PC Polls Create More Headaches For The Govt. Than Solutions
- SLMC maintains ‘undecided’ stance until agreements reached
- Hakeem under fire for not summoning High Command
- UPFA struggling to resolve issue over NCP CM post
Last week’s elections for the Sabaragamuwa, North Central and Eastern Provincial Councils have created more problems for the Mahinda Rajapaksa government.
The governing party that touted its victory in the three provinces is still struggling to resolve several issues in relation to two provincial councils – North Central and Eastern – even a week after the conclusion of the elections.
Incidentally, the Elections Department has also stated that the gazetting of the names of elected members to the three provincial councils will be delayed since some of them have failed to submit their asset declarations.
However, as pointed out by political analysts, the irony is that the government’s move to use the election to secure a comfortable mandate from the people has backfired resulting in more issues, negotiations, promises and perks.
The governing party’s failure to secure a comfortable majority in the Eastern Provincial Council has pushed the SLMC to the position of ‘kingmaker’.
The SLMC is now the focal point of the UPFA and the TNA, which are both vying to form the administration of the Eastern Provincial Council with the seven seats secured by the SLMC.
The kingmaker position has now resulted in a clash within the SLMC on the position the party should adopt to do justice to the Eastern Muslims who have stood by the party.
SLMC Leader, Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem, who by now has good experience in negotiating deals for the party, has taken charge of the party’s post-election functions.
The SLMC Leadership had summoned a meeting with several party seniors and the party’s parliamentarians on Tuesday afternoon. All eight SLMC parliamentarians including SLMC Chairman Basheer Segu Dawood and Secretary General M. T. Hassan Ali were present at the meeting.
The meeting was summoned at the Galle Face Hotel and after lunch, the meeting commenced at 1.30 p.m. and went on till late night. The meeting also continued on Wednesday.
The seven newly elected SLMC members to the Eastern Provincial Council also attended the meeting along with the party’s Deputy Secretary General and Kalmunai Deputy Mayor Nizam Kariyapper.
A group of six Muslim religious leaders had also participated in the meeting, which was the first time such a group had participated in a decisive SLMC meeting.
The head of the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) from the Ampara District had also attended the meeting.
The party leadership had explained the presence of the Muslim religious leaders at the meeting saying they were there since the SLMC candidates had taken a ‘baiyath’ (an oath taken on the Holy Qur’an) before the elections.
The candidates had pledged allegiance to the party and that they would not go beyond the party’s decision.
The SLMC leadership had said the religious leaders would therefore help guide the party.
It was decided at the meeting to give Hakeem powers to negotiate with the government and make the relevant decisions.
The members had been asked by the party leadership not to speak to the media until the party reaches a final decision.
Hakeem, in a rather autocratic manner, had then appointed himself as the official spokesperson of the party.
All other senior SLMC members had been asked not to make any comments on the SLMC path and the mobile phones of almost all senior SLMC members who attended the meetings on the 11th and 12th were switched off.
Hakeem and Dawood had said the SLMC should negotiate and look at joining the governing party to form the Eastern Provincial Council since it was a member of the central government.
However, the likes of former Deputy Mayor of Colombo, Azath Salley had said a decision by the SLMC to join the UPFA would be an act against the Eastern Muslims who had voted for the party since it contested separately.
“The people have not voted for the government. They voted with the SLMC. In fact the government does not have a mandate in the East,” Salley said.
High Command not consulted
Salley explained that the governing party did not have a mandate to govern the Eastern province.
He pointed out that 400,000 people have rejected the Rajapaksa government.
“The UPFA was able to get only 200,044 votes against the three major parties in the province which polled 401,645 (ITAK193,827, SLMC 132,917 and UNP 74,901),” Salley observed.
Salley is of the opinion that since the UNP has decided to support the TNA, which has expressed its willingness to concede the Chief Minister’s post to the Muslims, the SLMC should accept the offer.
“We must show the world that we can work together without the support of the government,” Salley said.
“This is a great opportunity for both Tamil and Muslim communities to work together. The aspirations of both communities will be met by this move,” he added.
Also, the lack of transparency in Hakeem’s dealings in this issue has also been criticized by the SLMC membership saying the party may have to face a string of protests from the Muslims in the East if Hakeem fails to make the correct decision.
The SLMC Leader last week said the party is looking at three options – joining the governing UPFA, joining the TNA or remaining independent and using its powers to get the best for the Muslim community in the East.
However, the SLMC Leader is also looking at forming a grand alliance where the UPFA, SLMC and TNA would work together in the Eastern Provincial Council. This move is witnessed as an unlikely scenario given the TNA’s grievances about the government.
The SLMC has for now decided to support the Rajapaksa government although the party is officially maintaining an ‘undecided’ stance until the final agreements on conditions are reached.
Meanwhile, the SLMC leadership had directed party seniors to hold meetings with the party’s branch committees on Thursday and Friday in the East and explain the party’s current stance.
Be that as it may, Hakeem has still not summoned the 85-member decision making body of the SLMC, known as the High Command.
Some members of the SLMC have criticized Hakeem for not discussing the current situation with the party’s High Command.
It is learnt that Hakeem would summon the High Command during the weekend to the party headquarters, Darusalam, once his negotiations with the government are conclusive to get the final endorsement.
Hakeem commenced initial discussions with UPFA parliamentarian Sajin Vass Gunawardena. SLMC members were critical of this move saying the leader of the SLMC has been reduced to discussing and negotiating with a governing party parliamentarian.
Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa who usually conducts negotiations with coalition parties at the time was in the US.
However, Basil commenced negotiations with Hakeem soon after his return to the country. Basil’s negotiating team consists of Ministers Maithripala Sirisena, Susil Premajayantha and Dullas Alahapperuma.
The SLMC, it is learnt, is looking at getting Dawood reappointed as a Cabinet Minister and securing several deputy ministerial posts for the party in the central government.
The party is also looking at getting ministerial posts for party members in the Eastern Provincial Council. The governing party is keen on reappointing Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan as the Chief Minister, possibly on a rotational basis if the SLMC demands that the post is handed over to one of its representatives as well.
Ministerial allocation within the Eastern Provincial Council would not be an easy issue to discuss given that representatives from Ministers A. L. M. Athaullah and Rishard Bathiudeen parties have also been elected to the Council. Uduma Lebbe is from the Ampara district and a member of the National Congress (led by Athaullah) and Zubair is from the Batticaloa district and a member of Bathiudeen’s All Ceylon Muslim Congress. They were both members of the former Eastern Provincial Council.
Two former parliamentarians who held deputy ministerial posts have also been elected to the Council – Najeeb Abdul Majeed and Ameer Ali.
While the SLMC is busy reaching a deal with the governing party, the TNA representatives met with the SLMC to discuss the formation of the Eastern Provincial Council.
The TNA secured 11 seats at the provincial council election. The UNP has agreed to grant conditional support to the TNA to form the administration of the Eastern Provincial Council. The UNP secured four seats at the election.
Soon after the results were announced, TNA Leader, R. Sampanthan in writing informed the Eastern Province Governor Mohan Wijewickrema that the governing party did not have the mandate to form the Council.
Sampanthan had said the TNA, SLMC and the UNP together had 22 seats in the 37 member Eastern Provincial Council.
The UPFA together with the NFF has 14 seats and the TNA together with the UNP has 15 seats.
UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake said the party would grant conditional support to the TNA to form the Eastern Provincial Council.
“The party needs to maintain its identity. Therefore, the UNP will grant conditional support to the TNA based on the agreement that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country would be protected,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said the UNP has not initiated an official discussion on the matter. “We will wait until the SLMC announces its decision. It is likely that the party would support the government and there would not be an issue of the UNP and TNA joining forces,” Attanayake said.
The TNA is now patiently waiting for the SLMC to make its decision. The party has also stated that it was willing to give the Chief Ministerial post of the Eastern Provincial Council to the SLMC.
Members of the TNA were to meet with the SLMC on Friday night, but the meeting was cancelled at the last minute since the SLMC was engaged in an urgent meeting.
The TNA was hopeful of meeting with the SLMC on Saturday.
Apart from the Eastern imbroglio, the battle for the chief ministerial post of the North Central Province is at its peak.
Minister S. M. Chandrasena’s brother, S. M. Ranjith who heads the UPFA’s preferential votes list in the Province is adamant that he be appointed to the post.
On the other hand, former Chief Minister Berty Premalal Dissanayake is also staking a claim for the top seat. Dissanayake is second in the UPFA list.
Dissanayake has said that he would be the best suited for the post given the vast experience possessed by him as a national level and provincial politician.
Dissanayake resigned as a Cabinet minister in 1999 to contest as a candidate of the governing party, then the People’s Alliance, in the North Central Province. He emerged victorious and has since held the post of North Central Province Chief Minister for three terms.
A Vice President of the SLFP and a Central Committee member, Dissanayake has the support of the senior SLFP members.
Chandrasena and his brother on the other hand do not muster much favour from the party seniors.
Chandrasena, who is identified with the infamous Mavilaru farmers’ compensation scam, has been identified as a corrupt politician.
Dissanayake has also explained his case to the SLFP seniors. He has said that being specifically targeted during the election campaign had affected the final outcome of the election.
Several offices belonging to Dissanayake were sealed by the Elections Department for having various items to be distributed among voters. He has pointed out that the elections officials had failed to take any action against S. M. Ranjith who was distributing mammoties among farmers using public funds.
SLFP General Secretary, Minister Maithripala Sirisena last week said the governing party would decide on the Chief Ministers based on their political experience and service and not based on preferential votes.
SLFP seniors have assured their support to Dissanayake and said they would push for his re-appointment.
It is in this backdrop, that Chandrasena and his brother, Ranjith paid a visit to Temple Trees on Thursday to stake their claim.
Ranjith had said that he had to be appointed as the Chief Minister for the North Central Province since he had the mandate of the people.
However, given the issue in choosing a chief minister for the North Central Province the governing party is looking at appointing another senior party member and provincial councillor to the post.
The governing party is looking at councillor, H. B. Semasinghe to be appointed as the chief minister.
Even by Friday, Dissanayake and Ranjith were both lobbying for the chief ministerial post.
UPFA General Secretary, Minister Susil Premajayantha said the governing party would decide on the chief ministerial appointments during this weekend.
Blake and the UN
While the government was engaged in resolving post-poll issues, members of the international community continued to push for the implementation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations.
The technical team from the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner’s Office were scheduled to arrive in the country on Friday.
The three-member team from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is led by Chief of the Asia Pacific, Middle East and North Africa branch Hanny Megally and includes Oscar Solera from the Rule of Law Unit and Aswa Petra, Desk Officer for Sri Lanka.
External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris last week said the team would be free of any restrictions.
“The team that is to visit will not be restricted in any way, they will be allowed to travel anywhere they wish and engage with various parties. We will provide full visibility and transparency – there is no need to hide anything,” he told the media.
He reiterated the fact that the team arriving in the island is a precursor to the visit of Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay and that it was not related to the resolution adopted against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC sessions in March.
US Assistant Secretary of State Robert O. Blake who visited the country last week left last Friday.
During his visit, Blake paid attention to pushing for the accelerated implementation of the LLRC recommendations.
He met with Minister of External Affairs Peiris, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, leaders of the TNA and members of civil society.
Blake also called on the government to reduce the role and profile of the military in the North.
Meanwhile, President Mahinda Rajapaksa speaking at the opening of the 58th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) session in Colombo last week said the impressions of Sri Lanka in foreign countries are based on un-verified facts and deliberately manipulated disinformation, carried out by individuals who once supported terrorism.
The President stated that they influence politicians in their new countries of domicile, to act against Sri Lanka.
“These same elements continue to sow the seeds of division and separatism through various media, and also influence politicians in their new countries of domicile, to act against Sri Lanka, based on such disinformation,” Rajapaksa said.