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Written by Amali Dissanayaka
Published on Sunday, 07 July 2013 08:25

Sunday Pol logo*Rajapaksa govt trying to balance India ahead of UNHRC session and CHOGM
*JHU, NFF silent after Northern PC poll proclamation

Sunday Politics
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.” – Harry S. Truman

Regardless of the many unresolved issues faced by the country, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government has been efficient in one aspect – coming up with deviating tactics to temporarily avoid being held accountable for its failures.

The operative word in this scenario is “temporary.” The Rajapaksa government has thus far followed a mechanism where it has managed to utter bald faced lies to the people as well as the international community to find temporary respite whenever the going has got tough.
After making firm statements about moves to amend the 13th Amendment and even looking at repealing the piece of legislation, the government has now been forced to take a step back in its agenda.

The Rajapaksa government that announced a few weeks back that it would introduce an urgent bill to amend the 13th Amendment was forced to think twice about the move due to the massive opposition that arose from within the government and pressure from neighbouring India. The 19th Amendment that was aimed at removing the provision in the 13th Amendment to allow the merger of provinces had to be taken from the Rajapaksa government’s agenda at least for the time being.

In fact President Mahinda Rajapaksa it is learnt is now quite discontent with the manner in which issues related to the government are proceeding.

It is also learnt that an opposition parliamentarian had recently reminded the President that despite being the country’s executive, a majority of his powers are being enforced by several old and young Rajapaksas.

President Rajapaksa who usually is a sport for a good laugh had instead looked pensive upon hearing this comment.

The current plight of the Rajapaksa government is a clear case of too many cooks having spoilt the soup. However, in this case, it is the general public that would be forced to swallow the spoilt “soup” and suffer the repercussions.

The Rajapaksa government’s plans on the 13th Amendment have now been temporarily put off till the end of the year when the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) have all concluded.

Instead the government is now trying to live up to the public assurances given in the past few years by temporarily holding back the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, calling for elections for the Northern Provincial Council and arrests made over the murder of five students in Trincomalee in 2006. But the government would still have to find a response on the proposed parliamentary select committee (PSC) to discuss constitutional amendments that is deemed to fail given that it’s composition is of an all government committee.

Given the past track record, all these actions could be viewed as measures adopted by the Rajapaksa government to win support until the next move is properly figured out to continue with its agenda.

Interestingly most of these actions have taken place when the President’s envoy Minister Basil Rajapaksa made a two day visit to India and India’s National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon is scheduled to arrive in Sri Lanka early Monday (8) morning.

Basil Rajapaksa was to brief the Indian government leaders of the Rajapaksa government’s move to amend the 13th Amendment.

Basil who has always maintained cordial ties with India has been the President’s emissary to New Delhi whenever the leaders there needed to be placated.

Basil was to meet with Menon and External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid in New Delhi.
Informed sources say that the Indians have explained to Basil about the problems New Delhi has had to face due to the Rajapaksa government’s actions.

Khurshid has also stressed the importance of all political parties being represented in the PSC.
However, during his visit to Sri Lanka, Menon is to meet with members of the government, UNP, TNA and the SLMC.

Menon it is learnt would have an informal discussion with representatives of the TNA on the 8th to receive a briefing on the latest situation in Sri Lanka. The TNA during its recent visit to New Delhi briefed the Indian government and called on India to intervene and put pressure on the Rajapaksa administration to refrain from amending or repealing the 13th Amendment to the constitution.

Menon is to also meet with the Defence Secretary on the 8th as well.

The meeting with President Rajapaksa is expected to take place on the 9th morning.

The discussion at Temple Trees on the 9th morning is to be a decisive one where Menon is to give the President a message from Indian Premier Manmohan Singh.

According to diplomatic sources, Menon is expected to deliver a strong message as opposed to the usual diplomatic talk followed by the Indian diplomats.

“This time there would not be any mincing of words,” a Colombo based diplomat said.

Be that as it may, the government’s PSC to discuss amendments to the 13th Amendment is to meet on the 9th in the parliamentary complex as well.

Menon is also likely to focus attention on the PSC proceedings especially since government members who are supportive of power devolution like the leftist ministers, SLMC, Minister Rajitha Senaratne and opposition members from the UNP, TNA and JVP will not be part of the committee proceedings.

It was the head of the PSC, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva who last week amply displayed the authoritarianism of the Rajapaksa government when he said that the PSC would proceed regardless of whether opposition parties participate in it or not.

It is commonly perceived that it was New Delhi that intervened to help Sri Lanka secure the position of host of the 2013 CHOGM at the April meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG).

The Sunday Leader learns that Indian External Affairs Minister Khurshid is also expected to visit Colombo soon after Menon’s visit. However, dates for Khurshid’s visit are yet to be finalised.

Trinco murders

Meanwhile, the police last week announced the arrest of 12 Special Task Force (STF) personnel in connection with the murder of five students in Trincomalee in 2006.

The Trincomalee Magistrate had remanded the STF personnel.

Five Tamil university students playing by the beach in Trincomalee were briefly detained and then shot dead.

The incident drew a huge outcry among human rights groups calling on the government to ensure that justice prevailed and the murdered brought to book.

The killing of the five students was also mention by non-governmental organisations at the UNHRC sessions in March this year.

Speaking just before the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report on Sri Lanka was adopted, the father of one of the students killed in Trincomalee, broke down in tears and demanded justice for his son’s murder.

Dr Kasippillai Manoharan, the father of Ragihar, apologized to the Council as he struggled to speak while making his speech.

Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe who headed the government delegation at the UNHRC responded by saying that the government is investigating the incident and needs time and space to do so.

He observed that having concluded the work on the killing of five students from Trincomalee, the Attorney General had directed the Police to commence a Non-Summary Judicial proceeding.

However, the murder of the five students in Trincomalee and the murder of 15 ACF aid workers in Muttur and the failure to successfully persecute the murders have added to the list of accountability issues against the government.

Interestingly, the arrests in connection of the five university students have taken place when UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay is due to visit Sri Lanka on August 25th to report to the UNHRC session in Geneva in September on the ground situation in Sri Lanka and the progress made by the Rajapaksas in addressing concerns that have been raised.


Northern elections

President Rajapaksa while ensure that his government takes action that would please the international community, last week decided to call for the holding of Northern Provincial Council elections.

The President on Friday declared elections for the Northern Provincial Council elections.
The President, in making the proclamation had informed the Elections Commissioner to make the arrangements for the elections.

The proclamation also forms the Northern Provincial Council, which has not been in place as a result of the war.

The elections commissioner will now declare the date for the Northern polls.

The Northern elections were a continuous request by India, the TNA and even pro-devolution governing party members.

By signing the proclamation to hold Northern Provincial Council elections, the Rajapaksa government is hopeful minimizing the strength of the message that would be conveyed by Menon during his visit.

Interestingly, extremist governing party allies, the JHU and NFF kept silent when the President called the Northern polls.

The JHU and NFF have continuously campaigned against the 13th Amendment and the JHU has even presented to parliament a 21st Amendment to the constitution aimed at repealing the provincial council system in the country.

Both parties have spoken against holding Northern Provincial Council elections before withdrawing land and police powers from the provincial council system.Sunday Pol pix-July 7 2013

The usually vocal groups in the JHU and NFF resorted to maintaining that there was no change in their stance that election to the North should not be held along with land and police powers assigned to the provinces.

The JHU on Friday told the media that the party would make a statement after a meeting of the executive committee.

Considering the current development with regard to the Northern polls, a Colombo based diplomat observed that a lot could still change after calling for elections in the North.

PC polls

Meanwhile, the opposition political parties are also gearing for the provincial council elections.
Governors of the Central and Wayamba Provinces last Friday announced the dissolution of the provincial councils.

The main opposition UNP is likely to put a strong fight at the Central Provincial Council election than at the polls in Wayamba and the North.

President Rajapaksa has meanwhile hinted to governing party members that the UPFA chief ministerial candidate for Wayamba would be a popular member of the UNP. This statement resulted in the rumour that UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekera would cross over to the government and contest at the provincial council election.

The JVP meanwhile maintains that the party while campaigning for the election would pay more attention to its ongoing campaigns in strengthening the party mechanism to build a broad people’s movement.

As for the governing UPFA, the President has said that he was not hopeful of winning the Northern Provincial Council election, but had called on members in the Central and Wayamba provinces to ensure that the Alliance emerges victorious.

Governing party members in the two provinces have also been promised funds by the President to ensure a UPFA victory.

Last Updated on Sunday, 07 July 2013 08:25