Constitution making process:
To quit or not to quit: JO still dilly-dallying
Mahinda: decision depends on consensus
MP Weerawansa displays copy of a report which he claims was submitted by Premier Wickremesinghe on behalf of the Steering Committee spearheading constitutional making process. NFF WPC member Lalantha Gunasekara sits next Weerawansa.
By Shamindra Ferdinando
National Freedom Front (NFF) leader and Joint Opposition (JO) heavyweight Wimal Weerawansa, MP, yesterday acknowledged that the JO was divided over his demand to quit the UNP-led constitutional making process.
MP Weerawansa alleged that the JO, too, had contributed to the political project inimical to the country’s interests as part of the 20-member Steering Committee spearheading the operation.
MP Weerawansa said so in response to query raised by The Island at a media briefing held by the NFF at its Pita Kotte party office. NFF Western Provincial Council member Lalantha Gunasekera flanked the NFF leader.
Asked whether the NFF had taken up the issue with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, MP Weerawansa revealed that the decision had been delayed as the JO leaders wanted it to be unanimous. The MP wanted the JO to quit the process after informing the public of the reasons for its decision.
The JO comprises 52 members of parliament elected on the UPFA ticket at August 2015 parliamentary polls. The UPFA secured 95 seats, including National List slots with the majority throwing their weight behind ex-SLFP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The NFF leader declined to name those who had been opposed to the move or discuss a deadline for the JO to decide on the matter. Colombo District MP denied The Island assertion that the JO had been divided due to a few opposing call to quit the constitutional making process. MP Weerawansa said that leaders of three constituent parties of the JO had asserted that the JO should remain in the process. One of the three parties hadn’t been represented in parliament, MP Weerawansa said, adding that party leaders would meet next week.
Although MP Weerawansa declined to reveal names, well informed sources told The Island that MPs Dinesh Gunawardena (SLFP/UPFA), Udaya Gammanpila (Pivithuru Hela Urumaya/UPFA) and Prof. Tissa Vitharana (LSSP) had disagreed with the NFF.
Pending a final decision by the JO, the five-member NFF parliamentary group had quit the process therefore UNP could no longer claim that entire parliament would function as Constitutional Assembly.
MP Weerawansa refrained from responding to The Island query how could there be an issue when the JO group consisted mainly of SLFPers loyal to the former President.
Former JVP front liner flayed his former colleagues for backing what he called despicable UNP propaganda project meant to overwhelm the Buddhist clergy opposed to the ongoing constitutional process.
President Maithripala Sirisena had met the Maha Sangha representing Siyam, Amarapura and Ramagnna sects to reassure them as regards the constitutional making process whereas the UNP went on the offensive. The UNP, the JVP and a section of the civil society had pounced on the Maha Sangha in the wake of the three Nikayas rejecting proposal to introduce a new Constitution, MP Weerawansa said.
The NFF leader alleged that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had recently presented a report on behalf of the Steering Committee that dealt with four crucial issues, including (1) status of the state, sovereignty, religion and subjects covered by the 1 and 2 Chapters of the Constitution (2) electoral system (3) executive and (4) land and principles on which devolution of powers could be carried out.
Appreciating that JO parliamentary group leader Dinesh Gunawardena and Gampaha District MP Prasanna Ranatunga had in a letter dated April 3, 2017 rejected the report in toto, MP Weerawansa said that those who realized the danger posed by the UNP project could no longer remain in the process. Weerawansa pointed out that Messrs Gunawardena and Ranatunga had charged that the report contained issues that weren’t taken up by the Steering Committee. Referring to the reports that had been submitted by six committees on fundamental rights, the judiciary, law and order, public finance, public service and Center-periphery relations, the NFF Leader alleged that critical views had been conveniently dropped from the reports.
The MP said now that two JO members had rejected the Premier Wickremesinghe’s report there couldn’t be any reason for the outfit to take a decision on its participation in the process.
The NFF leader said that the UNP had been angered by Maha Sangha’s declaration that it didn’t receive a mandate at the presidential or parliamentary polls in January, August 2015, respectively to bring in a new Constitution.
MP Weerawansa said that Maithripala Sirisena’s presidential poll manifesto never promised a new Constitution. The UNP hadn’t been able to secure a simple majority at August 2015 parliamentary polls, it couldn’t claim having a mandate to replace the Constitution, Weerawansa said, pointing out that the UNP-JVP combine, too, couldn’t secure a simple majority.
The NFF leader said that yahapalana leaders had made a transparent bid to deceive the country regarding ongoing efforts to bring in a new Constitution. Contrary to assurances given to the Maha Sangha that they would be consulted before the government moved ahead with the process, specific proposals had been made.