Post-election Tug of war
As political analysts predicted, the United Freedom People’s Alliance (UPFA) returned to office at the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils with conformable majorities. But, in the east, the results showed a different picture with none of the parties being able to get the required majority to form the council.
The UPFA which outdid other parties received 14 seats, falling short of four members to establish the provincial administration on its own. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which trailed behind the UPFA bagged 11 seats. Both the parties, in their bid to form a coalition administration, approached Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) which once again regained its ‘king maker role’ in the hung eastern provincial council. The party polled a bulk of Muslim votes in the province and received seven seats, a number sizeable enough for the party to hold sway in establishing political administration in a province occupied by Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil communities more or less in equal proportions.
On Sunday morning, SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem was pondering on his next action, when he received a call from TNA leader R. Sampanthan in Trincomalee. Mr. Sampanthan tried to impress upon Mr. Hakeem that the TNA, the SLMC and the United National Party (UNP) had obtained 22 seats, as parties opposed to the UPFA. Therefore, he asked for Mr. Hakeem’s support to form the council. The holding of the chief minister post by a Muslim and a Tamil on a rotation basis, and the appointment of members elected from each community to the provincial board of ministers were some of the concessions offered by the TNA to lure the SLMC into its fold.
SLMC in hard battle
Obviously, it is not an easy decision for Mr. Hakeem to make since his party is already a part of the government in the central administration. So, Mr. Hakeem remained non-committal. No sooner he finished the call from the TNA leader, Monitoring MP of the External Affairs Ministry Sajin Vaas Gunawardane dropped in at his Colombo residence as a special emissary of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The message is the same. The ruling UPFA wants to accommodate the SLMC on board to run the council.
The SLMC leader told both the members that he wishes to discuss with the senior members of his party prior to arriving at any conclusion. For him, it would be a decision to be taken after a careful consideration and calculation of ground political realities. He holds a Cabinet position as the Justice Minister. Any political alignment with the TNA in the provincial administration can spoil his political relationship with President Rajapaksa. In case he compromises his political goodwill with the President for the sake of strengthening the TNA’s hand at provincial level, there can even be a split in his party.
During the election campaign, SLMC activists sought a mandate from Muslims to become a political force with a decisive political clout in the UPFA coalition. With such a clout in hand , the party promised voters to hold the government responsible and accountable to address their issues.
SLMC candidates requested the people, “Give us a mandate to emerge as a political force to reckon with. Then, we could use our political clout to apply pressure on the ruling party to address issues concerning the community."
If the party goes by this pre-election pronouncement to voters, it is impossible for anyone to imagine a pact between the TNA and SLMC for local level administration.
Mervyn throws brickbat at Hakeem
Minister Hakeem faced yet another brickbat at the UPFA parliamentary group meeting headed by the President on Monday (September 10). Initially, he was reluctant to attend the meeting, probably anticipating numerous inquiries about his stand in the east. Yet, President Rajapaksa insisted that he should attend. Eventually, he participated in the meeting, and the issue of his stand sprang up, as correctly guessed.
Public Relations and Public Affairs Minister Mervyn Silva, notorious for his pranks and antics, rose on his feet, and asked Mr. Hakeem with a rough tone not to demand the pound of flesh as Shylock, the famous character in the Shakespearian Drama ‘Merchant of Venice’.
“Don’t try to be Shylock by asking for the pound of flesh during this trying time,” he thundered.
A visibly annoyed Mr. Hakeem narrated the circumstances that led him to go solo at the election in the east.
“I do not know why my good friend Mr. Silva made such a remark. I used to work with the President with better understanding. There is no doubt that I will continue to do so,” he replied.
Despite all such attempts to woo the SLMC, four TNA members elected to the EPC faced another ordeal in Batticaloa during the last couple of days. In one incident, a few men whom the TNA believed to be from the military intelligence arrived at the doorstep of the elected member Prasana Indrakumar. With an offer of a cash inducement, he was asked to join the UPFA, according to a complaint lodged with Elections Commissioner Mahinda Desapriya.
The incident sent shock waves among the rank and file of the party. The party leadership immediately wrote to the Elections Commissioner.
Whatever party is at the helm of affairs, the eastern provincial council is going to be a litmus test for pluralism in Sri Lanka .It is slated to set the stage for renewing some political demands, hitherto maintained on a low profile.
With 11 seats in hand, the TNA which rigorously demanded an extensive power sharing arrangement will play a crucial role in running the council. In case, the party fails to form the council, it will be the main opposition. Having won only four seats, the UNP has announced that it will support the TNA. The meaningful implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution will crop up in the east with fresh inputs.
Devolution of land and police powers will be the main focus in this exercise. The TNA will obviously highlight the interference of the centre in handling subjects devolved to the provinces under the 13th Amendment. For example, constitutional experts argue that the centre can appoint senior police officers to a province only in consultation with the chief minister concerned. This has not been an issue of concern in the seven other provincial councils since they are governed by the party that helms the affairs in the centre. Also, in these seven provinces, there is no major outcry by the opposition parties for power devolution.
UNP appoints another committee
After the election, the UNP appointed a committee comprising of party seniors to take stock of election related incidents. Though the party’s tally of votes has seen a slight improvement compared with the 2010 parliamentary election, its political clout has further dwindled compared to the 2008 provincial council election. Former opposition leader of the North Central Provincial Council Kasturi Anuradhanayake has been pushed down to the tenth position on the preferential list. Only seven members were elected to the council this time, and therefore, Mr. Anuradhanayake cannot make it.
A.A. Wijetunga, former Opposition Leader of the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council has been second on the list.
The committee that includes senior members John Amaratunga, Joseph Michael Perera, Ravi Karunanayake and Gamini Jayawickrama Perera will assume work to assess the outcome of the election after the conclusion of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference next week. First, they will decide who should be appointed as opposition leaders to the two councils.
JVP to visit electorates again
The JVP had a setback at this election. The party which enjoyed its representation at the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council since 1999 lost its two seats this time. Also, they were left without any representation in the eastern provincial council.
After the election, party seniors had an informal discussion and decided to take forward their struggles on issues confronting the general public. A seminar series on the education sector crisis is one such campaign being planned at the moment. Also, party seniors and activists would revisit the electorates within the next couple of weeks for a post election survey.
Gay couple among CPC delegates
The parliamentary staff was busy during the last few days making arrangements for the Commonwepalth Parliamentary Conference. Last Monday, the protocol officers were waiting to welcome a husband and wife coming from a western country as delegates.
With red carpets laid, drummers and conch shell blowers were stationed at the entrance of the parliamentary building to give this couple, among other delegates, a hearty welcome. Everybody expected a male and a female. But, protocol officers who went to receive them at the airport on Monday morning received only two males as per the names given in the list, though they were referred to as husband and wife.
However, they were accorded a proper welcome. The staff was perplexed whether they had received the right delegates to be escorted. Only later, did they realize these two delegates were a gay couple. They are from a country where gay marriages are allowed. Members of the parliamentary staff refer t0 the incident with humour.
VIP queue longer than normal queue
Public Relations and Public Affairs Minister Mervin Silva issued VIP passes to many to pay homage to the Sacred Kapilavastu Relics at Kelaniya Rajamaha Vihare. With much gratitude to Mr. Silva, those who received such passes went to the temple to worship the sacred relics. Much to their inconvenience and embarrassment, they found the queue of VIP pass holders longer than the normal one. Apparently, the Minister had issued a large number of such passes. For a single pass, five persons were permitted to enter the temple.