DNF faces make-or-break scenario
Amidst much controversy, the United National Party (UNP)-backed Democratic National Front (DNF) that was to be launched tomorrow (5) is now hanging in the balance.
By last night (3), last-minute meetings and lobbying were taking place in several locations in Colombo to make a final call on the formation of the proposed political alliance.
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) led by Minister Rauff Hakeem, All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) led by Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, and Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) led by Ministers Mano Ganesan and P. Digambaram were undecided until last evening on whether or not they will be joining the DNF.
All the parties held separate discussions with their respective decision-making bodies last evening and then held a joint meeting before meeting UNP Leader, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last night.
Initial preparations to launch a broad political alliance led by the UNP were made last year, soon after the 51-day political coup.
However, Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) General Secretary, Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka felt it was too early to launch a political alliance and proposed that it be done closer to a key election.
It is in this backdrop that Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, with the blessings of UNP Leader Wickremesinghe, commenced the co-ordination work of the proposed DNF.
A majority of the UNP parliamentarians claim that the political alliance under the name of DNF, which is being formed by Dr. Senaratne, would result in the dissolution of the UNP’s supremacy as a political force.
However, the fact that the draft constitution of the proposed alliance was drafted some months back with the participation of several senior UNP members leaves a question as to why it took till now to raise objections against the DNF constitution.
Also, an issue that needs to be considered is the main reason for the formation of the proposed alliance.
If the UNP expects the DNF to be nothing short of one of its subsidiaries working solely on the party’s policies, the DNF would not be able to attract many political forces to support it. It is believed that certain sections of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) would also join the DNF eventually during election time.
Hence, it now seems that the objections raised by the UNPers against the draft constitution are in fact a way of raising concerns over another issue – the issue of the party’s next presidential candidate.
Nevertheless, a group of UNP ministers expressed their concerns over the draft constitution of the proposed alliance to Wickremesinghe and have outlined the fate of the UNP in the event such a constitution is implemented. The issue however resulted in a heated debate during the UNP Working Committee meeting on Thursday (1).
The meeting was held on Thursday morning at Temple Trees under the patronage of Party Leader Wickremesinghe.
A majority of the UNP Working Committee members believe that the DNF, which is being spearheaded by Dr. Senaratne and Wickremesinghe, would result in the UNP’s supremacy being dissolved.
However, 13 UNP parliamentarians have decided to support Wickremesinghe’s move to form the alliance despite concerns raised by a majority over the contents of the draft constitution.
A heated debate took place at the UNP Working Committee meeting over the draft constitution of the proposed DNF.
Request for copies of Constitution
After convening the Working Committee meeting, Party Leader Wickremesinghe had informed the members that the meeting was called to receive approval for the formation of the proposed DNF on Monday (5).
It has always been Wickremesinghe’s style to bulldoze his way through meetings of decisive committees of the UNP. In similar fashion, Wickremesinghe had announced the reason for the meeting without even distributing copies of the draft constitution of the alliance among the Working Committee members.
Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe had then said that the members of the Committee had not seen a draft of the DNF’s constitution, but had only seen several documents claiming to be a draft of the constitution that was published on several social media outlets.
He had noted that the members needed to know the contents of the alliance constitution and had requested the Prime Minister to make available several copies of the draft constitution before the Committee granted approval.
Wickremesinghe had then tried to read the contents of the draft constitution without handing around copies of the draft. Senasinghe had objected once again.
“Don’t behave in this manner sir. You come after us pleading when there’s a No-confidence Motion against you and now you don’t give us a copy of the constitution of an alliance that the party is going to sign in to. A parliamentarian receives a copy of a bill several weeks before it is presented to Parliament. That is done to get the views and opinions of the parliamentarians. This now is a conspiracy and we don’t want to be a part of it,” Senasinghe had claimed.
Minister Ajith P. Perera had also agreed with Senasinghe and about 45 minutes after objections were raised over the failure to circulate copies of the DNF’s draft constitution, Wickremesinghe had gotten copies to be distributed among Working Committee members.
After studying the draft constitution, Senasinghe had said: “Sir, I’m a lawyer, please tell me who drafted a constitution of this nature that betrays our party?”
Wickremesinghe had responded saying the document was drafted by MP Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne.
Senasinghe had explained that he was a practicing lawyer and hence was in touch with legal issues and that the draft constitution in his hand could not be accepted in its present form.
Then, 20 MPs including Sajith Premadasa, Kabir Hashim, Mangala Samaraweera, Malik Samarawickrama, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Ajith P. Perera, Sujeewa Senasinghe, Chandrani Bandara, Eran Wickramaratne, Nalin Bandara, Dilip Vedarachchi, A. Wijetunge, Harsha de Silva, Daya Gamage, Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, Vasantha Senanayake, Ravindra Samaraweera, Thalatha Atukorale, Imthiaz Bakeer Markar, and Ruwan Wijewardena had stated that the draft constitution undermined the powers vested with the UNP MPs and the Working Committee.
They had said it was important to announce the candidate before forming an alliance of this nature.
Five other MPs – Gayantha Karunathileka, Niroshan Perera, Edward Gunasekera, Sydney Jayaratne, and Thusitha Wijemanne – had endorsed the statements made about the candidate.
Apart from MPs Sarath Fonseka and Party Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, no one had spoken in support of Wickremesinghe or the draft constitution of the proposed alliance.
When the arguments commenced on the contents of the draft constitution, the issue that caught much attention of the UNPers, but was downplayed by the Wickremesinghe loyalists was the statement made by UNP Deputy Leader, Minister Sajith Premadasa.
A majority of the UNP Working Committee members objected to the location of the DNF head office, which according to the draft constitution is to be at 146/20, Sri Sambuddhathva Jayanthi Mawatha (Havelock Road), Colombo 5.
The location was formerly used as a Colombo campaign office of President Maithripala Sirisena when he contested as the common candidate at the last presidential election.
The UNP Working Committee members had said the DNF Secretariat should be located at the UNP headquarters – Sirikotha.
Apart from the issue of the leader of the Leadership Council of the proposed DNF, the other issue that took centre stage was to appointment of the secretary of the alliance.
It was the opinion of a majority of UNP members that the post of general secretary of the alliance should be vested with the UNP.
However, Wickremesinghe had said that he had agreed to Minister Dr. Senaratne being appointed as the DNF General Secretary since he had played a key role in forming the alliance.
Nevertheless, a majority of the Working Committee members have reiterated that the post should be held by a UNPer.
It was Premadasa, who had spoken then, saying he was prepared to take over the role of general secretary of the DNF.
“I’m prepared to take the post of the general secretary of the alliance,” Premadasa has said.
RW’s minority support
In the midst of the objections raised by a majority of UNP Working Committee members, Wickremesinghe had asked those in favour of the formation of a political alliance to raise their hands. All the members had said they were agreeable to forming an alliance.
A majority of the members had then said their issue was with the contents of the draft constitution of the DNF. They had claimed they had no objections to the formation of an alliance, but the draft constitution needed to be amended.
Wickremesinghe had reiterated his call for a vote. A majority of the Working Committee members had called on the party leadership to refrain from dividing the party on this issue.
They continuously called on the party leadership to discuss amendments to the draft constitution as it did not require a vote.
However, 13 UNP MPs had raised their hands and extended their support to the draft constitution.
The 13 parliamentarians were Ravi Karunanayake, Navin Dissanayake, Lakshman Kiriella, John Seneviratne, Sagala Ratnayake, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Vajira Abeywardena, Sarath Fonseka, Tilak Marapana, Sirinal de Mel, K.K. Piyadasa, D.M. Swaminathan, and Kavinda Jayawardena.
Apart from the 13 MPs, members appointed to the Working Committee by Wickremesinghe – Nissanka Nanayakkara, Lasantha Gunawardena, Mahinda Haradas, Jeyaraj Chandrasekera, Shamal Senarath, Sunethra Ranasinghe, Nilame Tennakoon, and Sunil de Silva – had also voted in support of the draft constitution.
Be that as it may, the UNP Leader had then concluded the meeting asking members who had objections and concerns about the draft constitution of the proposed DNF to hand them over to the Party Chairman in writing.
Wickremesinghe had also not given a favourable response to a request by Minister Senasinghe to convene another Working Committee meeting before the formation of the alliance to reach a consensus on the contentious contents of the DNF’s draft constitution.
Minister Navin Dissanayake had then said the proposed alliance would be formed on the 5th, regardless of the objections raised by party members.
Interestingly, out of the 68 Working Committee members, 49 had attended Thursday’s meeting and only 21 members had voted in favour of DNF’s draft constitution.
Undermining the UNP
The UNP MPs had pointed out that the draft constitution of the proposed DNF would undermine the rights of the UNP parliamentary group, especially the party’s Working Committee to decide on the UNP’s candidate at the next presidential election.
Clause 23 (b) of the constitution had pointed out the manner in which nomination of candidates would take place for parliamentary, provincial council, and local government elections.
However, the clause did not refer to the selection of a candidate for the presidential election.
Clause 62 of the proposed constitution stated: “The Leadership Council shall be entitled to take suitable decisions on all matters on which constitution is silent.”
Therefore, the leadership council of the proposed alliance would make the final call on the matter.
The members of the leadership council had been explained in Clause 19.
It stated: “i)There shall be a leadership council consisting of not less than ten (10) members who shall, subject to the provisions of this constitution, enjoy equal status and authority.
“ii) Every founder constituent party of the Front shall be entitled, so long as such party is a constituent of the Front, to nominate one member of the party to the leadership council. Such nomination shall be made by the secretary of the party.
“iii) An individual founding member shall be a member of the leadership council so long as he/she is an individual member of the Front.
“iv) The leadership council may request a constituent party which is not a founder constituent party to nominate a member of such party to be a member of the leadership council. Such a nomination shall be made by the secretary of the party.
“v) A person nominated by a constituent party to the leadership council shall, unless Parliament is dissolved at the time of nomination, be a Member of Parliament.
Clause 20 of the proposed constitution has given decision-making powers to the UNP nominee.
The clause stated: “If the council is unable to reach consensus on any issue, the decision shall be supported by a majority of the members of the council and a majority of the constituent parties represented in the leadership council. The values of the vote of the nominee of the United National Party shall be equal to fifty per centum plus one (50%+1) of the total membership of the leadership council.”
Therefore, Clause 20 of the proposed constitution needs to be read along with Clause 23 (e) and 62.
Accordingly, UNP Leader Wickremesinghe has the power to either nominate himself or a representative of his choice as the presidential candidate and it cannot be challenged by any person.
In such a scenario, the powers currently vested with the UNP’s parliamentary group and the Working Committee to select the party’s presidential candidate with a majority vote will be taken away from the party.
In the event the draft constitution of the DNF is granted approval, the senior members of the UNP, which holds close to 80% of the vote base of the proposed alliance, would lose their democratic right to choose a candidate of their choice from their party.
According to the proposed constitution, electoral organisers of the UNP will be removed and will be replaced by organisers appointed by the proposed alliance.
Clause 16 stated: “An organiser may be appointed to each and every polling division in the country. Where the polling division consists of members of different communities, more than one organiser may be appointed.”
Through the proposed alliance, Wickremesinghe will receive the opportunity of becoming the Leader of the DNF for an indefinite period of time.
Clause 24 stated: “There shall be a leader of the Front. The members of the leadership council shall at its first meeting and whenever a vacancy occurs in the position of leader, select the leader of the Front who shall function as the head of council for a given period decided by the council.”
Clause 26 stated: “(a) The executive committee shall attempt to ensure that all decisions of the committee are by consensus.
“(b) Where it is not possible to reach a unanimous decision, a decision shall be valid only if at least seventy percent (70%) of the members of the committee and a majority of the constituent parties represented in the committee shall agree.
“(c) All constituent parties and individual members of the Front shall be bound by such a decision.”
The UNP will not receive the post of general secretary of the proposed DNF.
According to Clause 26 of the proposed constitution, the leader, general secretary, and treasurer of the proposed alliance are selected according to the 70% consensus of the executive committee and the majority of the constituent parties.
Meanwhile, several Working Committee members have submitted several amendments proposed to be included in the DNF constitution.
Amendments/additions to the proposed constitution of the DNF are as follows:
i. Amendment to Article 33
The general secretary of the Front to be a nominee of the UNP.
ii. Amendment to Article 19(ii)
Every founder constituent party of the front who shall have two or more members represented in Parliament, shall be entitled to nominate one member of such constituent party to the leadership council, as long as such constituent party is a constituent party of the Front. Such nomination shall be made by the general secretary of that constituent party.
iii. Addition of the following to Article 19
The UNP to be entitled to nominate members to the leadership council to make up a numerical majority of members of the leadership council t any given time (e.g. the constituent party nominees number five, then the UNP to be entitled to nominate six members).
This numerical majority of the UNP shall apply even when the leadership council requests nomination of members to the leadership council under Article 19.4
iv. Article 26 is vague and ambiguous (should reflect the view of the majority).
v. Deletion of Articles 16, 17, and 18 as they transgress the functions and powers of the UNP and other constituent parties.
vi. Deletion of Article 21 as it does not reflect a transparent and democratic process in selection. It is also vague and ambiguous (seniority).
vii. Amendment of Article 24
The Leader of the Front shall be a nominee from the UNP. Such a nominee to be nominated and endorsed by the UNP.
viii. Amendment to Article 63
The nominee for the presidential election will not be considered a Casus Omissus and in no way will be dealt as an omission to the constitution.
ix. Amendment to Article 3
The secretariat and/or the registered office of the Front to be “Sirikotha”.
Be that as it may, as Wickremesinghe draws up plans to somehow initiate the political alliance, the SLMC ACMC and TPA were undecided on joining the proposed DNF even by Saturday (3) afternoon.
They feel that the existing chaos and divisions in the UNP would have a detrimental impact on the proposed alliance.
Black Box learnt that leaders of these political parties had urged the UNP leadership to first put its house in order and ensure there’s consensus on all matters related to the formation of the proposed DNF.
Also, they are likely to raise the issue of the candidate the alliance would back at the next presidential election. “We want to field the best candidate who can win at the elections,” a senior member of one of the minority parties told Black Box.