After former Chief Justice, Sarath Nanda Silva threatened to go to Court if President Mahinda Rajapaksa attempted to seek a third term, the President swiftly moved into action last week to seek judicial assistance on the issue. He first met with his legal experts the week before and was advised to seek the views of the Attorney General and the Supreme Court. Silva argued that with the promulgation of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, the provisions therein did not permit the incumbent to seek a third term. The former CJ’s view point had been endorsed by many constitutional experts, legal sources said. Following Silva’s threat to the President, groups of constitutional lawyers met and discussed the issue at Hulftsdorp at leisure and referred to the provisions of the 18th Amendment last week and upheld the argument of Sarath N. Silva. They dismissed an argument put forward in the print media by former minister and lawyer, Batty Weerakoon who claimed there was provision for Rajapaksa to seek a third term under that Amendment.
A glance to the past will recall how the architect of the 1978 Constitution, late President J.R. Jayewardene, followed a path when he planned to seek a third term. That was much before the 18th Amendment was even dreamed of. The former President himself accepted the view point of his brother, late H. W. Jayewardene, who conveyed that the incumbent cannot stay even a day after his second term and the provisions did not permit the incumbent to seek a third term. Therefore, Harry told his brother Junius to move an Amendment in Parliament as the brother enjoyed a five-sixth majority in the House and the Amendment only needed a two third majority. Satisfied with the position conveyed by Harry, President Jayewardene summoned his confidantes to Ward Place for dinner one night to discuss his plan. Among them was the late Anandatissa De Alwis. In the gathering numbering 10, there were lawyers and a few civil servants. While the legal eagles and the civil servants backed the idea to please the President, Anandatissa opposed the President’s plan giving reasons. He told the President that the UNP was getting unpopular day by day due to the escalation of the JVP and LTTE violence and it was not advisable for the President to forge ahead with that plan. Anandatissa also pointed out that if JR obtained another term, he (JR) would not be physically strong to hold office as JR would come close to late 80s in age.
JR not satisfied with his lifelong friend Anandatissa’s viewpoint said he could hold office for at least another four years and claimed he was physically fit to hold office. When JR took a tough stand on his plan, Anandatissa moved that it should be first put before the party as Premadasa too was waiting for his turn after toiling for the party for so long. JR looked a bit annoyed and asked Anandatissa, “So, Ananda you want to continue in politics under Premadasa? Anandatissa replied that he had no plans to continue in politics after the life of that Parliament ended whether JR continued as the President or not. “Well, I will put the proposal before the party as you requested Ananda and let us see how it goes”, JR said. Finally, the UNP appointed a committee to look into the possibility of the incumbent seeking a third term. Agalawatte MP, Merril Kariyawasam, was asked to head that committee. When the JVP terror reached its peak, Kariyawasam was shot dead and JR’s dream of seeking a third term thus ended. JR later said he handed over a torch burning from both ends to Premadasa who had to battle with a JVP insurgency and LTTE terrorism.
The present status of the Constitution as upheld by several constitutional experts does not provide passage for the incumbent President to seek a third term. The introduction of the 18th Amendment without giving thought to the issue looks to have completely shut the door for an aspirant in that direction. In the present scenario, there is much disgust over the executive system of government within the UPFA coalition. The government musters the two-third majority in the House, pinning hopes on the UNP crossovers with them. The crossovers of the UNP diluted the bargaining power of the smaller parties in the UPFA coalition. A presidential election at this crucial juncture appears to be critical with smaller political parties in the coalition voicing dissent on the continuance of the system.
In addition, there is also division of opinion among the SLFP members on the continuance of the executive presidential system, which undermines the authority of the Legislature. Those coalition partners are even opposed to the proposed Amendment planned by the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) to retain the presidency with powers diluted. The JHU will announce its proposal by end September.
In addition, Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera came out on Thursday with a five point plan, which is aimed at the total abolition of the Executive Presidency where he seeks to replace the system with an Executive Prime Minister responsible to Parliament. The monk stressed the need to reintroduce the 17th Amendment to ensure the independence of certain Commissions where the present system would be depoliticized. He has, in his proposal given a six-month roadmap to the common candidate who wins the next presidential election to implement the five point plan to totally abolish the executive presidential system.
UNGA and India
Following the meet between Indian Premier Narendra Modi and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) delegation led by R. Sampanthan, the TNA on being advised to open a dialogue with Colombo announced its desire to resume the stalled talks. However, the Tamil party insisted on certain pre-conditions, while the government stubbornly stands by the current position at the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) process. The TNA wants all powers envisaged in the 13th Amendment to be devolved to the periphery including Land and Police powers. The TNA claims that the government was holding onto a part of the land powers vested in the 13th Amendment. The government claims areas that come within the high security zones came under its purview in the security interests of the country. It had also rejected the call for police powers stating the present situation was not opportune to devolve police powers, as yet there were LTTE remnants trying to re-group in the North.
Indian Premier Modi during his talks with the TNA stressed the need for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment and even beyond to enable the Sri Lankan Tamils to live in dignity and honour. He is reported to have told the TNA delegation that India stood 100% with the Tamils in Sri Lanka in finding a solution to the crisis. That fact was revealed in Colombo by TNA MP, M.A. Sumanthiran, who claimed the Indian Premier made that statement at the conclusion of the New Delhi talks. The issue of Police powers centred during talks with Sampanthan. Modi who did not specifically refer to police powers had told Sampanthan, whatever that was envisaged in the Amendment had to be fully implemented as the first step followed by issues that would go beyond that Amendment. Stating that, Modi advised the TNA to start a dialogue with the Sri Lankan Government also, on the instructions Modi, the TNA has now started to open dialogues with other Tamil political parties, the Ceylon Workers’ Congress of Arumugam Thondaman and the Muslim political parties. It is learnt that Modi had advised Sampanthan to take on board all minority political parties in the attempt to find a reasonable and lasting solution. Despite both sides in Sri Lanka standing stubborn on conditional talks, the PSC process is yet at crossroads. With the ethnic issue pressurizing the government by the day and a separate meet with Narendra Modi hanging in the balance, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has decided to call on Modi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session in New York in the last week of this month.
New Delhi sources revealed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa are likely to meet on the sidelines of the 69th UN General Assembly session in New York but no confirmation has been made. Sources noted it was not certain whether Modi would meet a particular Head of State or Government as it would depend on the number of requests made and the availability of time as travel arrangements to New York were yet to be finalized. They said Modi was expected to address the Assembly on 27 September and sometimes could land in New York just in time to address the summit. However, Modi is expected to be in New York for three days and would hold bilateral talks with selected Heads of Governments amidst other engagements, in addition to his address to the Assembly. Sources in New Delhi however noted that priority would be given to a one on one meet with US President Barack Obama as Modi planned to discuss several issues between India and the United States. President Rajapaksa is scheduled to address the UNGA on 25 September. External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris is billed to depart for New York before the President
Sources close to the Palace in Colombo said President Rajapaksa is keen on meeting Modi as the latter’s meet with the Tamil National Alliance received much publicity in the Sri Lankan and Indian media, at which Modi had expressed his deep commitment to the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka and to urge Colombo to expedite the 13th Amendment as a foundation for devolution of power to the Tamil-speaking areas where the Tamils and the Muslims are predominant. Rajapaksa has also expressed concern to his ministers about Modi’s statement to the TNA that the latter should even start a dialogue with his government irrespective of the PSC process. Sources close to Rajapaksa said the President firmly stands on the position that the TNA should come before the PSC to find a durable solution to the crisis and that the government could not adopt a two way process on the same issue.
The government has felt quite uneasy over the manner the TNA was behaving in trying to get New Delhi to put pressure on Colombo. Despite all reports received on the Modi-TNA meet, Rajapaksa is keen to have a meet with Modi in New York during the UNGA sessions to read his neighbour’s mind on the views he had reportedly expressed to the TNA. Sampanthan having concluded his talks with Modi held discussions with Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) unit in Chennai where he raised reported comments made on the Sri Lankan issue by Dr. Subramanian Swamy, whom he described as a ‘product’ imported from India to speak on behalf of the Rajapaksa Government. Sampanthan told the officials of the BJP in Chennai that Dr. Swamy’s remarks have angered the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. Following Sampanthan meet in Chennai with the BJP, anti-Dr. Swamy sentiments began to surface in the Southern Indian State and ended up in mass protests last week. That forced Dr. Swamy to seek additional security from Modi’s Government and the request was acceded to by the Centre in New Delhi.
Joint minority front
The Modi Government seems to be moving away from the earlier Indian tradition of only talking to the main Tamil political party and the Colombo Government. Of course during the Indira-Rajiv administrations they spoke to the LTTE too and it was on their instructions the LTTE formed a political wing as New Delhi wanted to brush off allegations that a supreme government was talking to a terrorist organization of another country. Former Colombo based Indian diplomat, J.N. Dixit was responsible for the formation of a political wing of the LTTE to pave the way for New Delhi to hold separate talks with the terrorist organization. India’s latest move for a joint Sri Lankan front of minorities indicates her intention to build a strong minority force to exert more pressure on Colombo over the ethnic issue. Modi has told Sampanthan that such a force would look formidable as the minority Muslims too would want their grievances resolved and also the Indian Tamils living in the Sri Lankan plantations. Moving in that direction, Sampanthan plans to hold direct talks with all Muslim leaders and Thondaman shortly.
While Sampanthan embarks on a journey to unify the minorities in the country, to build a common platform for minority grievances, the majority political parties in the South look divided, with each party competing to get a meet with Indian Premier Modi. The Indian leader who gave precedence to Sampanthan still keeps the Sri Lankan President, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga in suspense. Kumaratunga, a bitter opponent of Rajapaksa is now canvassing to get an early appointment with Modi using the influence of her friends in the Indian political upper echelons as Bandaranaikes’ are known to be close friends of India. Rajapaksa is at his best to catch Modi in New York. Wickremesinghe is yet to receive a response to his request to Modi. Diplomatic sources in New Delhi disclosed that Modi was unlikely to meet Sri Lankan Opposition politicians in the near future until his External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj visits Colombo in end October or early November. They said Modi was more concerned about the ethnic strife in the island nation which had been dragging for decades than the urgency of a presidential election that was likely to be held in January next year. “Our Prime Minister is closely monitoring the developments on Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue and much focus is placed on that and not on an election in Sri Lanka,” a source at the Prime Minister’s office in New Delhi said.
Unlike previous Indian governments, the Modi Government has decided against appointing a special envoy or requesting External Affairs Minister Swaraj to shuttle between Colombo and New Delhi with regard to the ethnic issue in the island nation. Instead Modi has decided to directly engage with Colombo through the Indian Mission located in Colombo. Sampanthan who recalled the role of G. Parthasarathy who was special envoy on the Lankan issue to Indira Gandhi, requested Modi to appoint a special envoy to which Modi replied in the negative. Modi has also decided to use the section of the Colombo Indian High Commission located in Jaffna to monitor the situation in the North directly. He had also indicated his desire to meet the Northern Chief Minister, C.V.Wigneswaran before he sets out dates to meet Sri Lankan leaders from the island’s south.
In another development before Rajapaksa emplanes to New York in a few days time, the ‘New York Times’ ran an editorial on 23 August 2014 highly critical of Colombo’s refusal to accommodate and cooperate with the United Nations investigation team on war crimes and human rights violations.
Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States, Prasad Kariyawasam claimed the editorial published had made ‘insensitive assertions’ about his country. “To compare Sri Lanka’s human rights and humanitarian emergencies elsewhere in the world is unjust,” Ambassador Kariyawasam said in his response. Kariyawasam immediately sent the following response to that editorial: -“Your Aug. 23 editorial -‘Sri Lanka’s Intransigence’- about the government’s refusal to cooperate with the United Nations investigation into suspected human rights abuses during the country’s civil war, makes insensitive assertions about my country. Sri Lanka has enjoyed uninterrupted democracy since 1931. Last September we held the first election to the Northern Provincial Council, delayed by more than two decades because of the refusal of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to politically empower people in the North. Now, the Tamil National Alliance is in control of the provincial administration. To compare Sri Lanka to human rights and humanitarian emergencies elsewhere in the world is unjust.
We reject the United Nations investigation because its intrusive nature exceeds its mandate. It challenges the sovereignty of our country; violates basic principles of international law; vitiates the atmosphere needed for reconciliation; and ignores substantial and progressive socioeconomic and political progress already achieved, including the resettlement of 300,000 displaced people and the reintegration of 11,000 armed cadres.The three-decade-long conflict with many failed attempts at peace because of LTTE intransigence affected the whole country. Local accountability mechanisms, now strengthened with international experts, are respectful of inherent social, cultural and ethnic susceptibilities, unlike the United Nations-driven process, which serves externally motivated interests and will destabilize the intricate balance of the national reconciliation process”.
Though the Central Government of India continues to extend the ban on the Sri Lankan terrorist outfit the LTTE, the Indian judiciary took a different turn last week when MDMK General Secretary Vaiko was allowed to present arguments before a special tribunal constituted by the Delhi High Court to look into the ban on LTTE as an “unlawful organization”. The High Court in Delhi allowed his application on behalf of the LTTE and Vaiko is known to be an ardent supporter of the LTTE which was a terror organization.
The tribunal headed by Justice G. P. Mittal in July called for responses from the LTTE and any other persons on the application to review the ban. Already, the LTTE stands banned for a further five years under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act by the Central Government.
The Delhi court’s final verdict which would be delivered after considering the views of the Centre and Tamil Nadu should be closely monitored in the national interests of Sri Lanka as the LTTE is now gaining momentum in the Southern Indian State which bred the LTTE during the Indira Gandhi regime.
The tribunal will hold its hearing in Chennai on 26 and 27 September, giving an opportunity to any person from the LTTE to appear and give evidence on why the ban on the organization should not be upheld.
Colombo should closely watch that development in Chennai to see whether any Tamils of Sri Lankan origin connected to the LTTE may surface to submit reasons before the tribunal in favour of the LTTE.
There are many thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils who fled the North during the three-decade war and hundreds of LTTE cadres and supporters fled to Tamil Nadu during the final phase of the war.
In a bid to crack the unity that is now being forged between UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa, a gang led by Karu Jayasuriya is working hard to disrupt the unity of the party. Party insiders say that Karu had solicited the support of Ven. Girambe Ananda alongside Mangala Samaraweera, Ravi Karunanayake and several others. At a party hosted by a businessman close to the UNP at a Colombo residence Ranil was present. Mangala too had been there with his supporters. Those present at the party had begun to discuss the issue of a UNP deputy on hearing that Sajith Premadasa was tipped to take that position. Ranil had a very brief chat with Mangala at that party. Among those who opposed the move to appoint Sajith as deputy leader was Mangala. Ranil left the party early stating he had some other engagements. ‘Spirits’ went high after that among those present and they were discussing plans to disrupt the move to appoint Sajith as deputy leader.
Some in the gathering asked Mangala whether Ranil would appoint Sajith as deputy leader. He responded, “I just asked Ranil now and he said he had not decided on that direction yet and asked me not to worry”. It was hot news to the gathering. They accepted Mangala’s statement and started to telephone and send SMS text messages to their confidantes stating Ranil told Mangala that Sajith will not be given the deputy leader’s post.
Before Mangala left for London the following day, he ensured that several websites close to him carried the news. He also took steps to educate Karu and Ravi about that latest development. The campaign against Sajith was put into motion. As the websites published the news, Ranil’s telephone began to ring uninterrupted. Ranil told those who called that he never said such a thing to Mangala. “I never spoke about such thing with Mangala at that party and there is no reason why I should discuss that with Mangala,” Ranil confirmed.
Wimal calls President
Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities Minister Wimal Weerawansa who was told about issues facing the people of Moneragala when he visited that District for campaigning last week decided to call President Rajapaksa who had just returned from the United States. The President who patiently listened to Wimal said he looked for Wimal the previous day. “I looked for you to take you to a function in Colombo, so are you coming for our convention in Bibile,” asked the President. In response, Wimal courteously turned down the invitation stating he had another engagement on the same day. “Try your best to come,” the President said.
Wimal later summoned his party politburo to ask for views. The majority in the politburo pointed out that as the party distanced itself from the UPFA campaign in Badulla it was not appropriate to participate at the SLFP convention in Bibile. Later, Minister Dullas Alahapperuma urged Wimal to at least send a party representative to attend the convention. Finally, Wimal agreed to send Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councillor Deepal Gunasekere.