We will not support the 20th Amendment – Suresh Premachandran
BY Mirudhula Thambiah
Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) Leader Suresh Premachandran said although his party is a constituent of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), it will not support the 20th Amendment as it will create a mess in the provincial council system.
"According to the amendment, if a particular provincial council is dissolved before the specific date of dissolution, its powers shall be exercised by Parliament until the specified date. However, we do not want the direct interference of Parliament in such a case," he said.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
? You are a constituent party of the TNA. When the TNA had supported the 20th Amendment, why do you oppose the Amendment?
A: According to the 20th Amendment, Parliament will have more powers over the councils and the governor will interfere in the administrative matters of the council. We, the EPRLF will not accept this as the Tamil people fought for regional autonomy and as a result certain similar rights were ensured through the 13th Amendment which introduced the provincial council system. If the provincial councils are administered by Parliament, even for a certain period according to the 20th Amendment, how can we accept that? According to the amendment, in case a particular provincial council is dissolved before the specific date of dissolution, its powers shall be exercised by Parliament until the specified date. However, we do not want the direct interference of Parliament in such a case.
During this period, the government will impose their plans on the province since the provincial council administration will be under them. They will take up the administrative system and bring in new settlements similar to what is already happening in some regions. Nobody can stop it.
They claim that the 20th Amendment has been introduced for the purpose of uniformity to hold elections of all councils at once to avoid extensive financial expenses. In such a case, if Parliament dissolves a specific provincial council before its expiry, they can propose a bi-election. Can they hold by-elections without proper financial allocations? Why can't they understand that such amendments will bring in further problems to the people? Why have not they considered the representation of smaller parties? Can they cope financially if Parliament declares by-elections? Smaller parties definitely cannot afford to face these challenges. Thus bigger parties like SLFP and UNP will be at an advantage at these provincial council elections. This amendment will affect the political representation of small parties.
Provincial councils were established as a result of the struggle of the Tamil people. A provincial council is run in a methodical manner by the Chief Secretaries and other staff in the administration. However, when Parliament or the government interferes in the matter, it will mess up the entire system. If the provincial councils function under the government, it is government policies that will be implemented. This could be economic or colonization policies which are not acceptable to the Tamil people.
Now the Supreme Court has stated that this is against the voting rights of the people. This amendment should be taken up for polling to find out if people accept it. We believe this will be an important Court order to consider. The Court's decision itself makes it clear that this will definitely affect minorities.
We will not accept the 20th Amendment as well as the re-amendment to it as it will definitely affect minority representation.
? Does that mean you don't want to support TNA's decision?
A: TNA leadership does not discuss these matters within the coalition. The decisions are taken by its leader Sampanthan and Sumanthiran. They never discuss these matters with the leaders of the other parties - the EPRLF, TELO and PLOTE. However, the decision was taken by only two people and they claim it is the decision of the TNA. It is not the decision of the TNA but Sampanthan and Sumanthiran. I'm unaware if this is acceptable to ITAK.
? The members of the Eastern Provincial Council initially stated they will not support this amendment but later changed their stance, unlike the Northern Provincial Council. How do you view this situation?
A: I don't understand why the Eastern Provincial councillors take decisions in a hurry. Officially, the new amendment had not been sent to the provincial council. Until today, the Northern Provincial Council has not received the amendment.
As you know the Northern Provincial Council said they will oppose the 20th Amendment and they will examine their stand if there are new amendments to it.
However, the Eastern Provincial Council postponed the debate about the 20th Amendment and later they received the proposed new amendments to the 20th Amendment, may be through the representatives of the SLMC or TNA. Thus the council adopted the amendment. The TNA-SLMC Coalition Provincial Council accepted the 20th Amendment.
At the same time, it is understood that the Eastern Provincial Council did not hold a proper debate regarding the 20th Amendment. Some members of the council abstained from voting.
? Most minority political parties including TNA initially opposed the 20th Amendment. However, they later changed their stance. Do you see any selfish political agenda behind this move?
A: Definitely! The present government, be it the UNP or the SLFP, are not prepared to face any elections. This is the main reason why they wanted to postpone the elections for one year. They should dissolve the Eastern, North-Western and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils on 26 or 28 September. They are not prepared to face the provincial council elections. Therefore, they found a solution by holding elections for all provinces at once and introducing the 60:40 electoral system to the provincial councils elections as well. Therefore the 20th Amendment is a decision taken to safeguard the government.
Thus I will not say TNA on whole, but Sampanthan, Sumantiran and the SLMC adopted the 20th Amendment to support the government.
? Recently, the President gazetted the establishment of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) soon after he met the relatives of missing persons. Why do representatives continue to state that attempts to solve this issue are merely an eyewash?
A: It is now a long period since the OMP Act was adopted. It could have been implemented from the very next day, but that did not happen. Now, since the UNHRC sessions have begun, they would have imposed the gazette. Also, the Commissioner of the Human Rights Council indirectly warned Sri Lanka to act on their promises as they were quite slow in the implementation process. Nobody knows when they would open regional offices in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.
Once again, these offices may register the names of missing persons. Maybe a 'missing person' certificate will also be issued. By obtaining this certificate, people may obtain a pension if those who went missing were government employees. There will not be any inquiry in this regard. The OMP does not have any authority to carry out investigations regarding the cases. So, once the names are registered, they may issue a certificate and people will only have to keep it safe. There will not be any other advantage and if the government agrees to compensate the families, they may provide it to those who have certificates.
There will not be any kind of solution even if the relatives or parents state where their loved ones went missing or by whom they were taken by. This is why the relatives of missing persons, who have been protesting for more than 100 days, state that they don't believe this government and urged for an international inquiry.
? But the government will not support or permit an international inquiry. Therefore, how far is it possible for these people to obtain justice?
A: Not only the government, but other representatives, even in the 'Mahinda' faction claim that the security forces cannot be investigated or produced before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Leave aside the international inquiry; they are not ready to even try them through a local inquiry in Sri Lanka. In these circumstances, we cannot expect justice for the affected people.
Once, the President said that it is not the right time to establish an inquiry. If they delay taking legal action against a culprit, what type of a law could it be?
Already the Paranagama Commission registered the names of the missing persons and they spent time in recording statements. Now this OMP will follow the same process. People have given statements regarding their loved ones who went missing, like the date, place and who took them. Thus, all the information was recorded by the Commission and the government is aware of it. Why have they failed to consider this?
? There is an allegation that the Eastern Chief Minister is discriminating the other communities. How do you view this?
A: I have heard a lot about his discriminations. There are many complaints. People have complained to me on this regard when I visited the Eastern Province. I was told that Tamil areas are discriminated against obtaining job appointments and allocations. Most opportunities are provided to the Muslim youth but not for the others. There are many complaints and I don't think any of these complaints have been rectified so far.
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