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Written by Amali Dissanayaka
Published on Sunday, 30 June 2013 08:12

Sunday Pol logo*Rift within govt over 13A comes out
*MR irked by “Mahinda Saranam Gatchcami”

Sunday Politics
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

“All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.” - Thomas Jefferson

The 13th Amendment drama enacted by the Mahinda Rajapaksa government was in full swing last week coalition members of the governing party openly criticizing each other on their stances on the move to amend the controversial piece of legislation.
The discussion over the 13th Amendment has resulted in many other issues losing its due focus.
A key issue that missed its due focus was the sudden transfer of the Matale Magistrate who was hearing the case on the Matale mass grave that saw the exhumation of 154 skeletal remains.
Forensic inquiries found the skeletal remains to be between the period of 1986 and 1990, during the period of the JVP insurgency.
The Matale Magistrate was hailed for her swift action in issuing directives to expedite the inquiry and on two occasions even faulted the CID for its failure to comply with the necessary procedures in conducting an investigation of such a nature.
When the case was being heard, the JVP in fact pointed out that given the Matale Magistrate’s commitment to delivering justice to the dead and the families who had lost their loved ones, would eventually result in a sudden transfer due to the involvement of government members in the mass grave saga.
The Magistrate’s transfer follows the transfer of the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) of the Matale Hospital, Dr. Ajith Jayasena.
Be that as it may, in the run up to President Rajapaksa’s visit to Tanzania, which is also a country heavily dependent on Chinese aid, the 13th Amendment drama reached its peak.
Several governing party allies held media briefings through out last week making statements in support and against the proposed amendments to the 13th Amendment.
President Rajapaksa who permitted the drama a few weeks back realized last week that the situation has turned out to be a case of spitting with their heads turned.
Finally, the President had to summon a meeting of the SLFP led by him and asked them not to create any internal dissention.
Explaining the proposed amendments to the 13th Amendment, Rajapaksa took a firm stance with his party men saying they were free to leave the government if they did not agree.
He warned the SLFPers not to try to create a rebellion within the government, but to leave if they did not wish to be in it.
Many senior SLFPers were not too pleased with President Rajapaksa’s tone.
The SLFP decided to support the 13th Amendment to the Constitution with the introduction of suitable revisions to the provincial council system established under the Amendment.
SLFP Treasurer, Minister Dullas Alahapperuma said that it is the stance of the party to revise the 13th Amendment to address the irregularities in the legislature in order to further strengthen the unitary status of the country.
The party has also decided that it is necessary to hold elections for the Northern Provincial Council as scheduled.
However, Fisheries Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, who has been speaking against moves to amend the 13th Amendment, has said at the meeting that he was supportive of the President and the government but felt the latest move would not be in the best interest of the country.
Senaratne during a public meeting in Kudawella recently even went to the extent of saying that there was no need of ministerial portfolios to engage in politics.
“Portfolios are a bonus. We did not enter politics to go to parliament or hold portfolios. None of these things are needed if something beneficial to the country were to happen,” he said.
Taking swipe at the extremist elements in the country, Senaratne charged that most of these groups did not practice the Buddha dhamma. “All they do is to go to the President to get a Presidential directive to get anything. They do not need to say Buddhan Saranam Gatchchami anymore, they can say Mahindan Saranam Gatchchami,” Senaratne said.
Of course President Rajapaksa was not too amused to hear Senaratne’s words, but the seasoned politician in him also realized the truth in his Minister’s words.
Senaratne together with Ministers DEW Gunasekera, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Tissa Vitharana, Reginald Cooray and Chandrasiri Gajadheera addressed a media briefing in Colombo last Tuesday. At the briefing each of them expressed views in support of the 13th Amendment.
The ministers even went to the extent of saying that they were speaking on behalf of the silent majority in the government.
On Thursday, another governing party member, MEP Leader, Minister Dinesh Gunawardena also held a news conference. He spoke in favour of the government’s move to amend the 13th Amendment.
He noted that while the 13th Amendment has failed to provide the expected solution, there was also a threat to national security if the legislation was not amended.
Given the statements and counter statements of governing party members last week, it is evident that there was a clear split within the government over the 13th Amendment issue.
President Rajapaksa would now have to be wise in his approach to this entire drama given that the buck stops before him.

APRC resurfaces

However, the hard-line maintained by the left party members in the government saw the President even bringing out reports that had been discarded for nearly four years.
Rajapaksa had last week told Ministers DEW Gunasekera and Vasudeva Nanayakkara during a meeting at Temple Trees that the discussion at the parliamentary select committee (PSC) on the proposed constitutional amendments would be based on the report submitted in 2009 by the All Party Representative Committee (APRC).
Nanayakkara had confirmed to media that the President had assured to base the PSC discussion on the APRC report.Sunday Pol pix
He had said that all parties represented in parliament should participate in the PSC and that the committee should not be seen as a government body.
The APRC, headed by Minister Prof. Tissa Vitharana was formed in 2006 with the participation of all 14 political parties to find a political solution to the ethnic issue. The APRC submitted its report in 2009, but its recommendations were not implemented.
In fact, the report was completely forgotten by the Rajapaksa government after 2009. Instead, President Rajapaksa appointed the Lessons learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). However, the LLRC report continues to remain in the spotlight due to the pressure by the international community to implement its recommendations.
Nevertheless, Rajapaksa who by now has mastered the art of buying time has decided to once again pull the APRC report out of a dusty corner to please the left parties.
Head of the PSC, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva meanwhile says that the Committee would commence sittings from July 9th. Sittings are expected to be concluded by September.
De Silva said the SPC would commence its sittings regardless of who participates or boycotts it.

TNA speaks out

The TNA on the other hand after returning to Sri Lanka from India is now engaged in holding discussions governing party allies who are opposed to making changes to the 13th Amendment.
The TNA is to meet leftist coalition partners of the Rajapaksa government to discuss the proposed revisions to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
TNA parliamentarian Mavai Senathirajah has said that the leftist parties have requested a meeting with the Tamil party and the alliance is considering the request.
The party is planning to schedule a date for the meeting, he has said.
Meanwhile, the SLMC and the TNA have had talks on the 13th Amendment to the constitution.
The talks were held last week with the participation of delegations led by TNA leader R. Sampanthan and SLMC leader Minister Rauf Hakeem.
The SLMC is now disgruntled after being left out of the list of governing party members to the PSC.
Hakeem has already informed the government that the party is displeased that its representatives were not included in the list of 19 governing party members.
The TNA and UNP have so far expressed views to the effect that the parties would not appoint any representatives to the PSC.

JVP in the limelight

The JVP last week officially announced that the party would not participate in the PSC.
Party Secretary Tilvin Silva said that instead of engaging in useless discussions like the PSC, the party would present a set of proposals that would address the issues faced by the Tamil speaking people in the North.
He poignantly noted that the government even after winning the war has failed to win the hearts of the Tamil people.
“The government has only managed to win the likes of Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP) and Daya Master,” Silva said.
However, the JVP is now under attack by extremist Buddhist elements claiming that the party’s non-participation in the PSC to discuss amendments to the 13th Amendment is betrayal of the comrades who sacrificed their lives during the 1988-1989 period in protest of the Indo-Lanka Accord.
The point being made is that the JVP after resorting to an armed struggle in the late 1980s demanding the abrogation of the Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th Amendment was now trying to deviate from the issue without joining the anti-13A bandwagon.
The JVP nevertheless, explicitly says there is no change in the party’s stance with regard to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
The party remains opposed to the current provincial council system.
“The provincial council system is not the solution, but the government cannot find excuses when the time is up to hold the Northern Provincial Council after holding provincial elections in all other areas,” a senior JVP leader said.
The JVP believes that since provincial council elections have been held in all other areas, it is only fair that it is also held in the Northern Province. As for finding a permanent solution to the national problem, the JVP maintains that it cannot be found under the current system

Countdown to September

Be that as it may, time is now running out for the Rajapaksa government. The September deadline to hold the Northern Provincial Council election is now getting closer.
President Rajapaksa and his ‘trusted’ advisors, who most often than not are in need of saner counsel, should weigh the consequences a nation would have to pay for their follies.
External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris last week briefed the diplomatic community in Colombo, but the diplomats were not convinced by his explanation.
The international community including Sri Lanka’s allies is holding the Rajapaksa government to its continuous post war pledge that Northern Provincial Council elections would be held in September 2013.
It would also be wise for the Rajapaksa government to be aware of the fact that the international community has lost confidence in most pledges given by it and would identify any time buying exercise to delay holding the Northern elections.
With the UN Human Rights Council sessions scheduled to be held in September and UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay’s scheduled visit to Sri Lanka in August, the Rajapaksa government would have to now act wisely.
The government might delay the amendments to the 13th Amendment until the conclusion of the Commonwealth heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) this November, but it cannot delay the holding of the Northern Provincial Council election.

Last Updated on Sunday, 30 June 2013 08:12