Leader of the House Nimal Siripala de Silva yesterday promised to `do something` this week about making the Constitutional Council (CC) operational?but sharp differences of opinion have already emerged among the minor parties in parliament over selecting a sixth member.
The Jathika Hela Urumaya threatened court action if parliamentarians from the Upcountry People`s Front, the Tamil National Alliance or any Muslim parties are allowed to participate in the process of nominating the sixth CC member.
`The JHU must appoint the sixth member,` said Patali Champaka Ranawaka, the party`s policy formulator. `The Tamils have already had their chance to nominate a member. So have the Upcountry Tamils and the Muslims. The government selected a member through the prime minister. The UNP chose a member through the Leader of the Opposition. Only the Sinhala community has been deprived.`
The 17th Amendment to the Constitution says a sixth member must be nominated upon agreement by the majority of members of parliament belonging to political parties or independent groups other than those to which the prime minister and leader of the opposition belong.
The other members of the CC are the prime minister, speaker, leader of the opposition and one person appointed by the president. Five members have also to be nominated jointly by the prime minister and leader of the opposition. Of these, three must represent the Tamils, Upcountry Tamils and Muslims respectively. All have already been named and forwarded to President Mahinda Rajapakse. However, the CC can`t function until the sixth member is selected.
`We can`t let the Tamils, the Upcountry Tamils or Muslims decide on yet another member,` Ranawaka argued. `It`s not fair and we will certainly go to courts if that happens. I didn`t even vote for this amendment when it came before parliament because it is drawn along ethnic lines.`
Ranawaka said the JHU had decided to forward the name of Douglas Premaratne, former solicitor general.
Meanwhile, the JVP ? whose identification as a minor party has itself been questioned by some ? maintains that the choice of the sixth member must be theirs. `The constitution says this person must be chosen by a majority of members belonging to the minor parties,` pointed out Vijitha Herath, JVP parliamentarian. `The JHU and Tamil National Alliance will never vote together. Therefore, if you look at the numbers, we are the largest single group and our choice will prevail.`
Herath said the JVP had settled upon a Kelaniya University professor, Dr Amarasinghe, as their nominee. `We gave this name to the speaker a long time ago, in December,` Herath claimed. `We are not against meeting with the other parties on this matter but it is clear that the JVP has a majority.`
When this was conveyed to Ranawaka, he said the JHU had no objection. `We don`t mind if the JVP member is chosen,` he noted. `We just don`t want the others to have two opportunities at selecting a member and we also don`t want the Sinhala community to be deprived.`
Asked for a comment, Speaker W J M Lokubandara said the responsibility for this matter had been delegated on Leader of the House Nimal Siripala de Silva. `There is a party leaders` meeting on March 6,` he added. `Let`s see what happens then.`
De Silva vowed to take up the matter. `I will talk to the speaker this week and do something about it,` he said. Parliament sits on Tuesday, a day after party leaders meet to set the agenda for the week`s business.
In the meantime, there`s continuing uncertainty over which groups fall into the minor parties category. This, too, threatens to derail delayed attempts to reconstitute the CC.
The JVP, which contested parliamentary elections on the United People`s Freedom Alliance ticket, maintained last week that they were also a small party. `We informed parliament in writing about our decision to leave the UPFA,` said Herath. `We are not with the UPFA anymore. We are sitting in opposition.`
Some legal opinion differed, maintaining that only the Tamil National Alliance, the Jathika Hela Urumaya, Upcountry People`s Front and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress members from districts where the party contested on its own are eligible to vote for the sixth member.
Parliament officials indicated that Speaker Lokubandara will have to make a ruling on this issue. `Whatever the JVP may maintain now, they entered parliament on the UPFA ticket,` maintained one official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Some parliamentarians of minor parties didn`t even know they were responsible for nominating a sixth member, indicating that political leaders have given the issue their lowest priority.
Other parliamentarians observed that the ex-officio members of the Constitutional Council?the prime minister, speaker and the leader of the opposition?have neither educated or informed members of these parties that the absence of their nominee alone is blocking the CC.
`Our party has already selected Kumar Nadesan,` said P Chandrasekeran, leader of the Upcountry People`s Front. He was only informed by the Sunday Island that his party also had the privilege of participating in the selection of a sixth CC member.
`Nobody told us,` he complained. `Neither the speaker, nor the prime minister nor the leader of the opposition. They didn`t have to inform us in writing. Just a phone call would have been enough.`
TNA parliamentarian T Kanagasabai told the Sunday Island that he has been `getting letters from courts` in this regard and, therefore, telephoned the Constitutional Council office to learn more.
`We have to do something about this because the courts are sending us letters,` he concluded.