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Thursday, April 18, 2024

From Divineguma to the Judiciary: the government faces a challenge

Harim Peiris
For the Rajapaksa Administration which pushed through the 18th Amendment to the constitution with barely a squeak of protest from society, the furor over the Divineguma bill must be hard to comprehend. The Bill is challenged in Court, the ruling is a defeat for the government and there is now a serious public debate over the issues concerned, with trade unions joining with protests and opposition to the Bill.
The timing of the furore over the Divineguma Bill comes at a fairly bad time for the government, faced as it is with serious confrontations with the judiciary, protests by FUTA and university students and a general increase in discontent in society. Such discontent is not easily quelled, especially from an administration, loath to make any real policy concessions or governance changes to accommodate dissent or diversity of opinion. The cosmetic time buying exercises merely postpone relatively briefly the day of reckoning.

Now the Rajapaksa administration is fairly well entrenched and the current spate of protests, court challenges and other societal push back on the regime is in no way a threat to its political survival. This is certainly not the beginning of the end for what is still a government which has the consent of the majority of the governed. But, while it is not the beginning of the end, it is certainly the “end of the beginning”. The Rajapaksa political honeymoon with the public, post the 2010 national elections are over. No longer is there unquestioning and uncritical acceptance of what this administration, from its apex to its media apparatus says and seeks to do. There is increased public skepticism, criticism and protests.

The 13th Amendment and the PSC

The opposition over the Divineguma Bill is obviously hard for the government to either understand or stomach. Hence, the knee-jerk reactions such as let’s do away with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. If such statements were made from the political fringe, they could be easily dismissed. But when such statements are made by presidential sibling and Defence Secretary, arguably the second most powerful person in the country, next to the president himself, they take on a seriousness in indicating, if not policy positions, then the thinking and likely future direction of the administration.

At a time when the government is calling upon the Tamil National Alliance and the other opposition political parties to come to a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to discuss devolution of power and other issues of concern to ethnic minorities in the country, using to some extent the existing devolution provisions in the Constitution, through the 13th amendment, statements such as those made by the Defence Secretary only add credence to the skepticism expressed by TNA leaders, such as by Sampanthan’s in his interview with The Sunday Island of 14th October that the PSC joins a long list of Rajapaksa Administration’s own processes, such as the All Party Conference (APC), the All Parties Representative Committee (APRC), the Indian initiated structured dialogue with the TNA and most recently the final report of the LLRC, which are all unilaterally shelved by the administration, after they have outlived their original and real purpose of wasting time and avoiding the need for any remedial action.

Dayan and Sathiyamoorthy

Some respected pro-government political analysts and columnists such as Ambassador Dr. Dayan Jayatilake and Indian analyst Sathiyamoorthy from Chennai, made much of Sampanthan’s address to the ITAK party congress in April, where he expressed in short, his deep reservations and skepticism regarding the Rajapaksa government’s political will and desire to provide any post war reconciliation or political solution to the problems of minority communities in the Country. Dayan went so far as to state that with such views expressed a Northern Provincial Council election, which the TNA is guaranteed to win, cannot be held. Notwithstanding the promise in the Mahinda Chinthanya Idiri Dekma itself that the NPC election will be held at the earliest. However, such columnists who generally write at length about the TNA’s policy positions and actions, (though the TNA is very much a deal taker and not a deal maker in the post war political landscape) should address their minds and writings to the pronouncements of Sri Lankasecond most powerful personality and the person who commands the troops and armed forces that effectively run the post war North, that no devolution is necessary and such devolution as remains in our basic law must be overturned. If that is the agenda, then of what purpose is the PSC? Do these sentiments have the concurrence of the President? If not, why have they not been either clarified, retracted or contradicted? When the international community in multilateral forums and in bi lateral relations indicates their own skepticism of the government’s intent and direction of post war policy, it should be recognised that contradictory statements and lengthy periods of inaction coupled with little or no real progress is rather like shooting oneself in the foot and is self defeating.


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