Will SLC crisis end Maithri-Ranil marriage?
In what seemed like walking on a tight rope, President Maithripala Sirisena completed one year in office as the country celebrates the first anniversary of a political marriage that brought two parties, who were poles apart, together with a hope of dawning good governance to the country.
Though, coming under strong criticism for delaying bringing ‘mega’ culprits to book, continued nepotism and confusing priorities occasionally, President Sirisena still seems trying to keep his ‘promises’ to prevent his administration from being compared to the previous regime.
However, the attempt to convert Parliament into a Constitutional Assembly on Saturday (9) to coincide with his first anniversary in the office of President could not be realized due to increased pressure and concerns mounted from Opposition parties as well as his own Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) colleagues.
After several rounds of discussions held with various parties and influential groups in the political arena by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe together and separately, the government seemed to have taken a step backward when it proceeded only by moving the motion to convert Parliament into a Constitutional Assembly.
In back to back meetings President Sirisena held with the SLFP and the UPFA, the main argument brought up was that the converting of Parliament into a Constitutional Assembly will violate Standing Orders.
The SLFP, JVP and even the Joint Opposition said they want to forward amendments and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya informed the House that he has already received such amendments and emphasized on government taking those into consideration.
The tug-o-war between the two parties was quite visible during party leaders’ meeting held on Thursday (7) in Parliament, as well as the late night meeting at the Speaker’s residence, which also happened to be the first of its kind.
Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe had also questioned as to why the draft Constitution was not shown to President Sirisena and sufficient time was not given for him to study it. Minister Kiriella had responded saying that the President is anyway aware about the contents and thus there is no need to show him the draft.
However, several SLFP ministers had then pointed out, nevertheless, the draft should be given to the President. They had also asked as to why the draft was not placed before the Cabinet for its approval. Kiriella responded saying it was not needed.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was also called to the meeting in the late night as party leaders failed to reach a consensus.
In a heated argument that followed between Premier Wickremesinghe and MEP Leader Dinesh Gunawardena, the former said that they will go ahead as planned and those who are against the draft can vote against it.
However, at a meeting presided over by the President, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had agreed to include amendments suggested by the SLFP and also to do away with the preamble. President Sirisena also insisted that the government could move forward only if all parties agreed unanimously.
All eyes were on the recent visit of Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif to Sri Lanka with Pakistani media reports going viral about two parties signing a secret defence pact to purchase JF-17 aircraft for the Sri Lanka Air Force from Pakistan.
We, on our 6 December 2015 column, exclusively revealed that tension between India and Pakistan was mounting over the planned JF-17 combat aircraft purchase.
With speculations rife, that two governments will enter into a deal to procure 10 combat aircraft from Pakistan during Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Sri Lanka, diplomatic sources revealed New Delhi was planning to send a special envoy to Sri Lanka.
India has expressed its strong opposition to a deal Sri Lanka Government entered with the Pakistan Air Force to purchase 10 JF-17 combat aircraft.
JF-17 is a lightweight, single-engined, multi-role combat aircraft developed jointly by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) of China. The JF-17 can be used for aerial reconnaissance, ground attack and aircraft interception. Its designation ‘JF-17’ by Pakistan is short for ‘Joint Fighter-17’
The JF-17 was primarily developed to meet the Pakistan Air Force’s requirement for an affordable, modern, multi-role combat aircraft as a replacement for its large fleet of Dassault Mirage III/5 fighters, Nanchang A-5 bombers, and Chengdu F-7 interceptors, with a cost of US$ 500 million, divided equally between China and Pakistan. The aircraft was also intended to have export potential as a cost-effective and competitive alternative to more expensive Western fighters. The development of this aircraft was headed by Yang Wei (aircraft designer), who is considered China’s ‘ace designer’.
The deal was entered into apparently by former Air Force Commander Jayalath Weerakkody when he was serving as the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Pakistan.
The Indian High Commissioner Y.K. Sinha who met Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera expressed India’s strong protest over the deal.
He had said that if Sri Lanka was to go ahead with the deal even he cannot imagine the impact of repercussions and India’s reaction.
Earlier, Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had personally expressed India’s concerns on the deal to President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Doval who telephoned both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had told them outright that New Delhi is against the deal.
He warned that Sri Lanka will have to face serious repercussions if Sri Lanka was to seal the deal with Pakistan.
While the confirmation on signing the agreement was not available even when it reached the near conclusion of Sharif’s visit here in Colombo, Pakistani media reported that the agreement was signed by both parties.
“Pakistan and Sri Lanka on Tuesday signed a deal despite Indian threats, under which SL will buy eight JF-17 Thunder aircraft from Pakistan.
According to sources, Sri Lanka has shown interest in the purchase of Pakistan-China collaboration, JF-17 Thunder aircrafts. But India has threatened Sri Lanka to refrain from purchasing JF-Thunder aircraft from Pakistan and that otherwise India will stop extending financial assistance to it.
Media reports say, the Sri Lankan Government is facing mounting pressure from its powerful neighbour India over a defence deal Sri Lanka is to enter into with Pakistan. According to highly placed sources in the diplomatic circles, India has expressed its strong opposition to a deal the SL Government entered into with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) to purchase 10 JF-17 combat aircraft.
JF-17 Thunder is cheaper than United States (US) fighter jets and Sri Lanka will be the first country to purchase JF-17s from Pakistan. Authorities have said that the order would be ready by the end of 2017.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka signed eight Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) of cooperation in the fields of commerce, defence and regional stability.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena administered the MoU singing ceremony in Colombo.”
Even though both governments remained tight-lipped on the matter, sources said a top official of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) was pushing hard for signing the agreement despite mounting pressure.
Following Pakistani media reports, the Indian media and government personnel were pressuring the Sri Lankan Government to reveal details about the pact entered into.
It was in the midst of this that Defence Ministry Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi told the Hindu Newspaper that the government had not signed any agreement.
Instead the Sri Lankan Government and the Defence Ministry have decided to call for open tenders to purchase JF-17 aircraft.
SLC elections crisis
In a recently held election, Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala emerged victorious as the Chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) defeating government heavyweight Minister Arjuna Ranatunga’s team where his brother Nishantha Ranatunga ran for the top post.
Though, things seems a little chaotic on the surface, the situation is expected to get worse in the coming weeks with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara at loggerheads over the election.
It was revealed that Minister Jayasekara went ahead with elections despite strong advice by the PM to postpone it.
Ceylon Today reported recently that Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara strongly objected to a proposal made by the government to form an apex body to monitor Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC). Jayasekara said if such a body is formed, he would resign from his post.
“I’m going to support this elected body 100% and work with a backbone, and if I can’t, I’ll just go home,” said Jayasekara.
According to the government source, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had discussed with the ICC and the ICC had agreed to a five-member apex body, which will be appointed to monitor the newly elected board’s activities. The apex body will comprise two members from the Cricket Board and three from the Government.
It is learned that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had said the ICC had agreed to postpone the election by one year and to draft and effect the new Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) Constitution within a period of one year prior to the SLC election, but the election was held as planned on Sunday by the Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara.
The Minister said the new committee should be given breathing time to run the SLC and then see whether they are doing a good job or not.
When asked whether he was aware of the recent discussion Sri Lanka had with the ICC, Jayasekara said:
“I’m the one who should deal with ICC. The letters which have been written to the ICC without my knowledge aren’t relevant. As the Sports Minister I have the right to know. If the Prime Minister takes any action regarding cricket, I should be informed prior to that. The Prime Minister sent me a letter which was written by Sidath Wettimuny (Interim Committee Chairman) and asked for a report within a day. I can’t make a report about something I didn’t know about, and I didn’t meet Wettimuny after that. Wettimuny should know that speaking with the President or Prime Minister bypassing the Sports Minister is unethical. At least now he should understand it as a gentleman” said the Minister, who wasn’t happy about the recent reports regarding Prime Minister’s dealing with the ICC.
“I’m going to meet the Prime Minister to discuss the matter and resolve this,” said the Minister.
Earlier on Sunday, the Sports Minister acknowledged that he had some political pressure over the election, and said that it was not from the President. He also said that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had urged to change the SLC Constitution, while adding that it should be done by the SLC and not the Sports Ministry, Ceylon Today reported on Wednesday (6).
However, following remarks by Minister Jayasekara, several United National Party (UNP) Ministers have gone to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to point out that Jayasekara has gone against the initial agreement of this Government.
The angry Prime Minister had said that he will ‘take care of Dayasiri’ and as of things developing it seems like both Jayasekara and newly elected Sumathipala will be in hot water.
Will the government last?
It is not the first time that Sumathipala was elected to chair the country’s most lucrative sports body and it is not the first time his appointment led to a crisis.
In 2001, where he ran for elections against Clifford Ratwatte, uncle of then President Chandrika Kumaratunge a crisis emerged with Sports Minister S.B. Dissanayake clashing with President Kumaratunga.
Dissanayke who was provoked by Sumathipala, rebelled against President Kumaratunga which ultimately saw the end of the People’s Alliance Government as he (Dissanayake) crossed over to the UNP with six others. Soon after, Kumaratunga appointed an interim committee and put her close confidante Vijeya Malalasekara to head the body.
In a similar situation, Sumathipala’s appointment has now reached a point where the Sports Minister is rebelling against the Prime Minister causing a rift between two parties. Incidentally, like in the 2001-2004 period the President of the country is from the SLFP and the Prime Minister is Ranil Wickremesinghe.
It is in the midst of this that Sumathipala will be called to appear before the Ethics Committee of the ICC, most probably in the coming week, and according to sources the Prime Minister is awaiting the report, to take further action.