Opposition invited for ‘ethnic’ talks after Budget vote

  • President’s invitation leads to MPs questioning each other
  • JVP tells Ranil to ask SLPP stance first and not to mislead people again  

BY Buddhika Samaraweera

President Ranil Wickremesinghe invited Opposition parties to an all-party discussion to discuss the resolution of ethnic issues, including the devolution of power, after 8 December yesterday (23), while the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB, the main Parliamentary Opposition), and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led National People’s Power (NPP) raised doubts about the sincerity of Wickremesinghe and the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) concerning the devolution of power.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday (23), the President said that ethnic issues in the country could be solved easily if the ruling party and the Opposition work together. He also sought the consent of the main Opposition parties, including the SJB and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), to work together towards that end. After seeking the consent of Opposition MPs, such as TNA MP President’s Counsel (PC) M.A. Sumanthiran and SJB MP Mano Ganesan, Wickremesinghe stated that they all agreed to his proposal. Thereafter, he queried Chief Opposition Whip and SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella as to whether he agreed with this proposal.

In response, Kiriella stated: “I have always been a person who agrees to the devolution of power. Whichever side I am on, I would agree.”

President Wickremesinghe then queried if all the SJB MPs would agree to work together for the resolution of ethnic issues, including the devolution of power. In response, the SJB MPs said: “We need to consult SJB and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa about this.”

“Will you be able to respond within the day? If I am not in Parliament at that time, tell Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena. Give us your word,” replied Wickremesinghe.

Ganesan, who stood up at this point, said: “The SJB-led alliance agrees to the devolution of power. That is why we are here. If they do not agree with it, we would not have been here, would we? That is all.”

Wickremesinghe then queried Sumanthiran PC about the matter, to which the latter replied: “If you will summon us to an all-party meeting as soon as we conclude the Budget sessions, we can conclude this issue before 31 December.”

To this, Wickremesinghe said: “After we conclude the Budget sessions on 8 December, we will meet the following week.”

Kiriella, who again stood up, said: “The Government led by former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed a committee of lawyers to draft a new Constitution. We were invited to a meeting in this regard. When we were preparing to attend it, they sent us a message saying, ‘if you want to protect the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, do not come’. They were planning to abolish the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.”

In response to Kiriella, Wickremesinghe said that he would protect the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

However, Kiriella questioned: “Are all SLPP MPs of the same stance? We know Wickremesinghe very well. He had been our leader for 20 years. But I ask Government MP Mahinda Rajapaksa, who said 13-plus (a reference to going beyond the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in power devolution) this: Do you agree with this now?

When Wickremesinghe said that Rajapaksa had said that he agreed with this, Kiriella said that it was Rajapaksa who should stand up and convey this to the House.

After that, Wickremesinghe instructed Rajapaksa to “stand up and say 13-plus”, at which point, Rajapaksa was seen standing up and saying “13-plus”.

However, Kiriella then said: “The President is only one person. We know what is in the hearts of the SLPP MPs. They are against the devolution of power. Ask the Premier; he will always be against it.”

Meanwhile, SLPP National List MP (who recently left the SLPP-led Government and declared himself an independent MP) Gevindu Cumaratunga stood up and said: “The President is talking about the devolution of power. Then why was the package brought by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga not implemented? It could not be implemented because the majority of the people of this country did not agree with those proposals. So what you are asking is not clear to us. Different opinions can emerge here, but the reality is in practice.”

In response to Cumaratunga, Wickremesinghe said: “I will tell Rajapaksa. You can meet him and ask what happened to Kumaratunga’s Constitution. They were in the same party. There is no point in asking me. I am from a separate party.”

NPP MP Vijitha Herath also commented on Wickremesinghe’s statement on the resolution of ethnic issues in the country. 

“The President suggested that the parties come forward to solve the national problem. We remember that all parties agreed to draft a new Constitution during the period from 2015 to 2020, when he was the Premier. A committee was appointed and discussed for many years. If he honestly wanted to solve the national problem, he should have drafted the Constitution and got it passed in Parliament, but what was done there was a complete delusion, a trick. That committee met 80-90 times. It was sometimes for two or three minutes. 

“He was also joining it and leaving. If there was an honest desire, there is no need to postpone it. At that time, the United National Front-led ‘good governance’ Government had no sincere desire to solve the national problem. The Government also agreed to the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It has not been established to date.” 

Speaking further, he said: “The 19th Amendment to the Constitution clearly stated in Section 33(b) under Chapter 7 that the President should promote national reconciliation and integration. These provisions were completely removed in the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. The President was completely released from that responsibility. Then, the Government brought back the 21st Amendment to the Constitution. 

“However, these provisions are not included in it. If so, what the President is going to do is a lie, a delusion, and a trick. He is trying to show the international community and the country that he is now intervening to solve this. Also, you (Wickremesinghe) asked the Opposition whether they liked it or not, but you did not ask Gunawardena who was sitting next to you if he liked it. You did not ask Rajapaksa if he liked it. Ask your party members first what their agreement is on this. Do not try to mislead the people again.”