Jan 25, 2019

Making of strange political twins

Provincial Council (PC) elections withheld for far too long by both the Government and the Elections Commission (EC) not wanting to take responsibility is leading to a major political conflict yet to break into an open debate and public protests.

Joint Opposition Spokesperson MP Dinesh Gunawardena has repeatedly requested the EC to hold elections without further delay. Prof. G.L Peiris as President of the SLPP says he would go to Courts requesting an order to hold PC elections. Those who stood for democracy just four months ago from October to early December are no more interested in democracy.

Colombo as an uneasy spot of conflicts, is fast heating up. A leading hand in drafting the New Constitution TNA MP Sumanthiran is adamant it would be a reality soon. His initial promise was to have it adopted in Parliament before February Four. The PM now feels certain the required 2/3 vote in Parliament would not be possible.
The two high priests of Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters have also said elections were more important than a new Constitution. Others are joining in. Jaffna too is in political turmoil. An alternative political party to the TNA was launched as Thamil Makkal Kootani (Tamil People’s Alliance - TPA) in November 2018 with former Northern Province Chief Minister Justice Wigneswaran as its leader.

Their Executive Committee met in Jaffna for the first time last Sunday, 20 January. Though the Colombo mainstream media lost on its importance, this new political entity can change the face of Tamil politics.

They are more focussed on major issues the people of Vanni and North are struggling to find answers to issues for over nine years after the war had concluded.
The TPA and Wigneswaran have taken over almost all the promises the TNA made for the 2015 August Parliamentary elections but dumped for convenience in compromising with the Wickremesinghe Government.

The TNA’s polluted promise for a Federal form of Government for North-East had been enlarged upon by Wigneswaran at the first Exco meeting, incorporating a special Muslim Administrative Unit for East. A proposal Wigneswaran believes would give his TPA a new opening in the East.This comes in the wake of ITAK leadership wholly undermining the need of devolved power to provinces.

Using this government’s most undemocratic strategy of suppressing elections for the six dissolved Provincial Councils including North and East, the ITAK leadership wants to substitute themselves as agents of the Central Government in Colombo for what they term development in North and East.

The Demand for devolved power for a merged North and East has been the mainstay in Tamil politics ever since Thimpu Discussions in 1984.

But as publicly stated by both Sumanthiran and Mavai Senathirajah, the Northern Province Development Ministry under PM Wickremesinghe would be renamed as Northern and Eastern Province Development Ministry to work in consultation with TNA Parliamentarians.

All Cabinet decisions regarding N-E development thereafter will be with TNA consent, they claim. That now makes the TNA look a clone of Sinhala extremism that says,

If Tamil people have issues, they have to sort them out in Colombo and stop demanding devolved power to provinces.

This in a way exposes the political contradiction in Sumanthiran’s claim for a new Constitution.If the TNA leadership can address development in North and East through a Joint Mechanism that allows for collaborative cabinet decisions within the present Unitary Constitution, why demand a new Constitution with new labels? Their stepping into State power in North and East is no different to that of Douglas Devananda, Angajan Ramanathan and till recent times to the role played byVijayakala Maheswaran.

In the post-independent history of this country, the ITAK (Popularly called FP), the TULF and TNA parliamentarians till they gave up on their responsibility of representing post-war issues of Tamil people, were not directly involved in Colombo Centred State Power. With this new compromise in Colombo, ITAK would perhaps replace Devananda and Ramanathan in the North with Mavai Senathirajah and Sumanthiran.

The absence of ITAK leadership in North and Vanni, while people agitated and protested over post-war issues including the release of their land and family members detained for many years without charges, required an organic political representation to stand with the people. The TPA cannot drag themselves without PC elections and fall into the political trap of facing a Presidential Election end of this year.

A Presidential Election would leave the Tamil people in a dilemma as to whom they should vote for. They could run a Tamil candidate standing for a Federal form of Government. That would deny the anti-Rajapaksa candidate a vote mass of about 600,000 votes.

For Tamil emotions to allow a Rajapaksa comeback would be indigestible. Therefore, both the TNA and the TPA would have to stand against any Presidential candidate backed by Rajapaksa. That would make Sampanthan and Wigneswaran look like Political Twins. This makes PCs in North and East extremely important for Wigneswaran and the TPA to establish their political identity different to TNA, before any other election.That calls on the TPA to launch a People’s Campaign in North and East demanding immediate elections for PCs under the still valid law, Act No.02 of 1988.

Demanding immediate PC elections alone would make the TPA different to the politically corrupt ITAK leadership. This would make the TPA the Lotus Bud of Tamil politics.

In the Sinhala South, MR is also in a political dilemma no different to Wigneswaran’s. 

He has to go on a quick fix damage controlling tour since his October blunder.Back to a smaller square one, he cannot go on evading the question, who the SLPP Presidential candidate would be.

Black or white, the mainstream media would turn a nuisance asking him whom he would back as a presidential candidate. Meanwhile, the Western power bloc in Colombo would want Wickremesinghe to avoid all elections this year, to make sure Rajapaksa is left behind at the 2020 Presidential Elections.
Thus, MR is also hard-pressed to establish his political authority in the Sinhala South to bargain for his share at the next elections. That again is about PC elections to prove he still is the lead force in political bargains.

In the East, former Chief Minister Nazeer Zainulabdeen too needs to have PC elections to counter the newly appointed Governor M.L.M.A Hizbullah from encroaching into his political future. An ambitious Hizbullah he had always been in developing his political presence in the East, he would not remain as an independent ‘a-political governor of the Province.Thus, PC elections this Wickremesinghe Government and the Election Commission with its Chairman are withholding from the People pushing responsibility to each other’s shoulders is turning out to be the most important political issue, if not now, then after the 71st Independence Day celebrations. The SLPP and Rajapaksa will have to demand PC elections for the already dissolved six PCs to assert their popularity and political power before any other election.

That would depend on how they mobilise the provinces in demanding PC elections. There are no more shortcuts available for Rajapaksa and the judiciary cannot be trusted with time. It’s now a game of public power-play for the SLPP.

They have to openly lay blame with the Review Committee headed by PM for having stalled the whole process of enacting the new Act No.17 of 2017.

The Review Committee Report had to be presented within two months for the President to Gazette it as law.

The deadline was 28 October 2018. That was not honoured by the Review Committee thus leaving the new law in limbo. There is no tradition in democracies to shelve the prevailing law, expecting a new law to come in to force some day in the future.

As provided for in the Interpretation Ordinance, the prevailing law PC Election Act No. 02 of 1988 remains law. The SLPP will, therefore, have to give the EC a deadline to hold PC elections to all dissolved PCs under the PC Election Act No.02 of 1988. It needs no approval from any other for the EC to hold PC elections immediately.

The EC on its own or in connivance with any other, cannot suspend the Sovereign Right of the People to elect their representatives.

Sovereignty lies with the People and is inalienable according to the Constitution and Article 03 of Chapter I says, it includes the right to govern, fundamental rights and the right to vote. If the TPA and its leader Wigneswaran would demand elections for dissolved N-E PCs based on that inalienable right of the people, with former Eastern Province Chief Minister Nazeer Zainulabdeen also joining in and the same happens in the South with Rajapaksa and SLPP demanding PC elections immediately, bridging of the North, East and South divide on PC elections would be a new political phenomenon altogether.

It would be politically an interesting alliance, if Rajapaksa and the SLPP have the political gumption to collaborate with North and East on a popular people’s platform in forcing the EC to hold PC elections under the still operative and effective PC Elections Act No. 02 of 1988.

If they all see eye to eye, the month of February would be politically an interesting month to wait for.