8th July 2001
Closely guarded by crack Army commandos along
with supporters and personal security guards,
Minister and NUA leader Ferial Ashraff makes
her way to the party delegates conference in the
trouble-ridden Ampara town.
Pic. by J. Weerasekara
By M.Ismeth and Shelani de SilvaOpposition parties joined hands this week to wrest control of Parliamentary business committees and thereby dictate terms, including fixing of an early date to debate and vote on the no-confidence motion against the Government.
Leaders of the UNP, the JVP, the SLMC, the TULF, the TELO, the ACTC and Sihala Urumaya signed a joint petition, signifying unity in the opposition benches as government adopted delaying tactics on a vote being taken in parliament.
Opposition parties said they feared the government was playing for time till August 10 when the President would be constitutionally empowered to prorogue Parliament for two months and then call for fresh elections in October.
If the Government is defeated in a parliamentary vote, the President is obliged to call on the opposition to form a government.
Responding to reported government moves to delay the vote on the motion, opposition leaders have vowed to take to the streets along with other counter measures against what they see as 'a shameless subversion' democratic rights and practices.
Political sources told The Sunday Times the thinking in the PA leadership was to work out a plan to delay the no-confidence motion at least till the first week of next month if not later — a step that would take the crisis close to October 10 when the President would have the power to dissolve parliament.
Opposition sources said they were aware of and alert to what they saw as a diabolical under-hand operation and that was why they decided on Friday to make a written request to the Speaker asking that the debate on the motion be taken up on July 18 with a vote on July 20.
They said that by Friday afternoon 106 MPs, including the leaders of all opposition parties, had signed the request and it was believed the list would top the crucial 115 figure when others signed it. It is due to be handed over to Speaker tomorrow.
Government sources said they were keen on putting off the debate to give more time for discussions with the UNP, the JVP and others including the Hakeem faction of the SLMC with a view to achieving some consensus.
Minister Mangala Samaraweera issuing a statement in his capacity as SLFP treasurer and convenor of the media unit issuing a statement last night denied reports about a possible prorogation, but did not give reasons as to why the PA wanted the no-confidence motion delayed until next month.
Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake and other PA leaders are reported to be going even further and discussing the possibility of a national government.
Both, the main opposition UNP and the third largest party the JVP are not impressed with the government's plans or ideas.
Party leaders say they are standing strong in their demand for the debate to be held on July 18 and a vote two days later. The JVP parliamentary group which met on Friday decided to bring pressure on the government and would strongly protest against any undemocratic moves, propaganda secretary Wimal Weerawansa told The Sunday Times.
He said the party was against any move to delay the no-confidence motion and would take all steps within and outside parliament to prevent an erosion or undermining of democratic practices.
Mr. Weerawansa said the party's parliamentary group which was empowered by the central committee to take a final decision on how to vote on the no-confidence motion had not yet taken a decision still but it was opposed to what it saw as delaying tactics.
He reiterated the party's demand for immediate legislation to set up five independent commissions for elections, the police, the public service, the judiciary and the state media. If that was done, JVP leaders have indicated they might consider some conditional support for the government.
At a massive public rally in Hyde Park on Tuesday, JVP leaders said they were going full steam ahead in the bid to defeat the PA government but they were equally strong in their insistence that they did not want to bring the UNP to office. The next big rally is to be held in Kandy on Thursday.
SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem was tough in his condemnation of the government moves. He said the presidential proclamation on Thursday to bypass parliament on matters relating to the emergency and the latest moves to prorogue parliament were a shameless subversion of the democratic process.
He vowed they would join other opposition parties in mobilising the people for protest action.
UNP leaders also have vowed they would take to the streets and call out massive public protests if the government delayed the no-confidence motion by undemocratic or unethical means.
Minister and PA General Secreatary D. M. Jayaratne told The Sunday Times he had been assigned by the government to hold talks with the JVP, the TULF and the SLMC in a bid to reach some compromise on current issues.
He said he met the JVP leaders on Friday and would hold further talks in the coming days though he admitted the first round was not very successful.
He said the JVP was strong in its demand for the appointment of five commissions, but the government was at present ready to set up three, while it needed more time to study the proposed commissions for Police and state media.
After meeting TULF leaders, Mr. Jayaratne said they were clearly with
the UNP, but he would continue talks with them.
The speculation was so intense that it prompted frontline minister Mangala Samaraweera, who is the party treasurer and media unit convenor, to issue a statement last night, denying reports of a move to remove Mr. Dissanayake from his post as party general secretary.
Mr. Samaraweera claimed such rumours were part of UNP propaganda in the ongoing political conflict.
Mr. Dissanayake, until recently known to be a powerful minister in the inner circles of the Kumaratunga administration, has reportedly been sidelined for the past few weeks, especially during the ongoing turmoil in parliament and the crisis talks among various parties.
Mr. Dissanayake has skipped several important meetings, including the last cabinet session. Yesterday, he skipped the Private Tea Factory Owners Association's annual general meeting where he was to be the chief guest.
A spokesman for the organising committee told The Sunday Times that Mr. Dissanayake's office had informed them he would not be attending the meeting at the BMICH but no reason was given.
The rift between President Kuamaratunga and Mr. Dissanayake reportedly
began when she ordered a Treasury probe on alleged frauds in Samurdhi funds.
Later, Mr. Dissanayake is known to have earned the anger or outrage of
the President by making what she saw as indiscreet remarks regarding SLMC
leader Rauf Hakeem and plans for a national government with the UNP. (See
our Political Column on Page 8 for related story.)
By Faraza FarookSLMC leader Rauf Hakeem — whose sacking from the cabinet precipitated the current political pandemonium — has rejected moves by government leaders to get him back.
Mr. Hakeem told The Sunday Times he had declined to respond to telephone calls from the Presidential Secretariat inviting him for talks on a possible compromise.
He said several ministers had also invited him back to the government but he had rejected the offers because he believed such a move would seriously damage his dignity and political credibility.
"There have been a lot of offers. Many ministers have buttonholed me in Parliament and outside, asking me to comeback to the government ranks. But I won't reverse my decision," Mr. Hakeem said.
He said approaches had been made to him by ministers Mahinda Rajapakse, John Seneviratne, S.B. Dissanayake, Arumuguam Thondaman and Mangala Samaraweera.
While being still angry with the government, Mr. Hakeem was apparently outraged with what he saw as the illegal conduct and high-handed acts of his rival Ferial Ashraff.
He charged that the highly-publicised NUA delegates' conference called
by Ms. Ashraff in Ampara last Thursday was illegal and unconstitutional,
He said that according to reports reaching the SLMC, most of the delegates
were PA members.
In an interview with the BBC's Sandeshaya service, Mr. Weerakoon said that although Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake could make his personal comments, he was not allowed to make any official statement without consulting the executive committee of the ruling People's Alliance.
Mr. Weerakoon was commenting on Mr. Wickramanayake's offer of resignation to make way for Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to form a national govt.
Addressing the nation on state television and radio, the premier had admitted that it would be difficult for the PA to run the government, due to current political turmoil.
The LSSP and the CP had, in a joint statement, earlier also objected
to the concept of national government with the UNP, saying it would marginalise
A Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry statement issued last afternoon made an obvious reference to an earlier Indian government statement which quoted an official spokesman in New Delhi as saying they were disappointed by the recent air strikes on LTTE targets in Jaffna. The Indian High Commission in Colombo circulated the statement in Sri Lanka.
The Foreign Ministry statement quoting an "authorized spokesman" said, it was responding to a request for comments on the statements of two foreign governments on the recent aerial bombings by the Sri Lanka Air Force.
The US government also had issued a statement about the bombings in Jaffna.
In a clear reference to the Indian statement, the Foreign Ministry said, "What one government said is unrealistic and unacceptable. While expressing great disappointment at these developments, that government made no reference to our government's assertion that the bombings were a pre-emptive strike in self-defence in the face of an LTTE build up preparatory to another assault on the Jaffna peninsula which it failed to recapture in May last year after a prolonged campaign.
"It is an unquestioned right of sovereign State to defend its territorial integrity, a right that has often been exercised by the Government referred to above. That Government's proposition that "there is no alternative to peace" is self evident. The question is whether the Government of Sri Lanka should seek peace at any cost. If the price of peace is that our Government should abjure the right of self-defence and remain passive even in the event of an attack on its territorial integrity, no Government of Sri Lanka will ever pay that price," the statement said.
Responding to the US government statement it said, "The other Government, while noting with concern the Sri Lankan Government's decision to bomb LTTE positions in the North, explicitly stated that it respects the right of any nation to defend its territorial integrity. It hoped that the two sides would cease hostilities and turn towards negotiations. That approach is principled and realistic," the Foreign Ministry said.
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