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A pause in the rush to destroy devolution

28 June 2013 06:30 pm - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Harim Peiris

That the Rajapaksa regime is in a mighty hurry to dismember and roll back the clock on the limited devolution of power accorded in Sri Lanka under the 13th Amendment is borne out by the fact that the Cabinet of Ministers two weeks ago approved as an urgent bill, a Constitutional Amendment which would eliminate the ability of two or more provinces to amalgamate (merge to use the popular terminology) and work together for the public good. However, within a week the government had paused in its rush to destroy devolution and decided to not proceed with what it had deemed was urgent in the national interest. How and why it paused in its rush to destroy devolution deserves an analysis.

 Cabinet not really united
Firstly the Cabinet meeting itself which approved the Anti Merger Amendment was a stormy and heated cabinet meeting in which the government’s Sinhala Buddhist ethno religious nationalist flag bearers of the JHU and the NFF received considerable push back and unusually got as good as they gave from an interesting assortment of Muslim leaders, the old left and UNP crossovers. The meeting was so heated, that the Cabinet Spokesman had to deny reports that there had been fisticuffs between Communist Party leader Dew Gunasekera and JVP breakaway NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa. It must have been clear to President Rajapaksa that his Cabinet was anything but united in agreeing to diminish or destroy devolution in Sri Lanka.  In fact the majority of the Cabinet vehemently opposed piecemeal tinkering with the devolution features of the constitution and the abolition of the referal of legislation to provincial councils was differed and referred to a Parliamentary Select Committee.

 A silent majority in government disagrees with the ethno religious nationalists.

" THIS INTERNAL DISSENT AND DEBATE OVER ANTI MINORITY MEASURES IS NEW AND IT SHOWS A POTENTIAL POLITICAL WEAKENING OF THE ETHNO RELIGIOUS FORCES WITHIN THE UPFA "

Not satisfied with a temporary deferment of the anti devolution 19th Amendment, the same coalition of the traditional left party leaders, the UNP crossovers to government, SLFP stalwarts and Muslim leaders had a well publicised press conference on Monday 24th June, claiming that a silent majority in the government disagreed with the vocal minority of ethno religious nationalist JHU and NFF, in the UPFA, who they charged were a handful of extremists, the proverbial tail wagging dog. Now this is the first time that forces within the government have challenged the direction and policies of the regime. This internal dissent and debate over anti minority measures is new and it shows a potential political weakening of the ethno religious forces within the UPFA. With President Rajapaksa holding himself, just slightly above the fray, the internal dissent against anti minority measures is rising from within the more moderate and enlightened elements of the Sinhala leadership itself, the SLFP and the old left, as well as the other minority in Sri Lanka, the Muslims who of course of late have been at the receiving end of a violent hate campaign by extremist ethno religious organisations, unfettered by the government.

Problems in the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC)
The Rajapaksa regime is also having a serious problem with its “Eastern Province” model, the UPFA’s only experiment in running an ethnic minority province with a Muslim Chief Minister. The Administration has been so used to running the province through the unelected and appointed Governor, who directly issues orders to the civil servants, that the UPFA members of the Eastern Provincial Council have essentially gone on strike against the Rajapaksa Administration of the province and are refusing  to function. For the SLMC which was independently elected to the Council and supports the UPFA to form a provincial administration, this situation is becoming intolerable, as it fails to deliver services to its constituency and the insult to its leader Minister Rauff Hakeem in leaving him out of the Parliamentary Select Committee . The Muslims  are already reeling from extremist hostility from various Sinhala Buddhist nationalist organisations.

" THE MEETING WAS SO HEATED, THAT THE CABINET SPOKESMAN HAD TO DENY REPORTS THAT THERE HAD BEEN FISTICUFFS BETWEEN COMMUNIST PARTY LEADER DEW GUNASEKERA AND JVP BREAKAWAY NFF LEADER WIMAL WEERAWANSA "

 A unilateral Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC)
The Rajapaksa Administration also moved to unilaterally create a Parliamentary Select Committee to look into ways of how Sri Lankans can live together in unity. However, this Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) is more like a Cabinet Sub Committee as the opposition has laid down stringent conditions for its participation in the PSC and the government does not seem inclined to accommodate any of the requirements of the opposition. Hence a PSC without the UNP, the TNA and the JVP is solely a government committee. However, before any questions are asked about opposition participation, the government owes an explanation as to why Minister Tissa Vitharana who chaired the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) and Minister Rauff Hakeem who leads the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, the largest Muslim political party in Sri Lanka have been left out. A PSC on the ethnic issues, without TNA, SLMC and UNP, is hardly a domestic process that either inspires any confidence or indeed will have any legitimacy as an inclusive process, either domestically or internationally. The UNP position is eminently defensible; the Rajapaksa Administration should present its own proposal or views as the government of the day or in the alternate have a direct dialogue with the minority representative TNA and reach a sufficient consensus on a solution. The TNA meanwhile, has simply required the government to include the prior documents reached in national dialogue on the ethnic issue, including the Rajapaksa administration’s own APRC proposals and the previous SLFP government of President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s proposals as part of the documents, as a basis for discussion.  Unwilling to compromise, the Rajapaksa Administration seems determined to pursue a unilateral hard-line position, which for the first time since the end of the war is having some domestic resistance and pushback.
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  • Mr. B. Wijeyasingha Saturday, 29 June 2013 05:28 PM

    There maybe a time when powers are handed tot he provinces but not just after 4 years since the end of the war and a thriving support of LITE by the Tamil Diaspora, to the rise of TESO to Jayalalithaa's demand for a referendum by New Delhi regarding the formation of Eelam to the TNA seeking India's assistance regarding this amendment. There are too many loose ends that need to be sewn up before the nation's security is a bona fide fact.


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