13th August 2000
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
In an in-depth interview given to The Sunday Times, former parliamentarian Jayasena Rajakaruna said he resigned from the SLFP because he felt the true SLFP ideal he represented was a far cry from its present SLFP thinking.
Q: How did your association with the SLFP come into being?
A: I have been a keen observer of politics, and saw the political landscape change with the freedom struggle. I used to address political platforms advocating ' free thinking'. When S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike founded the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) in 1956, I became the Wayamba chief organiser. In 1960 over an issue involving a collective farm I had a dispute with T.B. Subasinghe and resigned from the chairmanship of the Village Council and entered the legal field.
When Mrs. Bandaranaike invited me to hold a series of lectures on various good governance issues which tainted the Jayawardene administration in 1981, I accepted it. That was an indirect re-entry into politics. That became a massive campaign against the 1978 constitution. In 1982, I became the SLFP organiser for Panduwasnuwara and entered Parliament in 1989, and was returned in 1994.
Q: Who are the others of your vintage?
A: Jaya Pathirana, Tissa Balalle, T.B. Wettewe and I belonged to a group which supported Mrs. Bandaranaike during a power crisis within. This was the time when a separate clique came into being called "Anura- Maithree'. Others are all dead, only minister D.P. Wickremesinghe and I are among the living.
Q: With such a long history of SLFP politics, what caused you to resign from Parliament on the eve of elections?
A: I am a person who gave evidence before the Buddhist Commission when the SLFP decided to declare Sinhala as the state language. Five years ago I appeared before the Sinhala Commission and opposed moves to merge the North- East under any condition.
For taking this stance before the Sinhala Commission, there was a party disciplinary inquiry. I claimed that I had not opposed my party's cardinal principles which opposed the merger introduced by the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution.
If at all, inquiries should be held against others, not me. I have upheld the party policy and I still live by it. With a clear conscience, I cannot support the draft Constitution which promotes ethnic segregation.
Q: Have you lodged your opposition to the draft Constitution before the PA leadership, or was this a sudden decision?
A: We had our first seminar to create awareness a few years ago. I opposed the concept of redemarcating provinces and proposals like either joining Ampara to the Uva Province and a North East Province which is a creation of scattered areas like Sammanthurai and Kalmunai.
At a recent seminar, I said I would vote against any proposal to have a merged North-East and create a separate council.
The day before the presentation (August 2) of the controversial constitutional bill, I was summoned to Temple Trees, but I didn't go. The next morning I met the President in her Parliamentary Office soon after the first reading of the Bill and announced my decision.
Q: What was her response to your defection?
A: I told her that I haven't seen the draft, and was unaware of its contents. I also said that at least ten members were opposed to the Bill. I told her I never wished to let the SLFP down, and she accepted my reasoning.
Soon afterwards, I quit my post as Panduwasnuwara organiser and upon return, faxed my resignation from Parliament. She telephoned me and said that she saluted the principled manner in which I resigned and said that she knew I could not support the Bill.
Q: Was there any pressure on you to resign and make way for someone who was likely to support the devolution proposals? Did the PA leadership or the electorate influence your decision?
A: Certainly not. I resigned because I felt that the true SLFP ideal that I represented was a far cry from the present SLFP thinking. I had no wish to embarrass the party I love, so I decide to hang my 'political boots'.
Q: How do you view these changes and the interest displayed by the SLFP to share power with minorities?
A: I saw which way the wind blew- and realised that we were growing away from the original SLFP fundamentals. I am a 'true blue' SLFPer who will support the party to my dying day, but I cannot approve these claims about 'correcting historical wrongs' to the minorities and 'allowing them to live with dignity'. These are people who have lived as one community- the Sri Lankan nation in all parts of the country. We are diverse communities who know the art of harmonious living. These catch phrases don't attract me. We only need to ensure that all people receive equal treatment and receive equal opportunities rather than split them up into various little groups on ethnic grounds.
Q: Have you already decided to resign when the Bill was presented?
A: I had decided long ago, to quit at the end of the present Parliament's term. This Bill expedited the decision. I could not support it, so there was no reason to stay a member when I did not fall in line with the party decision.
Q: How do you assess the proposed Constitution?
A: I am opposed to devolution of power on ethnic lines. I am not a racist. We should share everything, not just power with all communities. The rights of the majority should be necessarily protected. I think the proposed constitution would infringe this.
When an interim council for ten years is given with no referendum until the lapse of five years, isn't this a violation of the state's rights? A government itself serves a term of six years, but this Council will go on for a longer period. Besides this, there are so many points where there are violations of the entire nation's rights.
I think we are veering towards gradually accepting the 'Tamil traditional homeland' concept. This will provide a strong foundation for such a lobby.
Q: What do you feel about allegations of MPs being bought over?
A: I don't know whether this actually took place, but I can't see why they are crossing over now. These decisions cannot be principled decisions but actions stemming from a desire for political survival.
Q: Do you regret quitting the PA?
A: No. There is a time for every matter under the sun. It is the duty of everybody to agree with party decisions. Otherwise you must leave, not barter your soul and shift loyalties.
I feel I have been fair by both- my party and my own conscience. I have not gone against the SLFP, nor have I forgotten my principles. I will support my party even in the future from the side.
Q: Do you feel the SLFP would have mustered the necessary 2/3rds majority to carry the Bill? If so, do you think that people would have approved the draft at a referendum?
A: No. However unpopular this government could be, it is still on a better wicket than the UNP. So people will retain this government at a future election. But the government does not depend on the approval of a Constitution people don't like. My firm belief is they will never approve it at a referendum.
Q: Why do you think the government is in an indecent hurry to approve this?
A: It is all a power game to retain the power base and I suspect both the UNP and PA are pawns in the hands of peace lobbies and Scandinavian countries which don't even have problems in recognising traditional homelands. We can accept that India is getting involved because it has much at stake. But these peacemongers fork out money and purchase our loyalties. They are mostly sympathetic to the LTTE's cause. It is the LTTE's interest that these facilitators and mediators wish to represent.
Q: As you don't accept the necessity to devolve powers to the periphery, how do you view the current scenario? What is the actual problem ailing Sri Lanka?
A: There is no ethnic question but a terrorist problem. We have Tamil militancy here. Where are they living in indignity and refused their true place? People should be able to live anywhere they wish. That is freedom and democracy. In this context, it is the Sinhalese who are constrained and unable to visit the northern part of this tiny island.
Some inequalities existed with the Sinhala Language Act and the ethnic quota issues. But they have been removed now. The rest is not policy but a matter of implementing our decisions. Show me a single privilege we enjoy exclusively, there is none. Besides the isolated 1983 incidents which didn't have a repetition, the Sinhalese have been restrained despite the mounting corpses on their very door steps.
Q: In the present context, how do you view the opposition's role?
A: It is a tragedy to have a redundant UNP as the main opposition. We owe much to Mahinda Rajapakse who steered us towards victory. People feared to open their mouths, leave alone criticise the government. He held 'pada yatras' 'jana goshas' and created a wave towards achieving political victory as well as personal freedom.
But the UNP has a dilemma. The Constitution also contains UNP proposals, and it cannot completely divorce itself from the draft proposals. Going by the blunders the PA has made, this government would have fallen flat on its face if there was a vibrant opposition.
Q: Do you wish to join another political party, Sihala Urumaya, perhaps?
A: No. I have quit politics. Anyway, I don't appreciate political parties founded on an ethnic principle, and identifying themselves as such. If so, what is wrong in having a party representing the Sinhala interest. While minority parties are not dubbed communal when they espouse their separate causes, a Sinhala political party would be labelled racial the moment it has a Sinhala sounding name!
Q: What are your future plans?
A: I am the senior most backbencher, in political experience
and age. This is not for me anymore. I have decided to go back to legal
practice and to write books.
By Shelani de Silva
Vasudeva Nanayakkara the maverick among parliamentarians called the draft Constitution presented in Parliament last week a "Trojan horse".
He saw it as skillfully and cunningly framed with a view to achieve the so called national unity and devolve power.
Following are excerpts of an interview Mr. Nanayakkara gave The Sunday Times.
Q: As a member of the PA you were among the few MPs who carried out a vehement protest against the constitutional reforms. Is there any particular section of it you were against ?
A: The matter that concerned me most and which I saw as a very dangerous provision that would ultimately undermine the democratic structure are the transitional provisions contained in the new Constitution.
It provided for this President by name, though the name was not stated in the clause, by identifying her as a person to continue for the next six years, and at the same time to have the powers of the prime minister and also be able to become an MP in the House.
This concentration of power which ultimately will be wielded by her and the clique who are now calling the tune as the Government will become dangerously powerful. She will operate with this clique who are today her closest confidantes. They are not entirely in the Cabinet and they are not MPs. They are a group of people some of who are Cabinet Ministers, others are outsiders and advisors. This is the clique that runs the country today. The operation that was planned was to introduce the new Constitution and seek its passage to wrest power from Parliament and the Cabinet into the hands of a clique.
The immunity provision has been widened in order to exclude any legal action, even regarding an act which had been done in a personal capacity.
At present we have the right to sue her official acts by making the Attorney General a party to it. Even that provision has been watered down by the new Constitution.
Finally, the proposed election amendment would have given the leader of the party that rules the country, enormous power by giving him or her the right to appoint a large number of MPs. This means all executive powers and finally the appointment of judges are in the hands of the President.
Q: From your assessment what is the reason for the Government to withdraw the reform Bill. Was it the failure to get a 2/3rds majority or the pressure applied by the Sangha and the Sinhala organisations ?
A: I believe 2/3rds majority not being available to it was the main reason why a vote was not taken. There were other circumstances that pressurised the Government. Firstly from the very top, within the PA. Secondly, the opposition from the democratic forces, which had laid bare the operation that was intended by the passing of the new Constitution and the amendment to the election law. Thirdly, the forces of the JVP which were mobilised on a large scale and were very militant.
Finally the forces of racist Sinhala chauvinists, though their impact was minimal. It was inflated by the media.
The 13th Amendment was carried through when there was raging opposition by Sinhala chauvinists in 1987. None of these forces came to a confrontational position by coming close to Parliament. This indicates the restrained nature of the opposition that was mobilised.
Q: How advantageous to the LTTE would be the failure to pass the new Constitution ?
A : The LTTE would well say even a pretence could not be carried through. There was no substantial concession that would help even begin a process of addressing the grievances of the Tamil people.
The LTTE could exaggerate the chauvinist opposition to impress the Tamil people that chauvinism prevented the passage of the Bill.
They would never highlight the internal opposition that was growing within the PA and that of the Left and democratic forces.
Q: How do you think the Constitution could have been worked through from the early stages ?
A: I feel that the draft should have been placed before Parliament as a White Paper. The 1997 draft is entirely different from the present draft. They should bring the constitutional draft to its final form and then place it for discussion in the country, with parties in Parliament, the main opposition, those outside parliament, professional bodies, trade unions, civil society, the clergy, and the public. In some countries this takes close to three months or more.
The President says we have been discussing it for five years. What they discussed for five years are the principles regarding devolution and administration, but never the final document inclusive of transitional provisional, which are a crucial matter. The election amendment law should have been taken along with the new constitution for discussion. That goes to heart of the parliamentary power.
The new Constitution included what had not been discussed together with what had been discussed formulated in a new manner producing different results to what was submitted in 1997.
This together with the election amendment law was to be passed in a week, which gave us the clue to the intentions of the Government.
Q: What kind of proposals would you suggest ?
A: I am prepared to go along with most of the provisions in the 1997 document, regarding the administration of justice, appointment of a Constitutional Council, appointment of judges to the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and the Elections Commission. Commissions have to carry out their work independently without political bias.
They have to be strengthened so that they do not have to depend on the executive. Provision ensuring fundamental rights are necessary.
Q: Your views on the manner in which the Government presented the new Constitution in Parliament ?
A: It was very skillfully and cunningly framed with a view to achieve the so called national unity and devolve power and wean the Tamil people away from the LTTE and finally go for a settlement having defeated the LTTE militarily.
This was only a Trojan horse. Things came to light when Tamil MPs having studied the proposals found they do not go further than the 13th amendment.
Q: Do you think there is a way to solve the ethnic issue under the present Constitution ?
A: The present Constitution has no provision to help initiate a process to arrive at a settlement to solve the national problem. I believe the first thing to do is to work out the 13th amendment to its completeness. Stop military operations, lift the embargo, normalise the conditions in the North and East, and create a conditions conducive for a dialogue. Let the Tamil people think that there is a another way to have their aspirations realised other than by war. Let those people bring pressure on the LTTE to come to a dialogue
Q: Your views on the Government offering bribes to MPs in return for their vote ?
A: I would say it is despicable that anyone should have thought of using bribes as a means to win over Members from one side to another.
Q: Of those who accepted the bribes ?
A: They are worse.
By Nilika de Silva
The monk who went on a fast-unto-death campaign calling on the government to withdraw the proposed Constitution has vowed to renew his campaign if any attempts are made to go ahead with the document.
"If the proposed Constitution is once again brought up for debate, I will not hesitate to resume the hunger strike," Ven. Hedigalle Wimalasara Thera told The Sunday Times at a private hospital in Colombo where he is undergoing medical attention.
Expressing his intentions Ven. Wimalasara said, "It was the political proposals deciding the country's future, presented in haste, that led me to go on a hunger strike. Like in the first half of this century, I saw this as being a continuation of the feudal system which betrayed the country, with people slaving for the whites. A constitution aiming at once again reinstating the feudals in power.
"Since 1995 when the political package was first introduced we have worked to oppose it. At that time I was in the Kelaniya University. Since then at various stages we have worked to oppose it. From the National Joint Committee I worked against it, and then we created the Jathika Sangha Sabha. From there onwards we worked through the different media, and we went in every way possible among the people, with meetings and protests. We continued through non-violent democratic means to express our opposition to this.
"Realising that we were not heard by these so called democratic governments, we were forced to take to the highest form of avihinsa-non-violent protest" he said.
Ordained in 1982 at the age of 12, Ven. Wimalasara Thera, had even worked at the Colombo University Centre for Human Rights.
It is not I as an individual who should be given prominence in this protest fast. We worked as an organisation in this regard. The honour should not come to me but to the organisation, the National Movement Against Terrorism, Ven. Wimalasara said.
I greatly respect the NMAT, because it is an organisation with great determination, a unity of determined priests and determined laymen. There is an amazing spiritual bonding among the members. It is the honesty and sacrifice in the organisation that gave us the strength to defeat these proposals, he said.
Many priests were ready to come forward to fast, but I felt I should do it. The solution was not for all to sacrifice their lives, but for one priest to make the sacrifice and the others to work to gain the objectives that life had been laid down for.
I had decided to fast-unto death. Though many asked me to give up the fast I was not willing to do so without a firm assurance that the Constitution would not proceeded with.
Since the day we learnt that the Constitution was to be presented to Parliament we were working hard. I was physically tired. Actually I stopped eating not on the official day the fast began but two days prior to that, because I was involved in all the work, he said.
I issued the final statement to the media the night before I broke the fast, and requested that I was not questioned further as I was drained of energy. Henceforth the organizing committee would relay my views, he said.
Having fasted close upon 50 hours, I was only semi conscious. My blood
sugar had dropped very low and an hour's delay to break the fast could
have resulted in dire consequences, the doctors told me, he said.They were
continuously putting pressure on me asking me to give up the fast, he said.
Jeers, cheers in House gone crazy
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Our Lobby Correspondent
The week was event- filled with the high light being Ratnasiri Wickramenayake's appointment as prime minister. It was one that was studded with political activity including the deferring of the constitution bill , three cross-overs, a resignation and the appointment of two new cabinet ministers.
The PA's political hopes rested on the constitution with which they hoped to scrap Mr. Jayewardene's draconian piece and naturally Government benchers oozed confidence.
But the members were under siege- with security being beefed up and government legislators being flown in for sessions from their five star hideout. In its hurry to muster 2/3 in the House, the PA filled three existing vacancies in the tail end of its term while the EPDP followed suit.
In this historic and political significant moment, the opportunity to open the debate for the opposition fell on EPDP's S. Thawarasa who laboriously explained the historical background to the call for power sharing.
"Since the early 50's we have struggled to win our rights. The basic aspirations of the Tamil speaking people were marginally dealt with in the 13th Amendment, though not fully" he said. Mr. Thawarasa's contention was that Tamil militancy stemmed from Sinhala oppression. He said peaceful agitations converted to an armed struggle in Jaffna, and later devoured the entire province.
Leading evidence for the PA was ports minister M.H.M. Ashraff who brimmed with confidence and lavishly praised the President. While he was proclaiming the constitution to be the antidote to all political ills which the UNP should support, there was a sudden flurry of activity as PA member Dixon J. Perera was ceremoniously ushered in and made to occupy Ronnie de Mel's front seat.
There was stunned silence and some ministers whispered into their hand phones probably planning counter moves while minister Ashraff's much prepared speech fell on deaf ears.
Unflustered, the minister said: History shall judge you. Unlike the UNP which forced a constitution on the people, we have allowed public debate." Espousing the federal cause which he called ' the only way out of this mess', the minister defiantly retorted 'heta balamu' when errant UNPers heckled him about prior claims on receiving the support of 20 UNPers.
Amidst all this Mr. Perera tried to make an impromptu statement, heatedly claiming; " I shall never support a constitution which segregates people" and the rest was muffled by the din created by government backbenchers now thumping on their desks shouting slogans.
Responding with uncustomary fire, Mr. Ashraff said the UNP had no moral right to distance itself from the draft bill which contained many UNP proposals.
With a morale boost being provided by Mr. Perera's crossover the UNP's mood changed and its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe stood up to make his statement.
Explaining the UNP's reasons for opposing the bill, he noted that the party used to attend talks in the morning and get bashed in the evening by the rabid state media. "This must be a new approach to conflict resolution .Naturally talks took longer."
It seemed that the Government had also worked with dexterity, and was quick to respond to losing a bencher. While Mr. Wickremesinghe was on his feet, a cheering PA group ushered in UNP defector Harendra Corea- who was welcomed amidst hugs and kisses from 'new' colleagues.
If Mr.Wickremesinghe was flustered, he concealed it well. But UNP backbenchers grew furious shouting slogans accompanied by thumping. They shouted out questions regarding Mr. Corea's financial integrity- comments expunged by the Chair in a House turned into an arena for hurling abuse. Insults, innuendoes and expletives reverberated and drowned Mr.Wickremesinghe explanation about constitution-making process.
In the din, it was PLOTE leader D. Sidarthan who charged both parties of staging similar fiascoes and turning a deaf ear to the Tamils' call for power sharing which naturally resulted in militancy.
"People supported the armed struggle because they felt they were denied their rights. Sinhala governments only offer peace deals when they are pressurized. But there is a possibility of having the North and East permanently merged" he opined.
The ever mischievous A.H. M. Azwer used this remark to send a note to UNP defectors Nanda Mathew and Susil Moonesinghe. It read: What have Anagaraika Dharmapala's grandson and Cyril Mathew's son to say to this permanent merger espoused by Sidarthan?" and earned cheeky smiles in return.
But it was PA rebel Vasudeva Nanayakkara who tore the bill to shreds article by article, firing all cannons.
In an entertaining delivery, he said if this draft was a foundation, the 13th Amendment was a house. He said unlike today the 13th Amendment was passed when the country was in turmoil with the opposition playing a destructive role by fuelling communalism, the state unleashing counter offensives and the entire country being engulfed in terror.
Not mincing words, Mr. Nanayakkara claimed here was no consensus among parties if the Sinhala majority decided the future of Tamils. "Tamil rights cannot be the charitable crumbs we throw. This is the reason for the prolonged conflict. The 13th Amendment at least incorporated Thimpu principles. These reforms are nothing but counter reforms," he thundered.
Directing his artillery towards LSSP leader Batty Weerakoon, Mr. Nanayakkara reminded him of a time he had promised to lay his life down for the abolition of the executive presidency. "Ironically, it was the same man who defends it today- a Hercules dwarfed by the greed of a portfolio and political amnesia," Mr. Nanayakkara charged amidst laughter.
In the backdrop of a massive backstage drama, two more parliamentarians were sworn in on Tuesday, minutes before Speaker K.B Ratnayake announced the Supreme Court determination that the electoral reforms bill didn't require approval at a referendum. This was received with applause from government members compelling the Speaker to curtly remind them that the Supreme Court did not need their applause.
The next dramatic moment came in the form of Mervyn de Silva clad in a beige national costume poised for his second party switch. A hush fell as the member dramatically crossed the isle amidst thunderous PA applause.
"Two million," shrieked UNPers while Mr. Silva received a warm welcome from those who called him a gutter snipe not so long ago but smothered him with hugs and kisses now.
Pandemonium increased with the MP standing menacingly as charges filled the air, and ministers Alavi Moulana and Mahinda Wijesekera restraining him from physically expressing his anger.
Resuming his verbal onslaught, Vasudeva Nanayakkara lambasted the Government for proposing the reduction of elected members to 168 while the nominated list soared to 130! "Is this your definition of democracy" he queried, and up jumped minister Mangala Samraweera to hold the brief.
But Mr. Nanayakkara displaying his finesse in the thrust and parry said: "I like your creative profession. But your legal opinion remains unacceptable". When the minister insisted that he be heard and that one person would not hold the office of president and prime minister simultaneously, Mr. Nanayakkara shot back:
"To preserve your place in the Junta, you may cry. In cricket parlance, a player has to score runs either by acquiring singles or hitting boundaries. But you believe in scoring by changing the score board"!
When Mr. Nanayakkara's entertaining innings came to an end it was Mervyn de Silva's turn to speak from the government benches. A fresh chorus of "turncoats" greeted him, but the defiant member started with an apology for hurting the feelings of his former colleagues .
" I have the utmost respect for UNP leaders, and today I informed the Opposition Leader my reasons for quitting. I have nothing to hide, and have not illegally amassed wealth. At a time when UNPers hid their heads fearing government reprisals, it was I who stood my ground. But up jumped Kurunegala district UNP parliamentarian A.H. M. Alavi waving a cassette, making claims about 'offers made' under the guise of a point of order which compelled an exasperated deputy chairman of committees to expunge a heap of references and demand the television cameras be turned off.
" These repugnant, sordid episodes shouldn't be viewed by the public" he breathed, and all hell broke loose. Amidst the din, urging that he be heard was minister Mahinda Wijesekera who announced that UNP members were being forcibly prevented from attending sessions- and read out ten names alleging they had all been sent abroad.
Determined to be heard, Mervyn Silva issued a warning that he was not alone in the cross over game and concluded. " The SLFP is my home. The prodigal has returned. Just as the Buddha was delighted to feel the breeze of Savath Nuwara, the very breeze of the SLFP feels like home," he emotionally noted.
But the end of the debate was marred by verbal abuse and insults which reduced the debate from the sublime to the ridiculous. In a frenzied delivery, Minister Sarath Amunugama failed to conceal his disappointment as he liberally abused his former party.
" The UNP has shifted its stance after months of fruitful deliberations. This stemmed from a greed for power and cheap political ambitions. Many UNP proposals have been incorporated in to this draft which is yours as much as it is ours" he claimed, and an errant UNP group rubbed salt on the minister with a cheeky chorus of: " Ko wissa, Ko wissa" much to Amunugama's annoyance.
As the heckling grew, so did the minister's high- pitched tirade:
Bombarding the UNP with accusations, he thundered that here was a party which liberally killed and paid Rs. 2500 per head. Batalanda would take care of the UNP leader's future Is this the party that was founded by the Senanayakes," he charged, and more thumping and shouting ensued.
Not to be outdone, Amunugama parried: ""Is the UNP a quarry now? Soon people will stone all of you. When you have no argument, you hurl abuse. A leader must essentially take stances, accept risks and face challenges. Here is a dream constitution" he thundered and pledged in a House gone stark mad that somehow- soon the constitution would be re-presented.
Amidst the din, draft constitutions landed on the isle perhaps in a mute appeal for better behaved legislators before dream constitutions are enacted.
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