he Mahinda Rajapaksa government it seems is facing some sort of divine retribution. The crises following the conclusion of elections to three provincial councils have now created a rift within the key coalition party of the government, the SLFP.The government’s strategy of divide and rule has now boomeranged on it. After assuming office for the first term in 2005 President Rajapaksa proved to be one of the best political strategists the country has witnessed in a while. He swiftly moved to destabilize the main opposition UNP and one time ally of the UPFA government, the JVP. The UNP is yet to recover from the impact of the 17 crossovers to the government led by former Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya. As for the JVP, the party was affected by its sudden walk out of the government which eventually led to the defection of the party’s one time star, Wimal Weerawansa to the government over clashes in ideologies.The governing UPFA since then has been on a smooth ride without a strong force to challenge it.Be that as it may, the governing party is now facing a series of crises. The crises began with the defeat of the budgets presented by the governing party to several local government bodies. Governing party councilors voted against the budgets presented by their own administration creating an embarrassing situation for the Rajapaksa government.Threats of taking action against the errant party members never took place due to the fear of the possible repercussions. The SLFP is now facing a split following the conclusion of the North Central Provincial Council elections. An SLFP stalwart, former North Central Province Chief Minister Berty Premalal Dissanayake has decided to stand against the government. Rejecting offers of parliamentary positions and other perks, Dissanayake has so far kept to his word of acting as a councilor in the Provincial Council.He has so far mustered the support of 120 governing party members in the local government bodies in the Anuradhapura District. There are a total of 150 governing party local government members in the district. The 120 governing party members have claimed they would only carry out dictates by Dissanayake.Although Deputy Minister S.M. Chandrasena’s brother, S.M. Ranjith was sworn in as the Chief Minister of the North Central Province, Dissanayake has managed to show his powers within the Council. A seasoned politician, Dissanayake enjoys the support of a majority of the governing party members in the Council as well as those from the opposition.Dissanayake last week recorded yet another victory at the appointment of the Chairman for the North Central Provincial Council. Yet another governing party member whose name was proposed by the opposition defeated the councilor proposed to the post by the governing party.The inaugural meeting of the Council was held on the 2nd and the vote for the Chairman was called in. UNP Councilor Anil Ratnayake had proposed the name of UPFA Councilor T. M. R. Siripala for the post. UNP Councilor D. M. Amaratunga had seconded it. North Central Province Education Minister Peshala Jayaratne had proposed the name of UPFA Councilor Amarakeerthi Athukorale. Minister H. B. Semasinghe had seconded it.Siripala had received 21 votes and was elected Chairman while Athukorala had received only 11 votes. Sirip la it is learnt is a Dissanayake loyalist and his election as the Council’s Chairman is seen as victory for Dissanayake. However, Siripala’s election was also a warning signal for the government. The fact that Dissanayake had managed to garner the support of the opposition to get “his man” elected to the post of North Central Provincial Council Chairman cannot be taken lightly. One of the reasons for Dissanayake to fall out of favor with the party leadership was the failure to get the Council’s approval to a piece of legislation on land laws where certain powers vested with the Provincial Councils were to be acquired by the Central Government. Dissanayake had personally informed the government at the time that he did not approve the legislation since it interfered with the powers vested the Provincial Councils.In this backdrop, the governing party has been sent a warning signal by Dissanayake that even as an ordinary councilor, he could still make adifference. In a bid to control the damage caused by the election of the Council’s Chairman, SLFP General Secretary, Minister Maithripala Sirisena had last week told the media that disciplinary action would be taken against the newly elected Chairman if he acted against the dictates of the governing party.Sirisena had further noted that the 13th Amendment had made provision for members of Provincial Councils to elect a Chairman by secret vote.Dissanayake’s warning after the election that the split in the SLFP could start from the North Central Province is now showing signs of actually becoming a reality
SLMC’s Divi Neguma crisis
The bad luck of the governing party seems to have rubbed off on its coalition partners as well. The SLMC is also in crisis since the conclusion of the Eastern Provincial Council election.Members of the SLMC’s main decision-making body, the High Command, have been displeased with the party leadership for the manner in which adecision was made to support the government to form the Eastern Provincial Council.Several office bearers of the High Command even wrote to the party Secretary calling on him to convene a meeting of the High Command to discuss issues related to the Eastern Provincial Council and also to decide on the party’s stance in relation to the controversial Divi Neguma Bill. The letter has also noted that the SLMC High Command needs to decide on the party’s stance on the controversial Divi Neguma Bill that is currently being presented to the Provincial Councils.“The Supreme Court has held amongst others that the provisions of the Bill impacts on subjects that come under the purview of the provincial councils. Yet, according to the media, the Divi Neguma Bill has been referred to certain Provincial Councils and as such it could be referred to the EPC any time. It is your stated position as well as the party’s position that the party would not support anything that would be perceived as being against the spirit of devolution and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and would try its best to prevail upon the government no to enact such legislation,” the SLMC office bearers have pointed out. However, the High Command is expected to be convened after party leader, Minister Rauf Hakeem returns to the country from an official overseas visit.Following the Supreme Court directive that the Divi Neguma Bill needed the approval of the Provincial Councils before being adopted as law by Parliament, the piece of legislation is now doing the rounds in the Provincial Councils.
Most of the Provincial Councils have now passed the Bill. However, the opposition parties have been focusing on the Eastern Provincial Council and to see how the government planned to get approval from the Northern Province. Given the SLMC’s undecided stance, the government was also under pressure due to the uncertainty.The governing party managed to gain a majority to form the Council solely with the seven SLMC seats. Hence, a decision by the SLMC to vote against the controversial Bill or even to abstain would have defeated the piece of legislation.The SLMC High Command members, it is learnt, are now irked since the SLMC members had voted in favor of the Bill and passed it in the Eastern Provincial Council last week. The seven SLMC members in the Eastern Provincial Council have said they had not received proper instructions from the party to move for an adjournment when the Bill was presented to the Council in order to get the time required to decide on the party’s official stance on the Divi Neguma Bill.SLMC Secretary M.T. Hassan Ali, it is learnt, had said he had informed the party councilors through a telephone call to move for an adjournment and not to vote in favor of the Bill since the party had not yet reached an official stance. The governing party was also expecting the SLMC to move for an adjournment calling for the vote to be taken on another day. High Command members have now asked the party Secretary to call for an explanation from the seven councilors as to how they had voted in favor of the Bill without party approval and whether they acted on the instructions of a senior member of the party.Party leader Hakeem was expected to return to the country this weekend and he would undoubtedly be coming back to a party in turmoil. An angry party membership is also awaiting an explanation from him on the agreement reached by the SLMC with the governing party to support the formation of the Eastern Provincial Council administration.In the Northern Provincial Council, TNA MP Mavai Senathiraja has challenged in court that the Northern Province Governor could not authorize the Divi Neguma Bill on behalf of the Northern Provincial Council. The case has been referred to the Supreme Court.
Re-emergence of the LTTE
While the local political arena is a hive of activity, the Indian government last week announced the threat of the re-emergence of the LTTE in Tamil Nadu. India previously vehemently rejected such claims, even when they were made by the likes of Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne in Parliament. However, the Indian media reported that Minister of Defence, A. K. Antony had said that the Indian Government was closely monitoring matters with regard to reports on the re-emergence of LTTE activities in Tamil Nadu.Minister Antony made these comments when addressing a military event in New Delhi last week. He had said that India has taken steps to stabilize its security and the reports with regard to the re-emergence of the LTTE in Tamil Nadu have been closely monitored through all channels of the Indian Defence sector. Meanwhile, K. Sampathkumar, a senior official of the Tamil Nadu’s elite intelligence agency `Q’ Branch, had reportedly submitted two volumes of documents compiled on matters pertaining to LTTE activities in the State to the one–man tribunal headed by Justice V. K. Jain. The Tamil Nadu Government had also brought to the notice of the Indian Central Government that certain LTTE sympathizers were even trying to revive the LTTE’s political wing, the People’s Front of Liberation Tigers, in the State.The Indian media reported that the `Q’ Branch of Tamil Nadu had in its report said that certain hardcore criminals such as drug peddlers and human smugglers from Sri Lanka, were trying to seek shelter inside the camps set up for the Lankan refugees in Danushkodi in the Ramanathapuram District.According to `Q’ Branch, a 22-year-old Lankan called Anoj from Nuwara Eliya was arrested in Ramanathapuram recently. The investigators have found that Anoj was a drug peddler and his accomplice was another Lankan called Rizvi. Both were involved in drug peddling in South-Eastern Asian countries and they were wanted by the Lankan law enforcement officials. Anoj had paid Rs. 40,000 to a boat operator from Mannar in Sri Lanka, to escape to the South Indian port city Ramanathapuram, according to the `Q’ Branch.The intelligence agency had also said that four Lankans wanted in connection with criminal activities, have been nabbed so far in Tamil Nadu this year. They had been found hiding in refugee camps. Meanwhile, the Rajapaksa government had sought public support to defeat the efforts of the remnants of the LTTE and their proxies operating from other countries to undermine the peace and reconciliation process.On the reconciliation front, the Indian government last week said that it attached the “highest and most important priority” to the resettlement and rehabilitation of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka and remains engaged with Colombo for achieving a “future” for them. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had reportedly conveyed this message to DMK chief M. Karunanidhi, who had written to him on August 20 on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue.Singh had said New Delhi’s focus has been on the welfare and well being of the Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka since the end of the conflict there. “Their resettlement and rehabilitation have been of the highest and most important priority for our Government,” Singh said in his recent letter released to the media today.India has also conveyed to the Sri Lankan Government the need for taking forward the dialogue with the political representatives of the Sri Lankan Tamils on devolution of power, the Prime Minister told Karunanidhi, whose party is a key ally of the UPA. “In this context, we remain engaged with the Government of Sri Lanka for the achievement of a future for the Tamil community in Sri Lanka that is marked by equality, dignity, justice and self-respect,” Singh had said.
TNA To Delhi
The TNA is also to visit India this week to discuss various issues and special attention is to be paid to the reconciliation process and the political solution to the ethnic issue. The TNA is however of the stance that the Indian government needed to give a guarantee of an agreement at the end of the parliamentary select committee (PSC) process proposed by the government.The Indian government it is learnt would try to convince the TNA to participate in the PSC and initiate a dialogue with the government. South Indian journalist Sathiya Moorthy has reported that the Indian media reports had indicated that the TNA delegation is set to call on senior leaders of the BJP Opposition and possibly counterparts from other national parties while in New Delhi.In Chennai, the TNA plans to meet with various sections of the Tamil Nadu polity when they are in India this time. That should include AIADMK Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa and her DMK predecessor M. Karunanidhi, among others.