Thursday’s parliamentary debate on the crisis between the judiciary and the executive ended with a note which suggested that the government would be tough against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake.
Deputy Minister Jayaratne Herath who participated in the debate even tried to table a scurrilous anonymous letter against her in Parliament. It was interpreted by political observers that the government is hell- bent on taking action against the Chief Justice.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa called for a meeting with the leaders of the constituent parties of the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) on Tuesday to arrive at a final decision. The meeting attended by ministers Dinesh Gunawardane, Rauff Hakeem, Tissa Vitarana and Patali Champika Ranawaka decided to impeach the Chief Justice. The move was the culmination of the standoff between the judiciary and the executive; the two arms of governance now stand face to face menacingly.
The motion already signed by as many as 118 MPs was to be handed over to Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa yesterday. The crisis has reached a point from where it cannot be reversed. The government is intent in flexing its muscles come what may.
After the last week’s parliamentary session, there was a flurry of activity in the quarters close to the executive. When the debate was going on, ruling party members started collecting signatures. Foreign Employment Promotion Minister Dilan Perera was an active member in this campaign on the day.
In fact, some members who were supposed to attend functions during the weekend in other parts of the country had to cancel them because they were required to be in Colombo to sign in support of the motion. According to the Constitution, at least one third of the total number of MPs should sign the motion for the Speaker to entertain it. After that, a select committee with not less than seven members should be appointed to examine the charges mentioned against the Chief Justice. Later, the motion based on findings and recommendations of this select committee should be passed in Parliament by a simple majority.
At Tuesday’s meeting, President Mahinda Rajapaksa referred to such crisis situations in other countries such as Pakistan and India. He said the legislature intervened to uphold the Constitution when the crises of this nature emerged in their countries.
“There should be checks and balances among the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. If any arm of governance oversteps its boundaries, the Legislature should intervene,” he said.
Mahajana Eksath Peramuna leader Minister Dinesh Gunawardane, Jathika Hela Urumaya Policy Maker Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, Jathika Nidahas Peramuna General Secretary Priyanjitha Vitarana, and party stalwarts Weerakumara Dissanayake and Piyasiri Wijenayake, EPDP leader, Douglas Devananda, Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem and Senior Minister Tissa Vitarana attended the meeting. They are supposed to meet once again shortly to discuss the matter further and decide on the action.
The current development has perplexed many in political circles. Is this an exercise targeting the expulsion of the Chief Justice through a parliamentary motion, or an attempt to subdue her? It is a common question being asked by those interested in what is going on in the political arena.
The United National party (UNP) Working Committee which met on Tuesday evening also discussed the brewing crisis between the judiciary and the executive. The party decided to participate in the proposed select committee to look into charges against the Chief Justice.
The UNP is a party wrought with infighting, and it was visible as usual at Tuesday’s meeting. Once the Working Committee decided to bring three MPs namely Palitha Range Bandara, Palitha Thewarapperuma and Asoka Abeysinghe before the disciplinary committee headed by former Minister Tilak Marapana, Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa opposed the move. The UNP suspended the membership of these three MPs and two provincial councilors Maithri Gunaratne and Shiral Laktilake for attending the rally organized by the United Bhikkhu Front on October 18th.
“I want the party to give them a fair share of hearing. Let them explain their position on attending the rally. They have to be kept within the party. Give them a chance to apologise and be with the party,” Mr. Premadasa said.
Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe replied, “If they are ready to toe the party line in future, I don’t mind accommodating them. We can work together. Things can be worked out. “
He asked Marapana to conduct disciplinary inquiries as early as possible.
However, Opposition Leader of the North-Western Provincial Council Shamal Senarath said that the party should get rid of all those who make derogatory remarks against the leader.
“These people are criticizing the leader. We have to dispense them with,” he said.
He was confronted by UNP MP for the Moneragala district Ranjith Madduma Bandara who said that the party should not adopt a policy of dispensing with people who worked hard and made many sacrifices.
“Shamal, it is not nice to discard people in that manner. These MPs made a lot of sacrifices. Palitha Range Bandara has more than 20 court cases. His house was set on fire,” MP Bandara said.
Worry about numbers
Besides, Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa is likely to have a trying time ahead of the UNP Convention over the allegation that he, along with his loyalist MP Dilip Wedaarachchi, has failed to form the party branches in his electorate of Tissamaharama in the Hambantota district.
The Working Committee members have been authorized to bring delegates to the party convention only in proportion to the party branches they have formed in their respective constituencies. Since Premadasa has failed to form party branches as charged by some others in the UNP, he will not be able to bring a large number of delegates. It means his clout at the convention will be reduced.
At Tuesday’s Working Committee meeting, one member remarked at Mr. Premadasa, “You are frequenting temples. But, you have failed to form party branches.”
This remark was followed by ripples of laughter at the Working Committee.
Meanwhile, UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake who went to Wennapuwa recently to attend the wedding ceremony of a UNP local government member was taken to task by a party activist. A party activist from the area called Atiyawala bumped in Mr. Attanayake and started criticizing the present state of affairs of the UNP. A visibly annoyed and embarrassed Mr. Attanayake scolded the activist and went inside the church where the wedding ceremony was held.
The TNA rift widens
The leaders of the constituent parties of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) directed made a salvo at its leader MP R. Sampanthan at a meeting on October 23. The TNA is only an amalgam of the parties namely Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Party(EPRLF) of MP Suresh Premachandran, People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam(PLOTE) of Dharmalingam Siddarthan, Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization(TELO) of MP Selvam Addaikkalanathan , Tamil United Liberation Front(TULF) of V.Anandasangari and Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi(ITAK) of Mr. Sampanthan. There has been a long standing demand for the registration of the TNA as a political party with the Elections Commissioner.
At the October 23 meeting, a heated argument broke out between Mr. Sampanthan and Mr. Premachandran. Mr. Premachandran accused Mr. Sampanthan of delaying the registration process. He argued that only ITAK does not want the registration of the TNA.
At one point, Mr. Sampanthan said that the international situation was developing in favour of the political rights of Tamil speaking people, and therefore the parties of the TNA should remain united.
“A leading diplomat also stressed, at a meeting with me, the importance of unity among the parties in the TNA. Now, the international situation is developing in our favour. We must be united to grab the opportunity,” he told the meeting.
The representatives of other parties burst into laughter at this statment. They, all, said in unison, “It is you who disturb the unity by not taking action to register the party. If the TNA is registered, the parties will remain united.”
The thinking of the TNA leadership suggests that they (TNA) were least bothered about sentiments against power devolution or sharing resonating again in the country. The Alliance partners of the UPFA even demand the repeal of the 13th Amendment. Yet, the TNA which agitates for extensive power sharing are not bothered about it all. They appear to rely on international action. Till the international situation matures, they will wait patiently. They will not respond to local developments as such in that context.
Sabaragamuwa PC perplexed by ‘ Khirodhaki Theory’
At the last week’s session of the Sabaragamuwa Provincial, everyone was confused when Governor W.J.M. Lokubandara brought the concept called ‘Khirodhaki’ for cordial relationship between the Provincial Council and the Central Government. Members of the Council later tried to interpret it on their own.
A curious set of journalists rushed to Mr.Lokubandara and asked what it was. “Is this your concept? sir,” asked a journalist.
The Governor replied, “It is not my concept! It is a concept introduced by the Buddha for Bhikkhus staying together. They have to live in co-existence like milk and water. The Provincial Councils and the central government should also maintain such cordial relations.”
Besides, the Governor noted that the Provincial Council should adopt a statute to ban the slaughter of cows and calves, as a measure to develop the dairy industry in the country.