is SLMC heading for?
The premier Muslim party is split down the middle
with a big question mark hanging over its leadership as well as
it political future.
As the dispute
went to courts last week, the leaders of the two factions staked
a strong claim to the party that made its presence known in the
political landscape of this country in the mid 1980s in the backdrop
of the ethnic conflict in the North and East.
head of a group that rebelled against the leadership of Minister
Rauff Hakeem, claimed in three consecutive media conferences held
at a five-star hotel that his leadership was legally valid. The
rebel group was shut out of party headquarters Darussalam, which
literally means 'house of peace', after an attempt by both the groups
to take control of it while Mr. Hakeem was in Oslo for a crucial
round of the peace talks between the government and the LTTE.
that a section led by Party Chairman and Minister A. L. M. Athaullah,
a party strongman from the East, Mr. Hakeem sent letters from Oslo
suspending his membership along with that of General Secretary M.
Hafrath. On Saturday, November 30, Mr. Hakeem, just before he left
for Oslo, told The Sunday Times there were factions trying to create
trouble within the party for their own ends.
The faction led by Mr. Athaullah and Dr. Hafrath then held what
it described as the real high command meeting and elected Mr. Subairdeen
as the new leader of the party, which was founded by M. H. M. Ashraff
and which derives its strength largely from Muslims in the east.
The group also
moved the District Court, obtaining a restraining order that prevented
Mr. Hakeem from acting as the party leader.
in a counter-petition succeeded in quashing the restraining order.
In the wake of the latest court decision, Mr. Subairdeen told The
Sunday Times they were studying the legal implications of the order,
while not ruling out the possibility of amicably settling the dispute.
in the party prompted Mr. Hakeem to abandon the Oslo talks and fly
back to Sri Lanka.
hundreds of Hakeem loyalists gathered outside the airport and accorded
him a hero's welcome. They escorted him to the party headquarters
at Vauxhall Street in Colombo where a tough and confident Mr. Hakeem
addressed a packed news conference, vowing to cleanse the party
of troublemakers and accused the Athaullah faction of working against
the interest of the Muslim community at a crucial juncture of the
faction, meanwhile, claims that they had the backing of more than
half the High Command members.
Athaullah and Mr. Hafrath, a national list MP, this group is also
backed by four heavy weight SLMC parliamentarians - Deputy Minister
Mohideen Abdul Cader and Deputy Minister Noordeen Mashoor, M.B.A.
Aziz, and Senior Deputy Leader Dr. Udduman Lebbe.
heavyweights who supported this group are Shipping Corporation Chairman
A. J. M. Muzammil and Mashoor Mowlana who had made a complaint to
the Police that Hakeem-faction supporters tried to kidnap him and
got him to sign on blank sheets under threat.
The seven SLMC
parliamentarians on Mr. Hakeem's side of the divide include Basheer
Segu Dawood, Rishard Badiudeen, M.S.Thowfeek, Dr. T. Thowfeek, Anwer
Ismail, and Harris.
At a media
conference at the Galadari Hotel on Wednesday, Dr. Hafrath rebuffed
charges that they were trying to torpedo the peace process and destabilise
the government. He also vowed to continue their support for the
government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Similar sentiments
were expressed by Mr. Athaullah when he attended parliament this
regarding our part in the government as well as the peace process
remains unchanged, though we maintain our independence."
said they had requested both the President and the Prime Minister
to withdraw the portfolio given to Mr. Hakeem, whom they claimed
was no longer an SLMC member.
Minister Hakeem began in October with seven MPs led by Mr. Athaullah
staging a parliamentary boycott campaign, demanding a written assurance
from the Prime Minister that a separate regional administrative
unit would be created in the Muslim dominated areas in the Eastern
Province when a final solution to the ethnic conflict was reached.
The boycott was called off only after the Premier gave this assurance.
Athaullah wants his man in peace
Minister A. L. M. Athaullah, the man who is spearheading
the rebellion against the leadership of Rauff Hakeem, says they
will demand a new Muslim representative be included in the government
delegation at the next round of the peace talks. Excerpts from the
you decide to challenge the leadership of Mr. Hakeem?
no longer trust Mr. Hakeem. Their trust had been broken. Minister
Hakeem was acting arbitrarily without consulting the high command.
I along with the party general secretary and other high command
members advised him on several occasions but he did not heed our
advice. It was then that nine members of the high command signed
and presented 36 charges against him. So we have to act on it.
Has the crisis
in the SLMC affected the peace talks?
The peace talks
must continue. Peace must come to this country. But we believe in
a peace where aspirations of all communities will be met.
We do not know
what Minister Hakeem has been discussing at the negotiating table.
He has never discussed the agenda of the peace talks with the high
we plan to request from the Prime Minister that a representative
from us be allowed to take part at the next session of the peace
SLMC supporters are with you?
Eleven of the
High Command members are with us. More than 95 percent of the Muslims
in the country are backing us. Those who hang around Mr. Hakeem
are cronies who expect jobs and other benefits from him because
he holds a powerful portfolio.
In the light
of the present crisis, how do you see the future of the party?
Nothing will happen to the party. We have only removed Mr. Hakeem
from the post of party leader.
plan to take forward the views and aspirations of the Muslim people
of the North and East.
PA support you?
No. We are still in the UNF government. However, we will talk
to all party leaders to introduce our new leader.
Athaullah vie for people's support
The Hakeem -Athaullah factions fighting to gain supremacy
in the Muslim Congress are both building up their campaigns in the
East, while Rauff Hakeem spent the Eid Festival in Muttur, A.L.M.
Athaullah scheduled a meeting in Ninthavur last evening.
are being lined up in various parts of the East to stake a claim
to the peoples support.
day in Pottuvil and Marathamuni public meetings were held to show
solidarity with Hakeem.
The main slogan
being chanted by the Athaullah camp is that Mr. Hakeem is not championing
the people's cause. Similarly Mr. Hakeem on Tuesday claimed that
the conspirators could not win the support of the people.
the court battle continued dissident frontliner Noordeen Mashoor
said they would decide tomorrow whether to go to courts again. The
dissidents had got an enjoining order from the Colombo District
Court last Monday but on Friday Mr. Hakeem got the enjoining order
National Unity Alliance parliamentarian Segu Issadeen whose party
had split from the SLMC called on the SLMC to unite for the sake
of the Muslim community without waiting for court decisions which
would take a long time.
are with me says Hakeem
Hakeem who regained his right to function as leader of the Muslim
Congress by a District Court ruling on Thursday, celebrated the
Eid-ul-Fitr festival in Muttur in an apparent bid to consolidate
his position in the Eastern Province.
While a faction
that rebelled against his leadership accused him of flouting the
high command and its decisions, Mr. Hakeem addressing parliament
on Thursday described the rebels' action as a stab in the back.
On Tuesday morning, soon after rushing back from Oslo, Mr. Hakeem
who told a news conference that he saw there was no foundation for
this rebellion other than opportunism.
of them want to have emotional roller coasters. I am challenging
the so-called new leadership to come on to the roads and test their
support base," Mr. Hakeem said claiming that the "self-appointed'
new leaders lacked the people's support.
Mr. Hakeem was
also confident that his position as leader remained unchanged as
he had informed the key players in the coup, A.L.M. Athaullah and
A.L.M. Hafrath, that their membership had been suspended even before
the rebel high command meeting on Sunday evening.
the rebels claim they received no letters, the Election's Commissioner
has received my letter announcing the suspension of the rebels.
That was enough for us. We cannot discount the fact that there are
forces at work to create instability all over the country,"
deployed more than a platoon to strengthen security in Ninthavur
where dissident leader A.L.M. Athaullah, was scheduled to hold a
meeting last evening, DIG STF Eastern Province said.
STF Chief Nimal
Gunathilake said the Police had requested STF troops be deployed.
Meanwhile, SLMC sources told The Sunday Times that shops had been
closed in Ninthavur as people were fearful of what might happen.
had also been made over the public address system by mosques advising
people to stay indoors due to the security risk.
It was also
reported that one vehicle belonging to the Athaullah faction and
giving publicity to the meeting had been attacked by rivals.
Demerge North-East and then devolve
Guest Column by Prof. M.L.A. Cader
The course of the present peace process and the
Government's willingness to devolve power have raised concern among
the Muslim community. Muslims in the East, especially those in the
Southeast, are demanding that in the event of power devolution,
there should be a separate unit for them.
of a Southeast unit arose out of the merger of the Northern and
Eastern provinces. In the initial stages, SLMC founder leader M.
H. M. Ashraff opposed the merger, because he believed that it would
reduce the Muslim presence to a mere 17 percent of the merged province
whereas in the Eastern Province they would constitute 33 percent.
But when the issue became a condition on which the LTTE could be
lured into the peace process during the Jayewardene regime, only
a few objected. Then, the Indo-Lanka Agreement was signed and the
Northern and Eastern provinces were merged temporarily pending a
referendum within a year. However, for some reasons, the referendum
was never held.
the two provinces remained merged, albeit temporarily. If the North
and the East is merged permanently under a political deal, people
in the two provinces would be considered a part of Eelam.
by Muslims today is that their rights must also be recognised. As
much as the Tamils have been living in the North and the East for
centuries, the Muslims have also been living there for centuries.
Therefore, their right to life and property must be recognised.
They question the government as to what arrangement will be made
to protect the Muslims.
In the earlier
stages, a proposal was made to bring all Muslim majority areas in
the East under one unit. However, due to practical reasons, it was
abandoned and the focus then fell on the Southeast unit.
of Southeast unit was not essentially a Muslim demand. It came as
a response to the North-East merger. The Muslim position is therefore,
if the government wants to devolve power, the two provinces should
be demerged. In such an event, the question of the South East unit
would not arise. Neither would it pave the way for another round
of conflict. Stable peace could arise only when this situation is
taken into consideration - no merger, no South East unit. But if
the government in a secret move tries to accommodate the aspirations
of one community at the cost of another community, it will not herald
a lasting peace. That will only create another round of conflict.
Who knows, it may even lead to a situation where the Muslims will
be compelled to take up arms to protect their rights.
If we want
to create permanent peace, we should go back to the original concept
- demerge the two provinces and devolve power.
And if the
government wants to have a compromise arrangement, it could merge
sections of the North with sections of the East into a new province
and then devolve power.
There are so
many other arrangements one can think of, but these two entities
must be separate, and that will solve all the problems. The moment
you merge, not only the Muslims, even the Sinhalese will be reduced
to a smaller percentage.
was definitely a temporary arrangement. And the merger was given
on the condition that the LTTE will lay down arms and go for the
peace process. But today, the LTTE has both the arms and a merged
So the Muslims
are feeling fearful. Therefore, the Government has to come out and
declare its plan to protect the Muslims.
Under the Soulbury
constitution, there were provisions to protect the minority rights
and interest. For instance Section 39 (II) was introduced; minority
representation was ensured in nominating members and electing senators;
there were an Independent Public Service Commission and the Judicial
Commission. Section 39 (II) prevented the legislature from bringing
in any laws that would discriminate against the minorities.
The 1972 Constitution
set everything aside. They made Parliament the supreme body and
made everything else subservient to it. Prabhakaran said the 1972
Constitution was the foundation on which this whole process was
built. Similarly, if the North and East are merged, and power is
to be devolved in one authority there, such a scenario will be the
foundation on which others will build their struggle.
in the North East will definitely co-exist with the Tamils, because
they speak the same language, understand each other's culture, and
they work together in farming and fishing. They depend on each other.
Remove politics, they are one integrated community. Bring in politics
they are divided. So someone, introduced politics and divided them
as was seen in elections in 1956, 1960 and 1970s. With the objective
of creating Eelam, seeds of discord were sowed to separate the two
We can give
a look of peace and people may feel everything is fine. But unless
the real peace is achieved, which can be arrived at only if the
aspirations of all communities are met, the appearance of peace
could result only in the next round of conflict.
The peace process
is moving, but it is more or less appeasing the Tamils while Muslim
interests are neglected. The government appears to be trying to
win the Tamils over so much so that it does not want to talk about
the Muslims now.
that even Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem doesn't want to present
the case of the Muslims strongly, because he wants to allow the
peace process a chance. But in politics what is important is interest.
Unless you articulate your interest at all stages, your interest
may be lost. It is important for the government to bring peace,
but not at the expense of another group of people. It is up to the
Government to say something or do something to calm Muslims. They
must carry these people in their arm when they negotiate with the
other group. The Government must give an assurance to the Muslims,
saying 'don't worry we are taking care of you'. However, this is
not coming forth. That's the fear. That's the conflict between the
SLMC and the MPs.
So the fear
among the Muslim community is that sometimes, you may make this
community a scapegoat and go for a settlement with the LTTE.
uncleared areas are almost non-existent now. The LTTE members need
not carry weapons. The very identity of an even unarmed LTTE member
instill fear in the hearts of the people.
Even the LTTE
hasn't announced anything clearly. Prabhakaran's Heroes' Day speech
gave no assurance that would allay Muslim fears.
fear when power is given to one authority, suppression will soon
follow. Fertile land can be taken over. There could be discriminatory
policies with regard to education and employment.
were suppressed by the Portuguese. When the Dutch came in, it was
the same thing. So with all this articulation, the least we can
go about is let us devolve power. That's a very fine thing - to
two basic units - the North and the East. Then that question of
Muslims demanding a unit or Tamils demanding a unit - as the JVP
says - will not arise.
is the Vice Chancellor of Eastern University.