Editorial/Opinion

MS asked to consider early prez polls

Political circles were abuzz last week with talks of an early presidential election creating ripples across all political parties. It is learnt that fearing a collapse of talks for a grand alliance between the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), President Maithripala Sirisena is likely advised by his legal luminaries to declare an early presidential election.
The purpose is to catch both the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) off guard and thereby gaining a supposed upper hand. It is now clear that Sirisena, after being disgruntled and distraught with the UNP, has turned towards an alliance with former President and Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, which the former believes would help him secure his much needed legitimacy as the Leader of the SLFP.

Killing two birds

As the age-old adage goes, the SLFP leadership is hell-bent on killing two birds with one stone (i.e. punishing both the UNP and SLPP for not offering him the presidential candidacy), and is said to be extremely pleased of both leaders’ (i.e. Rajapaksa and UNP Leader Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe) supposed stance of consenting with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) for the latter’s 20th Amendment and the abolition of executive presidency.
As per a verdict delivered by the Supreme Court, Article 31(3) stipulates that the poll for the election of the president shall be taken not less than one month and not more than two months before the expiration of the term of the president in office. As such, incumbent President Sirisena’s tenure ends on 8 January 2020 and hence the poll should be held between 8 November and 8 December the latest.
However, the Third Amendment introduced by inaugural Executive President J.R. Jayewardene and enacted by Parliament on 27 August 1982, enable the President to seek re-election after a lapse of four years.
Although the historic 19th Amendment introduced by Sirisena and the Wickremesinghe-led United National Front (UNF) reduced the presidential term from six years to five with the restoration of the two-term limit, it retained provisions that enabled the sitting president to seek re-election in four years in the first term.
As per Article 3A(a)(i) notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the preceding provisions of this chapter, the president may, at any time after the expiration of four years from the commencement of his first term of office, by proclamation, declare his intention of appealing to the people for a mandate to hold office, by election, for a further term.
In fact, although Sirisena, in collusion with Rajapaksa, issued a proclamation dissolving the Parliament and declaring a general election during the 51-day illegal “usurper” Government, the Supreme Court held that Sirisena’s actions were null and void and in want of law, post -19th Amendment.
However, it is known that whilst SLPP-SLFP favoured a general election, Wickremesinghe thought that a presidential election would serve the UNP best.

20A campaign

The JVP continued its crusade to muster the support of other parties for its 20th Amendment with none other than the Grand Ole Party that introduced the infamous executive presidential system to Sri Lanka – the UNP.
Last week, the country’s one-time third force met with UNP Leader Premier Wickremesinghe and Minister Malik Samarawickrama. Although Party Chairman Minister Kabir Hashim was to take part in the deliberations, he was unable to do so as he had to attend a funeral.
The JVP passionately tried to convince the UNP leadership in order to get the country’s single biggest party to support the 20th Amendment. The UNP duo had too conveyed their consent, stating that at its Party Confab, the UNP had in fact taken a policy decision to abolish the executive presidency as a party. However, the party had to discuss with the minority stakeholders in its coalition – the United National Front (UNF) – in the future, in order to take a broad decision, and promised the JVP leadership that it would inform them of the stance of the UNF at a forthcoming meeting.
“We believe our discussions were fruitful. We met former President Mahinda Rajapaksa from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leadership in the preceding week. Although the former said that it had concerns over electoral systems and the 13th Amendment, which it considered to be directly linked, and should also be dealt with right away. All in all, we understand that the outcome has been positive and as such, we believe that we can muster support for a special (i.e. two-thirds) majority. In the future, we hope to meet with the SLFP, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), and Upcountry People’s Front (UPF),” JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said after the meeting.
Responding to a query on whether the party would be prepared for a possible presidential poll, Herath said the following: “Almost all parties have agreed in principle and so we are optimistic. The final decision would be known within the next two to three weeks. However, if our first step fails, we will be ready to take our second,” possibly implying that the party has contingency plans in the event a presidential election was declared.

Silent kickoff

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister will kick off his 70th birthday celebrations today in the backyard of Rajapaksa, with the ceremonial laying of the foundation stone for the much-needed $ 3.85 billion oil refinery complex at the Mirijjawila Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in Hambantota.
This, which is said to be a “silent kickoff” of somewhat his presidential election campaign, had hiccups from the very inception. This project, which amounts to a staggering Rs. 693 billion, is the single largest project ever to be commissioned by Sri Lanka, exceeding the magnitude of total FDIs (Foreign Direct Investments) in 2017 and also approximately 4.42% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Just like in the Volkswagen factory of Kuliyapitiya fame, although the Government announced the joint venture project with 70% investment from Singapore-based Silver Park International (Pvt.) Ltd. and a 30% investment from Oman’s Ministry of Oil and Gas, in less than 24 hours, the Omani Government denied being part of the refinery project. With the Undersecretary of Oman’s Ministry of Oil and Gas Salim al-Aufi scoffing at the Lankan announcement, saying that “talks concerning the project that involved Oman…were at an early stage”, it was more or less Volkswagen Episode II for the UNP Government.
However, the Government has been able to save face at the 11th hour with the Omani Government agreeing to partner the project and Omani Minister of Oil and Gas Mohammed bin Hamad Al Rumhy arriving in Sri Lanka to attend the inauguration. It is further learnt that Minister Al Rumhy will have discussions with the Premier and Ministers Malik Samarawickrama, Kabir Hashim, and Rishad Bathiudeen.
Upon completion by end 2022, the refinery will have a capacity to process 200,000 barrels of crude oil per day (BPD), four times the capacity of the Sapugaskanda refinery and more than double Sri Lanka’s total petroleum requirement, brining export revenue in excess of $ 7 billion.

SLFP-SLPP consensus

Be that as it may, collation talks between SLFP and SLPP continued last Thursday with both parties agreeing on a preamble and consenting to a 20-point memorandum including matters on economic reforms, education, social welfare, etc.
The draft document is to now be presented by the two committees to their respective parties for approval. The policy document will be validated only after both parties approve it.
However, in a bid to ensure the working arrangement of an alliance at ground level, it is learnt that the SLFP local government representatives would withdraw extending support to the UNP and thereby jointly muster the authority of nearly 21 local government bodies in the next few weeks.
The proposal was put forward by the SLPP.
The chair of 13 out of the 21 is held by the UNP whilst the vice chair positions are held by the UPFA/SLFP. In the remaining eight, the chair positions are held by the UPFA/SLFP whilst the vice chair positions are held by the UNP. Matale and Polonnaruwa Municipal Councils, Chilaw and Balangoda Urban Councils, Ududumbara, Abanganga Korale, Ukuwela, Horowpathana, Welikanda, Mahiayanaganaya, Soranatota, Kandaketiya, Ella, Welimada, Aranayake, Manthai East, Dimbualagala, Hingurakgoda, Thirappane, Puttlam, and Mawanella Pradeshiya Sabhas (PS) are to see the heads roll in favour of the SLPP-SLFP alliance in the near future.
The SLFP-SLPP talks are to continue talks again on 10 April. As part of the deal, the SLFP along with the SLPP will attempt to defeat the Budget at its final reading scheduled for 5 April.

Double standards

Party leaders of the partners of the “Joint Opposition” (JO) such as Prof. G.L. Peiris (SLPP), Wimal Weerawansa (National Freedom Front), Dinesh Gunawardene (Mahajana Eksath Peramuna), and Raja Kollure (Communist Party of Sri Lanka) met President Sirisena last week in order to inquire about his stance over Sri Lanka’s cosponsored Resolution at the 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) held in Geneva.
Prof. Peiris said that according to him, since the US, which cosponsored the Resolution on Sri Lanka back in 2015, had already left the UNHRC, it was high time for Sri Lanka to announced withdrawal from its cosponsorship.
It is learnt that the “JO” leaders had been highly critical of the UNP Government’s keenness to cosponsor the Resolution, this time presented by the UK. In addition, it is learnt that many had expressed displeasure over the double standards of the US over good governance and rule of law, with US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s announcement to ban International Criminal Court (ICC) personnel involved in potential investigations of the US and its allies’ human rights violations in Israel and Afghanistan.
Criticising the decision to impose visa bans on ICC staff, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said such moves will imperil accountability for grave international crimes.
“The US action appears to have been spurred by a possible ICC investigation in Afghanistan that could examine the conduct of US personnel and a possible investigation in Palestine that would likely include the conduct of Israeli officials. ICC judges will determine whether an Afghanistan investigation will be opened. The ICC prosecutor will decide on whether to proceed with a Palestine investigation.”
“The US decision to put visa bans on ICC staff is an outrageous effort to bully the court and deter scrutiny of US conduct,” said HRW International Justice Director Richard Dicker. “ICC member countries should publicly make clear that they will remain undaunted in their support for the ICC and will not tolerate US obstruction.”
The ICC is the permanent international court in The Hague with a mandate to try those responsible for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression. The international community created the ICC to fight impunity for these crimes, following the horrors of genocide in the mid-1990s in Rwanda and in the former Yugoslavia. The ICC is a court of last resort and will only open investigations if national authorities are unwilling or unable to conduct genuine national proceedings in these cases.
The US, which is not a party to the court’s Rome Statute, objects to the ICC’s jurisdiction over nationals of non-member countries, without a referral to the court by the United Nations Security Council. Afghanistan, however, is an ICC member country, giving the ICC authority to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by their nationals or by anyone on Afghan territory.
The court’s authority is nothing unusual. The US and other citizens who commit crimes abroad are already subject to the jurisdiction of foreign courts. Countries that ratify the Rome Statute are simply delegating their authority to prosecute certain grave crimes committed on their territory to an international court.
Since beginning operations in 2003, the ICC has opened investigations in 10 countries, including Darfur in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and Georgia. In addition to Palestine, its prosecutor is considering whether investigations are warranted in another nine situations, including in the Philippines, in Ukraine, and the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh.

Wilpattu debacle

The heated debate over the alleged deforestation of the Wilpattu Buffer Zone came into limelight again. However, in an abode where the irrational takes priority over everything, people are regrettably divided over racist lines.
However, it is commendable that an islandwide youth organisation – Surakimu Sri Lanka Jathika Viyaparaya (National Movement to Protect Sri Lanka) – setting aside barriers of caste and creed, held its inaugural meeting in Rajagiriya to build a people’s wall of over one million citizens yesterday under the chair of the charismatic Ven. Pahiyangala Anandasagara Thera.
The movement, slated to become a force to be reckoned with, is led by religious leaders including moulavis mustering the support of thousands of environmentalists, lawyers, academics, university and school students, artistes, and civil society activists, and is said to organise a fact-finding mission to Wilpattu National Park and its buffer zones on 31 March.
Meanwhile, a Defence Ministry statement released last Friday (22) said that, after reviewing 178 air surveillance missions conducted by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF), including the last one concluded on 22 March, there was no clearing of any new land whatsoever other than what had been lawfully handed over in 2015 to the people of the villages of Marichchikaddi, Kalaru, and Mullikulam belonging to the Musali Pradeshiya Sabha located north of Wipattu National Park.