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going ahead with NPC polls; 13th A intact
By Our Political Editor-Sunday, May 26, 2013
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Despite strong protests and threats by JHU and NFF, Rajapaksa unmoved GL says reports of warning from India fictitious, but facts prove otherwise Questions as to whether too-high a political price is being paid for hosting the summit India’s serious concerns have prompted the Government to promptly clear the gathering storm clouds that threatened to mar the successful conduct of the November Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo. Acting spokesperson Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa set out the official Government position on the important issues on Wednesday. They are: The Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections, as previously announced, will in fact be held in September. There will be no changes to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. “The Government has clearly said there will be elections. There is no change,” Yapa said. He was addressing the news conference that follows the weekly cabinet meetings. The Cabinet met on Tuesday instead of the regular Thursday morning session in view of Vesak Poya holidays. Yapa gave reasons why Constitutional changes, sought by UPFA partners and their leading, powerful personalities, to cancel the poll and even exclude land and police powers for Provincial Councils would not materialise.
“The President very expressly said that the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) only can discuss any
changes to the present constitution and especially to the 13th Amendment,” he declared. Calls for changes to the Constitution, Yapa pointed out, had been going on for a long time. “These are not new….. So if there is going to be a change, there will be a discussion. So far no one wanted to discuss it. I don’t know if it will change,” he added. That caveat was to clearly protect him should any change in the situation come about. It was just days earlier, UPFA leaders were examining whether a two thirds majority would be on hand so changes could be introduced to the 13th Amendment. That was to exclude provisions relating to land and police powers. Quite clearly Yapa, the acting spokesperson, was setting the official record right. EAM Peiris in the dark It was on May 17 (Friday) that Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid telephoned his Sri Lankan counterpart G.L. Peiris. I reported in these columns that India, which used its diplomatic good offices to sway a decision in Sri Lanka’s favour at the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting in London, last month has become wary. The report said External Affairs Minister Khurshid expressed India’s “serious concern” over moves by partners in the UPFA over twin issues — going to Courts to halt the NPC polls and efforts to change the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Minister Khurshid, as reported last week, “politely told” Peiris that any such measures by the Government of Sri Lanka would be at “its own risk” and would force the New Delhi Government to react with “firm measures.” A pre-condition which even British Prime Minister, David Cameron has laid down to attend CHOGM, as revealed exclusively in these columns last week,
was the conduct of the NPC polls. Minister Peiris did not issue the customary media statement over this call from Khurshid. However, his official response to the issue only came when he had to reply to a question raised by Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan on Tuesday, a day ahead of Yapa’s official statement. Peiris said: “Lakshman Kiriella MP asked about my conversation with the Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid. He (the Indian EAM) asked to speak to me and I readily agreed and we had a very pleasant conversation. It was nothing like it was represented to be. We had a pleasant conversation. Mr Khurshid is a very genial person. There were no threats and no aggressive tone. The media reports on the conversation are fictitious.” Peiris’ remarks, a clear spin like the usual news statements issued by his Ministry (absent this time though), seemed to suggest that the Indian External Affairs Minister Khurshid had merely telephoned him to find out how he was keeping. He avoided giving any reason for such a call. Worse still, Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister Peiris seems ignorant or has chosen to ignore the fact that select Indian media outlets were given an off-the-record briefing of the telephone call. That was how the telephone call and the conversation that ensued became public, first in India. India’s senior EAM officials had told the media in whom they had confidence on a “non-attributable” basis that New Delhi (through that telephone call) had called on Sri Lanka to “keep to the assurances given” and not to resort to “unilateral action” with regard to the NPC polls or the 13th Amendment. Such an assurance had been given in March before and after the UN Human Rights Council adopted the second US resolution. If Peiris now says the reports are “fictitious”, he is saying the Indian media reports are fictitious. Besides, what transpired at the off-the-record briefing in New Delhi, diplomatic sources have confirmed to the Sunday Times, what exactly transpired during the Khurshid-Peiris telephone call. What Peiris wants is for Sri Lankans also to believe the Indian news reports are mere fiction. This is whilst his External Affairs Ministry kept Sri Lankans in the dark about what transpired. I would challenge EAM Peiris to say through a media statement that no assurances were made to India and Minister Khurshid’s telephone conversation was a social call. He should explain why Minister Yapa had to set the record right. At least that would give Sri Lankans a chance to discern whether there is ‘double speak’. Alas, that would not happen. They would have to simply believe the EAM media statements that shower kudos on the Minister and his brilliant diplomatic skills until its contents are disproved by the events that follow. On Thursday, Colombobased diplomats who were invited for a briefing by Peiris ended up receiving copies of the Hansard containing his speech in Parliament. Urgent bill in parliament Behind-the-scenes preparations are now under way for the conduct of the NPC polls. The Cabinet which met last Tuesday gave approval to a Registration of Electors (Special Provisions) Bill. It will be introduced in Parliament as an “urgent” piece of legislation, Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem told the Sunday Times. The Government hopes to pass it with a two thirds majority. He said the proposed new law would make provision for the creation of a supplementary Voters Register for the NPC polls. This is besides the Electoral Register now in place. The Supplementary Voters Register will have the names of all those who were residents of the North before 2009 and have not been registered elsewhere. For that purpose, he said, the would-be voters will have to apply to vote at the election no sooner an official annoucement is made. An earlier proposal to include those already registered elsewhere, if they so opted to be placed in the supplementary voters list for the North provided they denounced the other registration, was dropped. Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya had pointed out that swelling numbers would require an adjustment of the number of seats. Hence, the move to leave out those registered. Last Wednesday, President Rajapaksa chaired a meeting of leaders of political parties which are partners of the UPFA. At the meeting Hakeem explained that Northern voters, who were displaced before 2009, could register their names. This was after offering proof of the residency and giving a declaration that their names are not on any other electoral register. The Government expects the new Bill to be law by June 6. The new law
is expected to benefit a large number of Sinhala and Muslim voters who were forced out of the North during the war. A few Tamil voters too will become eligible, officials say. Most of those who will find their names on a supplementary voters list are those re-located to other parts of the country. The Sunday Times has learnt that President Mahinda Rajapaksa will issue a proclamation on June 26 constituting the Northern Provincial Council. Immediately thereafter, he will issue directions to the Commissioner of Elections to conduct the poll. The figure of two and six added together is eight, said to be astrologically a lucky number for Rajapaksa. This will be in keeping with Elections Commissioner Deshapriya’s requirement that he needs two and half months’ time to prepare for the polls, as exclusively revealed in the Sunday Times. One of his major tasks during this period will be to hurriedly formulate the Supplementary Voters Register. TNA’s position Despite Minister Yapa’s categorical assertion, one of the key players at the NPC polls, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), chose to maintain silence until an official announcement is made about the holding of the elections. TNA leader, Rajavarothayam Sampanthan was away from Colombo. Mavai Senathirajah, a TNA parliamentarian, told the Sunday Times, “Though a Minister has said that the NPC polls will be held as scheduled, we are still not sure. It is the President who has to issue the Gazette notification to form the Northern Provincial Council. He should direct the Commissioner of Elections to conduct the polls. Until that process happens we are not sure if elections will be held. If that process takes place and elections are held we will be contesting the elections. However we have our doubts that the elections will be free and fair. The Independent Elections Commission has not been set up. If the elections are held, there should be international monitors.” UPFA leaders are still undecided how they will face the polls. The likelihood of Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the principal partner in the alliance, going it alone is one of the matters under consideration. The idea behind the exercise, UPFA sources say, is to allow its partners (especially its northern ally, the Eelam People’s Democratic Front (EPDP), to field candidates on its own if it so wishes. That way, the SLFP sources believes, votes will be split and that will place the SLFP in a position to gain seats under its own symbol. National Organiser Minister Basil Rajapaksa is the key strategist and is yet to initiate a final move, the same sources added. Enter Gotabaya Rajapaksa The conduct of the NPC polls and the once planned changes to the 13th Amendment may be on hold but that will not be the end of the UPFA’s woes. Slowly, but surely, a strong campaign is building up, both against an NPC poll and on a call to amend the Constitution to delete land and police powers to Provincial Councils. Adding his strength to these protests is the powerful Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. One need hardly say that his support and cooperation for the conduct of a trouble free poll in the North remains very much in his hands. Gotabaya Rajapaksa reached out to the Tamils this week by airing his views on the NPC polls and Constitutional changes urged by some UPFA partners. He told the Sunday edition of Sudar Oli newspaper, a partner of the Jaffna based Uthayan, “whether it is India or others who want it, what is good for the country has to be done. What India wishes we cannot implement in Sri Lanka.” He has noted that there were more Tamils in the Ratnapura District than in the Kilinochchi District. “What happens if the Chief Minister for Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council asks for Police powers?” he has asked. He has also questioned the relevance between reconciliation and the 13th Amendment. Arguing that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), if it wins the NPC polls, would ask for land and police powers, Gotabaya Rajapaksa had pointed out that Tiger guerrilla leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran had also opposed the 13th Amendment. Having expressed such strong views, there is little doubt Gotabaya Rajapaksa would exert all influence to convey his apprehensions to UPFA leaders. This is easily the first time he has expressed public reservations so strongly over a Government move. He probably sees the future dangers these elections portend from a national security angle.
His comments come when the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) warned that it was not worried about even leaving the UPFA. The JHU this week released a document titled “An Act to amend the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.” It says the document is a draft 19th Amendment to repeal the existing 13th Amendment. It contends that the amendment sought “to abdicate the legislative power vested in Parliament and the Executive power vested in the President by the division of governmental power and restricted Parliament and the President respectively exercising the legislative and executive power of the people and thereby offended the unitary character of the state.”
Such draft legislation is usually the prerogative of the Government in power. However, JHU General Secretary Patali Champika Ranawaka told the Sunday Times ,”there are procedural barriers. We will use the options available to us.” Asked what happens if they are forced to leave the UPFA, he said “We don’t care about our position. We only care about this country.” (Edited excerpts of a Q & A with Minister Ranawaka appear in a box story on this page). National Freedom Front (NFF) leader and Minister Wimal Weerawansa told the Sunday Times that notwithstanding the official pronouncements, his party’s protests would continue. Weerawansa, who left for China yesterday accompanying President Mahinda Rajapaksa, said, “in the coming week, we will launch a campaign to collect a million signatures. The mobile campaign will begin in Colombo and travel to other towns.” He said the NFF will also write to President Rajapaksa seeking a meeting where it will place the NFF’s concerns over the conduct of NPC polls and impress on him the need to change the 13th Amendment to exclude land and police powers. In addition, he said, the NFF also planned meetings in principal towns. This week, the newly emerged Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) said it would urge the Government to abolish the 13th Amendment. Its General Secretary Ven. Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara Thera told a news conference on Tuesday, “International and local influence to hold Northern Provincial Council elections clearly indicates that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) support groups have a hand to split the country into two. They want to form a separate state (Eelam), using the Provincial Council system. The Indo-Lanka Agreement is the main cause for the LTTE to be further aroused to achieve the dream of forming a separate state in the northern and eastern regions of the country.
“The BBS will take to the streets with the support of the general public if the Government fails to abolish the
Provincial Council system. The BBS insists that the re-settlement of the displaced Sinhalese community in Northern and Eastern provinces should be completed before having elections. The resettlement will bring political and ethnic stability in northern and eastern provinces. The Government has a duty to safeguard Buddhist and Sinhala traditions, heritage, customs, history and interests before initiating elections and other development projects in the country.” Power project with India These developments come as the Ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday (advanced from Thursday in view of the Vesak holidays) discussed the proposed Sampur coal fired power plant for a second time. The first was when the ministers met for their weekly meeting on May 9 when a cabinet memorandum was presented by Power and Energy Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi. This time, Wanniarachchi’s predecessor Patali Champika Ranawaka had circulated a four-page note among his ministerial colleagues asking for the deletions of some provisions in the draft power purchase agreement between the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and India’s National Thermal Power Company (NTPC). One of the main issues Minister Ranawaka has raised in his note is the need to delete a provision in the more than 115 page draft agreement to be signed between CEB and the NTPC. The relevant paragraph reads:
“…..GOSL/CEB declare that GOSL and CEB shall during the subsistence of this MoA neither entertain any
proposal for the allocation including development, implementation, operation and maintenance of the said Project to nor negotiate or discuss the same with any party other than the NTPC for any of the said purposes. To this end GOSL/CEB shall also refrain from doing or engaging with any work with any other person for development, implementation and operation and maintenance of the said Project including any invitation for negotiation or signing or entering into any understanding whatsoever with respect to the said project or formation of a joint venture company with any other person/company/entity/developer for setting up the said Project during the subsistence of this MoA.” Minister Ranawaka’s contention is that the Government of Sri Lanka becomes committed not to allow any other entity from any other country from initiating power projects in the Trincomalee District. However, the NTPC has argued that the clause had been included to ensure they function as a viable economic venture in selling electricity to Sri Lanka and are not “subject to unfair competition.” They point out that the clause already exists in the agreement that Sri Lanka had signed on the joint project with India in 2006. President Rajapaksa told his ministers that the Government was determined to go ahead with the coal fired Sampur power project with India since it cannot depend entirely on fuel-fired power generation. Whilst costs were high, the CEB has been incurring heavy losses. President Rajapaksa said that as a matter of policy, he was hoping to have some major projects carried out by foreign collaborators on a BOT (or Build/ Operate/ Transfer) basis. One such project was the Colombo-Kandy expressway that would cost the Government more than US$ 1.5 billion (or more than Rs. 189.5 billion). President Rajapaksa then turned to Minister Wanniarachchi and told her to make preparations for work to begin on the Sampur project once formalities are cleared. It was Minister John Seneviratne (who was once a Power and Energy Minister) who pointed out that Cabinet approval was not required “to extend the validity” of the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) signed with India on December 29, 2006. Minister Wanniarachchi has turned to the Cabinet for approval for this matter. The MoA has been renewed periodically until end of June 2013 pending the completion of the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) and Implementation Agreement (IA). It is a new Joint Venture Company (JVA) between Sri Lanka and India that will sign the Power Purchase, Implementation and the Board of Investment Agreements “with the respective parties in Sri Lanka.” The Cabinet will review the matter further next month before granting formal approval to sign the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). This week’s events come as clear proof that the Government has galvanised itself to go ahead with the NPC
polls and resist all pressure to allow changes to the 13th Amendment. It is also clear proof that the need to stage a Commonwealth summit in Colombo sans a boycott by some key members has become a priority of foremost importance to the UPFA Government. Reaching the heights of that glory is not an easy task. There is opposition both within the Government and outside; a price the Government is ready to pay. The question still remains whether it will be too costly — not just financially, but politically as well. 13th Amendment must go: JHU The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) will write to all opposition political parties with the exception of the Tamil National Alliance, seeking meetings with them. This is to discuss its private member’s motion in Parliament to repeal the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, JHU General Secretary and Minister Champika Ranawaka told the Sunday Times. Here are edited excerpts of a Q & A: WHY JHU IS SEEKING A REPEAL: Our position is that the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement was signed under duress and is therefore illegal.
Champika Ranawaka It was gunboat diplomacy by India. The then Parliament was one that had extended its term through a referendum. MPs had already given their undated letters of resignation. The Provincial Councils legislation was presented on the same day as the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement was tabled. Both the chicken and the egg came out the same day.
MEETING OTHER POLITICAL PARTIES: We want to meet all opposition parties, with the exception of the TNA. We will also meet those in the UPFA. We want to campaign for a free vote for our draft 19th Amendment. CAN THE JHU MOVE LEGISLATION? If there are arguments about procedural barriers, we have other options to resort to. We are in the process of a “de Eelamification.” This is much the same way there was “de Baathification” when US invaded Iraq or “de Gadaffication” when an Arab spring ousted Muammar Gadaffi. The terrorist LTTE ideology should be banned if we are to translate our military victory into political victory. INDIA’S EFFORTS: On the one hand it wants to probe so-called war crimes. On the other, it wants us to change our Constitution to hand over power to the neo Nazis. India will actually learn a lesson. It instigated separatists to pressure us. ON JHU ACTIONS AFFECTING ITS ROLE AS PARTNER IN THE UNITED PEOPLE’S FREEDOM ALLIANCE (UPFA): We don’t care about our position. We only care about our country and its people. There are only circumstances and we have no personal interest. NPC POLLS: The consequences of holding such polls are going to be more serious than any time before. Nationalist forces that elected President Mahinda Rajapaksa may cut the ground. Modern nationalistic forces in Sri Lanka are the ones who will be able to determine the course for the future. We are opposed to the polls. We have not re-settled Tamils and Muslims. PROPOSED PARLIAMENTARY SELECT COMMITTEE FOR RECONCILIATION: It will not work. The TNA will not participate. The TNA leaders have an inflated ego. The only way forward is to abolish the 13th Amendment. We are not going to backtrack from that.
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