Thursday marked three years since the brutal attack on three churches and three high-end hotels on Easter Sunday morning of 21 April 2019, where 270 people were killed and more than 500 were injured by a group of Islamist terrorists. It also marks three years of waiting for justice for the victims’ families and survivors of the dastardly attacks. They have been repeatedly let down by both the political authorities and the criminal justice system.
Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith recently alleged that the political leaders had deceived people over the past 74 years and had only divided the unity among Sri Lankans to fulfil their selfish power games, whilst pronouncing the current situation as a curse of the God and innocent Easter Sunday victims.
“I request Sri Lankans to unite to change this corrupt system, whilst urging the authorities to step down by handing over power to someone capable to steer this country for betterment. I bless those involved in this revolution and urge everyone to join hands to chase away the corrupt politicians and bring fresh leadership to unleash the true potential of Sri Lanka,” he said speaking at an anti-Government protest organised in Negombo.
Gota tells ‘go home’
If there had been any differences between Rajapaksa brothers in the past month or so that they managed to keep it well covered. Developments in the past week made it evident that a mild tug of war had broken out between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, with the latter lobbying to bring back the 19th Amendment. This, once enacted, will make sure of an end to the 20th Amendment brought under the patronage of President Gotabaya and would also take away the powers of the Executive while entrusting more powers to the Legislature.
The recent Cabinet appointments and all the State Ministry appointments were done by the President on his selection alone and the Prime Minister was not consulted nor did he attend the swearing-in ceremonies.
The Prime Minister had been calling for some senior ministers to be included in the Cabinet but President Rajapaksa had insisted on a younger and new Cabinet, hoping that this would calm down the protesters and put the country back on track.
Most of the senior MPs in the Government did not receive Cabinet portfolios when the new Cabinet was appointed. The truth is they were not offered Ministerial posts. When inquired about this from a former Minister, he said in lighter vein that when the majority of the people here are saying in one voice for Gota to go home, they have been told by Gota to go home.
Though the President had attempted a few times to rope in a few MPs outside of the SLPP to his new Cabinet, his efforts had come a cropper. The President had even implored former Minister Mahinda Amaraweera to accept a ministerial post, but the latter had refused the offer point blank.
According to reliable sources, on the eve of appointing the new Cabinet, the President contacted Amaraweera and had commended the latter on the work done by him during the previous Cabinet as the Minister of Environment. He then urged the SLFP MP to take a post in the new Cabinet. However, Amaraweera conveyed to the President that the SLFP as a Party had decided as a policy not to become members of the new Cabinet.
The President then urged the former Minister to rethink his decision and that he would even delay the formation of the new Cabinet till Amaraweera takes a final decision on it. Amaraweera, in response urged the President not to give Ministerial posts to anyone with allegations.
Meanwhile, Amaraweera planted a seed at his official residence, at the auspicious time for planting trees, as part of marking the traditional New Year customs on 18 April. A few electronic media personnel were also present to cover the event.
Addressing the reporters Amaraweera stated that he would be leaving his official residence during the week.
When the former Minister was speaking a cuckoo bird had begun to chirp and sing from a nearby tree. A reporter then suggested that they should chase away the bird as its noise is troubling the recording process. But, Amaraweera insisted that they should not resort to such tactics as the cuckoo bird had begun to sing after a long layoff. The former Minister stated that the cuckoo bird might also be joyous at the President not having named anyone with tainted public images to his new Cabinet.
“I do not want to say this is a win for the Government. This is actually a win for the youth who are protesting.”
The clamour made by the public for the immediate resignation of the President, PM and the Government continued to intensify during the past week. The main slogan ‘Gota Go Home’, with which these anti-Government protests had commenced, had now given way to the new slogan ‘Gota Go to Hell’.
These demonstrations, which kicked off in main towns here, have now spread to every nook and corner of the country. The protests which kicked off at the Presidential Secretariat and at Galle Face Green on 9 April are still continuing with participation of thousands of citizens for 16 consecutive days. There are no immediate signs of it abating.
This particular protest, which is spearheaded by a group of youths, continues to hog the limelight of the country’s media with it being backed by people of all walks of life, be it civil society activists, professionals, artistes, trade unionists etc.
Protests of the Opposition parties
Meanwhile, a massive protest march, launched by the Jathik Jana Balawegaya (JJB), from Beruwela to Town Hall, to exert pressure on the President and the Government to step down, concluded on 19 April.
Sources revealed that by the time the protest march concluded in Colombo approximately 15,000 people had taken part in it.
Addressing the rally, held after the conclusion of the march, JJB leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake demanded the immediate resignation of the President from public office. He charged that neither the President nor his younger brother Basil Rajapaksa were aware of the country’s dire economic status. He stated that the future of the country should not be entrusted to the Rajapaksa family anymore.
Meanwhile, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), has organised a six-day protest march against the Government from Kandy to Colombo to be kicked off on 26 April at 9.30 a.m.
They are expected to reach Colombo on 1 May.
MR asked to resign?
It has been reported in close political circles that PM Mahinda Rajapaksa has been implored to leave his portfolio by several Ministers and MPs of the Government.
The most prominent local politician who had made this request to the PM, most recently, was former Minister Wimal Weerawansa. It must not be forgotten that Weerawansa played a pivotal role in the political comeback of the former President upon his unexpected defeat at the 2015 Presidential Poll.
Leftist politician and former Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara too had contacted the PM and urged him to leave office at this critical juncture.
Nanayakkara informed the PM that he had proffered advice to the latter during their 55-year-old relationship, but noted that some of those instructions had not been followed. The PM had then stated that he was regretting not following some of those instructions.
The former Minister then said that the popularity and respect once accorded to the PM has currently diminished in the country and asked whether it was not apt to quit politics at this juncture. The PM then mentioned that he was willing to resign from his post and that upon making a special statement in the House, he would relinquish his office.
The President had then got wind of the discussion that had taken place between the PM and Nanayakkara, phoned the PM and told the PM not to be hasty in taking such a decision as his resignation will automatically pave the way for the dissolution of the entire Cabinet.
The President said, in such a situation even the post of Finance Minister will get dissolved. The President explained that the current Finance Minister was having talks with the IMF and advised the PM to at least hold the fort till any tangible economic benefits are gained by the country via the IMF.
60 plus says yes to MR
The SLPP parliamentary group, at its meeting on Thursday (21), reached a unanimous decision to strengthen and continue with the Government under Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The meeting was held at the Parliament Complex.
In a statement, the PM’s Office said that during the meeting, MP Sahan Pradeep proposed that to face the current situation in the country vigorously, the Government should continue under the leadership of the Premier.
All the MPs – 67 in number – agreed to the proposal by raising their hands, the statement said. However, there was confusion about the number of MPs who were present. While, a list of 88 MPs and another list of 103 MPs were circulated the actual number of MPs present at the Committee Room of Parliament at the time of seconding this proposal had been not more than 70.
Most of the MPs, who were famed Basil allies, now appear to have flocked around the Premier and were highly critical of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
According to the statement, the newly appointed Cabinet Ministers assured that all the necessary steps have been taken to provide relief to the general public, in the coming weeks.
In fact, MP Sanath Nishantha of ‘oxygen’ fame who was extremely critical about President Rajapaksa said, the Rajapaksa family was doomed or the destruction of the once powerful family began with Gotabaya refusing to wear the ‘satakaya’ at his induction ceremony as the President of this country.
He elaborated saying, the President refused to adorn himself with the Kurahan Satakaya when he took oaths, despite eldest brother Chamal Rajapaksa having offered one to him.
Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekara, stated that necessary measures have been taken to resolve the fuel and power cuts issues within a couple of weeks while Minister Ramesh Pathirana expressed hope that the gas issue could also be resolved within a couple of weeks, the statement said.
Ranil laments Rambukkana incident
UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe received the sad news last Wednesday. That was about a UNP activist being shot dead by the Police on 18 April while engaged in a protest over lack of fuel in Rambukkana. He immediately rang Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene and advised him to go to Rambukkana.
Though Wijewardene set off to Rambukkana promptly, on being instructed by the Leader, he realised midway through his journey that a Police curfew had been imposed in the area. Afterwards, he decided to change track and head to the Kegalle Hospital where the injured had been admitted.
UNP Kegalle District Leader Sandith Samarasinghe, who is currently overseas, then got in touch with the Deputy Leader and requested him to look into the plight of the injured, including Chaminda Lakshan, who had been a supporter of the UNP. The Deputy Leader then informed Samarasinghe that he would look into the incident as well as the plight of the victim’s family as he too had known the deceased. He further assured that the party will look to mete out justice to the family of the victim.
At the Hospital, the Deputy Leader looked into the plight of the injured and inquired about the incident. He then contacted the Leader and conveyed to him the details of the incident which he had got from the injured. Wijewardene then spoke to the Director of the Hospital and inquired about the condition of the injured. He then spent time till midnight at the Hospital and upon his return to Colombo he explained the incident in detail to the Leader.
The very next day the Wickremesinghe highlighted the incident at Rambukkana, in Parliament. He then met SJB Kegalla District MP Kabir Hashim and advised him to take the issue forward in the House. The Leader then informed party General Secretary Range Bandara and National Organiser Sagala Ratnayake and advised them to go to Kegalle immediately with a group of lawyers. Both Bandara and Ratnayake then went to Kegalle along with a group of lawyers headed by Attorney Nissanka Nanayakkara. After having sent the lawyers to Court, both Bandara and Ratnayake then went to the house of the deceased, Lakshan, to talk to his wife and children. There, both Bandara and Ratnayake informed the victim’s wife that as a party they will look to mete out justice to her family over Lakshan’s murder. They also assured her that the party will look to do its utmost towards the education and other needs of Lakshan’s children.
A part of the group of youths, who are currently staging an uninterrupted protest opposite the Presidential Secretariat and at the Galle Face Green, met the Leader at his private residence on 18 April. There, the Leader commended the youths for giving the protest demonstration a new outlook and a new face. The Leader also advised them to press ahead with their demonstration without striving to violate the country’s Constitution. A request made by the youths to the Leader to become a bridge between the Constitution and their protest was accepted and he promised them that he will commit himself to it.
The Leader then decided to include the request of the youths in a proposal which he submitted to the House. The Leader, via his proposal, had mooted that the youths should also be incorporated into various Committees that had been set up in Parliament towards the resolution of the country’s pressing issues. The Leader was involved during the past week with his Parliamentary work. Whenever in the House, the Leader was surrounded by MPs from both the Government and Opposition benches to tap his brain with regard to the country’s current political and economic quagmire. A Government MP inquired whether the Leader was interested in becoming the PM in a caretaker Government.
The Leader asked when his party has only a solitary seat in the House, how he could become the PM. Another MP inquired what the political predicament of the Government would be in case they were to lose a Parliamentary majority. The Leader said he was as clueless as them about it. Afterwards the Leader further expressed his views with regard to the country’s economic meltdown, the reintroduction of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution during the Party Leaders Meeting held on 21 April.
SJB’s 21st Amendment
The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) on Thursday (21) handed over their proposals for the 21st Amendment to the Constitution to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena in Parliament.
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa handed over the Bill to SJB General Secretary Ranjith Maddumabandara in the morning, and thereafter it was submitted to the Speaker by Maddumabandara.
The Proposed amendments include:
- The President will remain the Head of State and the Commander-in-Chief and he shall be elected by a majority vote in Parliament for a five-year term, renewable once.
- The President shall appoint as Prime Minister the Member of Parliament who enjoys the confidence of Parliament. The President has no personal discretion in appointing and dismissing the Prime Minister; in both cases, the confidence of Parliament is the sole test.
- The President shall act on the advice of the Prime Minister in the appointment and dismissal of Cabinet and other Ministers and in assigning subjects and functions to them. The Prime Minister shall be the Head of the Cabinet of Ministers.
- The Prime Minister vacates office on death, resignation, on ceasing to be a Member of Parliament, on losing a vote of confidence, or on a defeat of the Budget in Parliament.
- When the Prime Minister loses office in any of these ways, Parliament may elect another Member of Parliament to form a Government.
- The vacation of office by the Prime Minister causes the dissolution of the Government.
- The Prime Minister and the Cabinet are collectively and individually responsible to Parliament.
- The Constitution will provide that upon Parliament passing a motion of No-Confidence against an individual Cabinet or other Minister, such Minister shall stand removed from office.
- There will be no more than 25 Cabinet Ministers and 25 other Ministers
- Parliament is elected for a fixed five-year term, although it may be earlier dissolved by a parliamentary resolution passed by an absolute majority vote.
- Members of Parliament who change their allegiance from the party through which they were elected at the General Election may not accept ministerial office for the duration of that Parliament.
- The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in cases where a Member of Parliament is expelled from their party for changing party allegiance is confined to the legal merits of the expulsion. The Supreme Court shall have no jurisdiction with regard to the procedure adopted by the party in the expulsion.
- The Constitutional Council is re-established, chaired by the Speaker and having as members the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, a nominee of the other parties in Parliament, and five other independent members.
- The Constitutional Council shall make binding recommendations to the President for appointments to the Independent Commissions, and approve the President’s recommendations for appointment to key State offices.
- The Right to Information Commission and the Colombo Port City Economic Commission are added to the bodies that shall be appointed on the recommendations of the Constitutional Council, and the Office of the Governor of the Central Bank is added to the offices that shall be appointed on the approval of the Constitutional Council.
- Provision is made for the establishment of a National Security Council, which will formulate policy and monitor policy implementation in relation to national security.
By Gagani Weerakoon