Referring to the decline in the standards of lawmakers’ conduct in parliament, Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa made an interesting suggestion to Senior Minister Athauda Seneviratne while the two of them were taking part in a religious ceremony in Kegalle last Sunday.
The Speaker was at a function to mark the opening of a Dana Sala (a hall where alms are offered to Buddhist monks) at the Molagoda Mangalagama Viharaya in the Kegalle district.
At the conclusion of religious observances, he said, “I heard that Minister Seneviratne had taught Buddhism at the Mangedara Dhamma School in 1954. I think he could put that experience to good use again if he offers to teach Dhamma to our parliamentarians”.
Using satire, Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa sent a clear message to the many MPs whose parliamentary behaviour is woefully uncouth.
Mr. Rajapaksa, a member of parliament since 1989, took over as Speaker of the present parliament in 2010. He has witnessed unruly behaviour of MPs in the chamber of the House. On one occasion, he barred a deputy minister from attending parliament for a brief period since he was found guilty of hurling a bottle of water at the members of the Opposition during a commotion. Having seen such gross indiscipline in parliament, he might have felt that inculcating religious values among politicians could bring about order.
“It is a pleasure for me to attend the religious ceremonies at temples belonging to Siyam, Amarapura and Ramanna Nikayas on the same day,” he said.
Then the Speaker went on to strike a note of criticism over the preferential vote system.
Clashes triggered by preferential voting
“The preferential vote system has sown discord not only among friends but also among relatives. It’s high time we scrapped this system,” he told the audience at the Mangalagama Viharaya.
As he took stock of things regarding the preferential vote system, the intra party rivalry over preferential votes is raging in the Northern, Central and North Western Provinces.
Up to now, seven incidents of shooting have been reported. Ironically, six of them happened among the candidates of the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) itself in their quest for higher number of preferential votes.
In the run up to the election, the illegal use of firearms has been a matter of deep concern for election observers. Almost all of the past elections in Sri Lanka led to political murders, so a strong necessity for a free and fair election has arisen today as never before, especially with the most menacing war has come to an end.
The present trend in election violence is alarming, and it can lead to unfortunate incidents unless concrete action is taken to deal with it effectively. The Nawalapitiya electorate in the Kandy district has become the area most prone to election malpractices, according to independent observers.
Up to now, seven incidents of shooting have been reported. Ironically, six of them happened among the candidates of the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) itself in their quest for higher number of preferential votes
Mathematical genius of PR system
Casting of preferential votes was introduced under the proportional representation system after scrapping the earlier first past the post system.
According to experts, the PR system is mathematically a good process for electing members to the parliament, particularly in the context of Sri Lanka where electorates have been created on an inconsistent basis. This system ensures representation even for the losing party in proportion to the number of votes polled. Also, the PR system is applicable to the entire district, but not to a particular electorate in it. Therefore, the existence of electorates or polling divisions in each district does not have any relevance under this system.
A candidate, in the fray, is required to canvass for votes from the entire district rather than confining himself to his own electorate. In this effort, candidates, serving as organisers of electorates with a bigger population size, have the edge over those from electorates with a small number of voters. These candidates are compelled to win preferential votes from across the electoral district, in addition to stand alone polling divisions.
Global powers watching
Three international election monitoring teams are expected to arrive in the country ahead of the poll. But almost all of them are scheduled to monitor the election in the North as it has multiple significances both in the local and international contexts. This election will enable the constitution of a separate provincial council for the North after being de-merged from the East. The council, if formed, will give some power to the Tamils over local affairs. Likewise, the election in the former war zone is closely watched by the global powers including the United States and India. There is fear among Tamil political parties in particular that the high military presence in the North might hinder the election process.
Given such reasons, the international spotlight is always on the election in the North. Ignored here is the fact that the election is flouted, more or less, in equal measure even in the other two provinces where the elections have been announced after premature dissolution of the respective councils. As a result, some action is needed to contain the dangerous trend, particularly the use of illegal firearms before it claims another life or two ahead of the poll.
While giving a briefing on current developments in the country for the Ambassadors and High Commissioners accredited to Colombo on Monday, External Affairs Minister Professor G.L. Peiris also commented on the election campaigns for the Provincial Council elections in the Central, North Western and Northern Provinces, and remarked that there had been hardly any serious incidents involving violence against candidates of Opposition parties.
This election in the former war zone is closely watched by the global powers including the United States and India. There is fear among Tamil political parties in particular that the high military presence in the North might hinder the election process
‘UPFA disputes due to dull Opposition campaign’
He said most complaints in respect of preferential votes fall into the category of disputes among candidates of government allied parties.
“This is largely due to the lack of a vigorous campaign by Opposition parties, Minister Peiris explained.
The government’s approach to the conduct of the elections has been one of total transparency and visibility, the minister said. Although this has not been the practice in the past for provincial council elections, the Elections Commissioner decided to invite observers on this occasion from a number of foreign countries, he said. There are five observers from India, five from Pakistan, three from Bangladesh, two from Nepal, two from the Maldives, and one each from Afghanistan and Bhutan, he said. The South Asian group of observers will be led by Mr. N. Gopalaswami, former Chief of the Elections Commission of India.
In addition, there are several observers from Commonwealth countries, Prof. Peiris said. These are the former Vice-President of Kenya (Chairman), the former Elections Officer from the State of Victoria in Australia, the former Chief Elections Commissioner of Bangladesh and the Secretary of the Caribbean Association of Local Authorities from St. Lucia. These arrangements have been finalised by the Elections Commissioner.
Disputes over preferential votes among the candidates of the same party are visible in the North too. TNA candidate V. Anandasangari was dejected because of what he called ‘ill-treatment’ meted out to him by his own party men during his campaigning in the Kilinochchi district
‘tna too bitten by intra party rivalry’
Disputes over preferential votes among the candidates of the same party are visible in the North too. In the Kilinochchi district, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) candidate V. Anandasangari was dejected because of what he called ‘ill-treatment’ meted out to him by his own party men in the campaign trail.
Mr. Anandasangari said a TNA MP, with the backing of the top brass of the party, had started sidelining him in Kilinochchi, and it smacked of political witch hunt.
“They have asked people not to cast preferential votes for me. I was not even included in the delegation that met the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneethan Pillay. There were some in the delegation who could not utter a word in English, “he said.
Mr. Anandasangari, a senior Tamil politician, banks his electoral fortune on his role in the carving out of the Kilinochchi district.
“I made a speech in Parliament in 1983 stressing the need to make Kilinochchi a separate district. At that time, it was part of the Jaffna district. Followed by my request, then President, late J.R. Jayewardene took steps to form this district. As a result, we get a separate quota in the admission of students to the universities today. There are doctors and engineers being produced from Kilinochchi due to this decision,” he said.
Once the train service is resumed, I will travel to Colombo only by train. When I travel by jeep, it costs about Rs.20,000. It is too expensive
Train service to Kilinochchi
A week ahead of the poll, the government is going to restore the train service to Kilinochchi on September 14 after more than 23 years. Mr. Anandasangari is looking forward to the occasion.
“Once the train service is resumed, I will travel to Colombo only by train. When I travel by jeep, it costs about Rs.20,000. It is very expensive. Travelling by train will be much cheaper,” he said.
Fisher folk’s solution to illegal fishing
Despondency of northern fishermen looms large because Indian fishermen continue to cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) and poach unabated in Sri Lankan waters.
Affected by the massive influx of Indian fishermen engaged in illegal fishing activities here, a group of local fishermen, at a meeting with Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne in Palaikadu, Mullaitivu, suggested a novel kind of protest.
“Sir, we should set sail in 1,000 boats and chase the Indians away, unless they stop coming here,” a fisherman told Dr. Senaratne who went there in support of the government candidates in the fray.
Mahipala Herath ‘elevated’
The birthday of Sabaragamuwa Chief Minister Mahipala Herath fell on September 5. There was a torrent of greetings from people from all walks of life. In view of the celebration of his birthday, he participated in the function to mark the opening of a new vocational training centre at the building that belonged to KaradetiyanaVidyalaya, a school started by one time prime minister, W. Dahanayake in 1958. The school building that remained abandoned was renovated with the philanthropist assistance from Maha Karuna Buddhist Centre in Singapore.
At the event, a Singapore based Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Ven. Karadetiyana Gunaratane Thera invited the Chief Minister to occupy a chair on the stage. The stage had only one seat, and it was meant for the chief minister. Seating arrangements had been made for Buddhist monks away from the stage.
Despite repeated requests by Ven. Gunaratana Thera, Mr. Herath refused to take the seat on the stage.
“How can I occupy a seat kept higher above the seats meant for the Maha Sangha?” he asked.
Ven. Gunaratana Thera then said, “This is a decree by the Maha Sangha. You have to occupy it. We treat you as a good Buddhist, not as a politician. As long as you have your Buddhist values, we are with you.”
How can I occupy a seat kept higher above the seats meant for the Maha Sangha?”
Ravi recalls SL- China pact in 1952
China’s Senior Communist Party (CPC) leader Liu Yunshan who was on a two day visit in Sri Lanka met with United National Party (UNP) delegation led by its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday. UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake and former Matara district MP Sagala Ratnayake also attended the meeting.
At this event, a reference was made about the Rubber-Rice Pact signed between Sri Lanka and China on December 20, 1952 under a UNP regime.
“The UNP showed how Sri Lanka established trade relations with China from such an early point in the country’s history,” Mr. Karunanayake who attended the meeting said.
This SL-China pact had been signed as Sri Lanka had faced a foreign exchange crisis due to a fall in its exports. The then UNP government had had to give rations of rice to every adult at a subsidised price. It had been impossible to import enough rice from the traditional sources such as Burma and Thailand. In such a backdrop, this agreement had been signed to exchange rice from China for Rubber from Sri Lanka. It is still considered one of the best bilateral agreements ever negotiated.
The UNP showed how Sri Lanka established trade relations with China from an early point in the country’s history
UNP makes out its case for northern voters
After this meeting, the UNP leaders went to the North for election campaign work. In the North, the UNP tries to drive home the point that there is a provincial council election today because of policy decisions made by the UNP.
“We are the party that introduced the 13th Amendment which provided for the establishment of provincial councils. At that time, most other parties including the parties in the Tamil National Alliance were opposed to it. Today Tamil people could have a provincial council because of such pragmatic policies of the UNP,” MP Karunanayake said.