ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday December 9, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 28

Minority parties engage in major budget politics

By Nadia Fazlulhaq

With five days to go for the decisive final vote on the budget and vote patterns swinging both ways, three key minority parties appear to be making use of the situation of the crisis by putting forward various demands to the government. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) General Secretary Hassen Ali said the party had put forward several demands to the government before taking a decision on how to vote when the third reading of the budget is taken up on Friday.

He said the Eastern Province Mosques Federation had sent letters to all Muslim MPs of the province, including SLMC MPs, requesting them to vote against the budget. The federation has also written to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, but had not received a concrete reply on issues such as acquisition of lands occupied by Muslims, restrictions on the use of loudspeakers in mosques and the appointment of Moulavi teachers, he said.

“Moulavi teacher appointments have not been given since 1994 and there is a huge issue where Muslims in war-affected villages are requested to leave and their lands are being acquired forcibly for different purposes. It is impossible to put a ban on the call for prayers in Muslim populated areas,” Mr. Ali said. However the cabinet on Wednesday approved a proposal by SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem to bring amendments to the proposed noise pollution laws to ensure that religious observances are not interrupted.

However, that was the only assurance the party had been able to get regarding their demands, Mr. Ali said. He said the matters would be further discussed with Muslim religious leaders and then taken up with senior ministers as President Rajapaksa was in Japan. The SLMC was hoping the senior ministers could give some assurances on behalf of the President, he said.“We are not going for dissolutions or planning a conspiracy to oust the government. But we need a positive reply from the government,” he said.

MP Ali said that the SLMC would reveal its stance before the vote. In a related development, the Up Country People’s Front leader P. Chandrasekaran has held discussions with Presidential advisor and influential MP Basil Rajapaksa and put forward 14 proposals.“We have got a positive response to all the demands,” a spokesman for the party said.

Among the demands are the setting up of an estate university, a plantation education trust, promotion of education among the plantation community, collection of data on Indian origin students in universities and creating Additional Divisional Secretary Divisions to cover plantation sectors.

Meanwhile, the Ceylon Workers’ Congress’s position is swinging both ways with party leader Arumugam Thondaman recently filing a fundamental rights petition against the arrest of Tamil civilians.

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