By Gagani Weerakoon & Methmalie Dissanayake
In an unusually emotional speech given in Parliament by a political leader, Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan yesterday pleaded with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to be a party to the Constitution making process without stirring communal tension in order to return to power.
Participating in the final day of the second reading debate on the Budget proposals in Parliament, the senior Tamil politician said, the position that has been taken by the former President both in Parliament and in the country promotes disharmony amongst the people.
Even though the Kurunegala District MP Rajapaksa was not present in the chamber at the time the Opposition Leader started expressing his strong views, he took his seat once the senior politician started accusing him of making false assumptions regarding the Constitutional reforms.
Turning towards Rajapaksa, who was seated next to him, – a deviation from the usual conduct of addressing the Chair – Sampanthan said: “I appeal for you to cooperate. We need your cooperation. You are a senior politician in this country. You command much respect amongst the people of this country and the masses want you to be a party to the making of a new Constitution.
“You have been in power for more than 20 years if you take the time when you were a minister since President Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power in 1994. There were two elections – a Presidential and a General – in 2015. People of this country did not elect you as the President. People of this country did not elect you as the Prime Minister,” he said.
“Compared to the votes you received in 2010 both, in the Presidential and General elections, the votes you received in 2015 diminished seriously. That was the verdict of the people. People elected an SLFP President and a UNP Prime Minister. What does that mean? People want the two parties to work together.”
“I held your father in high esteem ever since he crossed the floor of Parliament with S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. There were other seniors but they did not accompany Mr. Bandaranaike. Even Bandaranaike himself did not expect anyone else would take the risk and he later said that he thought it was his shadow that crossed over with him. People like to hold you in high esteem and Mr.Rajapaksa it is your fundamental duty to support this effort. You must not fail in performing this duty. That is something this country needs unless you want to take this country back to darkness. You must drive this country to emerging light and unite people where all can live as Sri Lankans in an undivided and indivisible country. If you want to capture power in some other way the people will not have a problem with that.”
As Sampanthan continued Rajapaksa was seen nodding his head while some Joint Opposition members, including Lohan Ratwatte and Wimalaweera Dissanayake attempted to obstruct Sampanthan by way of protest. However, both Mahinda and Chamal Rajapaksa and Dinesh Gunawardena were seen sternly signalling them to stop it.
Sampanthan also said if Rajapaksa is against power being devolved, he should frankly say whether power should only be exercised in Colombo, just as he sought to do through the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Such arrangements may be beneficial to individuals in power but not to the public, he said.
“Mr. Rajapaksa makes out that there are efforts to divide the country, which is absolutely false. The proposal says that country will be undivided and indivisible. We have constantly repeated this position in public. He should not, on false basis, once again seek to divide people of this country. That is not what we expect from a senior political leader. Such conduct is unbecoming for a senior leader like him,” he said.
The TNA leader while quoting extracts from the inaugural speech made by Rajapaksa at the All Party Representative Conference ((APRC) on 11 July 2006 asked whether the Constitutional reforms involves any process that is different to what he stated in 2006.
“There was a resolution to convert Parliament to a Constitutional Assembly. I want to ask Rajapaksa if you are against a new Constitution, why didn’t you come to Parliament at that time and oppose the resolution. Why didn’t you say that the country doesn’t need it? Why are you now trying to stir communal tension?”
Sampanthan while noting that Sri Lanka has cosponsored a UN resolution in 2015 committing to a political settlement by taking the necessary Constitutional measures, the devolution of political authority – which is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population- and also to ensure that all Provincial Councils are able to operate effectively, in accordance with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, queried whether Sri Lanka is not obliged to follow that commitment made to the UNHRC.