The Political Column
8th March 1998
Was Adhikari the target?
By our Political Correspondent
The UNP Working Committee and the Parliamentary group met jointly to discuss the second instalment of the party’s alternative proposals for power sharing, after rejecting the government proposals.
Eminent lawyer K. N. Choksy was asked by the leadership to outline the proposals which convened devolution of powers.
The highlights of the proposals were the party’s decision to retain the Provincial Council concept and gear more powers to the Councils after restructuring the reserve list and the concurrent list.
The UNP, it appears is reluctant, even to do away with the name, "Provincial Council" because that was the name given by it through the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1987.
But at the same time the UNP was silent on the land issue, which it put off for discussion for a later date.
Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe stressing that they were for an indivisible Sri Lanka said his party was against any conglomeration of states, provinces or regions.
He said provincial boundaries should be as what is spelt out in the Provincial Councils.
Former Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel explained the proposals in Sinhala and said this is all and not an inch more would be considered by the UNP towards devolution.
According to insiders the proposals did not impress many members who wondered whether the UNP was drafting a new constitution instead of taking a stand on principal issues.
These members feel it is not the duty of the opposition to draft a new constitution. That responsibility was for the government.
What we have to do is to take a stand on the issues and let the government know whether we agree or not, a long standing Working Committee member said.
Some UNP members too feel that the devolution under the 13th Amendment is not meaningful as long as the concurrent list and the reserve list remain.
The UNP’s Central Provincial Council Minister Putrasingamani compared the functions of a Provincial Council to that of a Death Donation Society. He said the PCs could do little or nothing without the approval of the centre. But Mr. Wickremesinghe said this could be rectified by re-structuring the concurrent list.
Parliamentarian Rajitha Senaratne referred to the clause on equality before the law and asked as to how they could give the foremost position to Buddhism as proposed by the UNP, in that context.
Mr. Wickremesinghe stressed Buddhism would be given the foremost position while others would have the liberty to practise their religion.
However many members were not happy with the UNP’s stand. They were of the view the UNP would not be able to meet the aspirations of minorities if it did not go beyond the Provincial Councils.
However most analysts do not believe either those proposals or the government proposals would solve the ethnic problem in the North-East.
They feel it is only a game plan to counter the government proposals getting across to the country either in the form of a referendum or otherwise.
Later in the day the UNP Working Committee met to discuss current issues.
General Secretary Gamini Atukorale said the lack of organizations at local level had led to the Eppawala violence where the UNPers were bashed by allegedly PA hooligans the previous week.
The UNP’s intention was to hold a mass protest rally in Eppawela against the government’s decision to sell the phosphate deposits there but opposition by government supporters and subsequent attacks inflicted on the UNPers made it difficult for them to hold the rally as intended. Thus the UNP meeting was poorly attended.
Mr. Atukorale said the UNPers were unable to meet the thuggery of an area politician. The top rung leaders were all at former Minister A. M. S. Adikari’s residence in Kalawewa few miles away from the venue of the meeting.
Mr. Atukorale could not even find a motor cyclist to go and survey the situation in Eppawela before they reached the venue. At the Working Committee meeting former Minister Adikari said he could not organise the Eppawela meeting successfully because he did not have the co-operation of the Chief Minister and other members of the Provincial Council.
Chief Minister Dissanayake countered the attacks saying what happened in Eppawela was more a campaign against Mr. Adikari than the UNP.
He said if the UNP could go without Mr. Adikari, it could hold meetings at any time.
Mr. Wickremesinghe said the party’s interests should be put before personal differences. He said the party organization should be ready to meet any situation.
Mr. Wickremesinghe said, in fact, I also had to find my way to the meeting in some others car which I normally don’t do.
Pradeep Hapangama volunteered to drive him in his car to the venue of the meeting from Gimanhala in Dambulla where they had breakfast.
Mr. Hapangama however de-toured at a point since they had information that armed cadres were waiting near the Eppawela junction.
They took an arduous gravel route to reach the place of the meeting and everybody heaved a sigh of relief when they reached the venue without any incident.
If was on Saturday, February 28 the UNP organized the meeting at Eppawela and the government did everything possible to stop it.
Mobs armed with clubs, guns and swords were seen roaming around and on one occasion they attacked a government supporter’s car too.
The goon squads who smashed up the UNP platform waited until dawn of the morning to make sure that the UNP could not set up the stage again. But the UNP had an alternative and by that time made arrangements to transport a mobile stage to the venue of the meeting. After the mobs left the place the mobile stage was set up around 6.00 a.m. for the 9.00 a.m. meeting.
UNP MP’s and others who were staying in Anuradhapura that night went in a convoy of about 60 vehicles to the venue without much difficulty.
One Pradeshiya Sabha member from Anuradhapura was seen walking around with two hand grenades and former Minister and Anuradhapura district Parliamentarian A. M. S. Adikari was seen challenging him to throw the hand grenades at him if possible.
It was a war more than a political meeting and both the UNP leader Wickremesinghe and Anura Bandaranaike made strong speeches against political thuggery and involvement of Police in disrupting the UNP meeting.
The Eppawela incident also indicates that the UNP has still to prove, itself capable of developing a counter campaign at grassroots level against the onslaught of the government.
In the meantime the UNP is planning to mount a campaign to protest against the govt.’s attitude and to muster public support against such anti-democratic acts.
Soon after the Eppawela incident, the UNP Parliamentary group decided to boycott Parliamentary proceedings for one month as a protest against government sponsored thuggery.
But some political observers said this amounts to abdication of their duties as a responsible opposition who should safeguard the interests of the people.
They point out that during the early 70’s when J.R. Jayewardene faced such problems during the United Front government, he made use of Parliament to air his views and protest against the undemocratic acts. Even former Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake believed in this strategy.
The two of them wanted Parliament to function as a vehicle of democracy because they believed in fighting by being in Parliament.
At the group meeting held subsequently many UNP MPs aired their views against the undemocratic acts of the government. Kurunegala district Parliamentarian Gamini Jayawickrama Perera said that it would be necessary to file action against the Police for failing in their duty while Ronnie de Mel suggested that a protest demonstration be held in the Parliamentary premises.
Manod Wijeyaratne suggested something different. He said they should have documentation about Police officers who get involved in acts against the UNP, so that they could identify the Police officers who are against the UNP.
Parliamentarian Sarath Kongahage also made a lengthy speech, thanking Mr. Wickremesinghe for his speech at Eppawela. But Mr. Kongahage later directed his attention to the two Commission reports on Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Lalith Athulathmudali.
Mr. Kongahage said, that the Commission implicates former President Ranasinghe Premadasa as a conspirator to kill Denzil Kobbekaduwa. If the government goes on this premise Mrs. Lali Kobbekaduwa will face difficulties since Mrs. Kobbekaduwa was given benefits by the then UNP government in the belief that he died as a war hero.
He said the government might now say that the posthumous promotion given to Denzil Kobbekaduwa is no more valid if they go on the Commission reports since these promotions are for people who die in action and not otherwise. Under the present circumstances, he said that Lt. Gen. Kobbekaduwa had died as a result of a conspiracy and added that the UNP should fight back to retain what was given to Denzil Kobbekaduwa by the former regime.
Referring to Lalith Athulathmudali Commission report, Mr. Kongahage said that Mr. Athulathmudali’s most trusted bodyguard Tilak Shantha who shot at the alleged assassin has been made an accomplice in the Athulathmudali’s assassination. He said that Tilak Shantha is still serving as one of Mrs. Athulathmudali’s bodyguards.
At this point former Minister John Amaratunga referred to the government statement that President Premadasa had supplied arms and ammunition to the LTTE and said that it was a strategic move.
Party leader Wickremesinghe who intervened said he was not aware of such an event, but Mervyn Silva said that President Premadasa’s son had already admitted this.
When this was brought to light Mr. Kongahage once again intervened to say that there were instances where arms had been given to the LTTE even before the alleged handing over of arms by the Premadasa regime.
Referring to Page 304 of Narayana Swamy’s book, he said Denzil Kobbekaduwa had given arms to the LTTE in 1988 and when President Jayewardene was informed of this by the Indian authorities it was promptly stopped.
Mr. Wickremesinghe having listened to all these, asked as to why they were talking about all this now.
The Party leader later announced that he would take a decision to protest against the Eppawela incidents.
The following day Mr. Wickremesinghe announced his decision and said the party would initially boycott Parliament for one month and continue it further if necessary.
Those arguing against the boycott feel that in this instance, the UNP had given a free hand to the govt. to go ahead with bills and others resolutions unopposed.
What the UNP should think at this juncture is as to whether the boycott of Parliament would serve their purpose one political analyst said.
If it is to bring the state sponsored violence to the notice of the international community, the party should have rather attended Parliament than boycotting it, they pointed out.
However in defence of the decision taken by the UNP to boycott Parliament Susil Moonesinghe said.
"We are the main opposition party of a democratic country.
But the incidents that took place in the recent past, show that there’s no law and order in this country. The main opposition had to face various acts of terrorism by the government while demonstrating our dislike towards decisions taken by it.
Therefore we decided there’s no point attending parliamentary sessions. Parliament is the symbol of democracy of this country. Why should we go there if there’s no democracy. Instead we have decided to go to the streets.
Similar incidents took place during Khalida Zia’s period and she was forced to hold elections. Let our leaders learn a lesson this time.
At the same time government hit back at the UNP maintaining that it was dodging the Wijeyapala Mendis civic rights issue. The UNP is placed in an awkward position as far as the Mendis issue is concerned. The general consensus is that the UNP would not support the government’s resolution which needs a 2/3 majority. The UNP leadership had also failed in its attempts to force Mr. Mendis to stand down before the resolution comes up in Parliament.
Mr. Mendis appears to be strong and doesn’t want to leave the party or Parliament on such allegations against him.
He told friends he would not stand down and it was up to the party to decide.
However this has weakened the UNP’s anti-corruption drive against the government since Mr. Mendis was found guilty by a Special Presidential Commission for which legislation was enacted in 1978 by the then UNP regime.
The Mendis issue is likely to be taken up on March 17th and the government will try its level best to show the debate live on the state television Rupavahini
It was revealed that the government would seek Speaker’s permission for this to compel the UNP to give up its boycott.
If the UNP chooses to dodge the Mendis debate, the government would make use of the occasion to smash up the UNP over the state TV and put off the voting for another day. If the UNP chooses to attend the debate the government would query the UNP, as to why it gave up the boycott and take up the position that the government compelled the UNP to come to Parliament.
The Mendis issue came up before the Ministers too and they discussed the importance of going ahead with the resolution to strip him of his civic rights.
But Minister Mahinda Rajapakse said the matter should not be taken up while the UNP was away from Parliament.
Referring to the month long Parliament boycott by the UNP another Minister said the UNP should have at least organised a Pada Yathra to register the protest in the minds of the people and added more in a humorous manner that the UNP doesn’t have a person of that calibre to organise such a protest.
Mr. Rajapakse being the man behind the "Pada Yathra" when the SLFP was in the opposition, Minister D.M. Jayaratne suggested that they should send Mahinda to that side to organise one.
But Mr. Rajapakse took this opportunity to put this view across.
He said that many people wanted to send him there on many occasions but failed in their endeavour.
While the government circles discussed about the civic rights issue of Mr. Mendis, UNP leader Wickremesinghe had another round of discussion with Tamil parties and the SLMC. Mr. Wickremesinghe explained the UNP proposals at length after Minister M.H.M. Ashraff posed a question about the second chamber.
Minister Ashraff wanted to know according to UNP proposals as to whether the first chamber (Parliament) would go ahead with any legislation not withstanding opposition by the second chamber.
While Mr. Wickremesinghe was explaining the proposals, TULF leader M. Sivasithamparam interjected and said the proposals did not reflect the expectations of the parties who want a settlement for the on-going conflict.
TULF’s R. Sampanthan also spoke at length on the UNP proposals and said it would be difficult to convince the UNP.
In short he said that the people would ask "Is that all the UNP could give?"
Mr. Sampanthan also asked when the rest of the proposals would see the light of day.
Mr. Sivasithamparam said the main concern is land while the SLMC said that it was the unit of devolution.
Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam who was also present at the meeting asked for copies of the UNP proposals, so that they could study them and come back.
Mr. Wickremesinghe said the rest of the UNP proposals would deal with the two issues land and the unit of devolution.
Soon after the meeting the minority party representatives wandered as to whether the proposals of the government and the UNP would take different directions making it difficult to amalgamate them in one set of proposals.
However the parties expressed their desire to meet the UNP again to arrive at a final determination.
Notwithstanding all these, the LTTE is going on unabated attacking important targets. The latest LTTE attack at Maradana might have missed the target, but this has sent shockwaves through the government hierarchy who immediately summoned a meeting of the security council and decided to take meaningful measures to tighten security in the city.