Divisions in Election Commission come to the fore | Sunday Observer

Divisions in Election Commission come to the fore

29 January, 2023

The topic of Local Government elections came to light again when a member of the Election Commission (EC) tendered her resignation.

The tenure of the members appointed to the Election Commission and other independent Commissions in accordance with the 20th Amendment were cancelled with the passage of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution. However, the members of those Commissions continued their office as members were not appointed to the Constitutional Council.

In the meantime, the dates for Local Government elections were announced. Then it highlighted the divisions in the Election Commission. Under these circumstances, a member of the EC, a senior and reputed administrative officer P.S.M. Charles tendered her resignation.

Charles’ resignation was notified to the President by his Secretary Saman Ekanayake on Wednesday.

He said, “Sir, Charles has sent a message that she will send her resignation letter tomorrow morning.”

MP Wajira Abeywardena said, “When we said there is a division in the Election Commission, some Opposition MPs laughed at us. Now it has clearly proved what we said was true.”

Except for just nodding to MP Abeywardena’s comment, the President didn’t make any comment. The President told his Secretary Ekanayake to inform  the Constitutional Council in this regard.  

Government lawmakers who came to the President’s Office were talking about the resignation of an Election Commission member. Most of them were concerned as to why she tendered her resignation.

Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said, “Now the people admit the fact that the Election Commission is divided. It is the Opposition which has become panicked because of this.”

Minister Bandula Gunawardena who also joined the conversation said, “The Election Commission Chairman lied when he said that there was no division in the Commission. It is very evident now. It has been proved that the Election Commission has acted to cater to the interests of the Opposition.”

State Minister Pramitha Bandara Tennakoon said, “As the nominations were given, the candidates are now in a competition. The candidates will have to face difficulties owing to this situation. Now both the candidates and the Election Commission are in trouble.”

Minister Ranatunga said, “According to Clause 107 of the Constitution, if there is any issue in the Election Commission, they should inform it to Parliament. But they didn’t do anything. If they said there is no issue, the entire country could see it.”

MP Attorney-at-law Premanath C. Dolawatta said, “From the beginning, the Election Commission Chairman went on the wrong track. When he was asked to consult the Attorney General, for the legal activities of the Election Commission, he sought the advice of Attorney-at-law Saliya Peiris who was in ‘Aragalaya’. If he wanted to get the service of a private lawyer, why didn’t he consult a lawyer such as Romesh de Silva?”

After discussing the activities of the Election Commission, President Wickremesinghe and the group of Government lawmakers left for their official duties. The President went to attend the All Party Conference which had been convened in that particular evening. Except, the JVP, other Party Leaders who represent Parliament had attended the conference. The All Party Conference had been convened to discuss the national question.

After the conference, most of them asked the President about the LG election. The President in his response said that he doesn’t have any involvement with the election.

Income tax and IMF

Another group inquired about imposition of income tax and the activities of the IMF. In the morning, a group of Finance Ministry officials met the President. Then the President instructed all the officers to organise and conduct the 75th Independence Day celebrations in a grand and proud manner but with a minimum cost. As a result of the current financial crisis, the President told the officials to curtail the expenditure on the Independence Day celebrations.  

President Wickremesinghe spent the past week in Colombo and he was in the Presidential Secretariat from Monday to Friday. He met a group of country representatives of the IMF on Monday. In the evening, a Rs. 3 billion cheque donated by the Foreign Employment Bureau to the Treasury was presented to the President by Foreign Employment Minister Manusha Nanayakkara.

As the usual practice, the President met the security heads at the Defence Ministry on Tuesday. An extensive discussion was held regarding the country’s security situation.

LG elections

In the evening, Management Committee members of the UNP met the President. UNP Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene, General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara, Chairman Wajira Abeywardena and National Organiser Sagala Ratnayaka were among them. UNP General Secretary Range Bandara briefed the President regarding the handing over of their nominations and later discussed the appointment of electoral organisers.

The President who listened to all the conversations asked his top party officials to get ready for the election.

Range Bandara said, “Sir, we thought the election will be postponed.”

Then the President said, “I have never said that the election will be postponed.” Then party Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene said, “Sir,  for which election should we get ready?”

All laughed at the remarks made by Wijewardene.

After the party seniors stopped laughing, the President said as a party we should be ready to face any election. The UNP Management Committee had extensive discussions at party headquarters ‘Sirikotha’ on Wednesday and Thursday as to how the party should face the upcoming LG elections.

It was decided at the Management Committee meeting chaired by the Deputy Leader Wijewardene to give instructions to all candidates to go to village from village and commence the election campaign. The discussions were also centered on how to conduct the national level election campaign in accordance with the new election act.   

The President went to the BMICH on Tuesday evening to attend the ceremony organised to mark India’s Republic Day celebrations. The President at the ceremony recalled the long standing bilateral relationship between two countries.

Italian Ambassador to Colombo Rita Giuliana Mannella met President Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Presidential Secretariat on Wednesday.

During the meeting, she said the Government of Italy has expressed its willingness to help Sri Lanka by supplying helicopters for anti-human trafficking measures taken by the Government. The two sides also discussed the strengthening of the partnership between Italy and Sri Lanka and special attention was paid to cultural exchanges, tourism enhancement, possible investments, defence aspects, and on how Italy can help Sri Lanka during these challenging times.

Climate change

The President’s Senior Adviser Ruwan Wijewardene met the President to discuss the issues relating to climate change. Wijewardene drew the President’s attention to the internal university to study on climate change. The President asked Wijewardene how to get the assistance of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) which acts for the sustainable development of emerging countries. The President instructed Wijewardene that the GGGI is also interested in setting up of climate change universities in Sri Lanka and look into that. He said, “Sir, following your instructions, we invited Chairman of GGGI Ban Ki-moon and he will come to Sri Lanka in February.”

President Wickremesinghe went to Anuradhapura yesterday to present the Akthapathra (the act of appointment) to the recently elected Anuradhapura Chief Incumbent of the eight places of worship (Atamasthana) Most Ven. Pallegama Hemarathana Nayaka Thera.

UNP nominations 

A group of party seniors led by UNP Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene and National Organiser Sagala Ratnayaka handed over nominations for the Local Government elections last Saturday. The party election monitoring mechanism will also be operated under their supervision.

Wijewardene also met a group of representatives of a Japanese company on Wednesday to convert the Beira Lake into a clean and a beautiful place which is now in disrepair. The estimated cost of this project will be US$ 3 million. Following the discussion, the Japanese company had pledged to provide this money as an aid.

The President’s Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayaka met a group of Netherlands representatives last week with the intention of getting back artifacts taken out of Sri Lanka and retained in the Netherlands. They had expressed their willingness to return back those Sri Lankan artifacts retained in the Netherlands.

SLPP campaign 

Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa said that the SLPP election campaign was launched believing that the Local Government Elections would not be postponed.

Rajapaksa was speaking to the media when he arrived in Kandy on Tuesday to pay homage to the Sri Dalada Maligawa to coincide with the commencement of SLPP election campaign.

Rajapaksa said the SLPP will contest alone for 252 Local Government institutions and for a few others will contest in alliance with other parties at this year’s Local Government elections.

India’s Republic Day

The Indian High Commission in Colombo celebrated India’s 74th Republic Day in Colombo on Thursday. It may be recalled that it was on January 26, 1950, that the Indian Constitution – the world’s largest written Constitution – entered into force. That was the first Republic Day celebrations after India became the fifth-largest economy in the world in September 2022.

After paying tributes to the fallen heroes of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) at the IPKF memorial, High Commissioner Gopal Baglay unfurled India’s national flag at India House – residence of High Commissioner of India – and inspected the Guard of Honour. The High Commissioner also read out excerpts of the President of India’s Republic Day address.

A special video message by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana was also played on the occasion. The event featured songs by the Sri Lanka Navy band and a cultural program organised by the High Commission’s cultural arm, Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre. Members of the Indian community attended the ceremony in several hundreds. A ceremonial reception was organised in the evening at India House and several dignitaries attended this event.

The Constitutional Council had its inaugural meeting on Wednesday presided over by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana as Constitutional Council Chairman. Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and MP Sagara Kariyawasam had attended Wednesday’s inaugural meeting.

The three civil society representatives Dr. Prathap Ramanujam, Dr. Dilkushi Anula Wijesundere and Dr. Dinesha Samararatne also took part. The Constitutional Council discussed the future activities of the Council along with the mandate of the Constitutional Council stipulated in the Constitution and the other Laws.

The Constitutional Council discussed the constitution of the commissions specified in Schedule to Article 41B of the Constitution and agreed to call for applications from interested and qualified individuals, through a newspaper advertisement. An all-party conference was convened on Thursday at the Presidential Secretariat under the patronage of President Wickremesinghe. The Leaders of all political parties representing the Parliament attended the meeting. The Speaker, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, as well as former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Leader R. Sampanthan and National People’s Force Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake had been invited to the meeting.

National harmony

The meeting had focused on reaching a consensus and strengthening national harmony. Following President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s appointment as the Head of State, a meeting of Party Leaders was called on December 13, 2022, where the program to improve national harmony was discussed. At Thursday’s meeting of Party Leaders, these issues had been discussed further to reach   an  agreement  among  them.

President Wickremesinghe told the conference, “We shall work towards a consensus-based solution for the political and economic issues one step at a time. Let’s solve our political and economic issues step by step in a manner that could be accepted by all. Let’s act as we agreed earlier without being stuck in this problem. We neither betray any nor divide the country and the country is united today.”

The President said that he is bound to implement the existing law in accordance with the executive powers of the President. He said that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is being implemented according to it  or the Parliament should abolish the 13th Amendment. The President said that he was not ready to divide the country at all and would not betray the Sinhalese nation as well.

President Wickremesinghe said, “None of us here nor I are ready to divide our country. We are all Sinhalese who are seated here. These individuals will not betray the Sinhalese. The Sinhalese, should coexist with other ethnic groups such as Tamils, Muslims, and Burghers. I have no doubt that if we protect the notion in the line ‘Children of one mother’ in our national anthem, we could go forward united.”

‘Mental terrorism’

Patriotic United National Party (PUNP) Leader Sugath Hewapathirana said the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) is executing mental terrorism, which is a feature of fascism, to win the election.

He said the JVP is repeating what they did with weapons during the country’s dark era, with words at present. JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake is threatening public officials while his followers are insulting the supporters of other parties as ‘slaves’ is an example for this mental terrorism, he pointed out. Therefore, I request the law makers and the Election Commission to look into these activities by the JVP amid an election, he said.