politics with peace
a climate of political uncertainty gripped the country last week
with the official announcement of the Supreme Court determination
on the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, both the ruling Untied
National Front and the People's Alliance were strategising to
outsmart the other, targeting the peace process.
With the determination of the Supreme Court on the
19th Amendment made official by Speaker Joseph Michael Perera on
Tuesday, October 22, the government had to come to grips with how it can
best manage the peace process without a two third majority in
parliament, even as the PA together with the JVP were working out plans
to strike at the heart of government using the very peace process as a
Given the tension in the east, particularly with nine
Muslim Congress members stirring the pot by demanding assurances for a
separate Muslim unit even before the peace talks have ventured down that
road, President Chandrika Kumaratunga too moved in on the act, pouring
oil on troubled waters.
It was with the same strategy in view that the President
in her address to the nation on Thursday, while holding out the hand of
reconciliation, made specific reference to the situation in the east
casting aspersions on the government's handling of the entire peace
In fact, the President in no uncertain terms distanced
herself from the entire process claiming those handling the peace
process should work to a well thought out strategy.
The east has long been identified by the PA, as evidenced
in its out coup document, as the theatre from which the curtain will
eventually fall on the peace process and hence with the SLMC MPs
demanding their pound of flesh, the opposition has taken the view, it is
opportune to move in at this stage and derail the entire process. And
so, the President also pledged her support for a separate Muslim unit.
Sowing the seeds of dissension
It is in this backdrop information was also received by
the government that the staged abduction of the Muslim youth in
Akkaraipattu was part of an elaborate plan to sow the seeds of
dissension among the Muslims and Tamils and create mayhem, and
strengthen the hands of the SLMC MPs demanding a separate Muslim
majority unit in the east.
The perception was that with the Tamils firmly behind the
UNF, it was politically prudent to woo the Muslims from the east and
confuse the entire process, making the peace talks in Thailand an
exercise in futility.
That the Muslim youth who had purportedly staged his own
abduction and claimed it was the LTTE was a member of Douglas
Devananda's EPDP did not help allay fears of the government either that
an elaborate plan was underway to derail the entire peace process by
attempting to pin the case on the Tigers, especially given the EPDP's
links to the PA.
The nine SLMC MPs from the east too were using the
purported abduction for good measure, whipping up emotion in the area
and threatening not to support the government on the 19th Amendment
unless assurances were given by the Prime Minister no less that their
demand for a separate Muslim majority unit is met.
And in making this demand, the Muslim MPs were pointing
out to the abduction of the Muslim youth and the prevalent tension in
the area to justify their claim for a separate Muslim unit on the basis
the Muslims will have no security under a LTTE dominated council.
Thus, without the nine SLMC MPs voting with the
government on the 19th Amendment, it was good as dead for want of a two
third majority notwithstanding the pledge by 20 PA MPs to vote with the
UNF. At the same time, if the Prime Minister gave the assurance sought
by the SLMC MPs even before the specifics were discussed in Thailand,
the peace talks would have come to an abrupt end with the LTTE claiming
the government has predetermined the basis of a solution. Prime Minister
Wickremesinghe was in a catch 22 situation.
It is in this tense situation, the government saw a
silver lining in the otherwise disastrous Supreme Court ruling on the
For, by knocking out the conscience vote provision and
making the amendment a dead letter, the threat by the nine SLMC MPs not
to vote with the government became redundant and hardly had any time
lapsed on this determination becoming public that the 'abducted' Muslim
youth surfaced, claiming he had stage managed it as a private stunt to
get a ransom. A bit rich to swallow considering the near riots that led
to the staged abduction but that was to be the official line of the EDPD
There was for the government thus no immediate threat of
losing a vote in parliament especially with the 15 TNA members pledging
their support and the Prime Minister obtained valuable time till he
contemplated his next move.
And this development also called for a shift of focus for
the PA while keeping the pressure on the eastern situation and that
focus was to be the joint task force between the government and the LTTE
for the development of the strife torn area.
This became evident from two significant statements made
by President Kumaratunga last week in the midst of speculation that the
PA is working on a pact with the JVP and the MEP to the exclusion of the
pro peace left parties such as the LSSP and the CP.
Towards this end, the executive committee of the SLFP is
expected to be summoned on November 8 to obtain ratification, pushing
the SLFP into a pan Sinhala line together with the JVP and the MEP.
The logic is simple; if the President opts to dissolve
parliament anytime after December 5 claiming the UNF government is
jeopardising the sovereignty and unity of the nation by helping the LTTE
to establish a de facto state of Eelam, then an electoral arrangement in
the south where the SLFP and JVP pool its vote banks would help them pip
the UNF through its collective strength.
Furthermore, with the north in any event electing TNA MPs
as opposed to those from the UNF and the east delicately poised due to
the stance taken by the Muslim MPs, odds would be in favour of the
SLFP-JVP-MEP combine defeating the UNF in most districts if not all
other than the north.
Such a policy no doubt would lead to the breakdown of the
peace process and all-out war but the name of the game is power politics
and that is the first item in the agenda.
Thus, when the PA parliamentary group met on Monday,
October 21, President Kumaratunga hinted at what's in store, stating she
cannot in the name of peace stay silent when the government is paving
the way for a de facto Eelam
"In the name of peace, I cannot blindly agree to
everything. The east is facing a very dangerous situation and we cannot
allow that situation to continue," she said.
Continuing, the President identified seven incidents such
as the abduction of the Muslim youth and attacks in Trincomalee on the
STF camp in Kanchirankudah as examples of the LTTE's "flagrant
violations" of the MoU signed with the government and said she can
no longer shut her eyes to them.
It is the same line the President also adopted in her
address to the nation, showing clearly a strategy of bracing herself for
action on the peace front.
Interestingly, prior to the President's arrival at the
meeting, national list MP, Dilan Perera cautioned against dissolution of
parliament stating it was not an opportune time to so do.
He said the President should not be misled by a few
members around her who will say the time is opportune when it is not so.
"They will say the people are with us. That is not
the case. The MPs must be asked before any decision regarding
dissolution is taken," Perera added.
Interjected Anura Bandaranaike - "As an advisor to
the President, I can say there will be no dissolution."
Subsequently, upon the President's arrival, Opposition
Leader Mahinda Rajapakse brought to Kumaratunga's notice the concerns
raised by Perera and she assured, she will not deviate from the
assurance given to the speaker of not dissolving for three years.
But that assurance of course is not a blanket guarantee,
the wording being such, an escape route citing the situation in the
country is provided for to enable dissolution and still justify the
pledge given to the speaker.
Significantly, in her address to the nation, the
President studiously avoided making reference to the issue of
dissolution, especially not reiterating the assurance given to the
speaker in writing which in turn has raised doubts whether she will in
fact dissolve at an opportune moment, well before the earlier assurance
of three years is up.
Be that as it may, apart from moving to make political
capital of the eastern situation, the President is also set to strike at
the joint task force setting up a strategy to challenge it in court.
That is to be Kumaratunga's primary shift in focus from the east.
The joint task force concept was born in Thailand during
the first round of talks and is expected to be the mechanism through
which the government and the LTTE are to develop and reconstruct the war
It is for that very purpose Norway has organised a
pledging conference next month in Oslo where both the Prime Minister
together with a government delegation as well as LTTE participation are
This meeting is to be followed up with a bigger pledging
conference in Japan early next year, and the monies pledged will be used
not only to develop the north east but also the south and west as a
peace dividend to the people. It is to also mark the economic revival of
the country including the generation of employment through the
development work to follow.
Purely in political terms, if the joint task force (JTF)
gets underway, it would have a negative impact on the political fortunes
of the opposition with the prospect of war being pushed further back in
addition to development activity getting underway.
Thus, the opposition and the President have decided to
strike at the very heart of the JTF and the first signal of
Kumaratunga's intentions came when she dodged meeting Norway's Deputy
Foreign Minister, Vidar Helgessen on Wednesday, October 23.
What could be more important for the President of the
country than the peace process and its progress and to find out first
hand from the key player in the drama the latest developments,
especially when the meeting was scheduled just hours after Helgessen's
meeting with LTTE Leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran?
Nevertheless, the President cancelled the meeting stating
she was 'busy' but she neither attended the PA's Nugegoda rally the same
evening nor the cabinet meeting. She did however attend a book launch
for late M.H.M. Ashraff.
Interestingly, the President had agreed to meet the
Norwegians for just 30 minutes on Saturday, October 26, knowing fully
well they were scheduled to leave on Thursday, October 24.
Whatever the spin, her Advisor Lakshman Kadirgamar gave
for the cancellation of the meeting, the reality was that the President
was bracing herself to opposing the Norwegian role in the peace process,
given the new alliance to be formed with the JVP.
Thus, the President was heard to tell confidantes that
the Norwegians had exceeded their mandate by getting involved in the
internal affairs of Sri Lanka such as the establishment of the joint
task force for development work and visiting the south and as such she
was not inclined to meet with them.
The visit of the Norwegian delegation to the south to
look at development work was particularly galling to the opposition
since it was the heart of the JVP and SLFP, and any funding for
development in the south as a peace dividend would be politically
disastrous to these parties.
For, to keep the issue on the boil and impress upon the
people in the south the peace process was only paving the way for Eelam
with no benefit to the country at large, development assistance had to
be stalled and Norway's foray into the south last week was seen in this
context as a dangerous development to the opposition's political
And all those factors determined President Kumaratunga's
decision to snub the Norwegians and send out a clear signal she is no
longer in a mood to cooperate with the peace process as she considers it
a frame work not only for the establishment of a de facto state of Eelam
but also compromising the country's sovereignty.
Ironically, even before the president decided to come out
against the joint task force, the LTTE was breathing fire on it leading
to the perception in government, it was going to be a deal breaker.
LTTE's contention was that the task force should not
operate out of the Prime Minister's office since it compromised the
LTTE's position until such time a final settlement was reached.
However, during Helgessen's meeting with Prabhakaran on
Wednesday, the LTTE supremo had not pressed the issue, instead
requesting the Norwegians to work out a mechanism that would not leave
the LTTE operating under the government.
Another positive development which emerged at these talks
was Prabhakaran's agreement to send LTTE's Batticaloa District Military
Wing Leader Karuna for the Thailand talks to discuss the issues in the
east particularly relating to the Muslims. Both Tamilchelvam and Karuna
are expected to fly out of Katunayake.
Prior to Helgessen's visit to meet the LTTE leadership he
also had a dinner meeting with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and
several rounds of talks with the government negotiators, Ministers G.L.
Peiris, Milinda Moragoda and Rauf Hakeem, where once again the focus was
on the joint task force.
One thorny problem that surfaced from the government side
with regard to the task force, of course was posed by Minister Hakeem
who insisted, the wording should be changed in a way there was to be no
reference to two parties, namely the government and the LTTE.
Hakeem's contention was that there was a Muslim dimension
to the problem as well and it should not be excluded by referring to two
parties. The SLMC leader did not insist on the wording to be changed to
'three parties' but did not want their implied exclusion by referring to
only two parties.
In fact, even the nine rebel SLMC MPs have jumped on the
issue claiming there should be two task forces, one for the north and
one for the east with representation for them in the JTF for the east.
The LTTE leader however was not amenable to a change in
the wording of the JTF draft prepared by the Norwegians as urged by
Hakeem. That issue is now expected to be addressed in Thailand, where
the venue for the talks is being shifted from Sattahip to Bangkok.
Thus, the next round of talks is going to be crucial
given the President's opposition to the JTF and the SLMC dimension on
the JTF in general and the Eastern Province situation in particular but
Helgessen has expressed confidence an agreement can be worked out.
These factors and the uncertainty of the political
situation in the south following the Supreme Court ruling on the 19th
Amendment were also not lost on the Norwegians, particularly in light of
speculation over a general election and they broached the subject with
both the LTTE and the government.
This is all the more significant since the government
would need a two third majority in parliament to implement any agreement
even with regard to an interim council being reached in Bangkok and none
is more alive to this fact than the LTTE.
Accordingly, the LTTE has made it known to the Norwegians
that they would do their utmost to ensure the stability of the
government, thereby keeping the peace process alive but indicated an
election would be the best option to ensure that stability.
The message, the LTTE sought to convey is that it can
persuade the 15 TNA MPs to support a resolution calling for the
dissolution of parliament, paving the way for the government to seek a
fresh mandate from the people on a peace platform and then move towards
a two third majority in parliament.
And on Monday night, at the Prime Minister's dinner
meeting with the visiting delegation of Helgessen, Erik Solheim, Lisa
Gold and Ambassador Jon Westborg, the Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister
asked the Prime Minister whether a general election was likely at this
Non-committal on the issue, the Prime Minister said it
was one of the options under consideration by the government.
The Prime Minister for his part of course realises some
decisive action is needed on his part to restore confidence in the
government following the Supreme Court decision but has decided to adopt
a wait and see policy until such time the Muslim Congress issue is
resolved one way or the other and of course President Kumaratunga's
address to the nation.
In fact this was the message he had for the UNF's
Political Affairs Committee Tuesday night, albeit one firm decision was
At this meeting, which was attended by Ministers G.L.
Peiris, K.N. Choksy, Tilak Marapone, Rauf Hakeem, S.B. Dissanayake, Karu
Jayasuriya, UNP Chairman Malik Samarawickrema and General Secretary
Senarath Kapukotuwa, it was made very clear, he did not trust
Kumaratunga and cohabitation was not an option.
The trend was set at the outset by Malik Samarawickrema
who said cohabitation with the President was out of the question since
she was only interested in lulling the government into a false sense of
complacency and then pulling the rug under its feet.
"We know what her plans are and is doing everything
possible to undermine the peace process, so there can be no
cohabitation," he said.
The lone voice that mooted the idea of a possible
cohabitation was Minister Hakeem but the overwhelming opinion was to the
contrary with Defence Minister Tilak Marapone also ruling it out.
Added Samarawickrema, "What she says in the morning
is not what she does in the night. If there is an election called on her
terms, the SLMC will be vulnerable. So be positive, no
Making his own contribution, Minister Dissanayake said
the government must ready itself for an election around March and launch
a full scale offensive on the President and the Chief Justice.
He said the government must immediately appoint a select
committee to probe the conduct of the Chief Justice or impeach him.
The prime minister himself said the government must
explore the possibility of another amendment to the constitution,
whereby the two third majority can be obtained.
"The PA MPs have said they will bide their time and
to bring another amendment. Since we still have the numbers, let's look
at that option also," the Prime Minister said.
And subsequent to President Kumaratunga's address to the
nation, the Prime Minister was more convinced than ever cohabitation
would be impossible, given the tenor of her address.
The Prime Minister's take on the address was that the
President was seeking to set the agenda for the government's peace
initiative, economic programme and constitutional reform and that it was
an impossible agenda to follow.
Accordingly, the Prime Minister on Friday told both UNP
Chairman Malik Samarawickrema as well as Minister Peiris that the people
had given the UNP a mandate and it is that mandate that has to be
executed and not Kumaratunga's.
The Prime Minister had further said if the President is
sincere about cohabitation, she should agree to cooperate with the UNF
to execute the mandate given it by the people rather than be seen as a
spoiler. Likewise, Malik Samarawickrema on Thursday when asked about a
cohabitation arrangement by Lakshman Kadirgamar said there was no need
for such institutionalisation and that the government intends carrying
out its mandate.
Even as the Prime Minister and Malik Samarawickrema were
taking this tough line though not publicly, behind the scenes moves were
underway by a powerful section of the PA to push forward for a
cohabitation arrangement and eventually a national government between
the UNF and the PA.
Towards this end, former Minister John Seneviratne had
extensive discussions with Lands Minister Rajitha Senaratne last week
stating that the President was amenable to work on an agreed agenda with
the UNF and they should explore the possibility.
Senaratne had also said despite the earlier hostility
between Kumaratunga and Senaratne, she was now prepared to bury the
hatchet and move forward.
Likewise, former Education Minister Susil Premajayanth
also urged Senaratne to push ahead with cohabitation stating there will
be no country for any one to govern if the process breaks down.
"Even if we capture power, how can we govern if
there is no peace? The war will breakout and there will be mayhem. So
let us work together and sort the problems out," he told Senaratne.
In a related development, SLFP General Secretary,
Maithripala Sirisena also broached the subject of a national government
with Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera and said if it was in the best
interest of the country to pursue such an option and if the UNF was
amenable to such a move, he would take the responsibility of pushing it
in the SLFP.
All these moves however are viewed with deep suspicion by
the government due to a lack of faith in the President, who the Prime
Minister believes, despite all the well meaning members of the PA is out
to sabotage the peace process.
The bottom line is, with cohabitation out of the
question, and the President all set to launch her offensive against the
peace process, the people are in for a bumpy ride in the weeks and
months to come.
The day PA had UNF on
the run in parliament
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
The ongoing parliamentary drama if nothing else, keeps
this nation thoroughly entertained. There is little entertainment in the
life of voter Silva as prices escalate alarmingly, with the 'spillover'
effect being the corresponding increase in the cost of living. All the
entertainment he could perhaps afford in such a backdrop comes in the
form of sadistic pleasure derived by regular viewing of parliamentary
But the unfolding political drama had a daunting effect
last week on the ruling UNF, but left the opposition in high spirits.
The government indeed trod dangerous ground as they sought to
constitutionally clip presidential wings - to snatch the chief
executive's powers to dissolve parliament after one year. In their
haste, others matters were given secondary importance and the brilliant
blunder was rewarded with a judicious slap when the Supreme Court held
the 19th Amendment unconstitutional.
Hence, Tuesday morning was a joyous occasion for the
opposition, as they freely goaded Prof. G.L. Peiris, the man credited
with fathering the draconian amendment. The day began for the opposition
with a chorus of "Ko Peiris" as Speaker Joseph Michael Perera
read out the determination in parliament, in the absence of Minister G.L.
The UNF seemed to have cup full concerns, with some of
the SLMC still on a parliament boycott and the embarrassment of the
determination on the 19th Amendment. The country has been Shell-shocked
too, with the price of a gas cylinder reaching Rs. 560, all of which
collectively didn't augur well for a new administration that professed
to lighten the burdens on the people.
So Tuesday morning was largely dedicated to G.L. bashing
and every opposition speech had reference to the law professor's lack of
legal knowledge to push a constitutional amendment, despite the debate
being on amendments to the finance bill and the 2002 appropriation bill.
Soon after the slogan shouting, it was burly Nimal
Siripala de Silva's opportunity to speak. He had a field day, heaping
scorn on the government as he lambasted the UNF's economic performance.
"These are the guys who patted themselves on their backs and
announced to the country with such arrogance, that things would simply
fall into place the moment they come in. Where is efficient governance
and a well managed economy?" he queried.
With great aplomb, he demanded to know what has happened
to the promised economic relief to the poor. "Shell gas prices have
increased, fertiliser subsidy has been scrapped, where are the
investors, where are the new industries," he demanded.
The lawyer could not help himself as he commented on
Minister G.L. Peiris. "We accept his academic brilliance. But the
PA suffered from his bad advice, and now it is your turn to pay. One
thing about him is that he lacks the practical legal knowledge of a
student of law," he scoffed.
Lauding the judiciary for a determination that upheld the
right of constituents, he said that the UNF's attempt was to whip the
judiciary to get what it wanted. "That's what you did with the PA
supporters, but your attempt to brow beat the judiciary has
failed," he said.
Taking de Silva's argument further was Gampaha District
PA legislator Felix Perera. Recalling the time the PA was elected to
power, he claimed that the prime duty of the PA then was to change the
terrible image of Sri Lanka as an island of barbarians.
"That's the reputation you had earned for the
country. The international community shunned us as people who created
tyre pyres for fellow men. This country seven years ago smelled of blood
and burnt tyres. It is we who gave people their human dignity
back," said Perera.
As Perera continued to speak, in walked Minister Peiris,
and the errant Mahindananda Aluthgamage could not resist poking fun at
him. "Mahacharyathuma, chakablast neda," he purred, as the
Minister silently took his first row seat.
And he had an interesting theory on foreign borrowing.
The PA borrowed heavily, he admitted, but the purpose was to settle the
loans obtained by the UNP since 1978. "By the time we assumed
office, we had to repay loans. Your have borrowed excessively and we had
to pay back the agencies. Naturally, this country went through hard
times, and the root cause was the UNP again," he said.
Higher Education Minister Kabir Hashim had different
thoughts. His argument was that the UNF was voted into office at the
worst time in post independence, and hence the gamut of problems they
had to dispense with. "An economy in shambles, investor absence, a
power crisis and a mismanaged war were our inheritance. Naturally, it
would take the UNF sometime to begin delivering," he said,
appealing for understanding.
The youthful Minister jested that every time the Prime
Minister spoke, the share market picked up, and it had the reverse
effect the moment President Kumaratunga made a public speech. "I
would say that's the best indicator of investor confidence," he
said, scoffing at the idea that the UNF government could be undone fast.
Tuesday provided ample opportunity for PA legislators who
gave vent to their feelings. With the 'royal blunder' committed by the
government with the 19th Amendment, the PA back-benchers cracked their
whips on the UNF with no mercy.
Rohitha Abeygunawardane, a young Kalutara District
legislator too liberally heaped scorn on the UNF - covering all fronts
as he professed to speak on the finance bill.
"Now where is the economist, Ravi Karunanayake who
used to write a weekly column on economic management? What has he
achieved, barring his vain attempt to keep Sathosa outlets open till
midnight, which gather no customers, only flies?" he scoffed.
Cautioning, he said that every time a government has
removed subsidies and added to the economic burdens, people have given
their silent verdict at polls. "Be warned. This is true of PA and
UNP governments both. Your so-called tip top management team too has
failed to deliver, but the subsidies have been effectively
removed," he noted.
He could not also resist taking a dig at former PA
frontliner Minister S.B. Dissanayake. The burly Minister he said,
promised the youth of this country prosperity through his 'Samurdhi'
initiative. But the UNF has drastically reduced it, compelling the
Minister to advocate self-reliance instead of dependence on social
security and subsidies. "He need not worry, for he is samurdhimath
enough. Look at his burly figure," sniped the MP, much to the
amusement of the House.
Minister Bandula Gunawardena was next in line, and his
attempts to turn the House into a classroom did not work, as he
delivered his oft-repeated speech on a sluggish economy.
Of course, as all government legislators do, he held the
PA responsible for empty coffers that left the new administration
penniless. "What about all your economics and revival
theories," queried some cheeky opposition members.
Choosing to ignore the snide remarks, Gunawardena
repeated that one third of government revenue was spent on public sector
salaries, and added that there could be no more salary increases for a
"Let's get real. Can there be salary increases,
Samurdhi benefits and a host of other relief measures in such a
situation," he responded.
Besides the lacklustre debating, the week saw some
political developments that cannot augur well for the ruling coalition.
Three SLMC rebels did return to the House, but the counter balance was
when the three NUA members promised to lend support to the SLMC cause,
which is to urge a separate administrative unit for the Eastern
Wednesday, the House was full of
woe with condolence motions being taken up, but the afternoon
witnessed some quick fire. JVP's Sunil Handunetti moved an adjournment
motion which called for Presidential intervention to settle the
situation of unrest prevailing in the Eastern Province, which saw the
sudden demand for time by the TNA members who judiciously felt it their
right to express views on the eastern situation.
TULF's R. Sampanthan stamped his foot in fury demanding
time be allocated from the opposition time of 30 minutes for TNA members
to speak - while the TNA showered fury and contempt on the JVP group, as
Sampanthan thundered that the TNA had a legitimate right to express
their views and "refused to be cowed down by some brats."
In their walk out, what the TNA perhaps overlooked was
the need to have settled the issue of time allocation with the chief
opposition whip, and not the JVP, the movers of the motion and thereby
getting the wrong end of the stick.
In the aftermath of
the 19th Amendment
The Supreme Court judgement on the 19th Amendment will
dictate the political destinies of many who identified themselves
either with the amendment or against it.
Constitutional Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris was
not only strongly for the amendment but was one of its prime
movers. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the judgement, Prof.
Peiris became one of the most prominent pieces of collateral
While Speaker Joseph Michael Perera was reading out the
judgment on Monday, cheeky voices in the opposition were calling
for the professor's resignation.
Such dissenting voices were not limited to the opposition
ranks. UNP MP from the Ratnapura District, Mahinda Ratnatilleke
was one of the government members not impressed with the 19th
Amendment's ultimate resting-place, the parliamentary order book.
"Illan kawa ne," the member said soon after the
judgment was announced. "What is the difference in our
dissolving it and her (President Chandrika Kumaratunga)
dissolving?" he continued, looking thoroughly disappointed.
Ratnatilleke was peeved that by promoting the amendment
vigorously, the government had played into the opposition's hands.
"We should have known better," he went on. He
was not the only one who shared such sentiments.
Even the former PA rebels who crossed over with the
professor were nodding in acknowledgment when such comments were
The 19th Amendment was also creating ripples at the
highest levels of governance in the country. President Kumaratunga
spoke to a top UNF Minister and a UNP leader soon after the
judgment reached President's House.
She spoke to him about the national government concept
that the UNP was advocating when it wrested power from the PA. She
told the UNP leader that she was willing to work with the UNF
provided co-operation was mutual.
The UNP leader informed the president that he had to talk
with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on the issue. He got in
touch with the president after his discussions with Wickremesinghe
and his inner circle. He told the president that the Prime
Minister too was not averse to the subject of a national
government. It was after the reaction of the Prime Minister was
conveyed to her that Kumaratunga decided to address the nation.
PA MP Dilan Perera too gave an indication of such a move,
but in a different tone. He said that the opposition was working
towards trying to secure enough members from the government ranks
to form a new government. One of the conditions was that a
prominent UNF member would be given the premiership and that the
peace process too would be on track. Those were the two main
assurances that the opposition was conceding, according to Perera.
It was evident last week that the opposition was making
overtures to UNF coalition partners. Athauda Seneviratna said that
the PA understood that a separate council should be set for the
Muslims in the east, adding weight to the demand by the SLMC
dissidents and Sarath Amungama spoke in glowing terms about CWC
Leader Arumugam Thondaman.
To cap it all, the three National Unity Alliance members
joined the nine SLMC dissidents boycotting parliament from Friday.
They told Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse on Thursday that
they would only give up the boycott when the demands of SLMC
dissidents were addressed properly by the Prime Minister.
The President's address to the nation on Thursday night
put the PA's thinking out into the open. Elections are out, the
president wants to work together but on her terms and conditions.
She believes that the judgment has placed all the aces in her
Meanwhile Anura Bandaranaike gave the real reason behind
the President's reluctance to dissolve parliament at the joint
opposition rally in Nugegoda. She would only dissolve and go for
an election if and when the situation favoured the PA, according
to her brother.
Richard's last dance
The strongest supporter of the amendment from the
opposition ranks, former Chief Government Whip Richard Pathirana
may well have had his last five seconds of publicity. He has lost
his Akmeemana organiser post and in an eight page letter to SLFP
General Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena said that he did not want
to be the organiser of a party which was not in a position to win
"I will support the Prime Minister," he boasted
last week. He said irrespective
of who fills the post of the organiser he will support the
Wickremesinghe government and work for a UNP victory. Asked if he
would contest the election on a UNP ticket, Pathirana said "I
don't think I have to do that, the Prime Minister would
But others who were identified with Pathirana like A. H.
M. Fowzie and Jeyaraj Fernandopulle would not have to face the
same predicament going by last week's developments. And the
President herself was pretty confident that the Supreme Court
judgment put paid to any crossovers. "I don't think now
anyone will go from us," she told the PA parliamentary group
The delayed concussion
THE Supreme Court judgment was a God sent boost to the
opposition. Last week opposition members were cock-a-hoop while
the government side looked to be suffering from the delayed
concussion syndrome. Uncertainty ruled
Take for instance the predicament of PA turncoat
Jayasundera Wijekoon. Last week in the members' canteen he saw
SLMC Leader Rauf Hakeem and CWC Leader Arumugam Thondaman at one
table. Passing them he stopped a second to say hello. He could
barely proceed two steps, when one of the two called him back.
"Manthrithuma, obathumath dan kalakerila neda?"
they asked him. Wijekoon did not know what to say. Sometime later
he met some reporters and asked them what was going on. The press
was as clueless as him. "These chaps are upto something that
we can't understand," Wijekoon remarked.
If members like Wijekoon were scratching their heads in
confusion, the opposition for the first time since the UNF took
office was hammering right around.
On Wednesday, six opposition Party Leaders, Mahinda
Rajapakse, Ferial Ashraff, Dinesh Gunawardena, Wimal Weeravansha
and Ven Badegama Samitha Thero wrote to the Prime Minister asking
to fix a date to take up the no confidence motion against Defence
Minister Tilak Marapone. The opposition members argued that the
government was soft-pedaling the motion and at party leaders'
meetings, government representatives have informed the opposition
that a date had to be fixed in consultation with the Prime
The opposition it seems was taking all the effort to
pound the government while the government was looking for
time-outs. It was shying away from taking up any controversial
bills, like when it delayed taking up the Citizenship Bill when
Thondaman raised objections.
The destiny of the
WHAT is going to happen to the now infamous 19th
Amendment to the Constitution and its predecessor the 18th
Amendment? According to officials at the parliamentary table
office, the two bills will stay in the order book, until
parliament is prorogued or till the government withdraws them.
Withdrawal at this moment seems unlikely , faced with a gloating
If the two remain on the order book, the next amendment
to the constitution would have to be termed the 20th Amendment,
regardless of the fact that the 18 and the 19th Amendments were
MPs dazzled by black
INSIDE the chamber and on political platforms MPs may
behave as if they are after each others throats. But that was not
the impression they gave when MPs from both sides
of the aisle were admiring a buxom beauty last Thursday
afternoon. They were admiring her beauty and some could not
resists the temptation to lay a hand on her and even ride her.
What was monopolising the members' undivided attention
was a Tata Safari jeep (WP C-0244), brought to parliament by the
agents so that members could have a private inspection. The jeep
could be bought by members using their permits.
The economic predicament of the country and laudable
statements on platforms were the last things on the minds of the
members who came one after the other to inspect the black beauty.
They included Lal Dharmapriya
Gamage, who found it irresistible, Ananda Kumarasiri who
left his contact details with the beaming officials who brought
the vehicle, Felix Perera who stopped his Mitsubishi luxury jeep
alongside to inspect the Tata.
Jayasundera Wijekoon, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, Anura
Priyadarshana Yapa, Susantha Punchinilame, R.A.D. Sirisena, Nimal
Siripala de Silva and
Earl Gunsekera all forgot petty party politics and came close
enough to show their interest that they would like to own such a
beauty. Hambantota UNF MP Dulip Vedarachchi could not resist the
temptation to open the back door and get in, feel the comfort of
the back seat and get off.
But the prize goes to Kumarasiri, who was on all fours
inspecting the undercarriage of the vehicle. It was the first time
that many at the parliament had witnessed an MP on his knees,
The JVP's new found
THE JVP has of late become the strongest supporters of
the armed forces family members of which tribe they threatened to
kill in the late 1980s if the soldiers
did not quit the service. Recently a JVP parliamentarian
telephoned a battle hardened senior military officer. The MP was
worried of the state to which the UNF had dragged the military.
"Look at what is happening, now you have to give security to
people who attacked the airport last year," he told the
The latter however replied, tongue in cheek, that in his
line of work the enemy was never consistent. "Now, just
imagine, if you and I had met by chance during the 1988-89 period,
this conversation would not take place. Back then it was very
different," he told the MP who cut short the conversation