Government under pressure to introduce new Constitution before holding PC polls

Gotabaya Rajapaksa - President of Sri Lanka

A group of Buddhist monks has appealed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and members of Parliament, representing all political parties, to put on hold Provincial Council polls, pending early enactment of the proposed new Constitution.

The group has, in a two-page letter dated March 29, 2021, stressed that the Provincial Council polls should be conducted in terms of the new Constitution as much desired changes were likely to be introduced in respect of the electoral system, as well as devolution of powers.

The signatories were Ven. Omare Kassapa, Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda, Ven Bengamuwe Nalaka, Ven. Kirama Vimalajothi, Prof Ven Ithhademaliye Indrasara, Prof. Ven Madagoda Abayatissa, Prof. Malwane Chandrarathana, Ven Hegoda Vipassi, Ven. Valimitiyawe Gnanaratne and Prof. Ven Kapugollawa Ananda.

A nine-member team of experts led by eminent lawyer Romesh de Silva, PC, is engaged in formulating a new draft Constitution.

Referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s directive to conduct Provincial Council polls as early as possible, the monks said that they believed the declaration was made in the run-up to a high profile vote on an ‘accountability resolution’ on March 23. Asserting the presidential statement was meant to influence India to vote against the resolution moved by Western powers and their cronies, the monks pointed out India not only skipped the vote but demanded Provincial Council polls and full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

The group questioned the rationale in India raising purely a domestic matter at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Therefore, Sri Lanka shouldn’t succumb to unwarranted pressure in that regard, the group said, urging President Gotabaya Rajapaksa not to disappoint those who exercised their franchise in support of him at the 2019 presidential election and the 2020 general election.

The group also warned of unnecessary complications in amending the relevant laws-enactment of new Provincial Council Act or an amendment to pave the way for Provincial Councils polls under the discarded previous PR system.

The monks also expressed serious concerns over allocation of funds for Provincial Council elections deemed a while elephant by vast majority of people at a time the country was experiencing dire financial crisis.

The monks declared their strong objections to proposed Provincial Council polls in the wake of Sri Lanka Podujana Provincial Council Members’ Forum demanded tangible measures are taken without further delay to conduct the polls. The forum declared that it wouldn’t mind having the Provincial Council polls under whatever system. Blaming the previous UNP-led administration for indefinitely postponing Provincial Council polls, Chairman of the grouping Kanchana Jayaratne said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and SLPP founder Basil Rajapaksa recently called for Provincial Councils. Therefore, there was no justification in further delaying the elections, Jayaratne said, pointing out that the Provincial Council system was functioning without the presence of people’s representatives.

Referring to Janaka Bandara Tennakoon responsible for Provincial Council portfolio submitting the same cabinet paper in respect of Provincial Council polls, Jayaratne urged the cabinet of ministers to decide on the matter. Jayaratne alleged that some of the constituent members of the SLPP at the forefront of the struggle against the then government were strangely silent today.

The Forum requested Ministers Dinesh Gunawardena, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila to take a clear stand on this matter. Jayaratne said that they shouldn’t allow the cabinet to quietly sideline Minister Tennakoon’s cabinet paper.

Jayaratne insisted that those who respected democracy couldn’t condone efforts to sabotage Provincial Council system.

Jayaratne also urged Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (retd.)Sarath Weerasekera, who had been strongly opposed to Provincial Councils system to change his thinking in line with present requirements. Jayaratne requested Minister Weerasekera to throw his weight behind their efforts to fully restore the Provincial Councils. Noting that Minister Weerasekera had issued controversial statements in that regard, Jayaratne called upon the former Navy Chief of Staff to give up opposition to a system that could be immensely beneficial to the public.

The forum stressed that it would be the responsibility of the cabinet to take tangible measures to hold Provincial Council polls as the Rajapaksas had acknowledged the need and assured the elections would be conducted.

The Provincial Council system was introduced in terms of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in the wake of the Indo-Lanka accord meant to disarm terrorist groups once trained, armed and deployed by India.

(Source: The Island – By Shamindra Ferdinando)