The tug of war between the Chief Minister of the Northern Province, C.V. Wigneswaran and Governor Reginald Cooray, which continued unabated for quite some, reached its climax when the Court ruled that the Chief Minister’s move to sack a minister and appoint a new minister in his place was legally wrong. Unfazed by the ruling, Wigneswaran passed the ball to Governor Cooray, stating that it was for the Governor to untangle the deadlock of his own creation.
The Court of Appeal issued an interim injunction on 29 June against the decision taken by Wigneswaran to remove P. Deniswaran from the position of Provincial Minister of Fisheries and Transport. The petition filed by Deniswaran, seeking a Court Order declaring his removal from the Ministerial portfolio as illegal, was taken up before a bench comprising Justice Kumuduni Wickramasinghe and Justice Janaka de Silva.
Deniswaran stated in his petition that, under the Constitution, only the Governor of the Province is vested with the power to remove a Provincial Minister, and that the Chief Minister does not have the authority to remove a Minister according to his whims and fancies.
Wigneswaran had a series of issues with ministers in the Northern Provincial Council (NPC). He sacked two others, P. Ayngaranesan and Kurukularasa, on allegations of corrupt practices, and another Minister, Dr. P. Sathiyalingam resigned due to his differences with the Chief Minister.
Deniswaran is a member of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), a constituent of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Party challenged the decision of the Chief Minister. Deniswaran also maintained that his removal was not legally binding.
The five-year tenure of the Northern Provincial Council will expire in September 2018. Although Wigneswaran said that if the elections could not be held immediately, his tenure should be extended, there is no Constitutional Provision for extending the period of a provincial council. The only option available is to place the province under the Governor’s rule.
Tamil National Alliance
Wigneswaran was elected to office under the TNA in 2013. However, he distanced himself from the TNA within a short period. The main Party in the TNA is Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK), of which the two leading figures, Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan and M.A. Sumanthiran openly criticized the Chief Minister’s actions. Of the other constituent parties in the TNA, so far only Suresh Premachandran’s Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) has stood by Wigneswaran.
Last year, Wigneswaran formed a new Party called Tamil People’s Council, showing his dissent. Infuriated TNA provincial councillors decided to move a Motion of No-Confidence against Wigneswaran. It was handed over to Governor Reginald Cooray by several ITAK and Opposition members of the NPC. This resulted in the Tamil People’s Council, led by Wigneswaran, organizing hartals across the Northern Province in support of Wigneswaran. Following mediation by religious leaders, a compromise was reached between Wigneswaran and the TNA leadership and the Chief Minister agreed to withdraw the request for two Ministers, Deniswaran and Sathiyalingam to go on leave, and in return, the Motion of No-Confidence against Wigneswaran was withdrawn.
TELO has decided to temporarily suspend the Party Membership of the Northern Province Transport and Fisheries Minister, P. Deniswaran, for acting in contravention to the Party decision. Disregarding the TNA decision not to support the No-Confidence Motion against the Chief Minister, Deniswaran backed the motion last year.
Although the option of placing the North under Governor’s rule is available to the Government, it is unlikely to take such drastic action with only a couple of months to end the term of office of the NPC. Wigneswaran, who is well versed in Constitutional affairs as a former Supreme Court Judge, is trying to play a political drama by stating any dissolution of the provincial councils, including the NPC, was unconstitutional, and if the term is to end, his tenure should be extended by an amendment to the Constitution. He cannot be ignorant of the fact that such a fundamental amendment would require not only a two third majority in Parliament, but also majority approval at a national referendum.
Wigneswaran’s arbitrary actions are not limited to removal of his own ministers. Last week, he instructed the officials in the North to notify him before providing any information to Army officials. He requested to notify him if the Army asks for information from hospitals or officials in the North.
He also accused the Governor of undue interference. “The Central Government runs one governance, while the Provincial Council runs another, in addition to that, as a third governance, a Governor’s governance is also there,” he said, and followed up with his familiar demand, “Our people are inconvenienced by this. Therefore, we request for a federal government.”
After the Provincial Council Elections were held under the India-enforced 13th Amendment in 1988, A. Varadaraja Perumal of the EPRLF was elected Chief Minister of the ‘temporarily merged’ North and East. It did not last even half of its 5-year term, and the North-East was placed under the Governor’s rule after dissolving the Council, when Perumal declared unilateral declaration of independence (UDI), and left the country with the returning Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in March 1990. Perumal did not dare to come back to Sri Lanka until the LTTE was defeated by the armed forces.
The vexed issue of ‘temporary merger’ of the North and East was Constitutionally solved when the Supreme Court declared that the merger was unconstitutional.
The Tamil people in the North got an opportunity to elect their Provincial Council in 2013, after a lapse of 23 years. After two decades of Governor’s rule, Chief Minister Wigneswaran was elected, in 2013, to serve the people. The learned former Judge from Supreme Court is unlikely to follow the ill-perceived path of his predecessor, Varadaraja Perumal. However, now, at the end of five years, the question arises if the people in the North are in for another period of Governor’s rule, or will the Tamil political parties settle their differences, and continue to deliver utilizing the powers vested with the Provincial Council?