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Ranil to contest presidential election as ‘Grand Alliance’ candidate

Transparency International urges CIABOC to crack down on corruption now that it has been given wide powers

Accustomed to Parliament in his life as a politician, President Ranil Wickremesinghe prefers to work from an office in that complex during days when there are sittings. This week was no different.

A handful of parliamentarians in the opposition lobby around Tuesday noon were surprised when he appeared. He had taken a brief break to walk in there, for one of his occasional interactions. Among them were Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Charitha Herath, Wasantha Yapa, Nimal Lanza and Velu Kumar.

“So, you have declared your candidature for the presidential election,” quipped Herath. “No, no. I have not yet. That is a wrong assumption. My party’s Management Committee has resolved to ask me to be the candidate,” replied President Wickremesinghe. Elections would have to be declared for me to do that, he added. More questions followed, creating an atmosphere like a news conference. Are you going to prorogue Parliament? “Yes,” he said and pointed out that President J.R. Jayewardene did that ahead of a national Independence Day. Asked whether he was launching his presidential election campaign on February 5, he pointed out “My campaign has already begun.”

The Presidential Secretariat will issue a gazette notification effective midnight January 26 proroguing Parliament. The ceremonial opening of Parliament will take place on February 7. Unlike past years, President Wickremesinghe will not address the nation on Independence Day on February 4. He will only be a guest of honour at the armed forces/police parade. Instead, the policy statement he will make after the ceremonial opening of Parliament will form his address to the nation. It will be telecast/broadcast live countrywide. A centrepiece of his address will be the emphasis he will lay on economic recovery and the measures he adopted towards it. This will be the last ceremonial opening of the current 16th Parliament. The next will be after a general election.

There was a sprinkling of humour too at the meeting. Wickremesinghe turned to Wasantha Yapa, the Kandy District parliamentarian, and remarked that soon Velu Kumar MP, also from the same district, would “be your boss.” There was laughter all around. Yapa is among four MPs led by former External Affairs Minister, G.L. Peiris, who are joining the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB). Besides Peiris, the others are Nalaka Godahewa and Dilan Perera. Thereafter, it was “see you later,” and the President returned to his designated office in Parliament.

Days before his informal dialogue with opposition parliamentarians, the United National Party (UNP) held two important meetings at the Presidential Secretariat. There were two important reasons that prompted the now top brass of the party to go into action. They acknowledged the need to dispel misconceptions over two key factors. One was speculation that Wickremesinghe will not contest the presidential election. The other was equally strong speculation that there would be a national referendum to extend the term of office of the Presidency. This was much the same as the referendum held by President J.R. Jayewardene. He held a referendum to cancel the 1983 parliamentary elections and allow the 1977 parliament to continue until 1989. The UNP leaders were of the view that opposition parties were responsible for what they called this wild speculation.

The first meeting was chaired by President Wickremesinghe. Among those who took part were Harin Fernando, Ruwan Wijewardene, Ravi Karunanayake and Manusha Nanayakkara. Sagala Ratnayake, who was to attend the meeting, was on a trip abroad. This closed-door meeting discussed the logistics that would be involved during a presidential election and how it should be approached. Since there are no functions revolving around any office bearers at present, an eight-member team was assigned different functions. For example, planning will be in the hands of one and networking with another. The team comprises Ruwan Wijewardene, Sagala Ratnayake, Ravi Karunanayake, Navin Dissanayake, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Harin Fernando and Vajira Abeywardena. A UNP senior member described the eight as being the “high command.” President Wickremesinghe was due to hand over a list of each team member’s responsibilities before he emplaned on Friday night to Davos for the world economic summit.  From there he will pay a visit to Uganda for the Non-Aligned Movement summit.

Soon after this ‘private’ meeting ended, another one began on the ground floor of the Presidential Secretariat. It was attended by 16 persons and chaired also by Wickremesinghe. This included all those who took part in the first meeting. The second meeting was called the management committee, and a resolution was adopted calling upon their leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe to contest the presidential elections. This was after at least four speakers made an appeal to him. Interesting enough, formally Wickremesinghe will not come forward as a candidate of the United National Party (UNP). Instead, he will represent what is being described as a ‘Grand Alliance” which is to include other political parties too. This is what prompted some UNPers to describe him as a “national candidate” or a “non-party candidate.” This is to form a theme in their campaign.

This raises the question how the proposed Grand Alliance will form a broader support base countrywide for Wickremesinghe. Moreso at a time when the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) has begun to distance itself from Wickremesinghe’s economic policies and there are increasing indications that its candidate would be millionaire businessman and casino owner Dhammika Perera. He has already launched his soft campaign and is persuading parliamentarians to open offices in their respective electorates.

Late last year, a strong body of support was to come from a group that was canvassed by Nimal Lanza, who is officially still an SLPP parliamentarian for the Gampaha District. At that time, he was said to have the backing of 29 SLPP parliamentarians. Late last year, he formally named his group as the New Alliance and opened an office at Rajagiriya. The first test of strength for the New Alliance, which is formally led by onetime minister, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, will come on January 27 when it holds its first major rally in Jaela. How many SLPP parliamentarians, or for that matter, from other parties will attend the rally—an expression of support for Wickremesinghe—will then be known. Other than that, there was also an expression of support last year by at least three SLPP ministers. The question remains whether they would continue that commitment.

Amidst focusing on a presidential election, an issue of concern for President Wickremesinghe has been the appointment of Court of Appeal President Justice Nissanka Bandula Karunaratne to the Supreme Court. This is to fill the vacancy caused by the retirement of Justice Buweneka Aluvihare. He also sought the appointment of Justice Sobitha Rajakaruna, now a Judge of the Court of Appeal, as its President. Last Monday, President Wickremesinghe wrote to the Constitutional Council drawing its attention to the earlier recommendation.

As exclusively revealed in these columns last week, the controversy between the Presidency and the Constitutional Council over rules governing the CC’s functions has now been resolved amicably. Speaker and CC Chair Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena has issued a gazette notification embodying the Constitutional Council Rules No 1 of 2023. It was published on December 31, last year, Thereafter, the CC approved the first appointment—Chairperson and members of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC).

The President’s Office has now raised concerns over the matter. This is because a Constitutional Council meeting fixed for last Friday has not placed on its agenda President Wickremesinghe’s request made last Monday. It is likely to be listed for another meeting, said a source familiar with the matter.


There have also been other developments this week. Among them is an appeal by Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) to the Commission to Investigate Bribery or Corruption that “it must expedite public access to asset declarations, proactively investigate major corruption cases, and expand its scope to address private sector bribery and sports-related corruption, and communicate its commitment and progress, to the public.”

A TISL statement said: “The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), now wields increased powers under the Anti-Corruption Act (ACA). With Justice Neil Iddawala leading the three-member Commission that was recently appointed, there is a pressing need for robust action to combat systemic corruption. The massive people’s struggle (Aragalaya) in 2022 highlighted the public’s realisation that deep-rooted corruption, coupled with governance weaknesses, caused the crippling economic crisis in Sri Lanka.

“There is a pervasive disillusionment and frustration regarding the State’s willingness to address these problems in good faith. Civil society and international donor agencies, particularly the International Monetary Fund (IMF),

emphasise that genuine progress in anti-corruption efforts is crucial for the nation’s economic recovery. The IMF’s structural benchmarks for Sri Lanka, its Governance Diagnostic Assessment Report, and recommendations from the Civil Society Governance Diagnostic Report underscore the importance of empowering CIABOC.

“Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) stresses the urgency for CIABOC to regain public trust by targeting high-profile corruption cases, moving beyond minor infractions to pursue major offenders. Establishing accountability, especially in cases of grand corruption, will encourage whistleblowers and witnesses to come forward fearlessly.  To make strides, CIABOC must expedite public access to asset declarations, proactively investigate major corruption cases, and expand its scope to address private sector bribery and sports-related corruption, and communicate its commitment and progress, to the public.

“Considering the magnitude of the widespread, systemic corruption problem in Sri Lanka, TISL calls upon the newly constituted Commission to provide visionary, fearless leadership to the fight against corruption.

“TISL also calls upon the Government to resource CIABOC with the financial and functional independence and support it needs to be responsive to this decisive moment in the country’s trajectory towards recovery.”


Hard on the heels of concerns expressed by the United States, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva has come out with a critical statement. Its remarks are significant since they may find a place when the Council’s sessions in September deliberate on accountability issues on the resolution of Sri Lanka.

Here is what the UNHRC said on Friday: “We are very concerned that authorities in Sri Lanka are adopting a heavily security-based response to the country’s drugs problem, instead of public health policies grounded in human rights. A staggering 29,000 people have reportedly been arrested on drug-related matters since 17 December, with allegations that some have been subjected to ill-treatment and torture.

“Security forces have reportedly conducted raids without search warrants, detaining suspected drug sellers and users, with hundreds sent to military-run rehabilitation centres. During and after these operations, people are reported to have been subjected to a number of violations, including unauthorised searches, arbitrary arrests and detention, ill-treatment, torture, and strip searches in public. Lawyers acting for those detained have alleged that they have faced intimidation from police officers.

“While drug use presents a serious challenge to society, a heavy-handed law enforcement approach is not the solution. Abuse of drugs and the factors that lead to it are first and foremost public health and social issues. People suspected of selling or trafficking drugs are entitled to humane treatment, with full respect for due process and transparent, fair trials.

“People who use drugs should be provided with appropriate support and programmes that address the root causes of addiction and assist their reintegration into society. The UN Human Rights Office last year issued a report calling on States to develop effective drug policies, including by considering the decriminalization of drug use and the possession of drugs for personal use.

“The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk urges the Government of Sri Lanka to review its ongoing “Yukthiya” operation, and to implement human rights-based approaches, notably the right to health, in addressing the issues of illicit drugs in society. Allegations of abuse of authority, torture and ill-treatment and denial of due process and fair trial rights must be thoroughly and impartially investigated, and justice must be served.”

The two different meetings held this week by senior UNP members have cleared the way for the polls. First, it would be the presidential election to be followed by the general elections late this year or early next year. Then will come the local council elections to be followed by provincial council elections. No doubt, all political parties will take note of the development as the interest in the elections grows.

Glorifying terrorism an offence under new Anti-Terrorism Law

Publication of statements in the print, electronic and social media “which glorifies the commission of the offence of terrorism” will be deemed an offence under the new Anti- Terrorism Law. The 87-page Bill has now been published in the gazette

and will come up before Parliament. This is after allowing time for challenging it vis-à-vis its constitutionality before the Supreme Court. In determining what is glorifying terrorism, the draft law notes that it is “from which the public may reasonably be expected to infer what is being glorified is being glorified conduct that should be emulated by them in existing circumstances.” However, “it does not include an opinion, legitimate criticism, satire, parody, caution or imputation made in good faith.” To this provision, the draft law stipulates, that “the question as to how a statement is likely to be understood and what members of the public could reasonably be expected to infer from it shall be determined, having regard to both – (a) to the contents of the statement as a whole; and (b) to the circumstances and the manner of its publication.”

Those who prove “to the satisfaction of the High Court” that a statement “neither expressed his views nor had his consent or approval for publication,” the court may order such person is not guilty. Those who commit an offence under these provisions will be liable for conviction by a High Court for a term not exceeding 15 years, Specifically, the draft law does not define what ‘terrorism’ is. It is briefly described as the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially  against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims. It is also not clear whether the laws will apply to terrorist groups that operate in Sri Lanka or will also cover those operating overseas and banned by the United Nations or its agencies.

The draft law will replace the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act which was largely used to deal with terrorist suspects. However, it has also been applied in the recent past in other cases. Tamil National Alliance (TNA) spokesperson and attorney-at-law, Abraham Sumanthiran said yesterday “There has been not much difference in the Anti-Terrorism Bill compared to the existing Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). It was the same draft that was gazetted last October. We will challenge this legislation in the court. In fact, my position is that we don’t need an anti-terrorism law in the country considering the existing laws which are adequate. The amalgamated Public Security Ordinance law. This draft legislation is dangerous to the extent that it vests significant power at the hands of the Executive to exercise which we feel would be used to suppress public dissent and the rights of the citizens,”

A key feature of the draft law requires the Inspector General of Police to establish a Specialised Anti-Terrorism Agency of the Sri Lanka Police. It will be tasked with with the prevention and countering terrorism, and the investigation of any offences. At present, such functions are under the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) which is under the charge of a Deputy Inspector General of Police. The proposed Specialised Agency will maintain a central database, statistics relating to the commission of offences, and conduct investigations to arrest. It will also assess threat situations posed by terrorism and issue warnings to the public. Another function will be to conduct research into terrorism, and develop “investigation techniques and strategies, best practices and standards.”

In view of complaints by local and foreign human rights bodies, the procedures of arrest under the new law have been modified. Police are required to inform the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) about the date, time and place of arrest of suspects, reasons and the location at which they are being held. They are also required to provide the name, identification number and rank of the arresting officer, other information that will enable the HRCSL to have prompt access and whether any human rights have been infringed upon.

The draft law empowers the Police to seek the assistance of a member of the armed forces or a coast guard officer to carry out an arrest. They will also be empowered to stop and search any person, vehicle, vessel, train or aircraft or enter and search any premises or land and take into custody any material.

To deal with allegations of cruel or inhumane treatment or torture, the new draft law empowers a Magistrate to direct that the suspect be produced before a Judicial Medical Officer for medical examination. He is empowered to make an order to change the place of detention of the suspect.

The Police will be empowered in terms of the draft law to seek an order from a Magistrate to require any bank, non- banking financial institution or designated non-financial business to provide information relating to any financial service provided by such bank, institution, details of any financial transactions carried out by any person, details relating to bank accounts, deposits, remittances, and a certified statement of any account of financial services by any person. This will be subject to the provisions of the Suppression of Terrorism Financing Act, No 25 of 2005, Prevention of Money Laundering Act No 5 of 2006 and the Financial Transactions Reporting Act, No 6 of 2006.

The Attorney General may indict and institute criminal proceedings in respect of an offence under the draft law. This is with due regard to State policy, the national interest, public interest, views of the Inspector General of Police, Views of the victims of the offence and the representations that may be made by the accused person or, on his behalf by his Attorney-at-Law. Where the Attorney General decides to suspend and differ institution of criminal proceedings against any person alleged to have committed an offence, he has been empowered to prefer an application to the High Court for one or more of the following: (a) to publicly express remorse and apology before the High Court, using a text issued by the Attorney General as instructed by the Court, (b) to provide reparation to victims of the offence, as specified by the  Attorney General, (c) to participate in a specified programme of rehabilitation, (d) to publicly undertake that such person refrains from an offence under this law, to engage in specified community or social service, or (f) to refrain from, committing any indictable offence or breach of peace.

Provision has been made in the draft law for the President to issue a Proscription Order through a gazette notification if there are “reasonable grounds to believe that any organisation is engaged in any act amounting to an offence.” This is on a recommendation made by the Inspector General of Police, or a request made by the Government of any foreign country to the Government of Sri Lanka. The prohibitions will include a person being a member of such an organisation, prohibiting such organisation from recruiting members or conducting of meetings, activities, and programmes.

The draft law also empowers the President to promulgate a Restriction Order. This is if he has reasonable grounds “to believe, that any person has committed, or is making preparation, to commit an offence.” That is if “the conduct of such person cannot be investigated without him being arrested, and the President is of the opinion that it is necessary to do so.”

Source: Sunday Times