The two hot topics in government circles during the recent past was kind of inter-related, in that it was about the post of the Prime Minister, and what to do with D. M. Jayaratne. The talk was about divesting the ailing Jayaratne off his premiership post at the Cabinet reshuffle being contemplated. It was also speculated that the post would be offered to, the Speaker and presidential brother, Chamal Rajapaksa.
However, since there has been no Cabinet reshuffle, these speculations have re-surfaced with a new twist - Jayaratne’s health. Government insiders and the media have been talking about the deteriorating health of PM, who returned to Sri Lanka after medical treatment in Singapore. Upon his return, a visibly frail and near stuttering PM has addressed several meetings in the Kandy District. Parliamentarians and Kandy District organizers, who took part in these meeting, reported on the PM’s conditions to the President, who is reported to have said, “We will give him some rest until he recovers fully from his ailments.”
Queuing up for Premier’s job
However, these talks, confined to government circles were revealed to the media during parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa’s visit to Dalada Maligawa last week. The visit, during which the first son also met with the Mahanayakas of Asgiri and Malwatu chapters, his first meeting since being elected to Parliament was to seek blessings for the 280,000 sqft new Sri Lanka Freedom Party Headquarters to be set up in Battaramulla. Namal is being given the responsibility of supervising the overall construction of the building.
At his audience with the Asgiriya Chief Prelate, certain matters regarding the Prime Minister’s responsibilities came under scrutiny; the PM’s condition was one of them. Reportedly the Chief Prelate had told Namal that as the Premier is too old, weak and forgetful, it was time for him to retire. He had said that although he did good work in the past, it is no longer so now, and hence he should not hold the Buddha Sasana Ministry portfolio any longer, and urged that the President take the portfolio under him, lest people become disappointed with the work of the ministry.
During the discussions, the Chief Prelate had also commented on the crime wave sweeping the country, and said he was concerned about the increase in rape and child abuse. He had said it was the duty of the government to take strong measures to not only stop them, but also give wide publicity to the punishments given to such criminals, so that it could act as a deterrent for others.
While the Chief Prelate made these comments, Namal had listened with apparent avid interest and nodded his agreement.
It was when this meeting and the comments made by the Chief Prelate became public that speculations about the premiership began to resurface among those in the governing party circles, leading to many views and proposals coming up from various quarters. These, needless to say, have been brought to the notice of the President.
Leading the list of names that have come up for the premiership is Maithripala Sirisena, the general secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. The others in order are: Chamal Rajapaksa, Basil Rajapaksa, Nimal Siripala de Silva, John Seneviratne and Dinesh Gunawardena. As there are several contenders, certain proposals have been made to the President by party insiders. One such is to allow the Parliamentary Group to select the next Prime Minister. Another is to appoint Maithripala Sirisena as Prime Minister and give the post of Party General Secretary to a younger person who could then re-organize the party’s youth wing. Yet another proposal is to rotate premiership among the party seniors, on an annual or six-month basis. Reportedly, the President has so far not made any comment publicly or privately on this matter. However, with the Chief Prelate’s criticisms and various proposals made by the party seniors, it is apparent the cards are now stacked against Jayaratne’s continuing as Prime Minister and we may see a change soon.
Namal’s new role
The idea of building a new head office for the SLFP first surfaced during Chandrika Kumaratunge’s Presidency. The then Minister-in-Charge of Urban Development Authority (UDA), Mangala Samaraweera, acquired a government land from Battaramulla for the project. Subsequently a foundation stone was laid, but nothing happened thereafter. The new head office resurfaced after President Rajapaksa assumed office. However, nothing happened until the recent Parliamentary Group Meeting, where the subject was discussed at length and a decision taken to hand over the project to Namal and his Tharunyata Hetak youth movement.
The idea behind giving the project to Namal was to mobilize the youth wing of the party and make them active participants of the project from beginning to end. Accordingly, the new party office is to be a seven-storey state-of-the-art edifice and work on it is expected to start soon. Thousands of youth members of the party are expected to be brought to the site on the day the first sod of earth is cut. There is no doubting the political connotation of the plan. This could well be a harbinger of change in the top echelons of the party.
President, Basil in decisive discussion with Hakeem
With the dissolution of the Eastern Provincial Council, the Muslim Congress faced a crisis situation because of the party’s inability to decide on whether to contest the election with the government or alone. The Supreme Council of the party was of the view that they should go alone, though there were few dissenting opinions. However, when Hakeem made a media statement, saying that pending the Supreme Council decision, they would be contesting the elections as a partner of the governing party, there was speculation that the party was in deep crisis and may even split.
Then in a surprise turnaround, he declared that the SLMC will go it alone in the Eastern Province. At first glance Hakeem’s decision was seen as a sign of the SLMC’s partnership with the government coming to an end. The United National Party, (UNP) also took it as a rift in the alliance and predicted defeat for the government at the elections. However, as it has unravelled since then, going alone is being proving to be a tactical move by the government, emanating from a secret arrangement between the President and Basil duo with Hakeem, to throw a red-herring and mislead the opposition. The government had come to know that voters in Ampara, Batticaloa and Trincomalee were dissatisfied with Pilleyan and this secret arrangement is aimed at pacifying the voters. Another reason was that some candidates contesting with the UNP were supporters of Ferial Ashraff.
The TNA’s decision to contest alone in the East, on the assumption that the SLMC would be contesting as a partner of the government, had reportedly, been an additional factor influencing the government’s secret arrangement with Hakeem. This strategy, worked out in secret, is expected to snare the disinterested voters in the three districts. In a scenario of none of the parties getting an absolute majority, the SLMC has said it will align with the UPFA to form the Provincial Government. A strong indication that the SLMC and the government has not fallen out, is the party’s decision to contest Sabaragamuwa and North Central Province elections in partnership with the government.
Be that as it may, the end result of all these political manoeuvrings could possibly be the UNP and TNA losing a sizeable block of votes, which could have been theirs. However, all four parties, the UPFA, UNP, TNA and SLMC contesting the East as separate entities is certain to make the Eastern Provincial Council Elections an interesting one.
Marapana’s secret committee
As things were panning out for an interesting Provincial Council Election, the UNP Working Committee met last Thursday to discuss the party’s preparations for it. After briefly touching on the subject, Party Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, addressing the Working Committee had suddenly asked Tilak Marapana to table ‘the Committee Report”. Everybody had been surprised, as there was no committee appointed to submit any report.
However, everything had become clear when Marapana had begun reading the report. The so-called committee had recommended that the Party Leader be elected every six years, as opposed to the annual secret ballot and the Deputy Leader, Assistant Leader, National Organizer, General Secretary, Treasurer and Chairman be appointed by the Party Leader. At this point Ajith Perera had objected to the six-year term of the Party Leader and had wanted it reduced to three years. However, his amendment had been summarily shot down as pre-arranged by Ranil’s supporters. A further proposal made by Malik Samarawickrema to extend the term of the Deputy Leader's tenure to six years as well, had also been defeated by the same crowd.
As the next item on the agenda, the UNP leader had brought up the issue of Sarath Fonseka and declared somewhat peremptorily that UNP parliamentarians should not take part in any meeting where the former Army Commander is also a participant. Understandably, the immediate aftermath of the announcement was a situation akin to disturbing a hornet’s nest.
A visibly vexed Ravi Samaraweera had said: “We are not going to his political meetings. We are going with him to fulfil the vows we made to God on the instructions of Party Secretary’ to do so in 2010. If we do not go, not only the people who attend such meetings in thousands will curse us, even the Gods will curse us,” To this comment, the UNP leader had said there was no need to fulfil all the vows as such.
Dulip Wedaarachchi had then asked from Ranil why he did not invite Sarth Fonseka to join the UNP, to which the leader had said, Fonseka can join the party if he wants to, by obtaining a membership paying Rs 20. He had also said the party members can discuss about a position for the former General, after that.
The UNP leader, who now had his position consolidated, had also said none of the UNP parliamentarians should hold individual meetings in view of forthcoming elections, and also none should take part in any meetings with Fonseka.
Why should I issue a letter? – Sarath Fonseka
At the end of Working Committee meeting several UNP parliamentarians arrived at Fonseka’s party Head Office, to impart firsthand the decisions made by Ranil. There were several others visiting Fonseka and his wife when the members arrived. Subsequently however, they managed to meet him and inform him of Ranil's decision prohibiting UNP parliamentarians from participating in any Fonseka’s meeting.
They informed Fonseka that even though the UNP members objected to such an arbitrary decision, it had been in vain and requested that the former Army Commander issue a letter to the UNP Secretary General urging Ranil Wickremesinghe to allow them to participate in Fonseka’s functions and fulfil their vows.
However, Sarath Fonseka had objected to issuing such letter and had said there was no necessity for him to issue letters as it was the UNP that had sent a letter to the parliamentarians requesting to come forward and make the vows and pledges. “Why should I issue letters releasing them from their vows,?” he had asked. The parliamentarians had mentioned that they had raised this issue at the Working Committee meeting and also mentioned that if the vows remain unfulfilled, God would curse them. Commenting on his refusal to acknowledge their request, the parliamentarians had commented wryly ‘how can a leader who does not feel the heart beat of his own supporters, feel the heart beat of God.’
Sajith and Daya Gamage in heated argument
When the board to select nominations met last week, Sajith Premadasa indicated that the right persons should be selected to contest the election, if the party is to win the election. Pointing out the irregularities prevalent at the time of selecting nominees for Anuradhapura, he said he had not been able to correct them, even though he made an attempt. As a result of this mistake, Sajith had said he had learnt that 10 Provincial Council Members in Anuradhapura would be leaving the UNP. These members including Opposition Leader, Palagala Pradeshiya Sabha Wickramasingha, Kekirawa Pradeshiya Sabha member Asoka Gunasiri, Opposition Leader Jayarathna Dissanayaka, Galenbindunuwewa member Mahendra Karunarathna, Kahatagasdigiliya Opposition Leader Thilakarathna, Padaviya Opposition Leader Shantha, Medawachchiya Opposition Leader Wasantha Ranatunga, MP Samaratunga, Villachchiya member Anura and Thirappene Opposition Leader Munasinghe. Sajith had reportedly held discussion with these members when they were about to take a final decision, subsequent to the Provincial Council nominees being selected, and told them he was aware of the mistakes made by the nomination board and appealed to do whatever possible for the victory of UNP members. He had also urged them to not think of leaving the party at this juncture as it would destroy the party. “You work for any member you like and try to help the UNP win,” he had said, adding that he had attempted to do the right thing by them, but had failed. Sajith had earnestly appealed to the members not to leave the party.
Around this time, it has come to light that the Colombo Mayor – Muzammil, MP Kabir Hashim and Mujibar Rahuman had left for Ampara to witness the SLMC nominations to the Eastern Provincial Council before deciding on the UNP nominations. But the scheduled meeting had reportedly been sabotaged by Daya Gamage, as he was not invited. Thereafter, they had returned to Colombo in disgust.
No sooner than this information reached Sajith, he had attempted to nominate Muslim members for Ampara, and had to a large extent surprised the nomination board, by succeeding in getting Abdul Haziz (who was with Ferial Ashraff) and Zarook Kariyappan, the former SLFP Organizer for Kalmunai, to the UNP list.
Even though Gamage had objected, Sajith had succeeded in his effort in getting them nominated. Although, there is a vote base of 42,000 for the Uhana area, Gamage had been against giving nomination to the Uhana Pradeshiya Sabha Opposition Leader, Chaminda Abeyratna, whose father had been killed during JVP violence. When Sajith claimed that, nominations should be allocated for such types of persons, Gamage had objected loudly. Sajith had countered by pointing out that the UNP is not a capitalists party and that there should be opportunities for small men in the party. He had also said, “You are in this position because of my father’s garment factories programme. Because of my father, you have reached this position. Refrain from giving nominations to gain favours to you. This paves the way to defeat for the party.”
Sajith’s outburst had effectively silenced Gamage, who had subsequently given his approval. Gamage had confused the Eastern Provincial Council nomination list inserting 9 instead of 7. When there was an attempt to create a split in the Athukorala family by giving the position of UNP organizer to Nalaka Athukorala, Sajith had intervened and said the candidature should be conferred. But Nalaka had not agreed. When the struggle to ruin Thalatha was defeated, Ravi Karunanayaka and Shanthini Kongahage had been surprised. When Ranjan Ramanayaka was struggling to nominate a Muslim to Balangoda against Iflar Yehiya, a supporter of Ranil who had been in Sabaragamua Provincial Council for 19 years, Sajith intervened and prevented it In turn, Iflar Yehiya appreciated Sajith’s action saying that even though he (Yehiya) had not uttered a single word in favour of Sajith, he (Sajith) had safeguarded him. Sajith had remarked that he did not consider personal affiliations, when considering party’s victory.
Gammanpila’s manioc Dansala and Ranaviru woes
The 2012 Ranaviru Felicitation Ceremony organized by Western Province Agricultural and Industries Minister and Karuna Samadhi Foundation was held in the Maharagama Town last Monday, with the participation of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Dauldena Gnanissara Thera, Ittapane Dhammalankara Thera, Champika Ranawaka, Udaya Gammanpila and Prasanna Ranathunga were also present at this occasion.
The objective of this ceremony was an alms-giving and a Dansala, which offered manioc (2 tonnes) and awarding scholarships (Rs 1,500 monthly) to students of Ranaviru families who excelled in the GCE (O/L) Exam. The special event in this year’s programme was that the scholarship were awarded to students who had secured 1st, 2nd and 3rd places.
With the arrival of the Defence Secretary, people attempted to flock around the stage, even as the security personnel were trying to move them to a distance. At this point, the Defence Secretary looking on had remarked that if the masses are not allowed to come closer to their leaders, there was no purpose in the peace won by sacrificing a lot of lives, and instructed the security personnel to allow them to move closer.
At this point, the people, a majority of them members of Ranaviru families had approached the Defence Secretary and handed over their messages of woe. The Defence Secretary, later told Gammanpila that though it was the parents who brought up Ranaviru sons, they do not get anything after the sons' lives were sacrificed or they had been married at the time their lives were sacrificed. He said it was because of this, the parents wanted to meet him and air their grievances.
At this juncture, the Defence Secretary disclosed that with effect from next month, parents of soldiers who sacrificed their lives would get an allowance. The people, as was to be expected, applauded the arrangement.