Titanic sails on
Malik Samarawickrema Mano Tittawela
It is now
six weeks since Chandrika Kumaratunga fired her fateful salvo at Ranil
Wickremesinghe’s ship of state on November 4, holing it amidships.
Since then, listing slightly to starboard and firing on only two
cylinders, the S.S. UNF has hobbled on, lifeboats at the ready, hoping
desperately that the engineers could do their work, enabling the voyage
to see completion
best they can, there seems little the contracted engineers, Weerakoon,
Samarawickrema & Co., can do to prevent the vessel from succumbing
to Kumaratunga’s mortal blow, and sinking slowly into the oblivion of
the sludge and slime on the ocean floor.
though it was Chandrika Kumaratunga who shot herself in the foot, the
outlook for the UNF is grim. The only threat the Greens hold over the
President is refusing to pass the votes on the ministries held by her,
barring defence, of course. Ranil Wickremesinghe is most unlikely to
acquiesce to so extreme an act of defiance, which would almost certainly
precipitate a general election.
other hand, during the past week, Kumaratunga has been repeatedly saying
she will not dissolve parliament, music to the ears of election-weary
and cash-strapped MPs, who are in no hurry to go to the hustings.
even if he were to precipitate a dissolution, the UNF could at best hope
to increase its presently comfortable majority by a handful of
additional seats. Kumaratunga stands to lose more, but the panic might
well be the straw that drives her into the JVP’s arms, throwing a
large wildcard into the equation.
Thursday night with the imminent collapse of the Mano-Malik talks, the
President was sounding out her MPs on the possibility of a snap
Wickremesinghe’s hope is to play for time. He has now hobbled along
quite nicely for two years, with peace and a modicum of prosperity to
show for it, and would be quite happy to be allowed to do so for another
two, regardless of what jibes Kumaratunga throws at him, or what barbs
she chooses to circumscribe his freedom with. If the Prime Minister
wants to usher in a new age for Sri Lanka, everyone knows that he will
have to do this by winning the presidency when Kumaratunga quits end
2005 — if there still is a presidency by then.
Premier’s game plan is probably to limp along as best he can, until he
can win real power and a six-year term of stability. There is no way
that is going to happen before the next presidential election, and so he
probably feels there is no point precipitating an election now: even if
he were to win handsomely, Kumaratunga would still be President, and
could do it all over again.
downside of this is that the UNF’s storm troopers are becoming
increasingly a disillusioned lot. They see their leadership bullied,
insulted and demeaned, and do not like it a bit.
part, the leadership, while conducting itself with decorum that would
have made Lady Dorothy Troubridge (the renowned Victorian authoress of Modern
Etiquette) go weak at the knees with admiration, has a performance
the public perceives as spineless and pusillanimous. Hardly the call to
arms a party wants in the run up to electoral battle.
of the UNF’s confusion was worse confounded by the vague message its
leadership gave at the party convention. Clearly, the Greens have lost
their game plan, and with it the initiative that the private sector
likes to see before mortgaging their family heirlooms and plugging the
money into the stock market. The message then, is another year in the
could only come if the provincial council elections, billed for early
next year, result in an outstanding victory for one side or the other
unless of course a general election precedes. But that again is heavily
weighted against the UNF given that Kumaratunga holds the three
ministries most crucial to election abuse, and that she is not above
winning elections, on her own admission, “by hook or by crook.”
these problems were not enough for Wickremesinghe, he has been besieged
also on other fronts. The previous week he was forced to call for Bank
of Ceylon Chairperson Sumi Moonesinghe’s resignation after massive
financial irregularities were discovered. While Moonesinghe was allowed
a graceful exit, the self-promoting publicity campaign orchestrated by
her after the event provoked a government spokesman to make it clear
that she would not be offered another post in the state sector.
As if that
were not enough, the case against Thilanga Sumathipala, which has been
simmering since September, came to a head last Monday with the fiasco in
the Acting Magistrate’s Court. As is clear from stories on other pages
of this issue, and apart from anything else, the Magistrate should not
have heard the case because of the conflict of interest. After all, the
suspect is a leading bookie, and the Magistrate an inveterate gambler!
on Sumathipala issue
that, given the information that has since emerged with regard to
Sumathipala, the government’s silence has been deafening. Here is a
man who is caught red handed, leaving not an iota of doubt, that he not
only defrauded Sri Lanka Cricket for a substantial amount of money, but
then by authorising it to be written off, sought to cover his tracks.
Minister Johnston Fernando takes the view that if Sumathipala is
eventually found guilty, he’ll call for his resignation. If that is
Fernando’s standard of morality, let us say here that he is unfit to
hold the high office of a minister of this government.
President would do well to sack him, and right quickly. He was appointed
to do a job, and to uphold the standards of Sri Lanka and the sport of
cricket, for which our nation is world famous. If Fernando is going to
defend a villain who has exploited the game for his own, illegal
advantage, it is time Fernando took a walk.
Telecommunications Minister Imtiaz Bakeer Markar, who Sumathipala
serves. He has taken the bizarre view that Sumathipala was appointed by
the Prime Minister, so his continuing to serve as Chairman of SLT has
nothing to do with the Ministry. Well, Markar, what then are you a
minister for? If the Prime Minister is supposed to do your job, their is
no point paying you good money from the taxpayers and giving you
official limousines just to sit in a grand office and pass the buck.
Here then is a case if any for a Presidential takeover of the two
There is a
widespread public perception that both these Ministers are leaving no
stone unturned to defend and protect Sumathipala, and one can but hope
that it is not for the same reasons that Magistrate Ananda
Gamlatharachchi, now under interdiction, did so. It is ironic that both
these Ministers signed the impeachment motion against the Chief Justice.
However, within 24 hours of Gamlatharachchi’s misdemeanour, Chief
Justice Sarath Silva had the errant judge on the mat, sending a clear
signal to the entire judiciary that no such nonsense would be tolerated.
code of morality
other hand, Ministers Fernando and Markar seem to have a different code
of morality altogether. They’d be quite happy to bring institutions
under their ministries into complete disrepute just on the basis that
the villain in question is well heeled.
Fernando and Markar, kindly note that we hereby put you on notice. You
have betrayed the public trust, and your conduct is precisely that which
brought the PA into so much disrepute. With an election possibly months
away, every politician in this country would do well to minimise the
skeletons in their cupboards, for be assured, these will be aired widely
and loudly come judgement day. And the people of Sri Lanka are not
nearly as forgiving as you think they are, or the PA would still be in
captain of the ship, Ranil Wickremesinghe, should come to grips with the
fact that his vessel has been holed. Ignoring the fact would be a
disaster. UNF Titanic may well be afloat and under way — but so was
the S.S. Titanic for a full four hours after the iceberg struck.
as the government vacillates and ministers fall over one another to lick
Sumathipala’s posterior, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
And that is that, when President Kumaratunga was told by Acting IGP
Indra Silva of the imminent arrest of the Telecom boss, her reaction was
typical and succinct: “Jayawewa!” she said, slapping her
desk. That’s more like it, Madam: that is much more like it.
A political merry go
Thursday, December 11, it was patently obvious to both President
Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, a
compromise between the two to overcome the political gridlock had
as much chance of success as a snowball’s chance in hell.
Malik-Mano committee having laboured for days was no nearer a
compromise by week’s end than they were at the commencement of
the President and the Prime Minister through their respective
nominees exchanged several proposals, each to be rejected by the
President was insistent the defence portfolio with full charge of
the three services should vest in her while the Prime Minister was
equally insistent he cannot take responsibility for the peace
process unless he controlled the essential levers, them being
defence, interior and media.
this backdrop the President proposed the setting up of a National
Security Ministry which would be gazetted control over the
security forces in the north east while the President continued to
hold on to overall control of defence including the intelligence
to the Prime Minister was unworkable in practical terms and
offered a compromise formula where the President was to remain as
Defence Minister with all decisions taken by a national security
council chaired by the President.
the Prime Minister’s proposal went on to state, the three
services and the intelligence services should be listed under the
logic was simple. It was impossible for him to be in charge of
only the security forces in the north east without control over
the three services since there would be a problem over the command
example, if the Prime Minister as National Security Minister gives
a directive to the commanding officer of the army in the north, is
he bound to carry it out if a contrary directive is given by the
President as Defence Minister?
the same time, will such an area commander not be responsible to
the Army Commander who would be answerable to the President?
impracticalities were what UNP Chairman Malik Samarawickrema
impressed upon Presidential Advisor Mano Tittawela on Thursday
night when the committee met, where it was clear, the talks were
heading for collapse.
fact, the previous day, when the President met with the Prime
Minister too, after three hours of discussion, there was no
breakthrough on who should handle the peace process given the
dispute over the defence portfolio.
on Thursday, Samarawickrema indicated to Tittawela there was no
point in labouring over the issue since the President has refused
to compromise on listing the three services under the Premier and
as such the talks should be concluded Friday to enable the
respective parties to deal with the situation politically.
said the government wanted the talks to end by Friday before the
party convention on Saturday so that the UNP can decide on a
course of political action.
that very evening informed the President the talks will wind up
Friday without a breakthrough and at a dinner hosted the very
night for MPs, Kumaratunga told NUA Leader Ferial Ashraff, they
should ready for an election since the talks were heading nowhere.
following day, Friday, the President also briefed all SLFP
organsiers and asked them to be ready for elections.
President however well realises, an election will not help the PA
to return to power even with the JVP due to the minority factor
but is conscious of the fact, a hung parliament will lead to
sufficient pressure from the people for the two parties, the UNP
and SLFP to unite and form a national government in which she as
President can continue to call the shots.
President is particularly alive to the reality, a government
formed with the JVP will not only make it impossible for her to
negotiate with the LTTE but also to get international financial
support or for that matter investment.
with a view to getting the numbers to force the UNP’s hand, the
President has now decided to link with the JVP, but strike a deal
with the UNP for a national government after an election if the
Greens don’t get a clear majority. The President believes there
will be public pressure on the UNP to form a government with the
PA rather than the TNA which will be fronted by the LTTE.
LTTE on the other hand is alive to the political manoeuvering as
well and has called on all Tamil parties in the north east as well
as the hill country to contest under a common symbol thereby
ensuring at least 30 seats at the next election and make it the
LTTE strategy is to field a common list not only in the north and
east but also the Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Badulla, Ratnapura, Colombo
and Kalutara Districts with political parties that have Tamils not
only of Sri Lankan descent but Indian origin as a base.
possibilities a general election can throw up in such a climate
are endless and with the failure of the Malik-Mano talks and the
precipitous actions taken by the President on November 4, that is
what the country can look forward to come 2004.
wants a parliament of 266 MPs
SLFP has proposed a parliament of 266 members to the parliamentary
committee on electoral reform. The SLFP proposal submitted by
former Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka envisages the
election of 161 MPs under the first past the post system and 25 on
a national basis. Following is the full proposal submitted to the
parliamentary select committee chaired by Dinesh Gunawardena on
reforms proposed by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party
present prevailing proportional system of elections with regard to
parliament, provincial councils and pradeshiya sabha elections is
totally unsuitable for this country. Not only has it resulted in
many adverse features but also has resulted in negation of
democratic electoral process and brought about a state of
uncertainty and destabilisation of the political situation in the
the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) proposes that we should return
to the first past the post system that was first enunciated by the
Parliamentary Election Order in Council of 1946 which prevailed
prior to the implementation of the 1978 constitution.
The 161 electoral districts which have been in existence up
to the time of the implementation of the 1978 constitution shall
be the basis of election of members to parliament until such time
that a delimitation commission would re-demarcate the electoral
The number of members to be elected on the basis of said
electoral districts shall be 161, and the election of them would
be on the first past the post system.
In addition to the number of members, elected in accordance with
(II) above eighty (80) members, that is 50% of the number of the
members elected as paragraph I and II above, shall be elected on
the proportional system making the total number of members elected
The apportionment of the number of members that each
administrative district is entitled to return, out of the 80
members referred to above shall as far as practicable be
determined by the Elections Commissioner or the Election
Commission as the case may be in proportion to the number of
electors of the administrative district.
However that each such administrative district shall be
entitled to return at least one (1) member. The election of the
said 80 members on administrative districts shall be done
according to the procedure laid down in the section amending
Article 98 of the Constitution as was incorporated in the proposed
17th Amendment to the Constitution.
order to ensure stability of the government formed by the
political party or group of parties which achieves the largest
number of members in the elections and also to facilitate the
major political parties to accommodate intellectuals, academics,
technocrats, minorities unrepresented otherwise, and distinguished
personalities, it is hereby proposed that further twenty five (25)
members be nominated on national basis. Fifteen (15) of such
twenty five (25) members be allocated to the party which is
invited to form the government by virtue of the fact that the
party has got the largest number of members in parliament and the
balance ten (10) to be apportioned to the other political parties
in proportion to the number of votes polled at national level.
the total number of members of parliament shall be two hundred and
sixty six (266).
system of election which is a combination of first past the post
system and the proportional system will help to minimise the
violence, corruption, negation of democratic values which have
plagued the party politics of the day and also it would provide
the opportunity for the minorities to elect their members to the
all, these proposals would provide stability of the government
formed by whatever party or parties.
councils and pradeshiya sabhas
systems based on geographical demarcation of electoral units
should be formulated for the provincial councils and pradeshiya
sabha elections as well.
MP Ronnie De Mel
MP Sarath Amunugama
MP John Seneviratne