Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • September 2012
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Rauff concedes in the East as Basil suffers a legal setback

Posted by harimpeiris on September 19, 2012

Earlier this week, the UPFA secured control of the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) when the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) led by Rauff Hakeem decided to throw in its lot with the government as opposed to forming a provincial government with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). The UNP had no sooner the results were announced, indicated that it would back an opposition takeover of the Eastern Province Administration, given that the UPFA had fallen to just 32% of the popular vote and had only 14 seats in the 37 member Council. Fifteen (15) if you counted in the National Freedom Front’s single member. The TNA, the SLMC and the UNP divided the other 22 seats between them. The difference in the popular vote between the UPFA and the TNA was only 6,300 in the entire province and the TNA had defeated the government in the districts of Trincomalee and Batticalo. That the TNA was able to do so well electorally, despite “all the King’s horses and all the King’s men” arrayed against it demonstrated its enduring appeal amongst the Tamil community and hence the need to seriously engage with the TNA in a credible post war reconciliation process. In contrast, the UPFA elected only a single Tamil member in the whole province, former chief minister Pilliyan, through a preference vote recount that was dubious.

It was the TNA which made the better and tantalizing offer of the Chief Minister post to the SLMC.  The factors that propelled Rauff Hakeem to forfeit the Chief Minister post and support a UPFA administration deserve some examination. Now Rauff Hakeem is a Cabinet Minister and his SLMC is allied with the UPFA in governance at the center, having thrown in its lot with the government to support the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which removed the last residues of independence in the public service and any restraints on executive power, while also abolishing term limits on the presidency. On that occasion Rauff was forced to cross over, after most of his MP’s had been personally persuaded (or bought over depending how one views it) to support the government. Hence the original cross over by Rauff was to keep the SLMC together, since the majority of its parliamentary group preferred government power to a long sojourn in the opposition.

When the Eastern Provincial Council elections were called, the SLMC ensconced in government believed that they should lead the UPFA’s charge in the now Muslim dominated but multi ethnic Eastern Province.  They were in for a rude shock in their negotiations over nominations and the post of Chief Ministerial candidate with UPFA campaign chief, minister and presidential sibling Basil Rajapakse. They were not offered a sufficient number of nomination slots, not offered the Chief Ministerial post and when they threatened to then walk away and contest on their own, were told politely but firmly that if that’s what they desired, to go ahead. Hon. Basil Rajapakse is one of the shrewdest and most calculating politicians I have ever met. He correctly assessed then and subsequent factors proved him right that the SLMC needs the UPFA more than the UPFA needs the SLMC let alone in the center even in the Eastern Province. The SLMC would post election, be back in the UPFA fold and indeed it is.

Now the SLMC’s decision to contest alone was also quite a blessing to the SLMC. Contesting alone it increased its seats from 4 in the outgoing Council elected in 2008 to 7 elected in 2012. It was able to tap into growing disaffection with the government amongst the Muslim Community in the East, fueled in some part at least with the mob attacks on Mosques in some parts of the Country. In the Trincomalee district there was a slight voter swing from the SLMC to the UNP and this despite the SLMC contesting independently. A campaign where the SLMC was merely an appendage of the UPFA would have seen the anti government Muslim vote going to the UNP as opposed to coming to the SLMC. Also the SLMC would have had to fight hard to hold on to the 4 seats it won in 2008 as it competed with Ministers Athahulla and Rishard Bathurdeen’s nominees on the UPFA ticket. So the SLMC cause was well served by contesting independently.  However post election, the SLMC faced a stark choice. Give up power and influence at the Center in return for leading an opposition controlled provincial administration in an environment where the 13th amendment to the constitution is not fully implemented and the provincial administration is fairly powerless and dependent on the center. So instead, the SLMC used it’s king maker position in the East to extract concessions and benefits at the Center in return for conceding at the periphery. It was a win-win solution for both the UPFA and the SLMC. So now we have a UPFA provincial administration in the East.

There are two post scripts to the EPC story. The first is that Rajapakse Administration is now under growing international pressure to do what even their own Chinthanya promise, the constitution requires and hold Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections. Its procrastination unacceptable and its excuses ringing hollow, after presidential, general and local government elections have been held there. The second post script is that in a commendable exercise of judicial oversight of the constitutionality of the legislative process, Minster Basil Rajapakse’ proposed Bill to create a “Divineguma Authority” has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, unless it is referred to and approved by the provincial councils as the proposed Authority will deal with matters devolved for provincial administration.

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