powers haunt UNF govt.
The UNF government after being in power
for nearly eight months is becoming
gradually uncomfortable with the dissolution threat hanging over its
head like the sword of Damocles.
Under the constitution,
the President could dissolve Parliament after it completes one year.
of Economic Reforms, Science and Technology Milinda Moragoda.
LTTE chief negotiator Anton Balasingham , ambassador Bernard
Goonetilleke and the Norwegian facilitation team consisting
of Erik Solheim, Vidar Helgesen and Norwegian Ambassador to
Sri Lanka. Jon Westborg at the meeting held in Oslo.
if the President has no intention of dissolving parliament, the
fear that she could exercise this power pervades the political atmosphere.
Thus it is no surprise when the government of Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe entertains such fears and doubts the President's
assurance that parliament would not be dissolved.
In one political
analyst's words, promises lose their sanctity in politics. True
to this saying, the Wickremesinghe administration is now treading
a cautious path.
available to the government is to pass a resolution in parliament
to dissolve parliament before it completes one year and go for snap
polls with the objective of achieving greater political stability.
insiders, this option is increasingly becoming more viable since
the President has rejected a constitutional amendment aimed at placing
restrictions on her powers to dissolve parliament.
view is that a government should not tinker with the President's
power as and when it wants. Recently she threw down the gauntlet
at the government asking it to take steps to abolish the executive
presidency instead of trying to kill it piecemeal. But she did not
respond when the government said it would prefer an executive Prime
Minister instead of an executive president.
It's worth mentioning
here that when the two main parties held talks on devolution in
August 2000 just before the elections that year, both these parties
had differences of opinion about the abolition of the executive
While the PA
maintained that the President should be allowed to complete her
six year term in terms of the mandate she received at the 1999 Presidential
elections, the UNP called for the immediate abolition of the executive
When the talks
reached a stalemate, the Kumaratunga administration tried to push
the constitutional reforms through parliament and failed in the
face of UNP opposition. Ms. Kumaratunga had no option but to call
for fresh elections in October 2000.
to the present crisis, the UNP has only one option: Pushing a constitutional
amendment through Parliament to restrict the President's power to
dissolve parliament. This could happen only if the UNF has the support
of opposition members to get the required two-thirds majority.
believes that such a move is necessary to ensure the stability of
the government and to take the peace process forward, especially
at a time when dates for face-to-face talks with the LTTE have been
The UNF thinking
is that the President could hold the entire peace process to ransom
as long as she retains her constitutional power to dissolve parliament.
L. Peiris told this column that he was sure that the government
could obtain the required two-thirds majority to push the amendment.
'"There is no doubt about it," Prof. Peiris said adding
that the amendment would be presented in Parliament shortly.
At a dinner
hosted by Prof. Peiris to celebrate his 56th birthday on Tuesday,
few PA stalwarts were present. Among them were Jeyaraj Fernandopulle,
Richard Pathirana, A.H.M. Fowzie and Indika Gunawardena all former
ministers of the PA regime.
was quite open about his opposition to go for a snap election. He
said the PA would be reduced to a weaker opposition if elections
were held today.
His view is
also echoed by some PA parliamentarians who say the President and
the Prime Minister should come to an amicable settlement. But they
are disappointed that the President is not ready for a compromise.
The UNP has
moved fast and spoken to a large number of PA Parliamentarians,
and the outcome appears to be satisfactory.
The UNP has
included an indemnity clause in the amendment bill to ensure political
security for opposition parliamentarians who will vote for it. Notwithstanding
any existing provision in the constitution, they will be immune
from any Supreme Court proceedings against them initiated by their
own party. In addition, their future too will be well secured, according
to UNF insiders.
through her party, is likely to challenge the constitutional validity
of the amendment, but the UNP thinking is that the Supreme Court
could go only as far as to suggest that the bill should also be
approved in a referendum since it proposes to strip the President
of some powers that were sanctioned by the people.
All this has
to be done before the end of next month because there is also a
possibility that the President could prorogue Parliament and thereafter
dissolve it, igniting a major political crisis.
has assured the nation that she will not use her powers to dissolve
Parliament and added a rider that unlike other heads of states,
she has not used most of the powers associated with the executive
But the UNP's
position is that going by the past experience, the President has
a weakness in keeping up promises. Therefore, it is important to
go ahead with the amendment bill.
The new amendment
bill envisages that the President should in consultation with the
Prime Minister determine the mood of the legislature before taking
steps to dissolve parliament prematurely.
Be that as
it may, the government has achieved a major breakthrough when an
official delegation led by Minister Milinda Moragoda managed to
fix dates for the first round of talks with the LTTE.
Minister Vidar Helgessen and LTTE Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham
met Minister Moragoda and peace envoy Bernard Gunatilleke in Oslo
for crucial talks.
The talks in
Thailand to be held between September 12 and 17 are likely to centre
round the interim administration for the Northeast until a final
settlement is reached. However, it is expected that other core issues
would also be taken up though those things may not be included in
The peace process
and the talks will compel President Kumaratunga to remain as a silent
observer and may tie her down even if she wants to exercise executive
power and dissolve Parliament.
If she tries
to dissolve parliament, it may not augur well for her own reputation
as a stateswoman and peace lover.
facilitators are likely to work on the modalities of the Thai talks,
the exact dates for which would be fixed in consultation with the
government and the LTTE.
these developments, the crisis within the SLMC reached dizzying
heights when a group of SLMC members decided to write to the President
and the Prime Minister that a referendum should be held in the Eastern
province for the people in the area to decide whether they would
agree to an LTTE-run interim administration.
The MPs led
by A. L. Ataullah took this decision at a meeting in Parliament
complex on Tuesday.
leader Rauff Hakeem had a lengthy discussion with the MPs later
and persuaded them to withdraw their decision until the matter was
discussed fully at the proper party forum.
within the SLMC was partly due the situation in the east and partly
due to Mr. Hakeem's close association with SLMC National List MP
Basheer Segu Dawood.
that Segu Dawood follows the leader everywhere and had virtually
created a buffer, making it difficult for members to access the
He is also known
as the Anton Balasingham of the SLMC. Such is his power.
But for Mr.
Hakeem, Mr. Segu Dawood is a sincere friend who would stand by him.
So it is obvious that Mr. Hakeem tries to promote him in spite of
Cabinet meeting there was an interesting debate on the privatisation
of the CWE. The President sent a note to the Cabinet making various
suggestions and requesting that the CWE should be privatised as
one unit and not section by section proposed by Minister Ravi Karunanayake.
note to the Cabinet is as follows:
to my Observations of 13.08.2002 on the Cabinet Memorandum submitted
by the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs on the 'Restructuring
of the Co-operative Wholesale Establishment' dated 15th July 2002,
I wish to make the following further observations:
(a) I am made
to understand that, though a Memorandum is submitted at this stage
and approval of the Cabinet of Ministers sought to restructure the
CWE, work has already been started by the Minister on this, even
before submitting a detailed restructuring plan and obtaining Cabinet
approval for such plan.
(b) The Minister
is reported to have formed seven companies as part of this programme.
(c) The minister
is also reported to have authorized heavy capital expenditure for
different divisions of the CWE, prior to privatizing the companies
that he has formed. Some of the work already commenced or proceeding
are as follows:
project at Jawatte.
ii. Same at
of vehicles for the transport division.
It is obvious
that the huge capital expenditure involved in these and other similar
projects on the eve of the privatization of the CWE will benefit
the new owners, some of whom may have even been earmarked by now.
connected matter that I would like to raise with the Cabinet is
the proper authority to undertake the privatization of this organization,
if it is to be privatized at all. I believe it should be the Ministry
of Finance, which owns the assets, on behalf of the Government.
Naturally, PERC will be involved in the work, under its legitimate
03. In view
of the above, while directing the minister to report as I indicated
in my earlier observations, I would suggest that the Cabinet of
the Minister to stop, forthwith, all capital works that he has commenced
or intends to commence at the CWE, prior to its privatization;
(b) Take a policy
decision on the privatization of the CWE, once the report of the
minister, as earlier decided is received and
(c) If it is
decided to privatize this organization, then request the Ministry
of Finance, with the assistance of the PERC, to take the necessary
steps to do so, either through the Stock Exchange or by public tender."
In spite of
this note, the President finally agreed to the cabinet memorandum
put forward by Minister Karunanayake.
In an ensuing
discussion, the President was asked by Minister Rajitha Senaratne
as to why she had decided to pay compensation only for the victims
of the 2001 election.
said that one of his offices too was damaged during the 2000 election.
The President then said that she lost her eye, her mother's civic
rights were taken away, her father lost his land and her husband
was killed by the JVP.
At this juncture
Minister Karunanayake said, it was she who wanted to tag along with
was quick to snap back saying that she was talking only to the Prime
Minister and not to others.