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 Politics

Move to impeach the President and the eastern imbroglio



Rauf Hakeem, Ranil Wickremesinghe,
Mahinda Rajapakse, M.K. Narayanan,
R. Sampanthan and Pillayan

OPA resolution to push for
impeachment on April 8

APRC consensus on NE merger
with Muslim Unit

TMVP, pro-govt. Muslim parties
divided over Muslim Unit for east

Somawansa tells Mangala JVP
will battle govt. in east

India to look for national consensus
on how much pressure to put on Sri Lanka

While civil society moved to lobby parliament for the impeachment of President Mahinda Rajapakse last week over his refusal to appoint the Constitutional Council under the 17th Amendment, both the government and the opposition set their sights on the Eastern Provincial Council election, which is seen as a prelude to a general election.

For some time now civil society as well as the opposition have urged President Rajapakse to appoint the Constitutional Council and thereby give effect to the Independent Police, Public Service, Judicial and Elections Commissions but he has stubbornly refused to do so, taking cover under a Parliamentary Select Committee whose report on possible changes to the 17th Amendment is pending.

Lobbying

True, there is no merit in the President's excuse of not appointing the Constitutional Council until the select committee report is out but there is very little civil society which has pushed for good governance could do short of lobbying for impeaching the President and it is that drastic step they have now opted for.

What had dismayed civil society and forced them to look at this drastic course of action was the conduct of the likes of Minister Karu Jayasuriya, who having fathered the 17th Amendment rather than use political clout for its implementation has opted to maintain an ominous silence since assuming ministerial office.

In the face of this silence, the President has continued to make appointments to key posts bypassing the Constitutional Council with the last being to the Supreme and Appeal Courts on Thursday, March 27 and with elections due in the not too distant horizon, the President it is obvious wants to maintain the status quo so that he can continue to make political appointments to key institutions and also effect politically motivated transfers.

Thus with no dissent on the issue from government ranks forthcoming to force the President's hand, the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) headed by Attorney Elmore Perera decided to strike, calling for Rajapakse's impeachment on the grounds, he has intentionally violated the constitution, which as President he pledged to uphold.

Notice

This aspect is specifically dealt with in "Article 38(2) (a) (i) of the Constitution which states, "any member of parliament may, by a writing addressed to the speaker, give notice of a resolution alleging that the president is permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office by reason of mental or physical infirmity or that the president has been guilty of intentional violation of the constitution....."

Accordingly, on March 25, the OPA decided to convene a special general meeting for April 8 to consider two resolutions, one of which was for the possible impeachment of the President.

That resolution to be proposed by R.M.B. Senanayake reads thus - "The OPA calls upon all political parties represented in parliament, to bring a motion to impeach the President, and, asking them to put aside sectarian party interests and instead act to uphold the constitution that they have sworn to uphold and follow."

It is possible, with the adoption of this resolution that some members in parliament will move to impeach the President and all it takes is 113 MPs signatures to set the ball in motion but there is no real danger for Rajapakse at this point in time of such an exercise succeeding with the issue in any event having to go before the Supreme Court.

However what it will do is expose those members who refuse to subscribe to such a motion and also help build up a civil society movement against the President over the issue of good governance at a time the government is straining at the leash to grab the GSP Plus facility from the European Union. This facility itself is subject to meeting good governance criteria and is essential for Sri Lanka's economic well-being.

And needless to say, with over 100,000 jobs and over US$ 2 billion export earnings on the line over the GSP Plus facility, the President is walking on extremely thin ice over the issue at a time he is toying with the general election option in the face of a challenge by the JVP that this administration will not be able to successfully present a budget in November this year.

Further, this development will also bring into sharp focus both locally and internationally that the President does not believe in fostering pluralism, democracy or good governance, matters which will go to the very heart of his credibility on implementing even a political solution to the ethnic conflict.

Setback

On this issue too the President suffered a setback last week with the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) reaching a consensus much to his chagrin on a merger of the north and east subject to a separate Muslim Unit in the east.

Leave alone merging the north and east, even after two months have lapsed of the President pledging to the international community and the people of Sri Lanka to fully implement the 13th Amendment, no action has followed in the wake of the JVP breathing fire over the announcement.

In fact, India applauded the President's announcement in January as a 'welcome first step' with Rajapakse himself stating implementing the 13th Amendment was only a first step and that he was awaiting the final APRC report.

And this report the APRC set about finalising with last week's session focusing on the merger where consensus was reached on the issue subject to a separate Muslim Unit in the east.

Interestingly, it was Muslim Congress representative, Attorney Nizam Kariappar who raised the issue, stating that while the Muslims were opposed to the unconditional merger of the two provinces in 1987, they were more opposed to the demerger.

Support

Kariappar said the SLMC was supportive of a north east merger subject to provision for a separate Muslim Unit, a proposal that found ready support in the APRC.

It was only UNP defector, P. Dayaratne who raised some concerns over the issue but he too finally concurred and in the absence of the JHU and MEP, consensus was reached on the merger subject to a Muslim Unit with government allies, LSSP, CP and NUA also in agreement.

From the Muslim Congress point of view, the move was tactically brilliant since it would become a hot issue at the May 10 provincial council election which the UPFA will have to respond to as the campaign develops.

For, with the  UPFA running in alliance with Pillayan's TMVP and other breakaway Muslim groups led by Ferial Ashraff, Segu Izzadeen, A.L.M Athaulla and Ameer Ali, they will have to come up with a common position on the APRC consensus for a separate Muslim unit. This would necessarily have to be so with the Muslim Congress sure to makes it a pivotal issue in the campaign.

And with the President having pledged to implement the final APRC report and the pro government Muslim groups also endorsing the separate Muslims Unit proposal before Minister Tissa Vitharana, they will be hard put to oppose it in the campaign trail, as would the SLFP led UPFA.

Neutralise

On the other hand, Pillayan's TMVP is vehemently opposed to a separate Muslims Unit in the east and the dilemma for the government as well  as the Muslim parties supporting  it would be to reconcile this highly contentious policy variance at the election and set out a unified position to neutralise the SLMC.

Further, this SLMC move will also place the SLFP in the horns of a dilemma, for it will now have to say whether the party supports a separate Muslim unit in the east or not within a merged north and east.

An answer in the affirmative would also mean the SLFP is supportive of the north east merger minus the Muslim Unit, which will naturally bring it into conflict with the JVP and JHU, not to mention the TMVP.

With the SLMC set to campaign on that basis, either rejection or silence on the issue by the SLFP will have a devastating impact for the Muslims groups supporting the government in particular since they will be running on the same ticket while endorsing the proposal for a separate Muslim Unit. On the other hand, endorsement of a separate Muslim unit by the SLFP led UPFA  would irreparably damage the TMVP who will be campaigning on the same ticket on the platform that the east should be one unit with a Tamil chief minister.

Trap

That then is the trap the UPFA and its allies find themselves in as nominations day approaches with the  possibility of a postponement of the poll also now not ruled out.

And since the government is hoping to offset the losses among the Sinhala voters due to the split with the JVP in the provincial poll as well as at a future general election by gaining ground in the north and east, any indecisiveness on this issue will no doubt seriously impact on that strategy as well.

Making matters worse for the government is the JVP battle cry to disarm Pillayan's TMVP before the provincial elections which of course will find resonance in the east as though, JVP's Wimal Weerawansa at the instance of Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapakse struck  a different chord through the Patriotic National Movement on the disarming of the Pillayan Group, the official position of the Marxists is otherwise.

In fact, JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe who visited the Matara residence of SLFP (M) Convener Mangala Samaraweera on Sunday, March 23 to pay his last respects to the former minister's mother was to say that the party will pour all its resources into the eastern campaign and take the fight to the government.

Another issue

Likewise, JVP Trade Union Leader, K.D. Lalkantha also went public equating Pillayan to a terrorist who needed to be disarmed before the election, another issue which will gather momentum as the campaign hots up and put further pressure on the Muslim parties supporting the government at the election considering the fact that they will be running on the same ticket with Pillayan.

And to be in alliance with an armed group at the election needless to say will be the death knell politically for the likes of Athaulla, Ashraff, Ameer Ali, and they know  it only too well.  In fact they have conveyed this concern to Basil Rajapakse during their talks.

Making matters worse for the UPFA-TMVP alliance is the decision of the TULF-EPRLF-PLOTE to run as a separate alliance in addition to the EPDP which party too has decided to contest separately.

Thus, the Tamil vote too will be split three ways with  the TNA though not participating at the election expected to covertly support an opposition or independent group.

While the government was confronted with these mounting challenges, the UNP looked to sealing an electoral alliance with the Muslim Congress to put Rajapakse further on the defensive, more with a future general election in mind than the provincial poll per se.

Towards this end, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had several rounds of discussions with SLMC Chief Rauf Hakeem, where the pros and cons of contesting a alliance were discussed, especially based on the ground realities in the east.

Opposed

It was only the previous week, Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapakse and Tourism Minister Milinda Moragoda met Hakeem to woo his support but that was not to be with the SLMC membership opposed to any such alliance.

This opposition came to be reflected at a series of meetings the SLMC had last week with its membership who wanted Hakeem to maintain his and the party's integrity and dignity by not going into any alliance with the government.

In fact, the lone voice supporting a possible alliance with the government was Batticaloa District Member M.L.M. Hizbullah but his voice was drowned by the vast majority who insisted the Muslims having suffered under this government should have nothing to do with it.

It is in this backdrop a SLMC delegation led by Hakeem met UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday, March 26, where the possibility of an alliance was discussed though no finality was reached.

Free and fair

However, Hakeem and Wickremesinghe agreed, they must work  together with other political parties to ensure a free and fair election with foreign election monitors also invited for that purpose especially in the backdrop of the STF being withdrawn from the east.

At the same time the duo focused on taking a decision on an alliance for the provincial polls keeping in mind the bigger picture of a snap general election where the two parties might once again have to look at an electoral alliance which will have a national bearing.

For the SLMC, while there was a distinct advantage going it alone at the provincial poll, it was not so when it came to  a general election and this overall picture it appeared by Thursday was veering the Congress towards an alliance with the UNP though there was still a long way to go before any finality could be reached.

The two leaders however agreed, the SLMC General Secretary Hasan Ali will coordinate any issues which arise with UNP Chairman Rukman Senanayake and General Secretary Tissa Attanayake until Wickremesinghe's return from India today.

Wickremesinghe left for India Friday on a two day visit to discuss the emerging political scenario and the need to ensure a free and fair election without any one group contesting having the benefit of arms.

Foreign media

It is for this same reason, Wickremesinghe told Hakeem he intends calling on the EU, Carter Centre and India to send monitors for the election with access to the international foreign media as well such as CNN, BBC and NDTV of India.

The very next day, Thursday, March 27, Wickremesinghe met TNA Parliamentary Group Leader R. Sampanthan where the ground conditions in the east and the role the TNA will be playing at the election were discussed.

The TNA leadership was to tell Wickremesinghe that they will not contest the election because it would tantamount to recognising the demerger of the north-east but would do everything possible to ensure the TMVP does not distort the will of the Tamil voters.

Wickremesinghe for his past said the UNP intends contesting the poll and was observing the possibility of an alliance with the SLMC in addition to fielding several Tamil candidates, all of which would be finalised after his return from India.

Interestingly, Wickremesinghe's visit to India comes at a time there is growing concern on the war effort with even the BJP calling on the Indian government to stop military assistance to Sri Lanka due to harassment faced by the Tamil people.

More importantly, India's National Security Advisor, M.K. Narayanan too weighed in with some critical comments, Tuesday, March 25 just days after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Indian Defence Ministry ruled out a military solution to the ethnic conflict.

With dignity

Delivering the 25th Air Chief Marshal P.C. Lal Memorial Lecture, Narayanan said India wants the Sri Lanka government to treat its large Tamil minority with dignity. Inherent in that statement was the implications it was not the case at present.

"We are facing a situation where the ceasefire could collapse. This could lead to  a flashpoint," Narayanan was also reported as saying.

Added Narayanan "But the government would seem to have the single objective of a military victory without any devolution of power."

The Indian National Security Advisor's comments were not without significance considering President Rajapakse was only paying lip  service to the devolution of power and their own assessment that the military offensive has reached a stalemate scenario.

India in fact fears this status quo can change if the LTTE launches an offensive operation to change the military equation and that given Sri Lanka's growing international isolation, it could have a ripple effect causing serious problems even for India as it faces the prospect of a general election in August.

Worried

And given the opposition by the BJP on military assistance to Sri Lanka and Rajapakse forced to look for more military supplies given the stalemate scenario currently experienced, India is worried other countries will move in and this was also reflected in Narayanan's comments.

Said Narayanan in his speech: "We have to ensure that India's pre-eminent position in the region is not compromised by Sri Lanka seeking arms from elsewhere."

Said the National Security Advisor for effect: "We need a national consensus on how much (military) assistance we should provide and how much pressure we should put on the (Sri Lankan) government."

And while the Indian government was expressing its concerns over the Rajapakse administration's failure to deal with the ethnic conflict not only effectively but also in a manner that will not jeopardise New Delhi's national security considerations, British Shadow Defence Minister Liam Fox  arrived  in Sri Lanka to explore the possibility of reviving his old formula.

But that  was not to be with neither President Rajapakse nor Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe willing to go down that path even though the British authorities are busy arranging a study tour of Ireland for the APRC members.

Thus, the President is left to fall back on the APRC or nothing at all and given the stalemate in the theatre of war,  it seems, nothing at all is what he is looking at as the country drifts from one crisis to another.


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