TO ENSURE THAT ELECTION IS FREE AND FAIR HRC-SL TO MONITOR THE CONDUCT OF PUBLIC OFFICERS

TO ENSURE THAT ELECTION IS FREE AND FAIR HRC-SL TO MONITOR THE CONDUCT OF PUBLIC OFFICERS

Sri Lanka Brief22/01/2018

Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
Secretary to HE President,
Secretary to Hon. Prime Minister,
All Secretaries to Ministries, All Chief Secretaries to Provincial Councils,

Directives pertaining to activities of public officers and officers of the Provincial Public Service in connection with the Local Authority Election 2018:

According to Article 17O of the Constitution of Sri Lanka, a “public officer” has been defined to
mean a person who holds any paid office under the Republic. lt has been further clarified in
section 19 of the Penal Code” According to Article 4 of the Sri Lankan Constitution all public
officers are bound to respect and protect fundamental rights declared and recognized by the
Constitution” Under the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution all public officers have sworn to
uphold the Constitution. According to Article 12 of the Constitution all persons are equal before
the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law.

The right to vote has been declared a fundamental right by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. As
such, when an election takes place all public officers in particular are bound to ensure that the
election takes place in conformity with the Constitution and prevailing laws. Public officers vested
with responsibility should conduct their official duties in compliance with such laws and act fairly
and impartially.

lf public officers vested with legal responsibility misuse such powers and act beyond legal boundaries, or fail to perform duties which they are duty bound to perform or delay the performance of their duties without justifiable reason, such action results in violation of fundamental rights.

Accordingly, when public officers violate fundamental rights, in that manner, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka is vested with powers in terms of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21- of 1996 to take action against such officers.

Therefore, the Commission will take steps to monitor the conduct of public officers in order to
ensure that the forthcoming election is conducted freely and fairly.

Accordingly, please be good enough to take steps to inform the staff in institutions under your
authority to act bearing in mind the following:

To see that the law is implemented impartially and fairly.

Non-implementation of the law, abuse of authority including use of powers in a politically partial manner (e.9., permitting some political parties and groups to use public property and resources in violation of the law) result in violation of fundamental rights. ln addition to state responsibility,
officers responsible for such action/inaction would be held personally responsible for violations.
This notice is made in terms of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21of 1996.
Chrairpcrson llur:ran Rights Commission of Sri Lanka

Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka,  16.01.2018

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Coping with the primacy of power politics

Coping with the primacy of power politics

article_image

By Jehan Perera-
President Maithripala Sirisena’s application to the Supreme Court to obtain its opinion on the length of his term came as a surprise to the general public, and evidently to most in the government. The bid for an extended term was generally viewed as a violation of his commitments, due to the 19th Amendment, which reduced the presidential term from six to five years, being passed with his approval. However, the presidency is the main source of the SLFP’s power within the government. Therefore preserving the presidency is a political necessity to the SLFP and needs to be seen as such. The Supreme Court opinion that the president’s term will be five years against six years was a blow to the President and to the SLFP. It has highlighted the fact that the president can only give his strength to the SLFP membership for less than two years as presidential elections will now fall due in 2019.
A Supreme Court opinion that the President had a six-year term rather than a five year term would have given a bigger incentive to voters to vote for the SLFP rather than for another party. A six-year term for Maithripala Sirisena would have meant that SLFP MPs would face elections before him. This would make his support for individual MPs critical, including for the process of securing nominations from within the party. A six-year term would also place the UNP at a disadvantage, competing against an SLFP that enjoyed the support of a sitting president. The President’s adherence to constitutional norms in soliciting the Supreme Court advisory opinion, and accepting it without protest, is a positive signal to the country at large about the prevalence of the Rule of Law under the present government.
However, the downside of these political maneuverings is that power politics is at the centre stage. This is not what the majority of people hoped for when they voted for a change at the presidential and general elections of 2015. President Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and other government leaders all pledged to ensure good governance and non-corruption as their primary goals, which would facilitate both economic development and national reconciliation. However, the evidence from the Bond Commission report is that within a few weeks of coming to power, some of the government leaders were involved in the bond scam which was not an expression of the anticipated new political culture. Likewise President Sirisena looking to extend his term of office was not an expression of the promised new political culture, but a reflection of power politics.
PRAGMATIC POLITICS
One of the unintended outcomes of the open tension between President Maitripala Sirisena and members of the UNP is to divert public attention away from the opposition and to internal conflict within the government in the run up to the local government elections. The submission of the report of the presidential commission appointed to investigate the Central Bank bond scam has given the President an opportunity to strengthen his hand. It has also given rise to the perception within the UNP that their members are being targeted by the President and the SLFP. This was followed by President Sirisena asking the Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on whether his term of office was five years or six. The tussle between the UNP and SLFP members on these issues has taken the centre stage of public interest, thereby reducing the publicity for the SLPP which is out of the main frame.
In keeping with the adage that to politicians, bad publicity is better than no publicity, the UNP-SLFP tussle on this issue has enabled the SLFP to demonstrate to the general public that it is a power to reckon with in the government. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court opinion, leading members of the SLFP are claiming that President Sirisena will contest presidential elections a second time. This is in order to impress the voters that the president will continue to remain in power for the foreseeable future. The suggestion is made that therefore voting for the SLFP at the local government elections will ensure access to governmental patronage for the foreseeable future. In addition, the president has stated that after the elections he will take control over the economy through the device of the National Economic Commission.
So far the Prime Minister has been making an appearance of going along with the President. The UNP did not challenge his decision to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court on the length of his term of office. It is reported that this inquiry of the President was made without the knowledge of the UNP or the Prime Minister. The UNP probably sees the President’s statement that he will take control of the economy after the elections as part of his election campaign to persuade the SLFP’s traditional voters to vote SLFP rather than for the SLPP. In response to the President taking offence at the various statements made against him on public platforms by members of the UNP, the Prime Minister is reported to have admonished his party members to desist from public criticism of the President.
PROBLEM SOLVING
In this complex context the positive feature is that Sri Lanka continues to have a government of national unity comprising the two largest political parties, the UNP and SLFP. As can be expected the forthcoming local government elections have aggravated the tensions between them. It is customary that those who seek to win an election engage in boosting their own images and running down their rivals. At the same time it is necessary to value the check and balance function that having two parties in power brings to the government in tackling national issues. The exposure of the Central Bank bond scam is a relevant example. If it has been left to one party in governance, then neither the scam nor its magnitude would have seen the light of day.
It is also necessary for the two parties to work together to bring resolution to the country’s protracted ethnic conflict rather than to continue to drift without engaging in serious problem solving of difficult and controversial issues. The political stresses of the present must not stand in the way of future cooperation. Previous efforts to find a solution floundered on the rocks of narrow political partisanship. The resumption of both the constitutional reform and transitional justice processes after the conclusion of the local government elections will be a bipartisan national task.
The forthcoming election will give an indication of the level of support for the ruling parties on the one hand and for the opposition on the other hand. It will be important for the parties in the government coalition to obtain majority popular support in order to have the confidence to forge ahead with the plans they have already laid out for national level problem solving. A situation where the local government election yields an outcome in which the UNP and SLFP have to cooperate in order to secure the majority in each of the local government authorities would take the policy of bipartisanship down to the community level, which will be the best formula for building grassroots support for national problem solving on controversial issues.

article_image

By Jehan Perera-
President Maithripala Sirisena’s application to the Supreme Court to obtain its opinion on the length of his term came as a surprise to the general public, and evidently to most in the government. The bid for an extended term was generally viewed as a violation of his commitments, due to the 19th Amendment, which reduced the presidential term from six to five years, being passed with his approval. However, the presidency is the main source of the SLFP’s power within the government. Therefore preserving the presidency is a political necessity to the SLFP and needs to be seen as such. The Supreme Court opinion that the president’s term will be five years against six years was a blow to the President and to the SLFP. It has highlighted the fact that the president can only give his strength to the SLFP membership for less than two years as presidential elections will now fall due in 2019.
A Supreme Court opinion that the President had a six-year term rather than a five year term would have given a bigger incentive to voters to vote for the SLFP rather than for another party. A six-year term for Maithripala Sirisena would have meant that SLFP MPs would face elections before him. This would make his support for individual MPs critical, including for the process of securing nominations from within the party. A six-year term would also place the UNP at a disadvantage, competing against an SLFP that enjoyed the support of a sitting president. The President’s adherence to constitutional norms in soliciting the Supreme Court advisory opinion, and accepting it without protest, is a positive signal to the country at large about the prevalence of the Rule of Law under the present government.
However, the downside of these political maneuverings is that power politics is at the centre stage. This is not what the majority of people hoped for when they voted for a change at the presidential and general elections of 2015. President Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and other government leaders all pledged to ensure good governance and non-corruption as their primary goals, which would facilitate both economic development and national reconciliation. However, the evidence from the Bond Commission report is that within a few weeks of coming to power, some of the government leaders were involved in the bond scam which was not an expression of the anticipated new political culture. Likewise President Sirisena looking to extend his term of office was not an expression of the promised new political culture, but a reflection of power politics.
PRAGMATIC POLITICS
One of the unintended outcomes of the open tension between President Maitripala Sirisena and members of the UNP is to divert public attention away from the opposition and to internal conflict within the government in the run up to the local government elections. The submission of the report of the presidential commission appointed to investigate the Central Bank bond scam has given the President an opportunity to strengthen his hand. It has also given rise to the perception within the UNP that their members are being targeted by the President and the SLFP. This was followed by President Sirisena asking the Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on whether his term of office was five years or six. The tussle between the UNP and SLFP members on these issues has taken the centre stage of public interest, thereby reducing the publicity for the SLPP which is out of the main frame.
In keeping with the adage that to politicians, bad publicity is better than no publicity, the UNP-SLFP tussle on this issue has enabled the SLFP to demonstrate to the general public that it is a power to reckon with in the government. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court opinion, leading members of the SLFP are claiming that President Sirisena will contest presidential elections a second time. This is in order to impress the voters that the president will continue to remain in power for the foreseeable future. The suggestion is made that therefore voting for the SLFP at the local government elections will ensure access to governmental patronage for the foreseeable future. In addition, the president has stated that after the elections he will take control over the economy through the device of the National Economic Commission.
So far the Prime Minister has been making an appearance of going along with the President. The UNP did not challenge his decision to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court on the length of his term of office. It is reported that this inquiry of the President was made without the knowledge of the UNP or the Prime Minister. The UNP probably sees the President’s statement that he will take control of the economy after the elections as part of his election campaign to persuade the SLFP’s traditional voters to vote SLFP rather than for the SLPP. In response to the President taking offence at the various statements made against him on public platforms by members of the UNP, the Prime Minister is reported to have admonished his party members to desist from public criticism of the President.
PROBLEM SOLVING
In this complex context the positive feature is that Sri Lanka continues to have a government of national unity comprising the two largest political parties, the UNP and SLFP. As can be expected the forthcoming local government elections have aggravated the tensions between them. It is customary that those who seek to win an election engage in boosting their own images and running down their rivals. At the same time it is necessary to value the check and balance function that having two parties in power brings to the government in tackling national issues. The exposure of the Central Bank bond scam is a relevant example. If it has been left to one party in governance, then neither the scam nor its magnitude would have seen the light of day.
It is also necessary for the two parties to work together to bring resolution to the country’s protracted ethnic conflict rather than to continue to drift without engaging in serious problem solving of difficult and controversial issues. The political stresses of the present must not stand in the way of future cooperation. Previous efforts to find a solution floundered on the rocks of narrow political partisanship. The resumption of both the constitutional reform and transitional justice processes after the conclusion of the local government elections will be a bipartisan national task.
The forthcoming election will give an indication of the level of support for the ruling parties on the one hand and for the opposition on the other hand. It will be important for the parties in the government coalition to obtain majority popular support in order to have the confidence to forge ahead with the plans they have already laid out for national level problem solving. A situation where the local government election yields an outcome in which the UNP and SLFP have to cooperate in order to secure the majority in each of the local government authorities would take the policy of bipartisanship down to the community level, which will be the best formula for building grassroots support for national problem solving on controversial issues.
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Muslim Personal Law Reforms in Sri Lanka-Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) on MMDA & reforms

Muslim Personal Law Reforms in Sri Lanka-Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) on MMDA & reforms

FAQ’s about Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) and reforms

1. What is the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA)?

January 22, 2018

The 1907 Sri Lankan (General) Marriage Registration Ordinance (GMRO) is applicable to all citizens of the country with the exception of Muslims who marry within faith. Two communities – the Kandyan Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Muslims have separate Acts for marriage and divorce, on the basis of ethnicity (with a geographic qualifier), and religion respectively. The present-day Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) was enacted in 1951.

Kandyan Sinhalese have the option to marry under the 1952 Kandyan Marriage and Divorce Act as well as the GMRO. However this option does not extend to Muslims as only the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act 1951 (MMDA) governs, Muslims inhabitants who marry another Muslim (including converts to Islam). Muslims however are allowed to marry partners who are of a different ethnicity or religion under the GMRO. Muslims in Sri Lanka currently account for 9.66 percent (1,967,523 )million of the total population of 20.3 million people.

(*MMDA is sometimes referred to as Muslim Personal Law (MPL) or Muslim Family Law.)

2. What is the origin of the MMDA?

The origin of Sri Lankan MMDA stems from a code of law on marriage and divorce exported from Batavia (present day Indonesia) in 1770 during the Dutch rule. Between 1806 and 1951, this code of law went through a process of codification, review and modification, led on each of these occasions by a few prominent legal and religious individuals at the time.

The present day Act embodies substantive provisions held by the preceding ordinances and codes and includes provisions based on Sharia law and Islamic legal practices. However, the Act also includes provisions pertaining to local customs unknown to Islamic  law, such as that of kaikuli (dowry given from bride’s side to bridegroom) followed by Sri Lankan Muslims at the time. Among certain religious schools of thought, kaikuli is considered haram/forbidden in Islam.

Is the MMDA based on Shariah law?

‘Shariah’ is referred to as the general normative system of Islam as historically understood and developed by Muslim jurists mostly during the first three centuries of Islam. Shariahpertains to much more than just legal principles and norms, but where applicable legally – it is often termed as ‘Islamic law’. Islamic law encompasses a wide range of legal aspects and Muslim Family/Personal Law is just one of the most common aspect of Islamic law that is implemented to varying degrees in about 44 different countries around the world. Muslim family law in many countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Morocco, Tunisia and others have been through multiple reforms processes in order to address contemporary issues affecting Muslim communities in these respective countries.

The restriction of Shariah to mainly matters pertaining to family law (i.e., marriage, divorce, custody, maintenance, inheritance) in countries with dual legal systems is a development that came about in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and can be attributed to colonial influences.
In Sri Lanka too, one such remnant of the colonial period has been with regard to the continuation of “indigenous laws” such as personal laws applicable for a specific community, parallel to the common and more secular law generally applicable to all citizens. With specific regard to marriage and divorce, this has resulted in personal laws for the Muslim and Kandyan Sinhalese communities, in addition to the (General) Marriage Registration Ordinance.

3. How is MMDA administered and implemented?

The MMDA established a Quazi (Muslim judge) court system, including a Board of Quazis and an Advisory Board. There are 65 Quazi courts in Sri Lanka with one Quazi each, serving a population of approximately 2 million Muslims. Most Quazis have geographical jurisdiction, however certain Quazis such as the Quazi for Memon community, has island-wide ethnic jurisdiction for wherever Memon community members reside. In Puttalam there has been a special Quazi for all internally displaced persons in the district.

The Board of Quazis is a five-member all-male board tasked with overseeing appeals that arise from Quazi court judgments or proceedings, and provide clarification on “any question of Muslim law which may arise in connection with the administration of the MMDA or of any regulation made thereof” Board of Quazi hearings are held in Colombo and Kalmunai only. Quazi courts are significantly different from the civil court system and doesn’t allow for affected persons to have legal representation.

4. What is the relationship between Quazi courts and civil courts?

In the event that the cases are left unresolved or parties are aggrieved by the decisions of the Board of Quazis – cases are then taken up at the Court of Appeals. Furthermore as per the MMDA, the Magistrate court has the jurisdiction to facilitate  enforcement orders for default on payment of maintenance. The District Court has applicable jurisdiction only with regard to child custody and recovery of sums due on claims pertaining to dowry (mahar and kaikuli).

In the history of MMDA implementation, an Advisory Board that has been specified in the Act has never been formed.

5. Who oversees Quazi appointments?

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) is mandated with handling the appointment of Quazis who may be any “Muslim male of good character and position and of suitable attainments, as well as undertaking terminations and transfers of Quazis and Board of Quazi members. According to the JSC Quazis are chosen based on 4 attainments: they are either lawyers, Moulavis or Alim (religious scholar), retired public officer in the staff grade, and/or a graduate. JSC is also tasked with taking action on complaints regarding Quazis, however only has the mandate to inquire and terminate/transfer.

6. What are the key issues with regard to MMDA?

There are major concerns that the MMDA violates the rights of Muslim women and limits access to justice, due process and redress. These concerns are with regard to provisions within the Act itself as well as practical problems with procedures and implementation via the Quazi court.

Some of these issues with regard serious infringement on right include (among others):

  1. Legally allowing child marriage by not stipulating the minimum age of marriage for Muslims as 18 years (A Quazi can permit even the marriage of a child under the age of 12)
  2. No requirement of mandatory (and written) consent from the bride
  3. Different conditions of divorce for men and women
  4. Only husbands are granted the right to unilateral divorce without reason
  5. Process of divorce for wives lengthy, requiring reasons and evidence, witnesses and case hearings
  6. Arbitrary provision for wife and child maintenance depending on Quazi
  7. Practice of polygamy without requirement of consent from the wife/s or wife to be as well as without verifying if husband is able to maintain
  8. Qualified women not allowed to be marriage registrars, Quazis, jurors or Board of Quazi members. The position of Quazi is a state-salaried and tax-funded position that is allowed to discriminate against women simply on the basis of sex.
  9. No mandatory requirement of qualifications or compulsory training for Quazis

Muslim women’s access to justice is severely restricted in Quazi courts. Affected women have articulated in multiple forums that they are discriminated against by the sub-par Quazi court system, which is significantly different from the civil court system and doesn’t allow for clients to have legal representation. Women are often mistreated by incompetent Quazis and the jurors of the courts; not given equal treatment as their husbands; are unable to express their side without fear of being verbally abused, threatened and humiliated in courts throughout their case processes. More often than not the all-male jurors (with no qualifications) are selected by Quazis arbitrarily.

7. What have been the efforts to reform the MMDA?

Although the earliest attempt at reforms can be tracked back to 1954, the reforms process gained significant momentum from the mid 1980’s. Notable amendments include, the amendment to the appointment of Quazis by the Judicial Service Commission in 1964.  Over the years different aspects of the MMDA have been highlighted for reforms by different groups. Many committees for law reforms have been set up starting with the 1956 general committee on customary law reform that looked at the option for a uniform civil code, which garnered much opposition from the Muslim community.

Subsequent committees specifically on Muslim Family Law reforms were set up including:

  1. In 1970 – a committee headed by Dr. H.M.Z Farouque which provided recommendation for reforms  that included substantive and procedural amendments to the MMDA, including raising the minimum age of marriage;
  2. In 1984 – a committee was set up but disbanded subsequently without any concrete progress;
  3. In 1990 – a committee was set up and headed by Dr A.M.M. Shahabdeen, which has been the committee most successful to date, in terms of preparing a report within two years and submitting to the government. The process ended at the lack of legislative action, as the MMDA reforms were not a political priority for the Muslim leaders or the government at the time;
  4. In 2005 – MWRAF initiated the Independent Committee for Muslim Personal Law Reforms (ICMPLR). The ICMPLR, following a widespread consultative process with many actors, prepared a comprehensive report on law reforms, which contributed as the initial documentation and precursor to the 2009 cabinet appointed committee;
  5. In 2009 – A 16 member Committee on Reform of Muslim Family Law was set up by then Minister of Justice Milinda Moragoda. The committee is headed by  former Supreme Court Judge and Presidential Counsel Justice Saleem Marsoof. The committee is yet to submit its recommendations for reforms of the MMDA to the Minister of Justice.

8. Why was the 2009 reform committee appointed ? 

In 2009 after then Minister of Justice Milinda Moragoda after having extensive discussion with several eminent Muslims it was acknowledged that certain reforms to the Muslim personal law was “urgently needed”. He obtained cabinet approval to set up a 16 member committee consisting of senior legal personalities, heads of the All Ceylon Jamaitul Ulema (ACJU), academics and members of civil society organizations.

9. What is the status of the committee report? 

There is very little information about where the committee is in its internal discussion or when the MPL Reforms Committee will submit its report to the Ministry of Justice, if at all. It is also uncertain whether or not the recommendations made by the committee will include provisions that protect fundamental and citizenship rights of Muslim women and girls, or include provisions that condone and permit discriminatory practices

10. How the repeal of Article 16(1) of the constitution linked to reforming MMDA?

Article 16(1) is a clause in the Fundamental Rights chapter of the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka. It says that all written and unwritten law that existed prior to the 1978 Constitution is ‘valid and operative’. This means that these laws are valid even if these laws are ‘inconsistent’ with fundamental rights granted to all citizens. Article 16(1) of the present Constitution supersedes the guarantees of equality (Article 12(1)) and non discrimination (Article 12(2)). This implies that if any of the 600+ written and unwritten laws including the MMDA infringe or violate a person’s fundamental rights, it cannot be challenged in a court of law.

  • Article 16(1) needs to be repealed to ensure that the new Constitution is the supreme law of the land and that fundamental rights and gender equality are ensured for all citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity;
  • The absence of an Article 16(1)-like provision has no immediate impact on the continued operation and validity of MMDA or any of the other 600+ laws.Muslims of Sri Lanka can continue to practice the MMDA and any other personal laws. There will be greater space for reform which will have to be initiated and taken forward by the community itself. It has been recommended that following the promulgation of the new Constitution, that a law reforms Commission is appointed having a two year period to identify and recommend changes to laws that are found to be inconsistent with the new constitution;
    • After this review period, only if any one individual is adversely affected by the MMDA to the extent that his/her fundamental rights as a citizen is infringed upon, then the individual –as a Sri Lankan citizen – could be able to challenge this discrimination in a Constitutional or Supreme Court if he/she wants to.

If reforms to MMDA will indeed mean that fundamental rights of Muslim citizens are not violated, then Article 16(1) should not be such a major concern for them at all. In the event discriminatory provisions continue to be present – the absence of Article 16(1) will offer an alternative legal remedy to address issues faced by Muslim women, men and children in matters of marriage and divorce through civil courts like any other Sri Lankan citizen.

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After War Ends: A Road to national reconciliation

After War Ends: A Road to national reconciliation

 2018-01-23
The three decade-long armed conflict in Sri Lanka had ended with the defeat of LTTE in May 2009. Many initiatives taken by the post-war Sri Lankan governments have not yielded any national reconciliation, in fact the divergent interests among various social, economic and political groups and increased social fragmentation have terrified the social cohesion and the future of Sri Lanka.
According to the Centre for Policy Alternatives (2013), post-war Sri Lanka has recorded more than 65 communal clashes in January 2013, illustrating the very nature of disturbed co-existence among ethnic groups. In fact, these incidents remained untreated and have renewed new divisions within society that have made the topic of national reconciliation central to political and academic debates.
Even eight years after the violent conflict, the Northern and Eastern Provinces are still under-reconstruction and military control. The defeat of the LTTE and the death of Prabhakaran is still treated as an unbearable loss by the Tamil community (De Silva 2010). Memories of the positive features of the LTTE are likely to remain fresh in the minds of the Tamil people, and would affect any government attempt at reconciliation—whether this be through policies or gestures (De Silva 2010). Not only Tamils, but also other Tamil-speaking communities have also paid in more ways than one for the war. The majority of the Muslim community, which was evacuated by the LTTE in the 1990s from the Northern Province, is not properly resettled. In addition, the sporadic riots against Muslim community in the post-war Sri Lanka threaten the peaceful co-existence of communities. This life threatening situation of the Muslim community is too hopeless. This has led to thousands of innocent Muslim families to live in fear. As regards the Sinhalese community, they remain insecure and feel fear with regard to the revival of the LTTE. As a result, the relationship between the ethnic communities is still very tense with a feeling of “us” and “them”.
Diversity Paradox and Political Parties
Prior to the advent of British colonial rule in Ceylon, the communities co-existed in relative harmony though there were distinct ethnic and social differences between people of different backgrounds. As it was the case for many parts of the world, the British colonial rulers had instigated the communal rivalries for their smooth and efficient administration in Ceylon. In particular, the continued demand for improved political representation for communities was discussed widely and remained a topic for political bargaining with the colonial rulers during the late 1920s and 1930s. This led the leaders to mobilize the members of the Ceylonese nation on the communal lines and to articulate communal interests.
However, D.S Senanayake, the Chairman of the Reception Committee, National Congress who spoke at the general session of Congress on 16th December 1927 that although the National Congress was composed mainly of Sinhalese, the Congress is not only for Sinhalese.
In fact, DS Senanayake had encouraged the Tamil community not to leave the National Congress for any reasons as he wanted the Congress to represent the interests of all communities and people. Even he continuously had insisted the British Empire to consider Ceylonese as the members of British Empire with equal rights. All his efforts on the part of Ceylonese nation from the National Congress helped to introduce the adult suffrage which was a progressive step on the road to political democracy.
According to CPA (2013), post-war SL has recorded more than 65 communal clashes in Jan. 2013, illustrating the very disturbed co-existence among ethnic groups
However, it is important to know that prior to the legislature of Soulbury, there was no political parties, but the members were grouped into organizations like Ceylon Congress, Sinhala Maha Sabha. In the 1940s, the implementation of Soulbury Constitution had necessitated the development of political parties in order to implement the parliamentary system in Ceylon. In such a situation DS Senanayake first established United National Party (UNP) in 1946 as non-communal party to deal with questions on non-communal lines. The policy of the UNP was to represent the interests of members from all sections and population of the country. However, one could possibly argue that this lacked with SWRD Bandaranaike whose Sinhala Maha Sabha clearly advocated the linguistic and religious matters which were not congruent with the polices of UNP. Jennings writes that “Sinhala Maha Sabha was not an organization of Buddhist enthusiasts but an attempt to exploit communalism for personal power and privilege”. In fact, for political benefits, many political leaders brought communal politics to the fore. This fanned communal rivalries which deepened distrust among the communities in post-independence Sri Lanka.
Soon after independence, the newly formed independent government (under the premiership of DS Senanayake) attempted to build the united Ceylonese nation with its professed goals of nation-building. A few parliamentary Acts such as the Citizenship Act (1948), and Indian-Pakistani Citizenship Act (1949) were enacted which the government saw as necessary to generate a shared identity of unifying Ceylon after the British departure. In some ways, the Ceylonese government has been successful, though this has come at the price of denying civil and political rights of the Indian Tamils.
The Rajapaksa government saw the total defeat of LTTE as a complete victory for the government forces and regarded no reason to political discussions
 However, it is argued that the first nation-building in Ceylon after Independence was failure in most respects. During his political career, DS Senanayake never supported or made a claim for a special treatment to ‘Buddhism’. In addition, he never attempted to make Sinhala as the official language of the country. He never attempted to make language problem in the country as he had a wider tolerance and passion for making Ceylon as a single nation. DS Senanayake has focused more on the issues related to livelihood but not to uplift the status of language and religion. He always had a mentality that the united nation could be possible when there is a generous attitude towards the minorities. In other words, as a first prime minister, he was the only statesman who worked greatly for communal harmony.
However, after his tenure, the Sinhala Only Act was enacted by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to replace English as the official language with Sinhala. This was said that for the first few years following Independence, the UNP government with its majority representation for the interests of the westernized elite and other privileged urban groups, failed to consider the interests of the rural-poor Sinhalese. As a result, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party to gain the political vote of the rural Sinhalese had provided language (Sinhala) and religion (Buddhism) a higher constitutional status. This situation provided the opportunity for Tamil leaders to seek self-determination since these disastrous policies led to deep ethnic divisions between Tamil-speaking communities and the Sinhalese.
Citizenship Act (1948), and Indian-Pakistani Citizenship Act (1949) were enacted which the Govt. saw as necessary to generate a shared identity of unifying Ceylon after the British departure
The strained relationship between the Sinhalese and Tamils worsened when the sporadic riots against Tamils took place for decades and the worst riots took place in July 1983. In such situations, the state repression against these riots created further animosity forcing the Tamil youth to defend themselves against the attacks from the Sinhalese community. Eelam War I is the initial phase of the armed conflict (1970s to July 23 1983) between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. In the 1990s, the Eastern Muslim community was also dragged into the fighting by the attacks from the LTTE. All this was exacerbated further by the ethnic violence in the North and East where throughout the 1990s, Sri Lanka faced Ealam War II (1990), and Ealam War III (1995).
During this period, all communities experienced high levels of ethnic violence which resulted in the loss of many lives and major destruction of the infrastructure. This further increased the mistrust and feelings of hatred among  communities. The massacre of 147 Muslims at prayer in the Kattankudy Mosque in the Eastern Province triggered hatred between the Tamils and Muslims. This was further worsened in 1990 when the L.T.T.E expelled nearly 75,000 Muslims from the districts of Northern Province, such as Mannar, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu within a 48-hour period. The situation remained unchanged until the peace talks in 2002 (facilitated by Norway) to stop the military attacks between the LTTE and the government forces in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. At one point, to reach a political solution through peaceful negotiations, Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister signed the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with the LTTE on 22nd February, 2002. To end the 20 years of conflict, Ranil Wickremesinghe insisted a permanent solution based on a united Sri Lanka. In order to find a peaceful political solution, the peace talks were held in many countries, and attended by LTTE delegates, but came to an end without any success, since the LTTE did not consider there to be any solution other than a separate state for Tamils.
However, one could say that the Ranil had adopted a non-confrontational approach to the LTTE to reach an amicable political solution. Nevertheless, even though no settlement was reached between 2002 and 2006, there was at least no fighting in the country. The presidential election of 2005 dashed any hopes for peace when the LTTE announced a boycott of the election by the Tamils. This led to the Sinhala nationalist candidate, Mahinda Rajapaksa, receiving a narrow win without the Tamil vote from the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Once President Rajapaksa came to power as President, he resumed military operations against the LTTE. Rajapaksa government had begun to shift the soft approach since 2005. In retaliation, the LTTE increased their attacks throughout the country. The LTTE faced further challenges when the newly-appointed President, Mahinda Rajapaksha began Eelam War IV in July 2007 with government forces capturing the entire Eastern Province.
Again in January 2008 the government launched a large military attack against the LTTE in the Northern Province, in particular in Vanni, the heartland of the LTTE. By January 2009, the Sri Lankan military forces had taken control of Kilinochchi, which had been the administrative capital of the LTTE since 1999, and the heavy fighting between January and May 2009 (to seize the rest of Vanni) ended when the Sri Lankan government army captured Mullaitivu.
In fact, the coalition government attempts to prevent a repetition of what took place in the past ensuring the non-occurrence of communal violence. I believe this is a key to facilitate the process of national reconciliation in Sri Lanka
The Rajapaksa government saw the total defeat of LTTE as a complete victory for the government forces and regarded no reason to political discussions. However, without a political solution, there can be no hope of national reconciliation through meaningful power sharing. However, ethnic or communal reconciliation needs to come from strong inter-ethnic relations which would allow all parties to work on a political solution. Attempts at centralization by the Rajapaksa government appeared to offer no hope of solving the ethnic conflict through a meaningful political solution, despite its best efforts to amend the constitution and enact parliamentary Bills.
However, the Sirisena- Wickremesinghe government has taken again a soft approach to address the matter of national reconciliation in a non-partition manner. In fact, the coalition government attempts to prevent a repetition of what took place in the past ensuring the non-occurrence of communal violence. I believe this is a key to facilitate the process of national reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
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What is needed to complete the revolution of 8 January

What is needed to complete the revolution of 8 January


Writers for good governance in Sri Lanka like me, can only pray that things will sort out and become stable after that result; that President Maithripala and the Prime Minister will resume to work harmoniously together; that the revolution is completed and its promised package of a transformed political system is signed, sealed and delivered to the people of our country. This alone will constitute the path of hope for Sri Lanka

logo Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The challenge before our country is to institute a transformed system, because most of our political ills are a functional result of a poor system. Our politicians and our political culture is a dependent outcome of bad system. This systemic change, above all, demands a change

in constitution

Root of today’s confusion

The revolution of 8 January 2015 was never a completed task. The election results at the general elections that followed did not yield a big enough result for the UNP, Maithripala Sirisena’s principal political partner, to form a strong government with the new President.

The range of promised tasks that had to be performed to complete the transformation of political life in the island and satisfy the electorate was so vast and radical that it all needed a near absolute majority. For various reasons, this outcome was not achieved.

The root of today’s confusion lies there and nowhere else. Those interested in trying to assess the unfolding political situation have to bear this central issue in mind if they are to get anywhere as far as understanding is concerned. Just hitting here and there won’t help.

Clout of the deposed regime

The related subsidiary factor in the confusion-equation that ensued was that the deposed regime of the Rajapaksa family had enough Parliamentary clout in numbers to worry the Government and cause destabilisation.

There isn’t any point in saying that an Opposition in a democracy should allow the Government some time- space to deliver and only thereafter go on the onslaught. This is theory and it doesn’t belong to the real world of Third World politics.

The troubling and worrisome factor working within the Opposition, now headed by the former President, is that the latter are under siege with a the Sword of Damocles hanging over their necks. The charges of corruption and murder and fraud exposed and bandied about during election time are so serious that many in the Opposition headed by “the family,” could land in jail if proved in court; concomitantly, these individuals would also automatically lose their civic rights to participate in politics in the future.

Proverbial pickpocket

The fear was traumatic. The only way out for the Opposition is to utilise the numbers they had in Parliament and outside in the broad electorate to campaign and harass the new President and the Government. This is how ‘Mahinda Sulanga,’ meetings started.

Like the proverbial pickpocket, the Opposition cried foul against the Yahapalanaya Government with a return charge of corruption. It was sand thrown in the eyes to deceive the people. To an extent that was successful politics. The successful politicisation of the bond issue was a case in point.

Other factors

The dragging of cases meant to bring the members of the former regime to court made matters worse. Persons loyal to the former regime continued within the ranks of various government agencies, obstructing many a move. The media, suddenly released from oppression and finding freedom, began a relentless criticism over the Government. This is known as the paradox of liberty and tolerance. Opposition elements utilise the new freedom to destroy the very freedom from oppression that the people have won; doing so, by attempting to get on the back of that freedom.

Nor could any government perform significantly in the economy, especially for the first few years, given the perilous star of finances that the previous regime had created by irresponsible fiscal measures, childish and mindless extravaganza and corruption, unpayable national debt and visionless economic management.

The media under the incompetent previous minister of this Government failed in its task to communicate with the people about these difficulties and about the solutions that need time to give effect to. The present Minister Mangala Samaraweera, being a media expert himself, has begun delivering what the media had to deliver in this context. The delay did cost the incumbent Government.

President’s SLFP

The other factor, also related to the inadequate Parliamentary majority, was President Sirisena’s strategy of luring onto his side some numbers of the SLFP that were with Mahinda Rajapaksa. The strategy did work to some extent since the Yahapalanaya Government was able to pass some important legislation in Parliament and also present some stability within the well of Parliament. The invaluable passage of the 19th Amendment was a victory for both the President and the Prime Minister – particularly the President who dared to stay inside Parliament until that was passed. Many other useful and nationally important laws were passed during the last three years including those related to the setting up of Independent Commissions, the freedom of the public to obtain information about the government and so on. Besides, Government was able to pass all its budgets comfortably.

Constitutional change

The crucial law that has yet to be passed relates to the fundamental law of the country and that is the Constitution. One cannot expect any change in the rules of the game of politics and governance without a change in constitution; that, alone, can result in a better arrangement for Parliament to have better quality MPs and ensure a fundamental change to the way the way the government is run.

The current system of the JR constitution leading to an absolute executive must go as soon as possible. This was one of the key things for which a mandate was obtained. The public demand for that grew so much that even the former President had promised the people, that if he won election the first thing he would do is to abolish the executive presidency! An ironical and even satirical statement from the man who abused that constitution and unleashed oppression in the island.

Progress of dualism

What has thus far happened in this regard, is a hopeless halfway path of a restricted executive presidency; neither here nor there. Surprisingly the resultant dualism did work thus far, given the good sense and maturity on the part of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The duo has worked well together to deliver a visible change in the country: Sri Lankan people are free now. For the last three years we have not seen any state-sponsored murders of dissenting journalists and politicians – no white vans and night hit-squads. People are free to protest for anything. Trade unions, including the unprofessionally-behaving GMOA, are let out. Villagers are not shot for demanding their right to clean water.

Courts aren’t conducted in Temple Trees anymore. We do not have a Chief Justice who is ready to give verdicts that Government leaders desire. We have a meticulously honourable Chief Justice today. Dissentients are not found missing. Pedestrians are not forced by cops to turn their backs and hold onto the nearest wall when VIPs like Gota pass, in their pomp and glory.

The economy has started a turn for the better. The national debt factor is intelligently handled. Only the cussed, the politically illiterate and the Rajapaksa-bent diehards can deny all this and much more.

Stress on dualism

On the other hand, during these times of political stress with the Local Government elections on, dualism is under serious stress. Maithripala’s strategy of building up an SLFP under his political leadership has caused much of the stress and burn of dualism. His attempts seem to have divided the SLFP ranks in the country, thus weakening Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Pohottuwa. However, the heat generated from the political need to differentiate himself from the UNP during election time is becoming dysfunctional. Maithripala’s SLFP can succeed in the country only on the basis of such a differentiation from the UNP.

This development, once again, shows the weakness of an executive president system where the President takes on a political mantle.

Prayer for a change in system

The election results will, no doubt, have big impact on national politics in the days to come. Writers for good governance in Sri Lanka like me, can only pray that things will sort out and become stable after that result; that President Maithripala and the Prime Minister will resume to work harmoniously together; that the revolution is completed and its promised package of a transformed political system is signed, sealed and delivered to the people of our country. This alone will constitute the path of hope for Sri Lanka.  The challenge before our country is to institute a transformed system, because most of our political ills are a functional result of a poor system. Our politicians and our political culture is a dependent outcome of bad system. The systemic change, above all, demands a change in constitution.

(The writer can be reached via sjturaus@optusnet.com.au.)

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Foundation laid for giant economic leap – PM

Foundation laid for giant economic leap – PM

Monday, January 22, 2018
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe stressed that Sri Lanka has great potential to take a giant economic step to reach a developed nation by 2025.
The Prime Minister made these remarks participating in a television interview on Swarnavahini last night.
The Premier further said the government is duty bound to create a better economic environment and a country with economic stability for the next generation.
“We are establishing a sound economic platform aiming for a speedy journey towards economic prosperity” he noted.
The Prime Minister added that moves have been taken to increase the Gross Domestic Product by twofold during this decade. The country is receiving foreign investments and the country will harvest the benefits of this by next year. The mountain of loans to be repaid has been brought down to the manageable position. However, the GDP probably should be increased in the coming years, resulting in the country being able to settle loans more comfortably. The Prime Minister further noted that export income will also be trebled in due course and then the country will reach a comfort zone.
Speaking on the Hambantota port and the Mattala International Airport, the Prime Minister added that the port has been converted to profit making venture. “The harbour is not a burden to the country’s economy anymore,” he said. The Mattla Airport will also be utilised for the wellbeing of the country.
Asked whether the economic achievement of this Government is at a satisfactory level, the Prime Minister said that it can be totally satisfied with the preliminary measures taken to uplift the country’s economy. “It was taken two years to establish a sound economic platform,”he said.
“The country will be developed economically by establishing five mega economic zones. To achieve economic prosperity, the country’s infrastructure will see a huge turnaround with mega projects,” he said.
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Over to you, Mr. President!

Over to you, Mr. President!

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2018-01-23

In his first speech as Prime Minister of newly independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru addressed his nation saying “I speak to you today as your First Servant…..”

Words that the current Chief Minister of the Uva Province, Chamara Sampath Dassanayake, may not have heard, or if he has done so, certainly would not understand and certainly does not follow.
The patrician Nehru, scion of one of India’s finest families, educated in the greatest institutes in England, presented himself to his people as a servant.

Dassanayake, who was elected from the United People’s Freedom Alliance headed by President Maithripala Sirisena, chose to summon a Principal of a school to his official residence and berate her about refusing admission to a student that he had ordered her to take against the rules.

In a video that has gone viral on the Internet the Principal, Bhavani Raghunath, says Dassanayake yelled at her and threatened to transfer her to a distant location.

“At that time I became very upset and I knelt down and begged for forgiveness. I felt ashamed that I had to do that,” Raghunath said.

She said all this took place on 3 January and that she had gone to the CM’s residence at 10:45 and returned at noon to the school.

The incident came to light when an Opposition Member of the Uva Provincial Council the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna’s (JVP) Samantha Vidyaratna spoke about it during a Council meeting. A video of that exchange shows Dassanayake vehemently denying such an incident took place.

Later on Dassanayake told local reporters that a ‘racial’ incident was about to happen because Raghunath refused to admit a child and he had called her in to persuade her to find a solution.

The Principal has told reporters that the Chief Minister had sent a letter to her asking her to admit the child of one of his supporters to her school, the Badulla Tamil Girls’ Maha Vidyalayam. She says that she had to refuse because it was too late and admissions were closed.

After the incident Raghunath claims that her bosses at the Education Department asked her to tell the Media that she had been asked to come to the CM’s residence ‘to discuss the development and improvement of the school’ and not reveal she had been berated for not admitting a child.

The issue has become a political matter on the eve of the Local Government elections as Councillors and Members of Parliament from the United National Party and JVP attack the UPFA as saying the Chief Minister is disrespectful of a school Principal.

President Sirisena has now asked Dassanayake to temporarily give up the Provincial Education portfolio until investigations into the issue are over and the Uva Province Governor has taken over that file.

President Sirisena instructed police to launch an inquiry into this matter and the Principal gave a statement to the Badulla Police yesterday afternoon.

Chief Minister Dassanayake told this newspaper that all this was a fabrication and an attempt at character assassination in view of the upcoming Local Government election. Whether this is right we will know shortly we hope, but there are many wrongs already committed by Dassanayake even if he only ‘advised’ Raghunath.

First the CM has no right to send a letter to a Principal demanding that she admit a child to the school. Principals have to be guided by the Circulars and rules and regulations set by the Education Department to admit children and not be influenced unduly by politicians. This is a form of corruption.

Second, the CM has no business summoning a Principal to his residence even to ‘advise’ her. He should have met the senior officials of the Education Department and discussed the matter and asked them to find a solution.

Third if he berated the Principal that is a serious offence because he has been disrespectful of a Government Servant and if he indeed threatened to transfer the Principal out of the Provincial Capital he should be asked to step down from his position.

CM Dassanayake has not acted as a ‘servant of the people’ but as a boorish autocrat who has treated this woman as one of his minions. He is out of line and President Maithripala Sirisena who says he will root out corruption should make an example of this official and kick him out.

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The increasingly strained MS – RW relationship

The increasingly strained MS – RW relationship

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The Supreme Court determination that the President Maithripala Sirisena could hold office for only five years according to the 19th Amendment, was one of the most significant political developments to take place after the yahapalana government was formed in 2015. It appears that all this while, the President has been operating on the assumption that his term ends on 9 January 2021 even though the 19th Amendment shortened the presidential term to five years. The expectation was that just as the executive presidency was retained through the 19th Amendment which was brought for the ostensible purpose of abolishing it, the length of the president’s term also could be retained despite it having been shortened by the 19A. The SC determination prevented the 19th Amendment from being turned into a complete mockery. The question of the duration of the President’s term according to the 19th Amendment was first discussed seriously in The Island on 19 February 2017 in a lengthy article by Shamindra Ferdinando.
In response to a claim by Sirisena loyalists in the SLFP like Ministers Faiszer Musthapha and Dilan Perera that President Maithripala Sirisena was entitled to a term of six years regardless of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, The Island interviewed Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne, national list MP of the UNP and one of the principal architects of the 19th Amendment, Manohara de Silva, PC and senior lawyer Chrishmal Warnasuriya and all three of them dismissed the SLFP’s claim and drew attention to the transitional clause in Section  49 (1) (b) of the 19th Amendment which clearly states that “the persons holding office respectively, as the President and Prime Minister on the day preceding April 22, 2015 shall continue to hold such office after such date subject to the provisions of the Constitution as amended by this Act.” Thus legal luminaries from both sides of the political divide were very clear that the 19th Amendment had not only shortened the term of the presidency but also made it specifically applicable to President Sirisena.
In a statement issued on the day that nominations closed for the local government elections – 14 December 2017 – former President Mahinda Rajapaksa warned his supporters to look lively because the next presidential election had to be mandatorily held before 9 December 2019 according to the provisions of the constitution as amended by the 19th Amendment. When it became known that President Sirisena had written to the Supreme Court asking for a determination on his term, former minister Basil Rajapaksa had immediately contacted Prof. G.L.Peiris and appraised him of this development. Within a couple of hours, GLP had lined up a legal team to represent the various constituent parties of the Joint Opposition at the Supreme Court’s open hearing on the matter.
GLP’s conviction pays off
Some prominent individuals had warned Prof. Peiris not to expect much from this exercise because it was highly unlikely that President Sirisena would have taken the drastic step of asking the SC for a determination on the length of his term in office in the middle of an election unless there was a pre-arranged understanding on the matter. However Prof. Peiris had continued to organize legal resistance to the move because he was convinced that it would be next to impossible to write a determination declaring that the President’s term in office would be six years even after it was brought down to five years through a constitutional amendment which was expressly made applicable to the incumbent President as well. What was most noteworthy was that the UNP, JVP and TNA were not represented in court to argue against the President’s query. Many people thought the UNP may have had second thoughts about rubbing the President on the wrong side in a situation where he could easily use the bond commission report as a weapon against them. The TNA would have been absent because they have no interest in dislodging Sirisena from his position. What was most problematic was the JVP’s absence in court.
The day following the SC determination came the confrontation between President Sirisena and the UNP ministers in Cabinet over public criticisms of the President made by UNP backbenchers. This was taken by many people as a sign that the SC determination had rattled and unhinged the President. He stormed out of the Cabinet meeting saying that he was being criticized by UNP ministers and pro UNP websites among which lankaenews had been specifically mentioned by name and also on facebook – by which the President seemed to indicated that he suspected that it was the UNP’s facebook brigade that was at least partly responsible for the social media campaign against him. The immediate reason for the President’s ire had been UNP parliamentarian S.M. Marikkar’s frontal assault on him a day earlier.
Marikkar’s broadside was in many ways just what the UNP needed. For far too long the UNP has been at the receiving end of attacks from the SLFP. Throughout the duration of this so called national government we saw the UNP taking the rap for every unpopular deed done by this government while the SLFP which also benefited from these unpopular deeds, always tried to pose as the moderating factor that the kept the UNP in check. If the UNP imposes a new tax or increases an existing tax, the SLFP half of the government joins the chorus of protest and then makes feints at changing or making some adjustments in the UNP’s proposal so as to win over the public. No actual change may finally be made but the end result of all this is that the SLFP gets to play good cop while the UNP is always left with the role of bad cop.
The 99-year lease of the Hambantota harbor is a case in point. Though this was a deeply unpopular decision and resisted even by the UNP Minister Arjuna Ranatunga it was finally the SLFP President who pushed the deal through by removing Ranatunga from the Ports and Shipping ministry and appointing in his place Mahinda Samarasinghe who enabled the deal to go through on the terms agreed to by the UNP. Yet the opprobrium for the privatization of the Hambantota harbor attaches firmly to the UNP. At least a part of this is due to the Prime Minister’s singular genius for making the wrong gesture at the wrong time and literally hugging the outsized cheque for USD 290 million that was handed to the government on the day that the Hambantota port was taken over by the Chinese company.
UNP as the whipping boy
The bond scam was another instance when the UNP was taken to the cleaners in public by the SLFP. If at all, the SLFP ministers in the government have been even more aggressive than the Joint Opposition in hounding the UNP over the bond scam. The bond scam was first investigated by a COPE committee headed by UPFA parliamentarian D.E.W.Gunasekera. Then it was investigated by yet another COPE committee headed by JVP parliamentarian Sunil Handunnetti and finally it was investigated by the bond commission appointed by President Sirisena. There is no doubt that the most damage to the UNP was done by the latter because of the details that came to light in the course of the investigation. Leaving aside the final report of the bond commission, the details that came to light during the hearings of the commission alone would suffice to prove that something very untoward had occurred in the issue of Treasury bonds.
Given the fact that the UNP now finds itself surrounded and isolated with the Joint Opposition, the JVP and even the SLFP faction in the government baying for its blood, the only way the UNP can rally its forces, is to take on the President the way S.M. Marikkar did. It should be borne in mind that the UNP is not being assailed just from outside, it is being assailed from within as well because the UNP has not been able to deliver anything worthwhile to its rank and file. The reason for that too is President Sirisena who gave the best portfolios to his catchers in the SLFP leaving the UNP mostly with the leftovers. The UNP rank and file is also acutely aware that Sirisena has given what should rightfully be theirs to the SLFP and that virtually all the woes that the UNP faces today can be traced directly back to Sirisena. So criticism of the President resonates well within the UNP.
If the entire UNP rounded off against the President, expressing in public what they now only utter under their breath, the UNP voter may rise once again to defend the party. We saw the manner in which the UNP rallied to defend the party when Chandrika Kumaratunga seized control of the finance, defence and media ministries in November 2003. But the question is whether Ranil Wickremesinghe has the guts to take on Sirisena in that manner. Last Tuesday, the President’s antics in Cabinet may also have been meant to show the UNP that they needed him more than he needed them, because he was constitutionally the head of the government and head of the Cabinet and the government could not be run without him. Though he wanted the UNP parliamentarians and ministers to stop criticizing him, he himself did not feel under any obligation to stop criticizing the UNP – which amply illustrates how lopsided this relationship is.
After the showdown in Cabinet, Sirisena addressed a meeting in Elpitiya where he once again made barely veiled references to the UNP and its ‘thieving proclivities’. On Friday, Sirisena lashed out at the UNP once again in Moneragala. Though he did not mention the UNP by name during these outbursts there was no doubt at all that he was referring to the UNP. However the response of the Prime Minister to all this was to convene the working committee and to advice UNP Ministers and MPs not to criticize the president. He had also apparently asked S.M. Marikkar to apologize to the President.
Sometime after the parliamentary election of August 2015, during the long post-election standoff that ensured between the UNP and the SLFP without being able to agree on the ministries to be allocated to each party, I participated in a talk show on Sirasa with S.M. Marikkar. When asked by the moderator what my take was on the absence of a government a month after the elections, I told him that Chandrika Kumaratunga won 105 seats in 1994 and formed a government, the UNP won 109 seats in 2001 and formed a government with President Chandrika Kumaratunga even handing over the defence ministry to the new government and since the UNP has won 106 seats at the parliamentary elections, they should be allowed to form a government. If the government so formed wishes to share some ministries with members of the SLFP, that should happen entirely at the discretion of the UNP.
One would think that a UNP parliamentarian would wholeheartedly agree with such a position but those were the heady early days of the yahapalana government and Marikkar opposed that view and said that since the UNP has not got a clear majority in parliament the President had the right to form a government. When I asked him about the precedents set in 1994, 2001 and 2004 Marikkar said that the earlier precedent was wrong and that just because the wrong practice had been followed in the past, that did not mean that it had to be repeated. This was a dangerous statement to make. Under the proportional representation system, it’s very seldom that any party can get a clear majority in parliament. Except for the parliamentary election of 1989 when the UNP won 125 seats, and at the 2010 parliamentary election when the UPFA got over 140 seats, no party has ever got a clear majority in parliament.
At the parliamentary elections of 1994, 2001, 2004, even though changes of the government took place, the party forming the government did not have a clear majority. In such circumstances, for a UNP member of parliament to justify Sirisena’s departure from past practice was foolhardy in the extreme. The UNP is now reaping the fruits of such folly.
Who has the upper hand, MS or RW?
There are two ways of looking at this. On the one hand, one school of thought may say that the UNP’s options are limited. They are now facing a crucial election and there is the possibility that the UNP rank and file may get even more demoralized than they are now, if the government shows any signs of breaking down and that may lead to a disastrous performance at the local government elections. Those in such a frame of mind may feel that the UNP is not on a strong wicket at this moment and the best option would be to keep one’s head low and hope for the best.
However, that is not the whole picture. The UNP has 106 seats in parliament and the President cannot dissolve parliament until four and a half years have lapsed after the last election which means that Sirisena cannot dissolve parliament until after February 2020. Due to the Supreme Court determination that Sirisena’s term ends in five years, the next presidential election will have to be held before 9 December 2019 which means that Sirisena will not be able to dissolve parliament until he himself has to face the next presidential election. Even though the UNP is short of a few seats to be able to form a government on its own, they have a good chance of being able to form a minority government with the help of the TNA which has a good rapport with the UNP and will not allow a UNP government to be defeated if they can help it.
The likelihood is that the UNP would not need to form a minority government because they should be able to find a few politicians from within the SLFP group in parliament who would not see a future for themselves in the SLFP beyond Sirisena’s Presidency so as to be able to make up the shortfall to form a government. The UNP is vulnerable to some extent because the minority parties led by Rauff Hakeem, Rishard Bathiudeen, Mano Ganesan and Palani Digambaram all contested under the UNP banner at the August 2015 parliamentary election and hence about 16 of the UNP’s 106 MPs belong to these minority parties which theoretically could hitch their wagon to some other party. However even if all the minority parties decamp from the UNP, the only side they can join is the pro-Sirisena SLFP group which has only around 40 MPs and cannot form a government even if all minority party MPs join them.
Since it is very unlikely that the Joint Opposition and the Sirisena group will ever get together to form a government under Sirisena, the UNP is actually in quite a strong position and can in fact challenge Sirisena is they so wish. What prevents them from doing so is plain pusillanimity. In contrast to the UNP, President Sirisena is proving himself to be adept at brinksmanship. When he walked out of the Cabinet meeting last week, if they acted resolutely the UNP could have turned Sirisena into a lame duck president by forming a government on their own. If they showed Sirisena a majority in parliament, he would have no option but to swear in a new government. He was taking a risk by confronting the UNP head on in that manner. Yet through experience he probably knew that the UNP would never take him on but would wilt when confronted.
The SLFP half of the government has by now developed a barely disguised contempt for the UNP. Minister John Seneviratne said recently that the UNP’s economic management had been disastrous for the country. In the old days, all SLFPers used to think that the UNP was inherently better at managing the economy than them. All that now lies in tatters. If Ranil Wickremesinghe was to stand his ground he should have done so back in 2015 after the parliamentary election when the two parties were haggling over who should get what ministry. In that tussle, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe failed miserably and Sirisena got all the best ministries while the UNP got the leftovers.
Who owes whom?
At that parliamentary election, it has to be stated that President Sirisena did do the UNP some significant favours. For example, he dissolved parliament just in time to prevent D.E.W.Gunasekera’s COPE committee report from being tabled in parliament. Then during the election campaign, he threw a spanner in the works of the Mahinda Rajapaksa led UPFA campaign by stating in writing that he will not appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as the prime minister even if the latter won the election, and ensuring the defeat of the UPFA through a political coup by sacking the general secretaries of the SLFP and the UPFA and replacing them with his own loyalists just 48 hours before the poll. Having done those favours for the UNP, he extracted his pound of flesh after the election by taking the best ministries for his own catchers.
This has now become almost a conscious strategy on the part of Sirisena – to do the UNP a favour and extract a huge price in exchange. The most recent favour he did was to water down his statement on the bond commission report and to send it off to the Attorney General’s department for further action. As Ranil Wickremsinghe was later to say, he too had sent Sunil Handunnetti’s COPE report on the bond scam to the AG’s Dept., one year earlier. Last Friday, JVP parliamentarian Handunnetti himself was saying that if the AG took no further action on the findings of COPE, then there is little chance of any action being taken regarding the bond commission report. In the meantime, the Joint Opposition claims that over 100 pages are missing from the bond commission report which was sent to parliament.
Thus, it seems to be the case that Ven. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Anunayake thera’s cynical comment that commissions are appointed only when something has to be shoved under the carpet, has after ten months of sound, fury and sensational headlines, finally proved to be correct.  So even though President Sirisena has done the UNP some favours, the problem is in the price he extracts for those favours. Having helped shove the bond commission report under the carpet, President Sirisena expects the UNP to keep quiet when he and the SLFP goes throughout the country accusing the UNP of being the thieves who cleaned out the central bank. While the UNP can claim that it is they who made him President by providing over two thirds of the votes to get him elected, the latter can in turn say that it was he who made Ranil Wickremesinghe the prime Minister in a situation where he had only 46 MPs and also ensured the victory of the UNP at the 2015 parliamentary election. So in Sirisena’s own mind he may be feeling that he has already discharged his debt to the UNP and that the UNP was now indebted to him!
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Government power not necessary to develop local councils

Government power not necessary to develop local councils


This local government has become one that changes the direction of politics in the country and the party that rules the country need not be brought to power in the local government council to develop it says the General Secretary of the JVP Tilvin Silva.

He said this at a rally held at Koggala to affirm the victory of the JVP candidates contesting the Ambalangoda Pradeshiya Sabha.

Speaking further Mr. Tilvin Silva said, “At the local government election this time people representing the main political parties have rallied with the JVP. It is because the country needs a change and intellectuals, scholars, artists and many in the society have realized that the JVP is the only party that could make this change.

We know that all those who come to meetings and seminars that we participate are not members of the JVP. However, we are definite that they are prepared to use their vote to elect candidates put forward by the JVP.

A false view is being spread that electing to the local government council a party that does not have power in the government would not be fruitful. There is no truth in this. Power in the government is not necessary to work in the local government councils. It is needed only for those who steal to cover up their stealing. As we do not steal we could develop the towns and villages without having power in the government. We have shown that we could do it by getting the Thissamarama Pradeshiya Sabha as a top local government council. We could do it as we worked with the cooperation of the people. We are definite that we would be able to get administrative power in Thissamaharama, Ambalanthota and Sooriyawewa Councils in Hambanthota district.

In all the elections held in this country, people have been defeated. However, at the local government election held this time, the people will gain victories. The JVP will be able to achieve many victories and get its many of its members elected to many councils. This is why we say this election would change the direction of politics in this country.

The election without preferential votes has become an issue for those who asked for preferential votes. As we face the election without asking for preferential votes even when it was necessary to ask for preferential votes, we are quite comfortable with this new system. We contested under the ‘bell’ symbol. As there is no need to mark preferences when the voters vote for the ‘bell’ it would be a victory for the people.”

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LOCAL AUTHORITY ELECTION IN SRI LANKA -2018: HRC-SL ISSUES GUIDELINES TO POLICE OFFICERS

LOCAL AUTHORITY ELECTION IN SRI LANKA -2018: HRC-SL ISSUES GUIDELINES TO POLICE OFFICERS

Sri Lanka Brief22/01/2018

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, recognizing the right of every citizen to vote, to freely engage in political activities and the right to free and fair elections under the Constitution of Sri Lanka (1978) and international human rights norms, adopted the following guidelines to be observed by all Police Officers during the run-up to the election, on the day of the election and the period immediately after the election:

(a) Complaints regarding pre-election, Election Day and post-election violence shall be accepted and investigated in terms of Article 12 of the Constitution, which declares that “all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law”. The police will be held liable for violation of fundamental rights in regard to inaction or omission relating to entertaining such complaints.

(b) lnvestigation regarding complaints shall be conducted in a strictly impartial manner. . lnaction due to political influences or any other unacceptable reason will amount to a breach of Article 12 of the Constitution.

(c) The law which relates to election propaganda shall be applied equally. All political parties and groups shall be treated equally according to Article 12(2) of the Constitution, which declares “No citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, language, cast sex, political opinion, and place of birth or any one of such grounds”. Any unequal treatment or discrimination, especially on political opinion, will be an express violation of Article 12 of the Constitution.

(d)  lssuing permits to use loudspeakers and for election meetings shall be in accordance with the law, including in terms of section 68(2) of both the Presidential Elections Act, No. 15 of 1981 and the Parliamentary Elections Act, No. 01 of 1981. The nonfulfilment of this obligation will result in violation of Article 12 of the Constitution.

 (e) Processions during the election period shall be permitted subject to section 81 A (2A) of Local Authorities Elections Ordinance (Chapter 262).  lssuing permits for processions shall be done in conformity with articles 12 and 14 of the Constitution, in particular article L4(1) guarantees of freedom of speech, assembly, association, occupation and movement.

(f) Display of leaflets, posters, and photographs of the candidates, symbols, flags and banners shall be permitted according to election laws. lf any party or a group is given privileged treatment, it will be a violation of Article L2 of the Constitution.

(g) Police shall strictly enforce the law with regard to persons who violate the right of others to vote. lf this were not implemented, it would be a violation of Articles l-2 and 14 (1) of the Constitution.
(h) Police Officers shall provide adequate security to polling centres and other related places and make every effort to facilitate the conduct of a free and fair election in accordance with the law of the land.

(i) The law shall be equally enforced against political parties or persons irrespective of their status or powers when they breach election laws. Thus, it shall be the duty of Police officers to enforce the law strictly against all persons who misuse or cause damage to public property, eg., government vehicles, buildings and premises.

(j) Police have a responsibility to prevent election related violence including postelection violence. According to past experience, political power is used to commit such acts of violence, which result in violation of fundamental rights. Police shall take all responsible steps according to procedures established by the law to prevent violation of fundamental rights.

(k) Police shall not participate in the instigation of any type of violence against persons or property, including subjecting persons to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, on their own initiative or at the behest of any other party.

The Commission will be monitoring compliance with these guidelines issued under powers vested with it under Act No. 2L of t996, and would be compelled to inquire into complaints of violations resulting from either action or inaction.

Dr. Deepika Udagama
Chairperson Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
16.01.2018

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