Rajapaksa Government Facing Dissent Within
By Gagani Weerakoon
On the day it completed three years of President Maithripala Sirisena arbitrarily swearing in his arch rival Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister of the country in a bid to unconstitutionally sack incumbent PM Ranil Wickremesinghe on 26 October, a gazette notification was issued appointing a Presidential Task Force titled ‘One Country –One Law’ under the chairmanship of Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera. The move did not sit well with many in the country as Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera was involved in many controversies.
Concerns were also raised about not including Tamil and women representation in the Task Force. The Presidential Task Force comprised 13 members including four Muslims, several professors and experts in the field of law and order. Chaired by Gnanasara Thera, the Presidential Task Force comprises Professor Dayananda Banda, Professor Shanthinandana Wijesinghe, Professor Sumedha Siriwardana, Sujeewa Pandirathna, Iresh Senevirathne, Sanajaya Marambe Eranda Navarathna, Pani Wewala, Moulavi Mohamad of Ulama Council Galle, Mohamad Inthinkab (Lecturer), Kaleel Rahuman and Azeez NiIardeen. It is said that Senior Assistant Secretary to the President Jeewanthi Senanayake has been appointed as the Secretary to this task force.
According to the gazette notification, this move will focus on the administration of justice, its implementation and protection under the law that should be fair by all as set out in the Constitution of Sri Lanka. It also stated that this has been indicated under the fundamental rights therein, that no citizen should be discriminated against in the eye of law nor meted out special treatment on ground of nationality religion caste or any other grounds. Further it said that the implementation of this vision in Sri Lanka would reflect the commitment to ensuring national and internationally recognised humanitarian values.
The task force is entrusted to: Make a study of the implementation of the concept; ‘One Country, One Law’ within Sri Lanka and prepare a draft Act for the said purpose, to study the draft Acts and amendments that have already been prepared by the Ministry of Justice in relation to this subject and their appropriateness and if there are suitable amendments to submit proposal for the purpose and include them in such relevant draft as is deemed appropriate.
The task force is also assigned to submit a report to the President once a month with the final report to be submitted on or before 26 February 2022, the gazette notification stated. Tamil and Muslim politicians including Samangi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) expressed their concerns over President Gotabaya Rajapaksa establishing a Presidential Task Force (PTF) for ‘One Country, One Law’ headed by Ven. Gnanasara Thera.
The 13-member PTF comprising four Muslims and rest from the majority community aims to split the minorities and bring disharmony within Muslim communities, noted SJB MP Mujibur Rahman. According to the gazette notification Moulavi Mohamad of the Ulama Council Galle, Mohamad Inthikab a lecturer, Kaleel Rahuman and Azeez Nilardeen were appointed to the Task force. He questioned whether the President did not want to have a Tamil representative because they have a separate land and don’t belong to Sri Lanka.
“This whole thing is set up to split the Muslims and pander to the majority’s whims,” the MP added. He pointed out that having a person who has a pending court case and have been previously convicted to chair this task force shows a gradual deterioration of the democratic process in the country. Meanwhile, the SJB claimed that the ‘One Country, One Law’ PTF is the biggest joke made by the President so far. In a statement, SJB General Secretary Ranjith Maddumabandara stressed that appointing Gnanasara Thera as the chair makes the entire PTF a joke.
“This is an insult to the Constitution of this country as well. Gnanasara Thera was convicted for the offence of contempt of Court because he verbally assaulted Sandya Ekneligoda in Court premises. He made derogatory comments about minorities in the country causing distress among communities. We saw how those comments turned into violence in Darga and Aluthgama towns. The people have not forgotten these things,” he added. However Minister of Fisheries Douglas Devananda pointed out that despite the Gazette being out, there is room for many others to be part of this PTF and mentioned that he would seek some dialogue in the coming months regarding inclusiveness of all communities.
“The President in his manifesto recapitulated he wants ‘One Country and One Law’ and that is what he is attempting to implement,” Minster Devananda said. He underlined that he and Minister of Justice Ali Sabry are in the special committee to look into the Prevention of Terrorism Act and likewise can seek amendments to this 13-member body and add more people to ensure inclusiveness. However, Tamil National Alliance Spokesman, MP M.A. Sumanthiran said that while ‘One Country, One Law, ’ concept is equal to all people, this PTF seems to negate a different culture, a way of life exercised by a people over a period of time and seems to also import the majority’s wishes.
The MP said they will resist this move. The MP also said that nothing was heard from the President appointed expert committee to draft a new Constitution with the help of President’s Counsels, but a task force chaired by a controversial monk shows betrayal. “There are two charges against Gnanasara Thera of contempt of court and for one case, he was offered a presidential pardon and the other one is pending.
Next week there is a hearing scheduled,” Sumanthiran added. He also pointed out based on the findings of the Easter Sunday attacks, one of the recommendations was to ban the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) organisation headed by Gnanasara Thera. “Such is the presence of this Task Force handpicked and what direction is the Government moving is clear. We will also protest on this matter,” he added. Fourthly, the MP said that he is happy that there are no Tamil representatives in this Task Force and they ‘don’t want to be part of such a group’.
Leader of Tamil Progressive Alliance, Mano Ganesan added that having four Muslims and no Tamils in the Task Force raises concerns of targeting the Muslims. “President’s ignorance about these concerns, is of special interest. He appoints a person to chair who has violated the very law and Constitution is not welcoming,” he added. Leader of the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam, MP D. Sithadthan speculated that having four Muslims and Sinhalese in the 13 member task force sends a signal that they are trying to ‘convince’ the Muslims on the special laws.
“Thesavalamai and the Kandyan Law are a dying practice and the Government is attempting to ‘correct’ the Muslim law,” he alleged. TNA MP Saanakiyan Rasamanickam said there is already a ‘one law and one country’ and suggested that the President should go home if he needs a task force to implement what is already in place. “Hate speech and violence against the minorities was introduced by Ganasara Thera,” he further added.
Heated arguments at Temple Trees
Meanwhile, party leaders of the constituent parties of the Government met at the Temple Trees on Thursday evening to discuss several important issues as they had serious concerns over some controversial decisions taken by the Government. The meeting, on several occasions, became quite intense as there were verbal exchanges between party leaders and the Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa.
After the party leaders finished discussing the main points of the agenda, Minister Wimal Weerawansa pointed out that appointing Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera as the Chairperson of ‘One Country – One Law’ Presidential Task Force had being criticised by everyone, even those who supported the Government.
MP Gevindu Kumaratunga, who shared similar sentiments with Weerawansa stressed that the appointment is being criticised by Buddhist monks as they see it as a huge insult to the Sinhala Buddhist people in the country. At this juncture, Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa intervened and said that according to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, the President can make such appointments.
Rajapaksa: “We all have given the power to the President to take such decisions. But yes, there is a question as to whether it is suitable to appoint Gnanasara Thera as a symbol of Buddhists.”
Kumaratunga: “That is just wrong. This appointment cannot be justified at all.” Then several party leaders started to speak against the appointment and Minister Rajapaksa intervened again.
Rajapaksa: “The President has a mandate of 6.9 million people. So he can appoint whoever he wants to any kind of post.” Several party leaders protested that and charged although the President is vested with such power, this decision has embarrassed everyone who supported the Government and the Government itself.
Minister Udaya Gammanpila: “It is true that the President has a mandate of 6.9 million people. But you should remember how that mandate was given by the people. When some people fled the country after the defeat of Presidential Election 2015, We, Wimal, Vasu, I and others, did not give up. We carried out an operation to change the mindsets and that is how the 6.9 million mandate was granted.”
Rajapaksa: “This meeting is only for party leaders. But I can see that certain people are here, they are not party leaders. Gevindu Kumaratunga is not a party leader.”
Kumaratunga: “When Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated in 2015, I delivered D.A. Rajapaksa memorial speech representing Yuthukama Organisation.” Athuraliye Rathana Thera also protested Rajapaksa’s claim and responded to a statement of Rajapksa regarding him impulsively.
Rathana Thera: “Some people should be reminded of the past. They talk big here, but when we work together for a common goal those people were with the UNP. We worked for the people and had to suffer because of that. But we never give up. Even if other party leaders do not support, I will continue the fight against Kerawalapitiya Power Plant deal by myself. So, do not think that you can make me scared by speaking like that.” President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who was observing the heated discussions silently, finally said that he appointed ‘One Country – One Law’ Presidential Task Force to support Justice Minister Ali Sabry.
Rift within SJB
SJB MPs Chaminda Wijesiri and Hesha Withanage announced that they would keep away from all activities of the party on Tuesday (25). They resigned from the organiser posts as well. These actions of the two MPs shed a light on an unresolved rift within the SJB. According to the political sources, the said rift is in the party since last General Election. In the election, Hesha Withanage received higher votes in Ratnapura District while Ratnapura Distrcit SJB Leader Thalatha Atukorale came in the second place. In Badulla District, Chaminda Wijesiri got the highest number of votes.
However, Badulla District SJB Leader Ravi Samaraweera was defeated in the election. With this election result, both Withanage and Wijesiri expected that they would be given district leadership posts. However, SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa could not fulfil this wish as both Atukorale and Samaraweera did a significant contribution to establish the party. Thy even went against UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The MPs had submitted their resignation letters to SJB Working Committee two weeks ago. When the said letter was handed over to General Secretary Ranjith Maddumabandara after a meeting, both Premadasa and Maddumabandara had told them not to take impulsive decisions. The leaders had told Withanage and Wijesiri the problem could be solved by holding discussions with all the relevant parties.
However, the news of their resignations had been leaked to the media somehow. Withanage, holding a media briefing after the news was leaked, questioned who provided that information to the media. He stressed that whatever happened, they will never ever join the Government which has become a disaster at the moment.
Meanwhile, a discussion was taken place on Friday (29) to find a solution to the issue at the Opposition Leader’s office. However, no conclusion had been reached regarding the matter. It is reported that Anuradhapura District MP Rohana Bandara, Polonnaruwa District MP Kins Nelson and Matale District MP Rohini Kavirathna also have same concerns like Withanage and Wijesiri.
UNP discusses Adani
Several groups of youth, professionals and Ayurvedic doctors visited ‘Sirikotha’ last week to assist re-structuring of the UNP. UNP Leader MP Ranil Wickremesinghe also allocated his time to visit Sirikotha and hold discussions with those groups. He allocated majority of his time to hold discussions with the youth. Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene also participated in the discussions following the invitation of Wickremesinghe.
During the discussions, one of the youths pointed out that the people’s movements against the incumbent Government lacks unity between themselves. “They are divided and act on their own. There is a need of forming a collective effort with all of these movements,” he said. Ruwan Wijewardene, who agreed with the stance of the youth, noted that they should use modern ways to make the proposal a reality. ‘The main reason for that is, we cannot directly meet the people like we used to. So, it would be difficult to carry out such task using traditional methods,” the Deputy Leader said.
“Exactly, this is not our time. The methods we used are not applicable to the modern society. This is the time of the youth. So, young people should come forward to do something innovative,” Wickremesinghe said, smiling. The UNP Leader then requested Ruwan Wijewardene and Akila Viraj Kariyawasam to take the responsibility to form a mechanism for the development of the party by engaging with the youth.
As a first step, Wickremesinghe had appointed three youths to the UNP Working Committee. Steps were taken to introduce nine new members to the National Youth Front as well. Meanwhile, Wickremesinghe and UNP General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara met a group of university lecturers and Ayurvedic doctors. They discussed the current situation and challenges faced by the country in depth. On Wednesday (27) Wickremesinghe, Wijewardene, Kariyawasam, Range Bandara and Chairman Vajira Abeywardena met to discuss how to strengthen the party mechanism against the Government’s conduct.
Range Bandara provided a report regarding the progress of the part re-structuring programme. He said that the programme to uniting party activists is receiving positive responses in district level. “Those who are against the conduct of this Government have no place to organise. We have to provide a platform for them because they do not trust the main Opposition party as well.” Everyone agreed with Ruwan Wijewardene’s opinion. Vajira Abeywardena said, “Now, the people, even those who voted for the SLPP, are starting to trust our leader.
We have to re-structure the party to give them a hope. Wickremesinghe opined that the party should provide an innovative concept for the people. “If we are able to do that, the people will accept us. We have to make our programmes reach the people. We should start that after the budget,” he added. The office bearers met Wickremesinghe again on Thursday (28) to discuss about the current political scenario in the country. Before Wickremesinghe’s arrival, they were speaking about cost of living crisis. “Organic fertiliser crisis have become worse now.
The Government wants to bring Chinese fertiliser into the country no matter what. This will end up as a national disaster,” Sandith Samarasinghe stressed. Abeywardena added, “It is questionable why they order fertiliser stocks from Chinese firm before the test results of samples. If they did that, there will be no issue.” Ruwan Wijewardene who became impulsive stressed that re-checking rejected fertiliser samples with involvement of an international firm is not good for Sri Lanka’s image.
Range Bandara claimed that the Government is helpless and have no other alternative but to accept the fertiliser and return the commission they took from the deal. Sagala Ratnayake joined the discussion saying, “Adani who came to get West Container Terminal (WCT) has visited Mannar to build wind-power plants. He has been provided VIP facilities like a top politician in India. Adani visited Sri Lanka during the tenure of our Government too. But we never behaved like that.”
The UNP Leader pointed out that the country will have to face a grave economic crisis in next year. “The farmers cannot cultivate due to the fertiliser problem. It means paddy cultivation will be reduced next year. It is sad that the Government has not given a proper solutions to the problem yet,” Wickeremesinghe said.