Executive Presidency-Cabinet to appoint a committee
Followed by his avowal at the funeral of Ven. Maduluwave Sobhitha Thera to abolish the Executive Presidency, President Maitripala Sirisena initiated action at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting by seeking to pursue his intentions.
The Cabinet decided to appoint a committee comprising party leaders to study the proposal to abolish the Executive Presidency and to introduce a new electoral system. In the aftermath of the President’s announcement in this respect at an event on Tuesday, interpretations were made in political circles about the final intention of the President. Is it a move for him to contest the next parliamentary election as the prime ministerial candidate of the party? Or is it his genuine desire to live up to what he promised to the people at the election?
Nimal Siripala taken to task
Along with such serious business, the Cabinet discussed other matters that have led to antagonism among the ministers. At one point, Plantation Industries Minister Navin Dissanayake took Transport Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva to task over his criticism of the ‘Yahapalana Government’.
Recently, de Silva’s criticism went viral in cyber space with various websites and social media carrying different stories to suggest that the national government is now fragile. He is reported to have said that the Yahapalana government has been shattered, leaving people in the lurch.
APC analyses party views
President Sirisena called for the second meeting of the All Party Conference (APC) on Tuesday evening to discuss the way forward for the resolution of political questions and to bring about reconciliation.
The respective political parties had submitted their individual proposals to be considered in this respect. Eastern Province Governor Austin Fernando had incorporated these proposals by each party, highlighting the submissions acceptable to all, and drawing attention to areas with differences.
Common ground was found on matters such as the implementation of the recommendations by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission(LLRC), addressing livelihood issues in the war ravaged areas and schemes for the benefits of war widows.
Communist Party (CP) representative D.E. W. Gunasekara asked for action without delay on commonly acceptable matters, through the Cabinet rather than wasting time.
Dinesh and Mangala clash in APC
Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera also briefed the political party representatives for around ten minutes, with particular focus on the substance of the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka and the procedure on follow up action. After the minister’s remarks, Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) Leader Dinesh Gunawardene struck a note of criticism for not presenting the reports of the Udalagama and Paranagama Commissions to the UNHRC for lobbying against international interferences, rather than relying solely on the report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Samaraweera hit back saying the contents of these two locally produced reports were far more serious than those in the OHCHR report. Nevertheless, Gunawardene , who is in the forefront in the campaign against the UNHRC resolution, retorted saying ,no matter what , these were locally produced reports based on the ground realties, but the OHCHR had compiled its reports based on hearsay and evidence gathered from anonymous sources.
A verbal duel ensued between them on the matter at hand for a while. President Sirisena also allowed Gunawardene to take his time and put forth his views. Along with MEP, CP and Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) expressed their vehement opposition to the proposal to involve foreign judges in the process.
Likewise, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), represented by MP Vijitha Herath , was opposed to the participation of foreign judges.
The meeting looked somewhat low profile due to the absence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Yet, he was represented by Minister Sagala Ratnayake.
MP M.A. Sumanthiran, who represented the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), enraged other participants when he said that the implementation of the provisions of the UNHRC resolution virtually became the policy of the government as a co-sponsor of it.
LSSP representative Prof. Tissa Vitarana protested this position, and said the consultation process with the other parties would not serve the intended purpose if that were the case.
Sumanthiran has been in the news, particularly in the Tamil media during the past few days because of his reported remarks that the Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran should be removed. According to Tamil political sources, Wigneswaran is commanding the support of some members of the TNA in the council, apparently due to his hard-line positions on issues concerning the Tamils in the North.
TNA Councilor M.K. Sivajilingam said the chief minister contested the election as the common candidate of four Tamil parties, and therefore Sumanthiran’s Ilankai Tamil Arachu Katchi alone had no moral right to decide on his removal. “The chief minister was elected with more than 100,000 preferential votes,” he said.
Govt determined to pursue action on UNHRC resolution
The UNP-SLFP National Government is now wracked with differences. But, it looks determined to expedite action in conformity with the UNHRC resolution. The release of LTTE suspects, held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), is a populist move in the perspective of Tamil polity though it has stirred up tension among nationalist movements in the South.
Alongside, the government mulls the repeal of the PTA, a proposal even outlined in the OHCHR report. Action will be expedited ahead of the planned visit by a top US official to the country sooner or later.
Joint Opposition irked by TNA lobbying foreign governments
The TNA, backed by Tamil diaspora groups, has started lobbying foreign governments to secure the participation of foreign judges in the judicial mechanism proposed by the UNHRC to deal with accountability and human rights issues during the war.
TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran met with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop last week. He was accompanied by the representatives of Australian Tamil Congress (ATC), a diaspora group. Australian MP for Reid,Craig Laundy MP also participated at the meeting.
The joint Opposition, loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is perplexed over the move. It called the TNA’s move as a serious development. The joint Opposition sees the TNA as a force arraigned against the interests of the country.
SLFP redoubles efforts for forming its own government next
Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), led by President Maitripala Sirisena , had its central committee meeting on Tuesday evening at his residence. The party widely discussed political matters in view of the future of the party.
First, Kurunegala district MP Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara demanded action against attempts by some members of the party to form a different political front with the backing of a few SLFP allies. He said National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, as an MP elected on the SLFP-led United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), had announced it at a recent meeting in Colombo. “This has to be stopped forthwith as it is against the interests of the party,” he said.
Jayasekara, the former chief minister of the North Western Provincial Council, was confronted by MPs Kumara Welgama and Dullas Alahapperuma. Both said in unison that Weerawansa addressed a meeting of party supporters to discuss preliminary arrangements for the celebration of the 70th birthday of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Other than that, they said, there was no discussion on the formation of an alternative political front.
Then, Jayasekara queried as to why he , as an MP from the area, was not invited for it.
If CBK was welcomed, why not me, asks President
The President, who remained silent during the heated cross talks, aired his standpoint. His leadership is not accepted by a section of the MPs. It is more so among the rank and file of the party, who see the President as someone who defected from it to team up with the United National Party (UNP). Amid such concerns within the party, the President, at Tuesday’s meeting, attempted to justify his position, and asked why he was not welcomed back into the party fold.
He said he never abandoned the party, but only challenged the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa at the presidential election. He recalled that a more serious defection took place when former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga left the party after a row with then leader the late Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and established a new party. But then again, he said, the party gladly threw its arms open and welcomed Ms. Kumaratunga when she made a comeback in 1994 to lead the party to victory.
“Am I not welcome because I am not from an aristocratic family? If I were from such a family, I would have been accepted without any hesitation,” the President said.
The President’s remarks came in particular response to Kandy district MP Lohan Ratwatte who publicly refused to accept the leadership of the President.
“It was yet another aristocratic family member who has declined to accept my leadership,” the President said.
Be that as it may, the President reasserted that he would lead the party to victory at the next local authorities’ elections. He stressed the need for unity among all to win the election. The reference was made to how the party was relegated to the opposition for 17 years due to internal squabbles and rebellions at that time.
SLFP hierarchy perturbed over grand birthday for MR
The Joint Opposition, comprising a section of SLFP, arranged to celebrate the 70th birthday of Mahinda Rajapaksa on a grand scale with religious observances near the Jayasiri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura yesterday.
The SLFP hierarchy has seen the move as a step in the direction of forming a new party ahead of the local government elections. Disturbed by the event, SLFP Secretary Duminda Dissanayake, who backed President Sirisena even at the presidential election, sent a lengthy letter warning against participation at the events in Anuradhapura. He, in his letter addressed to all the MPs and party organisers, said such acts would be detrimental to SLFP interests as a whole, and therefore, they should stay away from them.
However, some SLFP MPs defied this warning and attended the session. In fact, they invited people to show up in large numbers at the event to mark the birthday.
Investment oriented budget tomorrow
The government will present its budget tomorrow. The general impression is that it will be a budget without major concessions for the people. Yet, Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake said it would not be the case.
After the budget, the political situation is set to heat up as the Opposition is waiting in the wings to pounce on the government against some of its plans.