battle with politics
ever Sri Lanka's political destiny is to be re-fashioned or
refreshed it will be now. For the first time in Sri Lanka's
political history and since its parliamentary independence in
1948, nine Buddhist monks created political history on April 22,
when they took their seats when Sri Lanka's 13th parliament was
and Ven. Dr. Omalpe Sobitha Thero
polled 552,724 votes or 5.97% of the total poll in the April 2nd general
election, the Buddhist priests were convinced their saffron coloured
robes would serve as an effective deterrent to previously witnessed
abusive and disgraceful behaviour by their more seasoned lay brethren
and fellow parliamentary members.
of course what resulted on April 22nd, is now history and certainly
worthy fodder for all those colourful and imaginative television
advertisements at a future election.
the youngest political party in Sri Lanka, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU)
is set to create waves. Albeit, at the displeasure of the newly elected
United People's Freedom Alliance. The United National Front will remain
on the fence until and unless the dhamma teaching clerics decide to
practice some tit for tat policy on the UNF.
faced controversy after controversy ever since the JHU nominated some
260 Buddhist monks to contest the April 2nd general election, the monks
were barely allowed space to burn oil, chant pirith and pay obeisance to
some pahan poojas before the party became a target for political
begin with, the JHU was accused of accepting "black money"
from a rogue businessman and his family to help fund its pre-election
campaign. This charge was later hotly denied by propaganda secretary of
the JHU, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera.
Leader of the JHU Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera insists that, "all
contributions to the JHU have been made by Buddhist devotees. We have
not accepted black money," he said, speaking with a stilted English
accent and careful not to mince his words with political jargon.
the monks had another crisis situation on their hands when one of its
candidates Ven. Aparekke Pannananda Thera, elected from the Gampaha
District mysteriously disappeared. It takes two to fiddle they say and
that is just what happened in this case. The dissident monk was soon
followed by another rebel. This time it was Ven. Kathaluwe Rathanaseeha.
All what happened thereafter is now part of Sri Lanka's very fractured
and divided political sphere. (See box for breakdown of incidents)
angry JHU General Secretary, Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera has said they
will have to "think twice" about extending even conditional
support to the new government given the latter's antagonistic conduct
towards the JHU. This initial statement has been now followed with even
more anger after individuals believed to be activists of the Freedom
Alliance have begun a campaign of intimidation against the political
perception fuelled by none other than the President herself. In a
telephone conversation with Udaya Gammanpila of the JHU on April 22,
Chandrika Kumaratunga charged the JVP with having a hand in the staged
disappearances of the two rebel monks while she also accused PA MP, C.
B. Ratnayake of masterminding the operation.
the strength of the President's own admission, the JHU has publicly
accused the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna of instigating the subsequent
incidents of threats and intimidation and daggers have since been drawn.
The ground is certainly set for battle.
in saffron coloured robes, bearing shaven crowns and clasping white
sheets the monks however are no longer under the illusion that their
attire or demeanour will in anyway influence their more rowdy and
raucous members to behave in a manner promulgating a dharmarajya.
Finance Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama has been heard to quip, once the
monks enter the portals of parliament, they are no longer religious
dignitaries but reduced to being mere MPs.
the core of political dispute and wheeler dealing, the newly elected
Buddhist monks have yet not descended from the roller coaster ride. The
Jathika Hela Urumaya had barely taken its first tentative steps before
the wobbly new alliance made desperate overtures to the monks to help
support its weak position of a mere 106 seats in a 225 strong
from a government that is crowing it had a resounding verdict from the
electorate to govern. It is said that there are 'lies, damned lies and
statistics.' This then is the sum total of the UPFA boast. It claims a
two-thirds electoral victory having won 106 of 163 polling divisions and
16 of 22 districts.
it fails to say, is that only 45.6 % of the people voted for the UPFA.
What is abundantly clear is that 54.4 % of the voters, voted against the
the 2001 election, the UNF obtained 110 polling divisions and 17
districts. Had the criteria claimed by the UPFA been applied, the JVP
would not have had a single seat and it was possible that even the
President may have been impeached. What was sauce for the goose does not
seem to apply to the gander. No doubt the bahubootha constitution has
had its uses.
JVP must thank the PR system for its position in politics today. It was
to prevent anomalies such as this and those of 1956, 1970 and 1977 that
the PR system was introduced.
the recent election, the UPFA obtained 4.2 million votes as against 3.5
for the UNF. That is a ratio of 6:5. The government got 105 seats and
the UNF 82. If the ratio was strictly applied, the UNF should have got
87 seats. So even under the PR system the government received an
is possible that a fairer system could be found, such as a single member
constituency, where the member is elected by a single transferable vote,
as in Australia, together with a PR system at a district level as at
present. But that is a system obviously for the future.
for the changes to the constitution, the Presidential Secretariat trots
out the 'two thirds' theory. It is regrettable that a referendum on the
issue was not held simultaneously with the last election. It could have
been done very simply with an additional ballot paper. If the referendum
was carried, the question of a 'mandate' would have been settled without
doubt. For the government to claim a 'mandate' to change the
constitution with only 45.6% of the total vote, is political claptrap.
is a legal manner in which the present constitution can be amended. It
has in fact been so amended 17 times. The process however requires
consensus of all parties to obtain the necessary two thirds majority.
What this government is attempting to do, is to do 'extra legally' what
it cannot do legally - i.e. without a two thirds majority - because they
cannot obtain the consensus of the other parties. It is indeed a
dangerous precedent since any future simple majority government which
for political reasons, wishes to change the constitution, has only to
cite the 'doctrine of necessity' to further its own selfish political
ends, by creating a 'constituent assembly,' and producing a new
constitution. In future elections, the people will not only vote for
changes of government, but also for changes in constitution. As a result
the country may have a brand new constitution after each election.
is quite clear that the country needs to change its constitution. It is
abundantly clear that a new constitution will be required after there
has been an agreement signed with the LTTE. The government has said it
will deal with the "core issues" with the LTTE and produce
this takes place, nobody will object to a 'constituent assembly' formed
of representatives from all political parties, civil society and
professional bodies getting together and producing a constitution for a
is it necessary - using the 'doctrine of necessity'- to change the
constitution piecemeal, when a completely new one will be required in
the near future? When the executive presidency was not abolished in 1995
as promised by the President, the excuse was that the constitution
should not be changed 'piecemeal.' Cannot the same reason be applied
caught in the flush of bright lights and heady media hype, for the
monks, on this issue at least, saner counsel has prevailed. The JHU has
made a public statement that it has decided to sit with the opposition
until the United People's Freedom Alliance government accepts what they
describe as "non-negotiable demands."
Secretary, Thilak Karunaratne explains that the alliance government must
; (1) Accept the "unitary" status of the country ; (2)
De-merge the north and east ; (3) Openly reject the statement "LTTE
is the sole representative of the Tamil people" ; (4) Introduce the
proposed Unethical Conversions Bill, establish an Independent Media
Commission, take steps to empower the Police Commission, Election
Commission, and the Bribery Commission. And the JHU has very firmly
maintained it will not lend support to a constituent assembly - one that
will make piecemeal amendments to the present constitution.
Omalpe Sobitha Thera maintains "it is this very constitution that
is today our safeguard protecting the unitary status of Sri Lanka."
first viewed with suspicion and fear by other minority groups that the
JHU would serve as a virulent base to propagate racism and religious
disharmony, the monks have already been described by certain quarters as
Sri Lanka's future 'Taliban.'
Omalpe Sobitha Thera hotly denied the JHU harbours such intentions but
reiterated strongly that one of the priorities of the monks when in
parliament will be to push through a bill banning unethical conversions.
statement cracks like a whip in the backdrop of religious disharmony,
which flared up in the country recently when angry Buddhists spurred on
by groups with vested interests attacked Christian denomination
churches. The charge being, that large numbers of Buddhist born poor,
were being lured into Christian churches on the promise of free food,
clothing and education. The issue caused widespread violence and though
condemned by all quarters, was not quelled until the conclusion of the
Omalpe Sobitha Thera insists the Buddhist monks have long enjoyed
harmonious relationships with their Christian brethren but he insists
"unethical conversions" cannot be condoned and must be banned.
He asserts the JHU will use its new leverage in parliament to do just
the issue of bribery and corruption, a matter that has long stifled and
strangled Sri Lankan politics, Omalpe Sobitha Thera is convinced the
elected Buddhist monks are fully empowered to be able to stay clear of
falling prey to such manipulations.
spoke too soon. Hardly were the words out of his mouth before the JHU
had a mini rebellion on its hands with two out of the nine elected monks
for various reasons abandoning their cause to the JHU and running with
the Freedom Alliance.
even this does not appear to greatly deter Dr. Omalpe Sobitha Thera.
Referring to parliament as a "holy place" (we have now
certainly heard it all) Omalpe Sobitha Thera is still optimistic that
the Buddhist monks will play a major role in instilling a sense of
decency, integrity and honesty amongst the other 216 lay
Sri Lanka's political sphere as being a "cesspit" of vice and
corruption, Omalpe Sobitha Thera says this was the basis for the monks
having decided enough was enough; and that it is time Sri Lanka's
political gaming ground is lifted from its present depths to form a
dharmarajya. Explaining, Omalpe Sobitha Thera said a dharmarajya will be
based on the teachings of Buddhism and will aim primarily to carry Sri
Lanka out of her present fractured and bruised political hopelessness to
an era of hope, unity, integrity and prosperity.
course Omalpe Sobitha Thera never foresaw that his entry into active
politics together with nearly 300 other monks would precipitate
unprecedented attacks on the Buddhist clergy and temples around the
country by none other than self-professed devotees themselves.
by the Sihala Urumaya which was formed in April 2000 to safeguard the
Sinhala nation, the Jathika Hela Urumaya was born four years later in
the run up to the April 2004 general election.
the military debacle at Elephant Pass and Wanni, the Sihala Urumaya
claimed that nationally conscious Sinhalese demanded a true Sinhala
political organisation to govern the country.
Secretary, Sihala Urumaya, Tilak Karunaratne maintains that patriotic
Sinhalese began to organise themselves into non-political organisations
such as Jathika Sangha Sabha, National Movement Against Terrorism,
Sinhala Veera Vidahana etc., from 1995, to safeguard the rights of the
Sinhalese. He recounts how a few years of continuous struggle led these
dedicated groups to realise the need of a political party to achieve the
desired goal and so the Sihala Urumaya was born.
are two schools of thought for the meaning of Sihala. One group says it
derives from Siv Hela (the four ethno groups - namely Yaksha, Naga,
Raksha and Deva). Others believe that Sihala derives from lineage of
race called Sinha (Lion). Hence Sihala Urumaya means "national
Jathika Hela Urumaya articulating the identical objectives of its parent
party reiterates its main objectives are to safeguard the motherland,
its territorial integrity, unitary form of governance and identity for
the benefit of the people of Sri Lanka.
how the JHU plans to achieve its mandate Omalpe Sobitha Thera puts it
like this, "our weapon is the use of non-violence and democracy to
achieve our goals."
can we say, but merely hope with all sincerity that the Ven. Dr. Omalpe
Sobitha Thera will not have to gnash his teeth, chew his words and spit
on the monks
April 23, an armed group of alleged JVP activists led by one
"Nilantha" threatened monks at the Bodhirajaramaya, in
Embilipitiya. The chief priest of this temple is Ven. Dr. Omalpe
Sobitha Thera. Also deputy leader of the JHU, Omalpe Sobitha Thera
said he also received two threatening phone calls on Friday, April
on April 23, armed supporters of Minister S. B. Dissanayake had
allegedly threatened the Buddhist Centre in Hanguranketha. The
group had smashed windows at the temple and even removed the
April 24 a group of thugs entered the Sirinandawa Pirivena at
Panadura and threatened the chief incumbent who is a die-hard
loyalist of the JHU. The thugs had hung black flags in front of
the pirivena after yelling abuse at the monk.
April 25, six JHU supporters were brutally attacked at Bokundara,
Piliyandala allegedly by JVP thugs who had apparently arrived in a
vehicle belonging to the Ceylon Electricity Board. Two out of the
six, Ranjith Dias and W. Weerasinghe were seriously wounded and
according to Ven. Hedigalle Wimalasara each nursing broken arms at
the Colombo General Hospital. The other four supporters too the
monk said were wounded in the attack. The incident took place
around 12 midnight on Sunday when the six JHU supporters had been
engaged in putting up posters advertising the party's Bodhu
Samuluwa to be held the next day at the Piliyandala Somaweera
Chandrasiri Grounds. The thugs also threw a hand grenade at the
stage that was being constructed, Ven. Wimalasara said.
April 24, the temple where the chief incumbent is JHU MP, Ven.
Hedigalle Wimalasara, was threatened by an individual, believed to
be a JVP activist. The thugs arrived at the Beruwela Abinawaramaya
Vihara at around 11.15 p.m. on Monday, surrounded the temple and
began shouting abuse referring to the April 22nd election in
parliament for the post of speaker and the JHU having given two of
its votes to opposition candidate W. J. M. Lokubandara. After the
Beruwela police were called a suspect by the name of Ajith Asela
Silva of Hettiyagoda, Beruwela was arrested and later released on
a cash bail of Rs. 5000 and certified bail of Rs. 25,000. The
suspect had pleaded he was under the influence of liquor at the
time of the incident.
Tuesday, April 27, the chief incumbent of the temple at
Kiribathgoda Ven. Welipatha Vijitha Thera was threatened by thugs
who later burnt tyres in front of the temple premises.
Wednesday, April 28, the General Manager, Embilipitiya Cooperative
Store, Munidasa Aganpodi, a strong supporter and activist of the
JHU received a telephone call from Freedom Alliance MP, Jayatissa
Ranaweera who allegedly threatened Aganpodi with death for his
allegiance to the JHU. Aganpodi has since made a police statement.
Hedigalle Wimalasara said the acts of intimidation and threats
meanwhile continue with JHU supporters and monks around the
country. The incidents are all at the instigation of members of