The Political Column

7th April 1996

UNP dilemma:to vote or not to vote

By Our Political Correspondent

The main opposition, United National Party, appears to be in a dilemma over the resolution on the civic rights issue of Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike.

This was the main topic at the UNP group meeting on Thursday at Sirikotha.

The UNP apparently feels that the Kumaratunga administration has come out with this proposal in a bid to embarrass the President's estranged brother, Anura Bandaranaike and to widen the gap between Prime Minister Bandaranaike and the UNP.

It is learnt that the UNP believes, that the Kumaratunga administration is suspicious over Mrs. Bandaranaike's alleged links with the UNP because of Anura Bandaranaike's influence over the mother.

In the circumstances, the UNPers think that the Kumaratunga administration wanted the UNP to sling mud at the Prime Minister at the debate on the civic rights which would later develop into some kind of bitterness between the UNP and the Prime Minister. But some others think that this is a meticulously executed plan by Chandrika supporters in the party to take the party presidency. President Chandrika Kumaratunga at present holds the deputy presidency of the SLFP and doesn't have executive power in the party. She has been known to be keen mainly to get rid of anti-Chandrika elements who are safe under Ms. Bandaranaike.

As far as the UNP is concerned, it is unable to take a decision on the matter for two reasons. The UNP is not in a position to embarrass Anura Bandaranaike and create dissension among his following in the party. Simultaneously the UNP is not in position to let down former President J. R. Jayewardene who had set the whole matter in motion.

In this back drop, the UNP leadership is of the opinion that it is best to consult Mr. Jayewardene before taking a decision.

Accordingly, party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was scheduled to meet Mr. Jayewardene over the weekend.

Earlier, a special committee of the UNP comprising party stalwarts such as Ranil Wickremesinghe, A. C. S. Hameed, Wijeyapala Mendis, K. N. Choksy and Gamini Atukorale, decided that the party should ask the government to repeal Article 81 of the Constitution which deals with Special Presidential Commissions of Inquiry along with the resolution on Sirima Bandaranaike.

Mr. Wickremesinghe even promised UNP support for a two- thirds majority on the Sirima resolution if the government agreed to repeal Article 81 (1) which states:

81 (1) Where a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry established under the Special Presidential Commissions of Inquiry Law No. 7 of 1978, and consisting of a member or members each of whom is a Judge of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court or the District Court recommends that any person should be made subject to civic disability by reason of any act done or omitted to be done by such person before or after the commencement of the Constitution, Parliament may by resolution passed by not less than two-thirds of the whole number of members (including those not present) voting in its favour-

(a) impose civic disability on such person for a period not exceeding seven years; and

(b) expel such person from Parliament, if he is a Member of Parliament.

Where a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry consists of more than one member, a recommendation made by the majority of such members, in case of any difference of opinion, shall be and shall be deemed for all purposes to be the recommendation of such Commission of Inquiry.

(2) No such resolution shall be entertained by the Speaker or placed on the Order Paper of Parliament unless introduced by the Prime Minister with the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers.

(3) The Speaker shall endorse on every resolution passed in accordance with the preceding provisions of this Article a certificate in the following form:

"This resolution has been duly passed by Parliament in accordance with the provision of Article 81 of the Constitution".

Every such certificate shall be conclusive for all purposes and shall not be questioned in any court, and no court or tribunal shall inquire into, or pronounce upon or in any manner call in question, the validity of such resolution on any ground whatsoever.

(4) In this Article, "District Court" means a District Court created and established by existing law and includes a court that may be created by Parliament to exercise and perform powers and functions corresponding or substantially similar to the powers and functions exercised and performed by the District Court.

One UNP stalwart speaking on the resolution said "they can't have the cake and eat it, they should agree to repeal Article 81 if they want us to support them".

But independent lawyers ask as to whether the UNP should have bargained on Article 81. This shows that the UNP is admitting that article 81 (1) should not have been introduced into the constitution.

If it's is admitted that Article 81 (1) should not have been introduced into the Constitution in the first place, then the vital question is who is to be blamed for that? The other point is that the UNP is having a fear with Special Presidential Commissions probing irregularities of the previous government, but of course the UNP would be safe as long as the government doesn't get the required 2/3 majority to impose civic disability on offenders if any.

At the UNP group meeting on Thursday, many MPs spoke on the matter. Gamini Lokuge was adamant that the UNP should stick by its decision.

Chief Opposition Whip Wijeyapala Mendis was of the opinion that the resolution itself was derogatory of Parliamentary tradition.

He said at this rate every government will try to reverse what the other government did and it would go on like this.

The irony is that most of the politicians have forgotten how each government reversed what others did. For instance the Criminal Justice Commission Act which brought top rungers of the JVP and alleged businessmen racketeers before the law, was abolished by the UNP.

The crux of the problem has been the extension of such legislation into areas and personalities than was originally intended.

Kandy district MP, Sarath Amunugama called for a free vote on the Sirima issue, where the MPs could vote according to their conscience.

Mr. Amunugama pointed out he was the Secretary to the Ministry of State at that time and described how then Minister Anandatissa de Alwis opposed this move by the then UNP government. He said the late Gamini Dissanayake had also opposed the move to impose civic disabilities on Ms. Bandaranaike.

Mr. Amunugama said it would be better to support the government's resolution but pledged he would abide by any party decision.

Former Minister A. C. S. Hameed read out a list of names of those who supported the resolution when it was presented in Parliament by the then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa. He said there were now 33 MPs who supported that resolution -31 in the opposition and two in the government. They are Saumyamoorthy Thondaman and Samaraweera Weerawanni. It would embarrass Mr. Thondaman and Mr. Weerawanni if the UNP now decided to support the Sirima resolution.

While there is an on-going debate as to what they should do, the UNP's inner circle has already decided that they should support the resolution, but without a debate on the matter. But if the government disagrees as they did on Article 81 of the Constitution, the best thing the UNP could do is to abstain from voting on the resolution.

When the UNP leader told his parliamentarians to air their views on the matter on Thursday there was pin drop silence until Sarath Kongahage rose to his feet.

He said the civic rights issue of Prime Minister Bandaranaike was a long-standing one, and the party should concentrate on the "commissions".

Mr. Kongahage said during President Premadasa's time he never wanted to have commissions and if the policy of the UNP was against having commissions, it should request the government to abolish Article 81 of the Constitution.

UNP to avoid any debate

Karunasena Kodituwakku was of the opinion that the UNP should avoid any kind of debate on the issue and abstain from voting while Rajitha Senaratne said it would be difficult for him to vote against the resolution.

He said he broke away from Mrs. Bandaranaike's leadership in 1976 and was back again in the SLFP during the time the UNP took this matter up and imposed civic disabilities on Ms Bandaranaike.

Dr. Senaratne called on the UNP to take a reasonable decision.

At this stage UNP leader Mr. Wickremesinghe said he was aware of the gravity of this problem and would consult J. R. Jayewardene before making a decision.

The UNP group will meet early this week to decide on its stand.

Meanwhile independent observers are questioning the validity of the whole exercise. They raise the question that on what ground the UNP granted a free pardon to Ms Bandaranaike after six years or one year in advance of the full period of seven years.

If she was actually guilty of abuse of power, did she deserve a free pardon, they question and raise doubts about the whole commission. They feel that it was mockery and what the UNP expected through this was a one-horse race at elections.

Meanwhile, the UNP which introduced some undemocratic acts to the country is now getting the taste of its own medicine from violent elements supporting the government.

The Anamaduwa affair is one such incident where thugs of both sides clashed. The venue was site of a UNP propaganda rally in the Anamaduwa town.

It is claimed that the People's Alliance came into office to eradicate such violent acts unleashed during the UNP regime but it appears that the PA henchmen are also running riot.

The man responsible was summoned by the President on earlier occasions too and warned against his acts but he continues without any restrictions causing problems for other parties who respect democratic values.

UNP Secretary Gamini Atukorale was personally in Anamaduwa when the PA supporters unleashed a cycle of violence against the UNP. Mr. Atukorale having no way of contacting his leader over his cellphone went up to a tall building at the Anamaduwa Gam Udawa site to telephone the UNP leader in the evening. Mr. Wickremesinghe told Mr. Atukorale to get back to Colombo but he said he would assess the situation first and then come. By midnight Mr. Atukorale was in Colombo to meet Mr. Wickremesinghe and they decided to call news conference the following day to expose the Anamaduwa terror. The UNP blamed the PA for the violence in Anamaduwa while the government deployed special police squads to maintain law and order.

In another move, the government appointed a Ministerial Committee on Wednesday headed by Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike to propose ways and means to correct the escalating cost of living. The President was keen to see that the people get a fair deal as far as the COL was concerned.

The President wanted to appoint the Ministerial Committee during the meeting of the Ministers held the previous week but when she learnt that Trade Minister Kingsley Wickremaratne was away in China she decided to put it off by one week.

When the matter came up last week Minister Wickramaratne declined to chair the Committee since he thought it would be useful to make suggestions as a member of the committee to bring down the COL rather than chairing it which would restrict his role to listening to others. So the ministers turned to Ms. Bandaranaike who accepted it gladly.

Mr. Wickramaratne has already directed his officials to gather statistics on the current COL and emphasised the need to update the basket of goods on which the COL was calculated .

The COL basket has not been updated since 1954 and the idea of the committee is to update it according to the present realities.

Mr. Wickramaratne who is playing a dynamic role in bringing the COL down is now ready to come out with a set of new proposals to reduce the burden on the consumer.

At Wednesday's meeting when the Ministers were discussing this problem, Minister Mahinda Rajapakse told the Trade Minister to do something dramatic to reduce the milk prices as he did to the potato growers.

Mr. Rajapakse is also a member of the Committee appointed to deal with the COL problem and the other members are C. V. Gooneratne and Lakshman Jayakoday. Minister Jayakody who is normally quiet and who toes the government line to the very letter has however recently expressed his dissatisfaction at the proposed political package to solve the ethnic problem.

He has expressed his views during the proceedings of the Select Committee, saying he disagreed with several provisions in the devolution package.

Mr. Jayakody spoke his mind out when the Select Committee discussed matters pertaining to the Finance Commission and distribution of revenue to the regions.

But now it looks like the government is frustrated due to lack of support from the Tamil parties for the devolution package.

Out of sheer frustration, President Kumaratunga called the Tamil politicians dishonest which was met by vehement criticism by TULF leader M. Sivasithamparam.

Mr. Sivasithamparam was addressing a birthday commemoration meeting of the late leader of the Federal Party, S. J. V. Chelvanayagam in Colombo when he referred to the remarks made by President Kumaratunga.

On Wednesday Minister G. L. Peiris expressed sentiments similar to the President's when he met PLOTE leader D. Siddharthan.

The Minister has apparently told Mr. Siddharthan that the support from the Tamil parties was not forthcoming and because of that the government was in a very difficult position as far as the devolution of powers was concerned.

In this backdrop, the five Tamil parties, namely, Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP), Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Front (EPRLF), Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS), and Democratic Peoples Liberation Front (DPLF), have come out with a separate set of proposals which envisages some radical changes to the prevalant system.

In a letter to the Select Committe the five parties say:

"We the TELO, EPDP, EPRLF, EROS and DPLF submit the following amendments to the legal draft on devolution, with the firm conviction and commitment that a political solution to the ethnic conflict, in order to succeed, should satisfy the political aspirations of the Tamil speaking people in the North-East Region, while ensuring that the Region shall be one of the units of devolution.

"We submit further that the North-East Region should be devolved with all the powers necessary to ensure a meaningful autonomy that shall be the best guarantee for national harmony and the territorial integrity of a united Sri Lanka.

While the devolution package continued to be a dilemma for the government, the Tawakkal debate in Parliament is yet another event that has created a sensation throughout the country. The video tapes on the Parliamentry debate which are scheduled to be televised shortly went before a special committee for editing.

The committee comprised Ministers Dharmasiri Senanayake, Kingsley Wickramaratne, Deputy Minister Viswa Warnapala and Parliamentarians A..C.S. Hameed, Karunasena Kodituwakku and Joseph Pararajasingham.

After much deliberations the committee decided to withhold the speeches made by Minister S.B. Dissanayake, Deputy Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and Parliamentarian Ediriweera Premaratne of the government and General Secretary of the UNP Gamini Atukorale, Rajitha Seneratna and Sarath Kongahage.

The matter has now been renewed and the committee is now likely to approve those speeches also in conformity with what appears in the corrected version of the Hansard.

Earlier when Minister S.B. Dissanayake heard about the decision of the committee, he immediately telephoned the President to complain about two government Ministers in the committee. He told the President that Dharmasiri and Kingsley had allowed a UNP suggestion to censor his speech.

"I only explained who the Bandaranaikes were and they were above corruption," he told the President.

"I want to go before this committee and explain matters and requested that Speaker may be notified on the matter".

The Minister later spoke to Speaker K.B. Ratnayake and insisted he be given a fair hearing.

However the committee has now decided to approve these speeches after careful scrutiny and going through the corrected version of the Hansard to make sure that nothing unbecoming is shown on the TV.

The Chairman's statetment

In a separate development the incident involving a well known Company Chairman being manhandled by a member of the Air Force Commander's personal security, received wide publicity last week.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, Devinda Senanayake, Chairman of Freudenberg Ceylon Ltd. described the incident as follows.

He was moving down Green Path in the direction of the Alexandra Place, Horton Place roundabout around 5 p.m. on the 27th evening. He was travelling on the innermost lane closest to the Viharamaha Devi park.

Two cars with normal number plates were ahead of him on the outermost lane, closest to the dual carriage way separation, with two motor cyclists behind the vehicles.

One of the motor cycles was a yellow trail bike ridden by a person in a dark tee shirt. The other rider was also in civilian clothing. The trail bike had then begun to zig zag immediately ahead of him, and thinking it to be ridden by some hot head, he had speeded up and passed the trail bike rider intending to turn left towards the Town Hall at the roundabout, whereupon the trail bike overtook him and forced him on to the pavement alongside the park. The trail bike rider had dismounted quickly and moved up to the car, pulling out a pistol from under his T shirt. As his movements seemed to indicate that he might strike and smash the car window, Mr. Senanayake had hastily lowered it, whereupon he heard a loud "ado" and as he turned, he was struck in the eye. The trail bike rider then demanded his driving licence and ID. Although somewhat shaken, Mr. Senanayake did not wish to surrender these documents to a total stranger. When he refused to do so, he was struck again this time cutting his mouth and nose. Fortunately a PC had appeared on the scene and Mr. Senanayake had handed his ID and licence to him, whereupon the trail bike rider snatched the documents from the PC took it over to his trail bike and wrote down some details. Another PC had then turned up and returned Mr. Senanayake's documents and returned it to him, also informing him that the two motor cyclists had been Air Force security personnel.

Mr. Senanayake had with difficulty returned to his home and contacted his lawyers. He had also telephoned Minister Lakshman Jayakody and related what had happened.

His lawyer had advised him to make a police entry immediately, which he did, only to hear that the SLAF Security man had already made an entry to the effect that Mr. Senanayake had attempted to ram the Air Force Commander's car, a rather unlikely eventuality from the grandson of D.S. Senanayake, grand nephew of F.R. Senanayake and the elder brother of Member of Parliament Rukman.

The matter had been brought to the President's notice and Mr. Senanayake had received a call from Temple Trees. When he returned the call he had been informed by the person answering at Temple Trees that an inquiry was to be held into the matter.

Now doubtless the Air Force Commander will see the incident in a somewhat different light to Mr. Senanayake who has been at the receiving end. Air Vice-Marshal Oliver Ranasinghe is on the top of the LTTE hit list and even if any member of the forces has to live in the shadow of such a threat and some more than others, the AVM would be targeted to create maximum disruption in the Air Force, which is a crucial factor in all offensives, and to effect demoralisation within the security forces and the country. He may well and even forgiveably be impatient with what could be considered an unfortunate incident in a virtual war situation.

On the other hand, this is as yet a civilian administration and private citizens have a right to expect to be protected from over-zealous security personnel, whose methods of operation would seem to cast a cloud over their own efficiency and competence in affording protection to an important person.

Politically too, the Government would be advised to stress on reasonable care being exercised by service personnel. In fact, the courtesy with which routine checks have been done so far has been commendable.

Ostentatious displays of security and roughing up civilians only rebound on the Government. Another case in point was where the Sports Editor of the Sunday Times was suddenly searched by two men who alighted from a scooter cab when the former was walking along the Dharmapala Mawatha. It is not good enough to shrug off such incidents as "these things happen, they cannot be helped." On the contrary the approach should be that they should not happen at all.

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