Editorial/Opinion

Govt. wins the battle not the war

Black Box by Capt. Vasabha

There is no such thing as an outright political lie. According to James Cusick of The Independent, instead, there’s distortion, exaggeration, misrepresentation, deception, half-truth, understatement and overstatement.

The art of lying and deception works hand in glove in politics, having been used and debated throughout ancient times and in the contemporary era alike.

Sceptics of democracy argue that deception is understood as a necessary and justifiable part of politics while totalitarians rationalise that people need to sometimes be deceived by an “enlightened ruler/s”.

Some who call themselves realists cite that the circumstances of both national and international geopolitics unequivocally demand deception of the ruled by the rulers while democrats disagree, pointing out that political deception is corrosive to good, democratic governance other than in exceptional circumstances.

Be that as it may, deception has become the norm in Sri Lankan politics.

The best example is the recently defeated No-confidence Motion (NCM) brought against the United National Party (UNP) Government by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) against its miserable failure to prevent the dastardly 21 April Easter Sunday bombings taken up last week.

Early Cabinet meet

The weekly meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers that is usually scheduled every Tuesday morning was not held as usual and instead, an emergency Cabinet meeting was held at 5 p.m. on Sunday (7).

The reason for the Sunday Cabinet meeting was President Maithripala Sirisena’s private visit to London with his family to attend the graduation ceremony of his son, Daham Sirisena.

When the Cabinet convened under the patronage of the President, the number of Cabinet ministers present at the meeting was less than usual. The reasons for the low turnout were attributed to the sudden convening of the meeting and the participation of some ministers at the event organised in Matara to mark 30 years of politics of Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

“I had no intention of convening an emergency Cabinet meeting today. I could have not convened the meeting today, but I did so on the request of the Cabinet,” the President has said at the outset of the meeting.

The issue related to the supplying of electricity to the Kuragala Temple was taken up at the meeting.

Power and Energy Minister Ravi Karunanayake has said that the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) is unable to supply electricity due to an issue with the Archaeological Department. The President has inquired if the matter was discussed with subject Minister Sajith Premadasa.

Karunanayake has responded that there was no opportunity to do so since Premadasa had not attended Cabinet meetings for three weeks.

Ministers Thalatha Atukorale and Champika Ranawaka have also discussed the issue and have asked that steps be taken to hold a face-to-face meeting with the CEB and archaeology officials to resolve the matter since it is being discussed heavily on social media.

The President has then in a lighter vein asked Karunanayake: “Haven’t both your friends gone to Matara?” adding “wonder whether Malik (Samarawickrama) has also gone to Matara”. Minister Samarawickrama has immediately responded saying he was present at the meeting.

The President has then jokingly said: “You stayed back after sending the others, didn’t you?”

Comeback

Meanwhile, the Muslim lawmakers who resigned en masse on 3 June citing the demonising of the Muslim community following the Easter Sunday bombings have decided to re-accept their portfolios and attend the next Cabinet meeting.

On 19 June, Kabir Hashim and Abdul Haleem were sworn in as ministers.

During a meeting held in Parliament last Thursday (11) under the leadership of MP A.H.M. Fowzie, the other Muslim MPs who previously held portfolios in the Government decided that they would accept their former portfolios now that no evidence had been found against any of the MPs, intelligence arms assured the Speaker that none of the MPs were directly or indirectly implicated in the attacks, and since the NCM presented in connection with the bombings too had been defeated.

Earlier, at a meeting with Muslim lawmakers last Tuesday (9), President Sirisena had earnestly requested the former ministers and deputy ministers to come back once the JVP’s NCM was defeated and assured that the harassment faced by the Muslim community will be put to a stop forthwith.

It is learnt that President Sirisena had contacted Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara thera of Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) fame, charging that the presidential pardon had backfired on him due to the conduct of the firebrand monk.

As such, it is learnt that Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Leader Rauff Hakeem, All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) Leader Rishad Bathiudeen, Faizal Cassim, H.M.M. Harees, Ameer Ali, Ali Zahir Moulana, and Abdulla Mahroof will accept their previous portfolios in the near future once President Sirisena returned from the UK.

However, yesterday, UNP backbench MP Hesha Vithanage told the media that the UNP backbenchers were opposed to moves to re-appoint Bathiudeen to his former portfolio.

The MP has said that Bathiudeen should not be re-appointed as a Minister until he is cleared of all allegations levelled against him in relation to the Easter Sunday attacks.

Mangala-Ravi clash

A clash similar to that of the titans is now in the making between Ministers Samaraweera and Karunanayake.

The clash erupted during last week’s group meeting of the United National Front (UNF).

During the meeting, the issue of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation’s (CPC) decision to stop its fuel supplies to the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) had come up.

Karunanayake had immediately blamed Samaraweera saying it was the fault of the Finance Ministry as the necessary funds had not been released to the CEB.

Samaraweera had responded by saying that there was no truth in the allegation since the Finance Ministry has met all its financial obligations to state institutions.

“If the Finance Ministry starts to pump additional funds to loss-making institutions, the country would be bankrupt,” the Finance Minister had charged.
Karunanayake had retorted: “Give me the Ministry and I will show how it’s done.”

Samaraweera had lost his cool at the time and hit back at Karunanayake stating: “I have kept silent all this while since I didn’t want any disharmony in government ranks. But if I’m pushed, I will reveal all that has been happening at the Finance Ministry before I took over.”

Samaraweera had gone on to say that the Finance Ministry under its Gamperaliya programme was carrying out development work covering every electorate. “Name one such national programme that you launched when you were the minister in charge,” he had challenged.

It was MP Bathiudeen who had to intervene and ask Samaraweera to calm down and not to lose his cool.

No faith to faith

Following the two-day debate on Thursday (11) evening, a total of 119 UNP lawmakers including Muslim MPs, who had earlier resigned from all government portfolios, along with opposition Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) voted against the NCM.

Ninety two MPs from the “Joint Opposition” (JO) backing and Leader of Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa along with President Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which pulled out of from the Coalition Government in October 2018, along with the JVP, voted in favour of the NCM. The UNP had once again braved another NCM attempt.

Double standards

In the aftermath of the sordid defeat of the trust vote, JVP Leader MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake charged that the JO failed to muster its rank and file to win the NCM and had an eleventh hour secret meeting with the UNP leadership.

Although Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa at the outset announced its support, it is learnt that 97 out of 118 Opposition lawmakers backed Rajapaksa but 11 MPs were left out of the process with the concurrence of Rajapaksa. In fact, an infuriated Dissanayake challenged both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe to explain what was discussed during the secret meeting held between them on the second floor of the parliamentary complex between 12.10 p.m. and 12.30 p.m. when the trust vote debate was going on.

MPs Udaya Prabath Gammanpila, N.C. Muthukumrana, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, Ashoka Priyantha, Dunesh Gankanda, S.B. Dissanayake, S.B. Navinna, Duminda Dissanayake, Mahinda Samarasinghe, and Mohan Lal Grero failed to be present at the time of voting.

“Isn’t there any responsibility on Rajapaksa to ensure their presence?” asked the furious Comrade.

It was also claimed that Rajapaksa was possibly the only Opposition Leader in the world who did not speak on behalf of a NCM against the Government of the day.

In fact, the rank and file of the JO and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) are bemused by the conduct of Rajapaksa in this trust vote.
“It is clear as to who is having deals with whom.”

Barrage against TNA

It was also charged the 15-member strong Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which was the stalemate-breaker in the vote, had not decided on the motion even at 4.30 p.m. on the day of voting. It is now learnt that during a meeting between Wickremesinghe and the TNA leadership, it was suggested that a new Tamil divisional secretariat (DS) would be created for Kalmunai in return for voting against the NCM.

However, the TNA leaders have retorted saying that the numerous UNP promises had been merely limited to words and as such, this time, they would not take Wickremesinghe’s word for it. In order to create a new DS division, a new cadre has to be allocated for which the Public Management Department usually takes a time span of three to four months.

As such, Finance Minister Samaraweera made the order to allocate a cadre of 150 personnel and an approval letter granting authorisation for the same was issued to the TNA leadership by 4.30 p.m. Only after the receipt of the letter did the TNA hierarchy decide to vote against the NCM.

The JVP Leader, commenting on the move, said it had serious concerns about the TNA’s decision for bringing down a national issue to resolve a regional issue like that of the Kalmunai DS.

However, numerous other factions of the Opposition had been criticising the JVP for strengthening the Government by presenting this NCM, charging that the sole purpose of the JVP was to scuttle the other NCM that had been submitted against then Minister Bathiudeen over the 21 April Bloody Easter bombings (which lapsed after the resignation of the Minister).

In fact, at the very outset, some JO MPs such as Wimal Weerawansa said that at least six lawmakers from the JO would even abstain from voting in the NCM against the UNP administration if the government MPs were willing to vote against Bathiudeen.

MPs such as Mahindananda Aluthgamage charged that the JVP, despite being the initiator, was playing a double game and that it had no real interest in winning the NCM because it hadn’t even held meetings with any other party. Rajapaksa however had conducted “several” meetings with “other” parties although the parties were not disclosed. The real motive of the JVP was to get its NCM eventually defeated, it was claimed.

JO MP Shehan Semasinghe too claimed that the JVP wilfully did not exert pressure on the TNA and Catholic MPs of the UNP who were disgruntled with their Government to vote in favour of the NCM.

United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MP Dilan Perera explained that the five UNP defectors did not vote as voting against the UNP would create a problem for their party membership, eventually making them liable even for expulsion.

PM before PSC

In the aftermath of the vote, several UNP strongmen including Minister P. Harrison were seen expressing confidence that the JVP’s trust vote had in fact reinforced the UNP Government.

Meanwhile, the UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe issued an address to the nation/special message announcing that his Government successfully defeated another threat against the administration.

Referring to the Parliamentary select Committee (PSC) into the Easter Sunday attacks, Wickremesinghe said that he had been summoned before the PSC and in order to prevent any future attack occurring, he would testify before the PSC in the interest of the country and the nation.

He did not hesitate to call any failure to testify before the PSC as a “treacherous” and “treasonous” act.

He added that his government was hoping to enact several laws in order to counter global terrorism and hoped to co-operate with international intelligence establishments.

Dilemma

The Supreme Court took up the12 fundamental rights petitions against former Defence Secretary and former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundara this week. Attorney General Dappula de Livera PC informed the court that the AG would not be representing the two respondents.

The AG further informed the seven-member bench comprising Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya and Justices Buwaneka Aluvihare, Sisira de Abrew, Priyantha Jayawardene, L.T.B. Dehideniya, Murdu Fernando, and Prasanna Jayawardene, that he would be appearing for respondents AG and Deputy Inspector General of Police B. Dissanayake.

The AG also brought to the notice of the court that the majority of the petitions requested that criminal investigations be commenced against the respondents, and that relief prayed for was already in the process of being implemented by Police. The bench ordered objections to be filed before Thursday (18) and adjourned the case till 25 and 26 July.

Tamil political coalition

It is now learnt that three Tamil political parties, namely Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) led by Arumugam Thondaman, Democratic People’s Party led by Mano Ganesan, and Democratic Freedom Fighters’ Party will form a coalition to face upcoming polls and to represent the grievances of the Tamil people in the South with one voice.

It is now evident that all political forces are engaged in forming alliances in preparation to the key hustings that are forthcoming, be it presidential or general.
However, the TNA is faced with a difficult situation of holding on to its political sway given the political posturing of former Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran.

The next few weeks will bring out more alliances that are in the making, especially in relation to the minority communities.

Capital punishment

Despite several UNP strongmen expressing different views over the death penalty, UNP MP Bandu Lal Bandarigoda presented a private member’s bill for the abolition of the capital punishment. Section 2 of the Bill to Abolish the Capital Punishment stipulates that the Act will revise the death penalty stated in any act to life imprisonment.

Under Section 3, all persons given death sentences would be imprisoned for life.

Bandarigoda is of the view of that death row inmates cannot be classified or discriminated as drug offenders, murderers, or any other convicts, adding that he considered even the hanging of one innocent person as a grave travesty and miscarriage of justice.

The MP expressed hopes of mustering the support of other parties and enacting the bill within a short time span, adding that capital punishment was against the tenets of Buddhism.

However, several other MPs such as Minister Ajith P. Perera said that as this was a private members bill, the contents represented the personal views of the MP and not the view of the party, adding that neither the UNP Working Committee nor the Parliamentary Group of the party had taken a decision on this matter.

Party Leader Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said that despite criticism, the inaugural Executive President J.R. Jayewardene took a firm decision of not signing the warrant for carrying out the death sentence which was followed by his successors Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Although he claimed that the death sentence was not in conformity of the policies of the UNP, he stopped short of mentioning that the father of Premadasa Jr., late President Ranasinghe Premadasa, too did not carry out the capital punishment.

Be that as it may, Presidential hopeful UNP Deputy Leader Minister Sajith Premadasa, going against his Party Leader, recently expressed his support for the capital punishment in order to curb the drug menace.

Delivering a firebrand speech, Premadasa claimed that although the masterminds of the drug mafia of the country were sentenced to death, they were carrying out operations from behind bars. He said that he saw no reason in awarding capital punishment if there was ample evidence and where the correct judiciary process had been followed. He questioned the opponents of the capital punishment as to how they were hoping to save 4.4 million school children from the scourge of drugs.

Death threats

Be that as it may, whilst the debate over capital punishment rages on and President Sirisena vowed to curb the drug menace by hanging drug offenders, SLPP MP Roshan Ranasinghe told Parliament that lawmakers now not only had to fear terrorists and the underworld but also siblings of VVIPs.

He alleged that he is being continuously harassed by close confidantes of the incumbent President, alleging that the Police including the Headquarters Inspector in charge of the Polonnaruwa Police was not under the control of the IGP and listened only to the family of the President.

He charged that Dudley Sirisena had not once but thrice threatened him with death. When MP Ranasinghe had complained to the Police Criminal Investigations Department (CID), it had replied saying the issue was not pertinent to the CID.

“If death threats against a Member of Parliament are irrelevant to the CID, what of the security of the general public?” queried the lawmaker, appealing to the House to not allow the abuse of presidential powers to go unchecked. The Chair announced that this was a privilege issue and it would be brought to the notice of the Speaker.

MP Sydney Jayarathne from Polonnaruwa confirmed that he too was getting death threats from the Sirisena family whilst firebrand Colombo District MP Hirunika Premachandra said that there were moves from the same alleged culprits to silence her criticism against the President Sirisena. State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene however, assured the MP that if all relevant details are given, he would ensure a fair probe into the lawmaker’s grievances.