By Sandun Jayawardana President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s call for unity on Wednesday to resolve the economic crisis was to no avail, as evidenced by the fractious two-day Parliamentary debate on his policy statement. That opposition parties were not prepared to buy his arguments was clear even before he made his second policy statement in Parliament, with [...]


Bouquets and brickbats for President’s policy statement after heckles and boycotts


By Sandun Jayawardana

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s call for unity on Wednesday to resolve the economic crisis was to no avail, as evidenced by the fractious two-day Parliamentary debate on his policy statement.

That opposition parties were not prepared to buy his arguments was clear even before he made his second policy statement in Parliament, with the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and the National People’s Power (NPP) choosing to boycott sittings. Parliamentarians representing the Freedom People’s Alliance (FPA) led by MPs such as Dullas Alahapperuma, Wimal Weerawansa, Wasudewa Nanayakkara and Udaya Gammanpila, meanwhile, chose to walk out before the President began his speech, shouting “Rajasana Maniawa” or throne-speech mania.

PM Gunawardena criticised opposition’s conduct

Nevertheless, MPs from the NPP and FPA both took part in the debate on the policy statement on Thursday and Friday.

Opening the debate, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Kalutara District MP Sanjeeva Edirimanna praised President Wickremesinghe’s statement that he was ready to make unpopular decisions for the sake of the nation. “The right decisions may be unpopular but their results are, while the wrong decisions may be popular but their results are not,” he said.

Mr Edirimanna claimed that the SLPP opted to elect Mr Wickremesinghe as President because he was the MP who had the least ties to party politics in the current legislature and as such, would be taking decisions in the interest of the nation rather than his party or its supporters. “I believe President Wickremesinghe has justified the trust we placed in him,” the MP said.

At a time when a local government election has been declared, both the President and the government are doing a complete injustice to the candidates contesting from the SLPP, said Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekara.

“We keep saying that the difficulties will continue. We keep mentioning about the difficulties that are to come. We say that fuel prices will have to be increased, and electricity tariffs and taxes will also have to be increased. I also don’t want these increases but we have examined all other alternatives and this is our only option,” he said.

Mr. Wijesekera predicted that years from now, opposition parties such as the SJB, the NPP, and the FPA, which boycotted the President’s policy statement would be forced to admit that the decisions Mr. Wickremesinghe took to resolve the crisis were right.

Former President and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) member Maithripala Sirisena said he could not understand why President Wickremesinghe chose to pick up a “torch that burns at both ends” in speaking about the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. While President J.R. Jayewardene introduced 13A, neither he nor any President who came after him touched the subject despite enormous pressure coming from the North. “This is because one cannot do such a thing because it will alienate the majority Sinhala Buddhist community.”

TNA Jaffna District MP M A Sumanthiran

Referring to the protests conducted the day before by monks opposing the implementation of 13A, Mr Sirisena said no one could do anything in the country that went against the wishes of the Maha Sangha. “This is a Buddhist country. You can’t fight the Maha Sangha and win,” he emphasised.

Though the President roared like a lion at the All-Party Conference claiming that he would fully implement 13A, his policy statement’s reference to 13A was merely a whimper, Pivithuru Hela Urumaya Leader Udaya Gammanpila stated. He said this would have been due to the resistance led by Buddhist monks over the implementation of the amendment.

He warned that the full implementation of the 13th Amendment could result in the re-merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces, the destruction of Buddhist archaeological sites in the North and East, and the creation of a separate armed police force under the control of a ‘separatist’ chief minister.

In his speech, the President took aim at those who criticise the actions of the government, claiming that those same people did not act any differently when they came to office. Yet the President himself was doing the same thing, observed Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran.

He pointed out that Mr Wickremesinghe had repeatedly stated in the past that he supported the abolition of the Executive Presidency. “Now that he is the President, however, he continues to enjoy the full powers of the position and has already delivered two throne speeches in that capacity,” the MP noted.

He was also critical of some of the statements made by the President with regard to reconciliation. The President had devoted only a small paragraph to the Office of Missing Persons when even the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission established under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had concluded that as many as 3000 persons who surrendered to the security forces during the final days of the war had gone missing. Not one single case has been investigated to find out what happened to the persons who surrendered, Mr Sumanthiran said.

The MP said the President’s stance that he would ensure maximum devolution of power within a “unitary state” was a fallacy. “You cannot have maximum devolution of power within a unitary state. The President knows that more than anyone else.”

Some of the predictions made by the President in his speech, such as being able to give additional allowances to public servants and concessions to the private sector were a tall order, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Leader Rauff Hakeem said.

He referred to “history repeating itself” through the protest by Buddhist monks on the day of the President’s speech, where some burned a copy of the 13th Amendment, which is part of the Constitution. He pointed out that even the TNA had emphasised that it stood for an undivided country. While there is a provision in the Constitution that states that two provinces may amalgamate if they wish to, it clearly states that such a merger must be approved by Parliament. “Can we ever expect a Parliament with a preponderant majority of Sinhala Buddhists ever endorsing such a resolution? So why are we creating this unnecessary fear and a bogey to once again bring these devils out of the bushes?” Mr. Hakeem asked.

Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena criticised the opposition’s conduct, noting that opposition parties also boycotted the 75th Independence Day celebrations. The opposition also refuses to participate in the National Council headed by the Speaker despite actively requesting for its formation. “As such, the opposition is following a very volatile policy. We see this as a very detrimental policy for the country,” he stressed.

“We have now come to the final stages of talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The opposition which claimed that nothing will happen will have to eat its words now,” he said.

Mr. Gunawardena pointed out that India had already sent a letter to the IMF expressing its support for Sri Lanka’s position, China had granted a two-year debt moratorium and the Paris Club of creditor nations, too, had assured the IMF in totality. “As such, let us look to the future,” the PM added.

The President could have opted to make the speech he made on Wednesday sitting in his seat next to the PM instead of proroguing Parliament and disrupting the committees that will now need to be reconstituted, commented NPP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake.

The President, though, suffers from a “mania” where he wants to deliver an address from the Speaker’s chair. That desire to feel important was what made him call so many foreign envoys to Kandy recently, the NPP leader said, claiming that the bill for meals for the envoys during a stop-over in Ambeypussa on the way cost the taxpayer Rs. 320,000. “He suffers from this disease, which is why we opted not to be present when he addressed this Parliament, though we are ready for the debate.”

The NPP leader also accused the President of bringing up the 13th Amendment as a ploy to divert people’s attention away from pressing issues such as the collapse of the economy and unemployment. “We are proposing to resolve this crisis through a new Constitution approved by the people at a referendum. But we know you will never do this because unity among the communities is anathema to you,” he told the government.

Parliament will reconvene at 9.30 am on February 21.

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