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New Constitution Federal in content, Unitary in name: Udaya


12 October 2016 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Q What is the way forward for the Joint Opposition in the present political context?
The Joint Opposition is the only hope for patriotic people in the nation irrespective of their ethnic, religious or party afflictions. There was a myth spread by Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) General Secretary Minister Duminda Dissanayake that if we contested the next elections, being divided, the United National Party (UNP) would be the ultimate winner. That may be his fantasy. Although he is the General Secretary of the party, we should not forget the fact that he backed the UNP candidate at the crucial Presidential Election to defeat the SLFP candidate. Against that backdrop, he seems to be dreaming of a UNP victory. People have already responded to him not through words but through votes at the election to members to the Multipurpose Cooperative Societies. 

As for Ambalangoda society, for example, it has 23 local branches. At the election, the Joint Opposition secured 47 representatives, the UNP 25 and the SLFP a mere 12. Don’t forget the fact that Ambalangoda is an electorate organized by SLFP stalwart Southern Province Chief Minister Shan Wijeyalal Silva serving in office for three consecutive terms. The most interesting fact is not only that he actively campaigned for it, he himself that caste his vote at the main local branch. The Joint Opposition got seven representatives, the UNP two and the SLFP failed to get any.
So, if an SLFP giant of the calibre of Shan Wijeyalal has been rejected by his own neighbours, the SLFP’s fate is a 
foregone conclusion. 

This is not an isolated incident. Wherever such elections were held, the JO-backed teams secured more representatives. The UNP and the SLFP have jointly failed to get the number of representatives to defeat the JO. It clearly indicates the outcome of the next Local Government elections.
Having gathered intelligence reports, the Government is aware of this possible outcome. That is the reason for the postponement of the election without any valid reason.

Q To what extent, does it reflect the public opinion at grassroots level?
Cooperative societies are the livewire of rural people. A substantial number of people are members of them. Budding politicians start from cooperative societies. Then, they contest local elections and so on. 
Thousands of people have voted at these elections to the cooperative societies. Usually, more than 10,000 people vote at these elections. This is a representative sample, better than any other scientific sampling.

Q How certain are you that the JO will be able to prevail upon the Government to go for the local authorities’ election soon?
We have filed three cases in the Supreme Court urging the court to direct the Elections Commission to hold the elections. According to the Local Authorities’ Election Act, elections should be held within the last six months of the existing term of the members serving. 

The present members’ term expired on March 30, 2015. Then, they should have held the elections before that. They extended the term of the council. I am not going to discuss the legal issues because a case is going on at the moment. Otherwise, it will be subjudice. Actually, the it is later the better. With the passing of every single day, voters are driven towards us. In this case, there is a push from the Government side. People come and embrace us politically not because of our pull but because of the Government’s push. Then, the Government keeps postponing it. They have been forced to do it by the international forces that backed the change of Government on January 8, 2015.

Q What is the basis for you to draw such a conclusion?
Their aim is to support Tamil separatism through Constitutional reforms.
The new constitution need a two-thirds majority in Parliament, and 50 percent people’s support at a referendum. 
In order to gain this majority, they formed an unprecedented government here of the UNP and the SLFP. They have advised the Government not to hold any election until the enactment of the new Constitution. 
There is a valid reason. There is a lot of frictions between the SLFP and the UNP Ministers in the government. They work together but plan to contest the elections separately. It is like Mr. and Mrs. Smith in a famous Hollywood film. 

Although they live together, they plan to kill each other. The same is seen among the Ministers of the two parties. Therefore, if the local elections are held now, they will fight each other. The local elections are prone for violence. In 2011, former MP Bharatha Lakshman was shot dead in such intra-party violence. If such a thing happens between the UNP and the SLFP, that will be the end of the Unity Government. It will, then, shatter the dreams of Tamil separatists. That is the reason for the international forces to stop holding the election till the passage of Constitutional reforms.

Q How long can the Government proceed with such artificial moves to stop elections?
Although the President claimed that his government had won over the international community, it has not reflected in the report of the Central Bank handed over by then Governor Arjuna Mahendran. There was the allegation by them that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa failed to win the world, but this Government did.

Q How can you support your argument?
In comparison of 2014 with 2015, exports, foreign employment, Foreign Direct Investment, foreign share market participation, foreign remittances and grants have dwindled. 
If we have won the world those should be the indicators showing it. These should spike in the event of proper cooperation from the international community. 
Investments should flow in. Nothing has happened. It means the current Government has not won the world in the manner Mr. Rajapaksa did.

Foreign assistance seems to have been withheld by these international forces till the enactment of the new constitution. During my school days, my mother used to bring sweets and allowed me to have them only if I did my homework and showed it to her. The Government is in a similar predicament. There may be pledges. There is no deliverance yet till the passage of the new Constitution.

Q How do you see the constitutional process?
Well, one can sense the taste of the pudding from its smell and appearance. Now it is in the making. We smell it. That is why, we know the taste of the pudding and ingredients of it. 
The government tested public opinion by publishing the Lal Wijenayake Report. It has 19 members appointed by the Cabinet.Only two out of 19 have recommended retaining the constitutional provisions in respect of the status accorded to Buddhism as it. 

Only one, namely Kushan de Alwis, who is a President’s Counsel, has recommended keeping the provision regarding the unitary character of the Constitution as it is.
The Cabinet disowns it saying it is a report by the Lal Wijenayake Committee. It says the report merely contains public opinion. It is not so. It contains two things. First, there is public opinion. Thereafter, it contains recommendations of the committee members. That is how two out of 19 recommended retaining the provisions reading Buddhism. 

Only a solitary member recommended retaining the unitary character. Then, the President cannot disown this report simply by saying it contains public opinion. 
When the Cabinet selects these 19 members, it has to be done with a background check. They are responsible for their appointees. The entire country knows what the opinion of Wickramabahu Karunaratne will be in respect of Buddhism and the unitary character if he were a member. 

Likewise, the entire country knows the possible opinion of Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekara if he were a member of the committee. The Cabinet should know the opinions of their appointees. They cannot now disassociate with the report. The report was prepared to test public opinion before introducing the Constitution. It was introduced in May, this year. The President disassociated with it and assured that these two key provisions would be touched upon only in July.

Q How do you see the nature of the constitution that is in the making then?
My personal assessment is that they will not touch Article 9, which is regarding Buddhism. They will not touch Article 2, which is in respect of the unitary character. 
Though those labels are there, it will be a Federal constitution by the contents of it. It is a unitary constitution by name, but by contents, it is a Federal constitution. 
It is because the government has articulated that it is going to devolve power. Since it is going to devolve power beyond the 13th Amendment, then, it has to opt for a 
Federal Constitution. 

Even right now, it is a Quasi-federal constitution since the Parliamentary Authority in respect of provincial subjects has severely been restricted in the 
13th Amendment.
It is going to be a Federal Constitution.

Q However, the Joint Opposition is also participating in the deliberations of the Steering Committee working on the new Constitution. What is your contribution to the process then?
We are there only to get to know what is happening. When it is said that Article 2 will not be changed, then people will have a kind of relief. But, only the label remains. In content, it is a Federal constitution. People will get confused. 

Fortunately, my good friend Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake helped me to resolve this dilemma. He acts in a movie Maya. He plays a female role. He is wearing a jacket and a saree with a Pottu on his forehead. He has applied a thick layer of lipstick. In appearance, he looks like a woman in the film. But, the whole country knows he is male. The new constitution will be like Ranjan in Maya.
I am thankful to Ranjan Ramanayake 
for helping.

Q What are your proposals?
We have expressed our views. Unfortunately, we are a minority there. We always mark our protest. It would not be the final decision because we have only two or three members in any committee. We are there. We know very well our views will be bulldozed by the Government. Knowing this well, we are there for a reason.

After passing the Constitution, within five weeks, it will be before the people for their approval at a Referendum. If we do not participate in it, we will know the contents once presented in Parliament or published in the Gazette. Then, we will have limited time to study the new Constitution and to explain to the people the adverse effects of it. Now, we receive every single document to be studied in advance and prepare for the campaign. We have strategic reasons to be there.

Q Once the Mahanayake Thera said the status accorded to Buddhism would be retained as assured by the President. What is your stand on it?
If you trust the President, you will be in big trouble. It is remembered how the President said during the campaign that he would abolish the Executive Presidency within 100 days. We have now passed 500 days. He has forgotten. Right beside the remains of Ven. Maduluwave Sobitha Thera, he committed to do so. He promised to govern the country from Polonnaruwa as a simple man. He promised not to employ military personnel in labour work. Nothing has happened. His promises cannot be taken seriously.

Q How does the JO brace for facing the situation unfolding?
The JO is not an inactive Opposition. There are two Oppositions in the country-the de jure Opposition and the de-facto Opposition. In the de-jure Opposition, the Opposition Leader is from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) although it has 16 members in Parliament.The  JVP enjoys the office of Chief Opposition Whip. This funny Opposition is always with the Government. They played a role in bringing this Government to power. Interestingly, Mr. Sampanthan will go down in history as the first Opposition leader to have supported the Government’s budget without moving a single amendment. 

You cannot expect anything from the de-jure Opposition. We are the actual Opposition. Because of us, Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran, facing corruption allegations, was sent home. We were able to keep the oppressive VAT Bill in suspension. We are a working Opposition.

Q But, you need a political entity to present your case?
That has not been an issue at all. When we say the Joint Opposition, all know. The media assign us space. People recognise us. We hold protest marches, seminars for public rights under the banner of the 
Joint Opposition.

Q Again, you need legal registration?
We need it to contest elections. Before stitching the cap, we need to generate the head. We have been denied elections. The next year will be an election year with three Provincial Council elections, Local Government elections and a referendum. 

We are working hard to get these elections. Once the elections are announced, we will announce how to contest. The President also announced his candidature after the declaration of the election only. 
If he had announced it in early 2014, what would have been the scenario? His candidature would have become obsolete.


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