Sri lanka moving away from isolation | Daily News

Sri lanka moving away from isolation

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who is attending the World Economic Forum 2016 in Davos, Switzerland met  Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and held bilateral talks on the sidelines of the Summit on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's presence at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is a demonstration of Sri Lanka moving away from international isolation the country was pushed into under the MR regime, and offers good hope to attract Foreign Direct Investment, and other international assistance needed in the current economic situation. The rebuilding of ties with China is already a major advance, and will pose a challenge on the need to strengthen relations with India, which the PM handled well in an ND TV interview from Davos.

The politics of constitution making are now combined with that of Local Government elections, bringing a new rise in the debate, and twists and turns in the tactics and strategies of the opposition forces, mainly in the South of the country, clearly impacting on the position of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and its role in governance today and the period ahead.

The earlier schedule on transforming Parliament to a Constitutional Assembly or that of a Special Parliamentary Select Committee for Constitution drafting will be delayed, with more amendments coming from the Joint Opposition (JP), or whatever forces that remain with it today. There is new momentum to the constitution drafting process with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa being agreeable to the abolition of the Executive Presidency, However, such agreement comes with an important catch in it, on having a general election once the new Constitution is adopted.

We had two Constitutions adopted in Sri Lanka since Independence in 1948, not followed by a general election. The 1972 Constitution, giving us Republican status, after the Dominion Status under which were gained Independence, was not followed by any election. The constitutional change in 1978, came after the UNP's sweeping polls victory in 1977, and although it was hardly discussed in Parliament, it was not followed by any immediate general election, In fact the provisions of the 1978 Constitution were used by JR Jayewardene to hold the corrupt referendum in 1983, which extended the term of that Parliament by another six years. That is part of the history of convoluted democracy in the country.

Mahinda Rajapaksa reminds of establishing a Parliamentary Select Committee to consider constitutional changes, but with his two-thirds majority obtained by the political purchase of MPs, he gave no leadership to bring about the required change in the Constitution, especially the abolition of the Executive Presidency, which was promised in his manifestos, in both 2005 and 2015.

No MR leadership

We did not see the determined leadership he gave to the Select Committee established to conduct a parliamentary trial of the then Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, which saw his complete capture of the Judiciary of the country. What MR did about constitutional change was to use his shamefully purchased parliamentary majority to adopt the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which removed the term limit of the Executive President, allowing him to hold the office for as long as he liked, or in time to hand it to his choice of successor, most likely his son, Namal. This also repealed the 17th Amendment, which provided for the appointing of Independent Commissions to make key appointments and direct the affairs of important State institutions such as the Police, Public Service, Human Rights, Elections etc. a very important aspect of good governance.

This swing and sway by MR on constitutional change and electoral politics is very much part of the battle for control of the SLFP, with the opportunity of the coming Local Government elections. There is a clear revival of the tactics of the "Rise with Mahinda" campaign of SLFPers who supported him to be Prime Minister after the August 17, 2016 General Election, which proved a failure. With more than one year after the change of January 8, and close to one year after August 2015, when the Local Government polls are due, there is a strong feeling among the pro-MR group in the SLFP and the UPFA, both in and out of Parliament, that he could be the leader to defeat the UNP in the local polls, and thereby pose a major threat to the SLFP leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena.

More "paksa" branches

We now see the emergence of more Rajapaksa forces in the strategic moves in SLFP politics, with Basil Rajapaksa, who gave the impression of abandoning politics, and was also blamed by many, as Campaign Organizer, for the defeat of MR on January 8 last year, coming to the scene, calling for a new political party. Basil's surfacing at a meeting of UPFA Local Government members in the Kurunegala District shows the challenge being posed to President Sirisena on the one hand, and the attempt to draw more of grassroots support for an MR-led campaign in the Local Government polls to prevent a UNP victory.

There are other groups within the SLFP eager to see Gotabhaya Rajapaksa have a leading position in whatever new political front is formed for the LG polls. The Gotabhaya backers think that in the context of raising public concern about the alleged threats to War Heroes on criminal charges before the courts, it would be easier to build public support with Gotabhaya himself projected as such as "War Hero - Political Victim". They also see the advantage of Gotabhaya, in view of Basil's failure as National Organizer of the SLFP, and Campaign Organizer for January 8, 2015.

While MR continues to remain silent on the issue of a new political party, which will bring together the SLFPers left in the UPFA and the JP, there is every indication that his silence is one of purpose, to make the uncertainty of his leadership of a divided faction of the SLFP, an attempt to persuade President Sirisena and the leadership of the consensual government, to be light in handling the many issues of fraud and corruption faced both by him and other members of his family, as a bargaining ploy in what is seen as the battle for leadership of the SLFP.

Call to SLFP

As the Rajapaksa strategies are revealed, the SLFP needs to make a clear decision on its choice of leadership, within the party, in the coming LG poll campaign, as well as, show its commitment to a consensual government, without falling to the pro-Rajapaksa calls for an MR leadership to defeat the UNP in the LG polls. The SLFP is being pushed to the wall in this battle for leadership, needing a much stronger response from President Sirisena than seen against the "Rise with Mahinda" campaign from before August 2015.

In the other area of political focus is growing uncertainty of support from the JP and opposition forces to constitutional changes necessary for abolition of the Executive Presidency, and the people's call for a well functioning democracy. While there is much confusion in the opposition lining up against constitutional change, it is clear they will combine on slogans of racist and religious extremism, with a new content of foreign - or Western - interest in constitutional changes. The situation is made worse for Government with the introduction of the Theravada Kathikavatha - or ecclesiastic code, which has been temporarily withdrawn by the President for further consultation with the Maha Sangha, but is adding dangerous religious fire to an issue that can better harness the Sangha, especially those supporting the Abhayaramaya politics of the day.

While MR agrees to abolish the Executive Presidency, with political catches of a far reaching nature, his supporters led by Udaya Gammanpila and Wimal Weerawansa, are actively promoting a new political party, and are in the vanguard of opposition to any serious constitutional changes, raising questions about the buildup of public opposition to the constitutional goals of government and civil society.

The voices against constitutional change extend from not considering it an urgent need for a better democracy, to that of it being part of a Western conspiracy, and a search to unite the North and East, which also rings well with more Tamil extremist calls made by Northern Chief Minister Wigneswaran and the Tamil People's Council (TPC). The possibility of these forces having an undeclared alliance, but one in political reality, poses many questions for the success of the process of constitutional change. There is also the charge of there being a draft constitution already prepared, strongly denied by Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, a key mover in the constitutional process. Yet, the differences within the SLFP raise questions about the possibility of achieving consensus on a new constitution, which is the hope of the consensual government of the UNP and SLFP now in place.

PM in Davos

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's presence at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is a demonstration of Sri Lanka moving away from international isolation the country was pushed into under the MR regime, and offers good hope to attract Foreign Direct Investment, and other international assistance needed in the current economic situation. The rebuilding of ties with China is already a major advance, and will pose a challenge on the need to strengthen relations with India, which the PM handled well in an ND TV interview from Davos.

The emergence of more Rajapaksa "heavyweights" to the MR leadership campaign in the SLFP underscores the call for speedy and effective action against the corruption of the Rajapaksa regime. It is evident that fraud and corruption are the bargaining chips of the Rajapaksas in the current political conundrum facing that family, and transposed to the SLFP. The time may not be far when the family bandyism of the Rajapaksas is converted to a fight to protect the Family Banditry of that clan.


 

There is 1 Comment

IF we are to accede to the whims and fancies of Yasmin Sooka, the prince and all others who are screaming for the blood of the Sri Lankan soldiers, we may all have to put-up with GR and his new party.

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