Columns - Lobby

The bold and the meek meet after the polls
By Chandani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent

The outcome of the recently concluded elections to the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils seems to have further weakened the two main opposition political parties in Parliament – the UNP and the JVP, while a rejuvenated Government side came back to the Legislature last week after the easy victory it secured at the polls.

UNP MPs who were shouting hoarse that they were assured of victory at the PCs polls when Parliament last met, had suddenly fallen silent while the JVP MPs were somewhat subdued themselves.
It’s obvious that the Government’s trump card is the war against the LTTE. Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake stressed that the fight would continue unabated when the monthly debate on the extension of the emergency was taken up on Tuesday. He said any opposition to the extension of the emergency would be tantamount to opposing the war against terrorism. “Isn’t it our responsibility to strengthen the hands of the armed forces and not the hands of the terrorists?” he asked. The UNP has been abstaining from voting on the emergency for several months now and maintains it will not oppose it as it supports the military effort. UNP MP Lakshman Seneviratne said while the UNP supports the armed forces it does not approve the manner in which the Government exploits the ongoing military thrust to cover up issues such as the rising cost of living, corruption and threats on its political opponents and clamps on the media..

“Isn’t it our responsibility to strengthen the hands of the armed forces and not the hands of the terrorists?” - Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake

“The government is not being truthful about what’s happening on the war front. It must be honest with the people,” he aid. The JVP which always votes in favour of the emergency too levelled similar charges against the Government. Its Anuradhapura district MP K.D.Lal Kantha said the Government was manipulating the war to cover up all its other weaknesses and shortcomings. “The Government is trying to break up and destroy opposition political parties and cover up all its other misdeeds by using the war against the LTTE,” he charged.

With a humanitarian crisis looming in the LTTE-held areas in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentary group leader R.Sampanthan spoke on the issue at length. “If the Sri Lankan State considers the Tamil civilian population resident in the Wanni as a segment of its own people, I submit, it is the bounden duty of the State to ensure that they are not compelled to experience the ordeal of such a grave humanitarian crisis,” Mr.Sampanthan said.

The Prime Minister however said that LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran who calls himself a liberator of the Tamil people is now hiding behind them to save himself. “The people are being used as a shield for him to hide behind,” he said.

Meanwhile the non implementation of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution once again figured in the Parliamentary debate with Chief Opposition Whip Joseph Michael Perera raising the issue. He said that the Police Department was becoming a tool in the hands of those connected with the Government while in the absence of the Independent Elections Commission, it was becoming impossible to conduct a free and fair election as was evident from the many irregularities that took place during the NCP and Sabaragamuwa PC polls.

However, the Opposition Whip’s appeal that the Constitutional Council (CC) be immediately constituted was futile because the Prime Minister’s reply was that until the Parliamentary Select Committee appointed to look into the operation of the 17th Amendment submits its report, the President will not set up the CC.

The recent controversy over the ownership of the island of Kachchativu which some South Indian politicians have been saying must be claimed by India as its own was raised by JVP Parliamentary Group Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayaka.

He said the island rightfully belongs to Sri Lanka as is evident from historical records and the Government must respond immediately to put an end to the claims made by the South Indian politicians.
Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said in response that Kachchativu Island would continue to belong to Sri Lanka.

Referring to the case filed by former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jeyaram in the Indian Supreme Court challenging the Sri Lankan ownership of the island, Minister Bogollagama said that a ruling by a court of law in a jurisdiction outside Sri Lanka will not be binding on Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has always maintained a consistent policy founded on historical facts on the issue of the ownership of Kachchativu. The 1974 Agreement regarding the historic waters between Sri Lanka and India in the Palk Straits and the Palk Bay formally confirmed Sri Lanka’s sovereignty over the island, the minister said.

For now the Government can ignore most of the concerns raised by the Opposition given its recent electoral victories and the favourable status it is enjoying with the majority of the people in the country. How long this status would continue will depend largely on the successes of its war efforts in the coming weeks. But again it will take a lot of blundering by the Government to galvanize this opposition to action.

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