in Sri Lanka’s attempts on perception building in the eyes of the international community.
The visit of 70 commonwealth delegates to Jaffna and Kilinochchi in two chartered aircrafts was useful for the government from many perspectives.
Legislators from Africa to North America, and from there to Europe and Asia, were given a chance to see for themselves the development projects which are currently underway at various stages.
Reconstruction of roads, connection of the Jaffna peninsula with the national grid system, setting up of a seed plant in Paranthan and resettlement of displaced civilians are some of the major achievements of the government. The delegates recognized these achievements, and some of them including the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Dr. William Shija called them ‘amazing’. Commonwealth delegates agreed in unison that the conference had been organised well.
In Jaffna, all of them were hosted to a breakfast of traditional Jaffna foods that included Thosai ,Vadai, and string hoppers made of red rice flour. The food was served with savoury and delicious curries, and members enjoyed their meals.
Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development Minister Douglas Devananda who made arrangements in Jaffna, gifted each delegate with a bag of Palmyrah products such as jaggery, Kotta Kelengu and boiled odials. They were presented in beautifully woven Palmyrah bags.
Not having encountered such food items before, some delegates kept asking how Kotta Kilangu could be consumed. The tour guides with them had to explain in vivid detail.
Lion flag goes missing
One day, the rehearsals planned for the ceremonial commencement of the conference got under way. Participants were ready with national flags of the respective countries. The rehearsals were however delayed because Sri Lanka’s national flag could not be brought on time. The vehicle that was transporting it was caught in the thick of a Colombo traffic jam. The army officer who was in charge of rehearsals was highly perturbed over the delay.
The visit of Mr. Blake reaffirmed the fact that the international community is serious about the human rights issue.
TNA meets Blake
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), at its meeting with Blake, said that the action plan prepared by the government for the implementation of the recommendations by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission was inadequate.
On the morning of September 8, TNA leader R. Sampanthan met President Rajapaksa, a move widely seen by political analysts as an attempt to revive the currently stalled political dialogue. The government made a similar attempt during the election time, but the TNA wanted to wait till the election was over.
During the meeting, Mr. Sampanthan complained to the President that the members, apparently from the military intelligence, tried to suborn five of its members. He said these five members were offered inducements such as vehicles, houses and money. The President agreed to look into this allegation.