Cognisant of the political deadlock within the country, and as a means of ending it, President Maithripala Sirisena has referred to the need to abolish the 19th Amendment to the constitution. This as the landmark legislation that reduced the powers of the presidency and increased the autonomy of state institutions. Both of these measures have had a positive impact on governance in the country. Despite the reduction in the powers of the presidency it continues to remain a powerful institution. Unfortunately, when the president and parliamentary majority are from two different political parties, it can generate political deadlock, which is the present situation in the country.
In the midst of the ongoing sittings of the Parliamentary Select Committee to investigate the Easter Sunday bombings two senior officials in the public service have been arrested by the police. The charges against former Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara are that they did not take sufficient action to prevent the bombings that led to over 250 deaths and injuries to over 500 persons despite having prior information.
Sri Lanka is still trying to emerge out of the darkness of its three decade long ethnic war that ended in 2009. Unfortunately, the Easter Sunday bombings linked to the Islamic State (IS), and the damaging reaction to it by those who ought to be responsible political leaders, are taking our country once again in the direction of another ethnic conflict. The bombing is being used to create a great rift in Sri Lankan society. Prejudice, hatred and hate speech are at an all-time high. Many politicians and other opinion formers at high levels of the polity have publicly been asserting that the larger Muslim community is complicit in the bombings and discovery of hidden arms that have taken place. The barbaric bombings by extremists cannot and must not be attributed to the larger Muslim community who have been part and parcel of our country.
The anti-Muslim riots in different parts of the country have led to at least two killings and wrecked the lives of thousands of innocent people. These riots have taken place more than three weeks after the Easter Sunday bombings for which the Islamic State took responsibility. They have taken place at locations far from where those innocent people lost their lives. The government was compelled to deploy the army and to declare night time curfew all over the country to contain the rioting due to the initial failure of local police to control the mobs.
The carnage on Easter Sunday against three Christian churches, three leading hotels and two other locations have killed more than 300 and injured over 500. The scale and coordinated nature of the bomb attacks have been shocking. This brings an end to the ten year period of freedom from terror and violence that the country enjoyed. The National Peace Council condemns these acts of terror which have brought immense suffering to so many of our fellow citizens and also to citizens of foreign countries who were present at the sites that were attacked.
President Maithripala Sirisena and senior members of the opposition including former President Mahinda Rajapaksa have harshly criticized the Constitutional Council and the Human Rights Commission. Their accusations range from failing to favourably consider the President’s nominations to the judiciary, to causing the collapse of public administration, to putting obstacles in the path of the government’s campaign to root out criminal activities and the narcotics trade and to even being culpable for the death of Sri Lankan soldiers on a peacekeeping mission. The National Peace Council is concerned that the unreasonableness of these criticisms erodes the commitment to basic principles of good governance.
In March this year Sri Lanka will report back to the UN Human Rights Council on its implementation of Resolution 30/1 which it co-sponsored in October 2015. This report back will be important as it will determine whether or not international scrutiny of the country on human rights issues will continue or come to an end.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has made an initial announcement in parliament that the new Leader of the Opposition would be former president Mahinda Rajapaksa of the SLFP/UPFA. However, this has been challenged by the TNA whose leader R Sampanthan previously held the position and who has not been removed from this position. This has led to a situation where there are currently two Leaders of the Opposition similar to the situation of Sri Lanka having two Prime Ministers in the recent past! The National Peace Council believes that the position of opposition leader cannot be ignored by those who are concerned with political morality and adherence to traditions, conventions and the rule of law.
The restoration of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to his position as Prime Minister by President Maithripala Sirisena has brought to an end seven weeks of political crisis in which the country did not have a functioning government. As articulated by the Prime Minister himself, most of the people of this country joined together to protect the constitution, democracy, and the rights of the people. They joined this fight on behalf of their country and democracy without any personal gain. The National Peace Council wishes to appreciate the apex courts of the judiciary which proved their mettle and contributed immensely to bringing the political crisis to an end.
The political crisis that commenced with President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to dismiss Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe continues. The sticking point at present is that the President is repeatedly stating both in public and private that he cannot work together with former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and will therefore not appoint him again as Prime Minister. The parliamentary majority has made it clear through written and verbal statements that their choice is indeed former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. On the other hand, the President is asserting his authority as the elected President to make his own choice of Prime Minister. His appointment of former President Mahinda Rajapakse as Prime Minister was a controversial choice which led to political chaos which political analysts have identified as akin to a political coup albeit a non-violent one. In this context it is necessary to find a solution that is both constitutional and just.