Editorial/Opinion

The political pot boils

The black box by Capt. Vasabha

“Small differences in a system of great power can have enormous consequences” – Noam Chomsky.

The local political stage is now a closely watched scene with great expectations on the candidates at the next presidential election.

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) led by former President and incumbent Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa has won the race of naming presidential candidates with the announcement of its candidate.

Rajapaksa last Sunday (11) announced the SLPP’s presidential candidate, former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at the party’s convention. Since the announcement last Sunday, Gotabaya is currently engaged in visiting places of religious worship and meeting with religious leaders along with well wishers in the relevant areas.

While Gotabaya has commenced his presidential bid, the United National Party (UNP) and its membership are torn between launching various attack campaigns on the SLPP presidential hopeful and fighting with their own party leadership on the delay in finalising the UNP’s presidential candidate.

The leaders of the UNP and its alliance partners last week agreed to work out a criterion for the selection of the party’s presidential candidate. The decision was reached at a special meeting led by UNP Leader Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, UNP Deputy Leader Minister Sajith Premadasa, and Ministers Ravi Karunanayake, Rauff Hakeem, Mano Ganesan, Navin Dissanayake, and Akila Viraj Kariyawasam.

Leaders of the United National Front (UNF) meanwhile are to finalise the date to sign the agreement to form the proposed political alliance – the Democratic National Font (DNF).

The UNF leaders met yesterday (17) for a decisive meeting on the proposed political alliance and its presidential candidate.

Yesterday’s meeting was fixed by the UNF leaders during a meeting last Tuesday (13), where it was decided that the existing stalemate needs to be broken and arrangements should be made to form the DNF and move forward with the presidential election campaign.

Accordingly, a committee comprising all constituent parties of the UNF including the chief architect of the proposed political alliance, Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, was appointed to finalise the arrangements for the alliance.

The UNF leaders have discussed the possibility of naming the presidential candidate on the same day the parties sign the agreement to form the proposed new alliance.

The UNF leaders earlier called on the UNP leadership to first resolve its internal squabbles and finalise the party’s presidential candidate before moving towards forming the proposed political alliance.

Yesterday’s meeting at Dr. Senaratne’s residence was attended by Ministers Kabir Hashim, Navin Dissanayake, Mangala Samaraweera, Karunanayake, Kariyawasam, Ganesan, and Hakeem. Minister Rishad Bathiudeen had not attended the meeting since he had to attend the funeral of a relative in Puttalam last morning.

The meeting was focused on the amendments proposed by the UNP to the draft constitution of the DNF. All members who attended the meeting had reached a consensus on the proposed amendments.

There were five key amendments that were agreed upon. They are as follows:

1. The alliance office will be located at an independent venue (not the UNP headquarters Sirikotha or the proposed location at Havelock Road).

2. The alliance secretary is to be nominated by the UNP.

3. Founder members of the alliance are to be included in the Leadership Council.

4. A political party with even one parliamentarian can join the alliance and be represented in the Leadership Council.

5. There will be no impact on UNP organisers since there will be separate alliance organisers appointed to each electorate.

After reaching a consensus on these matters, the next topic was to discuss the official formation of the DNF.

It was decided by the UNF leaders to form the DNF before the end of this month and to hold a rally at Galle Face Green where the alliance would also announce its presidential candidate.

During yesterday’s meeting, the UNP leaders had taken up the topic of the presidential candidate and the alliance stance on it. Dr. Senaratne had immediately responded by saying that the UNP had clearly stated that the candidate should be decided by the party. Hence, the UNP should first decide on its candidate and put it forward to the DNF to be ratified.

The UNP leaders have agreed that the candidate would be presented to the alliance to be ratified.

The meeting ended later that afternoon with the final decision being to form the proposed DNF before the end of the month.

However, during the discussion on the next presidential candidate, the UNF leaders have pointed out to the UNP seniors at the meeting that while there’s demand for Premadasa among the rank and file of the UNP, the party should not forget the bloc vote of the minority communities. “The UNP should not forget the importance of the minority vote at the polls,” a senior UNF minister said.

Delaying tactic

Meanwhile, the letter that was being signed by UNP MPs calling on the party leadership to immediately convene a joint meeting of the UNP’s Working Committee and parliamentary group to decide on the party’s presidential candidate is yet to be handed over to Wickremesinghe.

As of yesterday (17) evening, the letter that had been signed by over 50 UNP MPs was not delivered to the party leadership.

The Black Box learnt that the letter was handed over to UNP Chairman Minister Hashim by the UNP MPs, but Hashim is still trying to secure an appointment from Wickremesinghe for a meeting.

A senior UNP member told The Black Box that Hashim has been requesting for an appointment with Wickremesinghe for two days and the latter was avoiding Hashim in order to refrain from accepting the letter signed by two-thirds of the party’s parliamentary group.

However, a group of UNP parliamentarians have called on Hashim to deliver the letter to Wickremesinghe somehow as it was of utmost importance to convene the joint meeting to finalise the UNP’s presidential candidate.

Sajith goes public

Be that as it may, the Premadasa camp has decided to face the polls either way and a message was posted on Premadasa’s official Twitter account last Thursday that he will contest at the next presidential poll.

“I will definitely contest at the forthcoming presidential election,” Premadasa’s Twitter post read.

Furthermore, addressing a ceremony in Lunugamvehera, Premadasa said that he would openly declare his candidature for the next presidential election in the near future.

Going a step further, he hurled a few slurs at the SLPP presidential hopeful, saying that the public will have the option of choosing whether he will return home by bus or in a white van in November.

All this comes hot on the heels of the UNP’s Badulla rally last Monday (12) that was organised by UNP Minister Harin Fernando where Premadasa staked his claim for candidacy in public for the first time.

“We want to bring forward the younger generation. We have to sweep out old ideas and give the youth its place. To develop as a nation, we have to give the first place to innovation, new ideas, and technology. We have to go forward with the world, using technology. Why can’t we also have a Silicon Valley in Sri Lanka?” questioned the presidential hopeful.

Premadasa further stated: “We have to take this country forward by making it a meritocracy, where persons with skills and knowledge will be given their place. If a country is to go forward, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have to be supported with targeted assistance. SMEs are the engine of growth.

“Ensuring national security requires a broad approach. The military and intelligence have to be strengthened, but more needs to be done. When the economy weakens, it undermines national security. When social conflicts are created, it deals a death blow to national security. When a country goes forward, everyone should benefit. There is a big tax burden on the poor and the middle class,” he added.

Premadasa is to attend another similar public rally in Matara this Friday (23).

The Matara rally is being organised by Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera and is to be held at the Sanath Jayasuriya Ground. Like in Badulla, the rally is to be attended by senior UNP leaders.

The UNP supporters at the grassroots level are on a high with Premadasa asserting himself as the party’s candidate at the polls. Therefore, a Premadasa candidacy would result in getting the UNP vote base to cast its vote at the presidential elections.

Nevertheless, the support of the minority political parties, especially the Tamil political parties, would play a crucial role in deciding the victor at the next presidential election given the split that would take place in the Sinhala-Buddhist majority vote.

Tamils in a dilemma

A look at the minority political parties would show the apprehensions of the Tamil polity in the face of the presidential election.

However, almost every Tamil political force is unanimous in their stance that they would “wait and see” what unfolds in the near future with regard to the main contenders at the next presidential election.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Central Committee (CC) that met a few weeks back decided to wait and see who the candidates are for the presidential election.

“We will wait until the candidates are announced and they present their policies before deciding on who we would back,” a senior TNA politician told The Black Box.

Once the candidates release their policy frameworks to the public, the TNA would meet with each of the key contenders before making a final call.

However, the TNA is expected to visit India for discussions on the political situation in Sri Lanka by the end of the month as soon as they receive an appointment from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Meanwhile, former Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran also says that the Tamil political parties would decide on their stance at the next presidential election after the main candidates release their policy frameworks.

Wigneswaran observed that his political party would not field a candidate at the election but look at extending support to one of the main runners at the polls.

According to him, the support of the Tamil political forces aligned with him would be extended to the candidate who is able to provide a permanent solution to the Tamil issue.

The Black Box learnt that the Tamil politicians were facing a dilemma since the UNP’s possible candidates – Wickremesinghe and Premadasa – had not been able to impress the minorities.

A senior Tamil politician told The Black Box that the Tamil community does not know Premadasa while his policies on minority communities were not clear. On the other hand, Wickremesinghe’s policies were known, but he had failed to deliver.

As for the SLPP’s Gotabaya, the Tamil community’s experience with him had not been so good in the past, but his policies would have to be analysed in the next few months.

Gota unveiled

However, as of today, the country’s one presidential candidate Gotabaya is currently engaged in visiting many areas in the country.

Yesterday (17), he attended a meeting in Matara organised by MP Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena and another in Galle organised by MP Chandima Weerakkody.

Making his maiden political speech at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium last week, Gotabaya said: “I appreciate this opportunity to lead the Sri Lankan people and bring peace, happiness, and prosperity to the motherland. I have never hesitated to fulfil any of the responsibilities entrusted to me.

“In my 20 years of military service and nearly 10 years as a public officer, I have successfully fulfilled all my responsibilities. I have always tried to go beyond the limits when it came to doing my duty,” he said.

“I did not allow any external force to interfere with my duty to the country, then. I have never bowed to anyone who opposes my country. I will not allow anyone to touch the sovereignty of my motherland in the future,” he further noted.

“The first task of our government is to ensure full security in the country. I am confident that we can make this island the safest country in the world again. I accept responsibility to ensure the safety of you and your children. Buddhist philosophy has taught us to respect all religions. With a written history of more than 2,500 years, we have people of different races and religions. We are a nation that has always lived in harmony with one another’s religious beliefs and respected one another’s cultural identities. That unity must be our strength. I will ensure that anyone who was born in this motherland will be able to live in a safe and secure environment. I will never allow extremist terrorism. We are also aware of the specific aspirations of the people in the North. Our government will certainly solve their problems,” Gotabaya pledged.

“Our aim is to build a productive citizen, a happy family, a disciplined society, and a prosperous nation. Every citizen should have economic stability, equal opportunity for development, and the right to a life of dignity. We have introduced a people-centric economic policy which will create the environment needed for this. Human resource development is one of the primary responsibilities of our future government.

“Our values and culture, local thinking, and the sovereignty of the nation are very important to us. We are ready to establish friendships with every country. But we are not prepared to cede our sovereignty to any country. Therefore, in diplomatic relations, we will restore a dignified administration that will not bow down to any foreign country, will always protect the sovereignty of the country, treat it with equality with any country, and protect its dignity and respect,” he noted.

He summed up the importance of the next presidential election, saying: “The upcoming presidential election is decisive for the country. It is an election that will solve the future of the country. Therefore, I call upon all patriotic people of all ethnic groups – Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, and Malay – to join hands for the future of our children at this moment.”

Meeting the SLFP

Meanwhile, The Black Box learnt that Gotabaya had earlier this month held a secret discussion with President Maithripala Sirisena. The discussion had taken place after Sirisena’s meeting with Opposition Leader Rajapaksa on 5 August and before the SLPP convention on 11 August.

Details of the discussion however are not yet known and both individuals have kept the particulars a closely guarded secret.

The SLPP presidential candidate is also expected to hold a discussion this week with the SLFP to explore the possibility of forming a political alliance for the presidential elections.

It is likely to be an extension of the discussion that was held between the SLFP and SLPP to form a political alliance that is currently on hold pending a final decision of the two party leaders – President Sirisena and Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa.

However, the three-member SLFP committee – MPs Dayasiri Jayasekara and Mahinda Amaraweera and former Party Secretary Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa – that held discussions with the SLPP are believed to participate in the discussion with the SLPP presidential candidate. The President is also expected to include senior SLFPer MP Nimal Siripala de Silva and several others at this meeting.

Sirisena has however, given a positive response to SLPP Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa during a recent closed-door meeting between the two.

The SLFP meanwhile, is expected to announce a set of policies the party would push for at the next presidential election.

Party Secretary MP Jayasekara continued to maintain that the SLFP should field a candidate at the next presidential election in order to ensure the dissolution of the party. Sirisena meanwhile, remained tight-lipped and had adopted a “wait and see” attitude much to the chagrin of the SLFP membership.

MS’ last straw

The Black Box continuously reported that President Sirisena, who has been relatively silent during the past few days, was looking for an opportunity to hold provincial council (PC) polls before the presidential elections scheduled between 15 November and 7 December.

It is in this backdrop that he sought the opinion of the Supreme Court on the legality and procedure of holding PC elections without a delimitation report, which is to be taken up this Friday (23).

The President sought a determination on whether the PC polls could be conducted in line with the previous proportional representation (PR) system, which existed before the enactment of the Provincial Councils (Amendment) Act in 2017, which introduced a hybrid of the PR and first-past-the-post systems. The Supreme Court is expected to deliver its opinion to the President before 30 August.

The President, in terms of Article 129 (1) of the Constitution, had referred to the Supreme Court the following questions for its consideration:

(a) In view of the review committee failing to submit its report to me in accordance with sub sections (13) and (14) of Section 3A of the Provincial Councils Elections Act No. 2 of 1988 as amended by Act No. 17 of 2017, (I query) whether, I, as President, can by proclamation forthwith publish the new number of electorates, (and) the boundaries and names assigned to each electorate so created in terms of the report of the Delimitation Committee submitted to the Minster assigned the subject of Provincial Councils?

(b) Whether the provincial council elections can be held under the Provincial Councils Elections Act No. 2 of 1988 as amended by Act No. 17 of 2017, once the proclamation referred in (a) above is published?

(c) Whether in the absence of such inability to hold such provincial council elections in terms of the present law, the said provincial council elections can be held under the law that was in force prior to the enactment of the Provincial Councils Elections (Amendment) Act No. 17 of 2017 in view of Section 6(2) of the Interpretation Ordinance?

Section 6(2) of the Interpretation Ordinance stipulates that “whenever any written law repeals in whole or part a former written law and substitutes therefore some new provision, such repeal shall not take effect until such substituted provision comes into operation”.

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• RW avoids Kabir to refrain from accepting UNP MPs’ letter

• Tamil parties in dilemma, decision after considering all candidates

• Consensus among UNF leaders on amendments to DNF Constitution