- Mahinda irked at publication of
- Ranil congratulates Karu
through third party
- No chair for Mahinda Wijesekera
Politics is the art of the possible and in Sri Lanka politics
is an obligation and at the same time a business that has come
to stay since independence.
All this was amply displayed during the past few months in the
Sri Lankan polity and the political drama that unfolded was
eagerly watched by millions. A resume of what took place is
appended with comment and analysis. When UNP Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe met President Mahinda Rajapaksa two weeks before
the crossover, the President was keen that the split within the
UNP be patched up and the problem settled amicably.
The meeting between the two leaders took place at a request made
by Wickremesinghe to discuss the developing situation at that
moment and the fate of the MoU between the two parties.
On President Rajapaksa’s inquiry about the internal squabbles of
the party, Wickremesinghe said he would be meeting Karu
Jayasuriya at the party headquarters Sirikotha the next day,
where the problems that had arisen between them would be
When Wickremesinghe said this, the President imparted some of
his own advice as to how he would have handled such a situation.
The President asked Wickremesinghe not to meet Jayasuriya at
Sirikotha, but to invite him to Wickremesinghe’s residence and
settle the differences over a cup of tea. Usually this is the
style in which Rajapaksa deals with tight situations, the
classic example being the problems that cropped up between
Mangala Samaraweera and himself and how he dealt with the matter
over breakfast at Temple Trees last Saturday.
The thinking of the President was that when the differences
between the two factions in the UNP are settled, he could get
the support of Jayasuriya as well as that of Wickremesinghe for
the government and go ahead with the MoU that was signed between
the two parties. He was also looking at working out a mechanism
for the implementation of the MoU.
The government also does not want Opposition Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe to leave the UNP as they feel it is advantageous
to have Wickremesinghe as the UNP and Opposition Leader. But the
government is also intrigued by the fact that Wickremesinghe had
been travelling abroad quite often during the last few months.
He spent more time out of the country than in it, while his
party was plagued by problems in recent times that was leading
to a split in the ranks.
It has now been speculated that Wickremesinghe is canvassing for
the post of Commonwealth secretary general.
As the 19 UNP MPs tipped to cross over were about to take oaths
as ministers, UNP Chairman Rukman Senanayake met President
Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees last Saturday (27) over lunch.
During the meeting, Senanayake requested the President to
postpone the swearing-in of the new cabinet with the UNP
crossovers by a week until internal squabbles in the party were
The UNP Chairman asked for a week to resolve the crisis in his
party since Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was on a visit to Nepal
and India, was to return only on February 2.
Rukman Senanayake told the President that the problem within the
party would be resolved once Wickremesinghe was back in the
country and that members from the UNP joining the cabinet and
accepting portfolios would be allowed.
He gave an assurance that the same people who had pledged to
join the government would be nominated by Wickremesinghe to hold
portfolios under such an arrangement.
Senanayake also requested the President to give an appointment
for a meeting for at least one and half hours to Wickremesinghe
once he returns to the country, where these matters could be
further discussed and a settlement reached using the MoU signed
between the two parties as a conduit.
He said that such an arrangement could be made for the UNP to
join hands with the government, while Ranil Wickremesinghe would
continue to be the Opposition Leader.
When this matter was discussed at length, President Rajapaksa
queried as to whether Wickremesinghe was serious about resolving
the crisis within his party since he was out of the country most
of the time. He asked as to what Wickremesinghe was doing in
Nepal, when a major eruption was about to take place in his
party with a large number of crossovers about to happen. “Why is
he abroad at a time like this? He should be here to settle these
problems. Is he really interested in the country or the party?”
the President asked Senanayake.
Karu to decide
“We don’t want to break the UNP or create problems for him. We
want him to remain as the leader of the UNP,” the President
said. As for the request to postpone the swearing-in ceremony by
one week, the President responded that it was Karu Jayasuriya
who should decide about the matter.
The President asked Senanayake to speak to Jayasuriya and see
whether the UNP reformist group was ready to postpone the
swearing-in ceremony by another week. He said that the
government put off the swearing-in ceremony by 11 days to allow
the UNP to resolve its own problems.
“The original date fixed for the swearing-in was January 17,” he
Then Rukman Senanayake got down to the more difficult task of
telling the President that if the crossovers took place without
the sanction of the party, it would result in a breakup of the
MoU between the government and the SLFP.
He also said that it would spell doom for further cooperation
between the two parties and that the UNP would not be ready to
go into any further agreements of this nature in the future.
After the meeting with the President, Rukman Senanayake briefed
Ranil Wickremesinghe in Nepal on what was discussed.
By that time Wickremesinghe had already spoken to Gamini
Jayawickrema Perera who had been assigned with the task of
trying to settle matters with the reformists. Perera was in
Katugampola when Rukman Senanayake called him and requested him
to have discussions with Karu Jayasuriya to get the date of the
However, when Jayawickrema Perera spoke to Karu Jayasuriya, the
response was that they were not amenable to a further
Jayasuriya said that they postponed it earlier as well and it
would be unfair by the others in the reformist group if he
decided to postpone it again. Jayasuriya further said if there
were any other nominations by the Party Leader for portfolios,
the reformist group did not have any objections to it and that
they could be sworn in on a future date. The hectic task
undertaken by Rukman Senanayake and Jayawickrema Perera ended
there and the swearing-in ceremony and the cabinet reshuffle
went ahead as scheduled.
There was a flurry of activity before the cabinet reshuffle with
many existing government ministers not wanting to part with some
of their subjects.
Among those who were quite vocal in this regard was none other
than Minister Mangala Samaraweera who wrote a letter to the
President objecting to UNP crossovers in the cabinet.
Thereafter, he met President Rajapaksa and refused to shed any
of his portfolios. By that time, it had been decided to give the
Aviation portfolio held by Samaraweera to Keheliya Rambukwella.
However, it was later decided to leave the portfolios of
Also, Minister Samaraweera was objecting to Mahinda Wijesekera
with whom he had a bitter rivalry in the Matara District, from
being taken into the government fold and being given a cabinet
portfolio. Mahinda Wijesekera’s name was deferred by the
government where the giving of portfolios was concerned for some
time due to the objection by Samaraweera.
Most of Samaraweera’s requests were accommodated by the
President since he did not want the outside world to know of a
rift between him and Minister Samaraweera. Accordingly,
Wijesekara’s name was struck from the list with the hope to take
him back on a later date.
Mahinda Wijesekera who crossed over from the SLFP to the UNP in
2002 along with S.B. Dissanayake and G.L. Peiris, became a
severe critic of Ranil Wickremesinghe after the presidential
election defeat. He was also removed from the Working Committee
and his post as Matara District organiser.
On Sunday early morning, officials at the President’s office
were rummaging through the Sunday English newspapers to check
the veracity of information they had received that either
Minister Mangala Samaraweera or one of his close friends had
leaked the letter written by him to the President, to the press.
The letter had appeared in several English newspapers and the
President was visibly unhappy over its publication. Thereafter,
it was decided to ignore the objections of Samaraweera and
accommodate Mahinda Wijesekera in the cabinet creating a new
portfolio for special projects. This was the reason why his
appointment was made at the last minute and there was not even a
chair allocated for him at the ceremony until one was hurriedly
brought for him.
The decision of the President to accommodate Mahinda Wijesekara
was conveyed to him early Sunday morning by the President’s
Senior Advisor, Basil Rajapaksa.
In the cabinet reshuffle, the Foreign Ministry portfolio was
taken away from Minister Samaraweera. The President did not want
to allocate the Foreign Ministry to a new dissident from the UNP
as it could create discord among the senior SLFPers. It was
decided to appoint Rohitha Bogollagama, who crossed over to the
government during former President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s time,
as Foreign Minister.
Bogollagama was brought to parliamentary politics by Ranil
Wickremesinghe and was a very close associate of him at one
time. He campaigned tirelessly for the UNP and even wrote a book
titled ‘Nayaka Ranil’ (Ranil, The Leader), before he crossed
over to the government seeking greener pastures.
Bogollagama is now entrusted with one of the key ministries in
the present government. The Foreign Ministry directly deals with
the country’s image and given the present situation where there
is a lot of adverse publicity about the government with
allegations of human rights violations and issues related to the
escalation of conflict in the north east, the Foreign Ministry
has a key role to play in creating a positive image of the
One reason given by analysts for the removal of Samaraweera from
the Foreign Ministry portfolio was that he was drifting away
from India and leaning towards China. This has created concern
with India who is quite prissy when it comes to the geopolitical
relations in the South Asian region. The government’s thinking
is that Samaraweera failed to convince India regarding the
present situation in the North and the East. Samaraweera’s
closeness towards China could be due to his close connections
with the JVP that maintain close links with China.
The other reason is that all the ministers were asked to shed
one of their portfolios to make way for the UNP members who were
joining the government. Mangala Samaraweera opted to part with
Foreign Affairs and retain development oriented ministries in
order to serve the people in his electorate. Unlike other
ministers who earlier held the portfolio of Foreign Affairs,
Samaraweera did not make any effort to fill the vacancies in the
Foreign Ministry with his cronies.
Rohitha Bogollagama, on assuming duties as the Foreign Minster,
went to India immediately where he met Indian Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh and Foreign Secretary, Pranab Mukherji.
Besides the cross-over drama where the UNP faced the most severe
beating in recent history, there had been lot of dissension
within the government ranks especially among the senior SLFP
members whose portfolios had been pruned or changed to
accommodate the UNP crossovers.
Among the most affected was none other than Anura Bandaranaike.
Minister Bandaranaike saw his pet portfolio of Tourism that
enabled him heavy foreign travel at state expense removed from
him and the relatively more down- to-earth Ministry of National
Heritage allocated to him. On learning that he had been given
the National Heritage Ministry, Minister Bandaranaike was irked
although he took oaths as a cabinet minister with the new
portfolio. He felt that it was a comedown and he had been
humiliated by President Rajapaksa.
At the conclusion of the ceremony he rushed out of the hall
without even waiting to pose for the customary group photograph
taken after the swearing-in ceremony. It was Mervyn Silva, who
was appointed a non-cabinet minister, that had to rush to
Bandaranaike and convince him to come back and pose for the
photograph. After the ceremony was over, several key ministers
met at Mangala Samaraweera’s house to take stock of the
situation with regard to the allocation of ministries and the
situation that had arisen with the UNP crossovers. Among those
who attended the meeting were Ministers Anura Bandaranaike,
Arumugam Thondaman, A.L.M. Athaullah and several others.
Minister Bandaranaike was quite vocal in his protest regarding
the portfolio allocated to him and was even contemplating on
resigning when his sister and former President Chandrika
Kumaratunga phoned him. She spoke to her disgruntled brother for
some time and was critical about the allocation of ministries
but pacified her brother and asked him to be patient.
Minister Samaraweera too insisted on Bandaranaike not resigning
immediately and encouraged him to mark time. This seems to be
what Samaraweera is doing until he takes some crucial action.
Minister Thondaman told those who gathered at Minister
Samaraweera’s residence that he had asked for a national subject
with more responsibilities but what he had received was not so.
However, he had said that he was not unhappy.
Although the objective of the meeting at Samaraweera’s residence
was to form a pressure group it did not turn out to be so as
there was no unanimity among those who gathered, about any
future collective action. Among things that were discussed was
to start attacking the government using a certain Sunday
However, what took place at Mangala Samaraweera’s residence was
reported to the President’s brother Basil Rajapaksa by Minister
Another minister who was unhappy over his portfolio was Mahinda
Samarasinghe. He was unhappy that Disaster Relief had been
removed from him and only Disaster Management had been allocated
to him. Minister Samarasinghe called the President on Wednesday
and said that he was not happy with the reduction made to his
portfolio. It was reported that President Rajapaksa had not
taken the complaint well and had reprimanded Samarasinghe.
Incidentally it was Samarasinghe’s birthday as well and there
was a party at his residence in the evening, which President
Rajapaksa attended around 11 pm after attending the Presidential
Cinema Award Ceremony held at the BMICH the same evening. He was
accompanied by Presidential Media Advisor, A.H.M. Azwer.
Interestingly most of those among the invitees were foreigners
including a large number of foreign ambassadors in Colombo. Some
even remarked that there were more foreign diplomats at
Samarasinghe’s birthday party than at the Donor Conference held
in Galle on Monday. It is said that those who attended the donor
meeting representing the EU countries were either second
secretaries or third secretaries attached to those embassies.
Talking about the allocation of ministries it is noted that even
SLFP General Secretary, Minister Maithripala Sirisena, seems to
be unhappy over the pruning of his portfolios.
Mahaweli and Irrigation that was under him earlier has now been
assigned to the President’s brother Chamal Rajapaksa.
This seems to be a strategic move with the Moragahakanda project
too just being initiated. It is apparent by even recent
statements made by most SLFP stalwarts that they are unhappy
over the entire government being run by President Rajapaksa and
Another person who felt badly let down in the entire portfolio
drama was SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem. The SLMC high command on the
previous Friday, decided that they should enter into an MoU with
the government. But President Mahinda Rajapaksa rejected an MoU
and pushed Hakeem to such an extent that he had no other option
but to join the government without a formal agreement or else
face another split in his party. When Hakeem was informed on
Saturday that he would be given the Posts and Telecommunications
Ministry, he was unhappy since the Ministry did not carry much
weight since even the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission
was directly under the President. Even Sri Lanka Telecom had
been privatised. When Hakeem requested a different portfolio
from the President on Saturday, he was flatly refused.
The woes of Hakeem continued when he found to his dismay that M.
Najubdeen of the SLMC had not been allocated any post. Hakeem
had earlier promised Najubdeen a post and had told him that the
government had allocated him one. But on finding out that he had
not been allocated any position, Najubdeen had found fault with
Hakeem and had vowed to join the SLMC faction led by Ameer Ali.
However, he too had told Najubdeen that they would have to
consult their high command before allowing him in. But now
Najubdeen has changed his mind once again and participated in
the High Command meeting of the SLMC. This was after he heard
that Hakeem was negotiating a position for him with Basil
Basheer Cegu Dawood of the SLMC who did much of the backdoor
manipulations in getting the SLMC to join the government, also
received the non-cabinet minister post of local government. An
upset Cegu Dawood had told his friends later that he had been
treated badly despite being at the forefront in canvassing
people to join the government along with Milinda Moragoda.
Even SLMC General Secretary Hassan Ali and K. Baiz received
deputy minister posts after much lobbying with Basil Rajapaksa.
Although the SLMC had not been allocated any ministry with
development projects, the President had treated the Muslim MPs
who had been with him better. One case is A.L.M. Athaulla who
had been entrusted Water Supply and Drainage. The reasoning for
this may be that the government does not trust Hakeem and the
SLMC as they could leave the government at a crucial moment.
With the bloated number of ministers it has now become difficult
to find offices for them and their staff. One person who found
that he did not have an office was Minister of Export
Development and International Trade Prof. G.L. Peiris. When
Minister Peiris went to the Ministry to assume duties he found
that there was no room for him to work. Finally he had to assume
duties in the office room of the Ministry Secretary, Dr. R.M.T.B.
Ratnayake. Now the Secretary does not have an office in the
Meanwhile, several prominent politicians and top businessmen
attended the wedding of the daughter of a Colombo businessman at
the Trans Asia Hotel last week. Among those present were Karu
Jayasuriya, Harry Jayawardena, A.J.M. Muzammil, former Chairman
of the Insurance Corporation Chanaka de Silva and many others.
As the ceremony was in progress Ravi Karunanayake who was in
India along with UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe telephoned de
Silva to find out what was going on in Sri Lanka. Mr. De Silva
who told Karunanayake that Minister Jayasuriya was seated two
seats away from him, said that Ranil Wickremesinghe should come
back and lead from the front to build the party in the face of
the present challenges.
Replying, Karunanayake said that they were now ready to take on
the government. As this conversation was taking place, A.J.M.
Muzammil who was close by, sent a short message to Ravi
Karunanayake saying that he too was fully endorsing what Chanaka
de Silva said.
Minutes later, Wickremesinghe called his friend Chanaka de Silva
and asked him to congratulate Karu Jayasuriya on his behalf, a
request that Chanaka de Silva conveniently ignored.
At the same time another political drama unfolded when Arumugam
Thondaman who graced the occasion was told that Puthrasingamani,
a member of the CWC had declared himself an independent member
of Parliament and was to join the government as a deputy
A visibly upset Thondaman complained to a friend of his that he
would pull out of the government if that had happened.
Thondaman’s friend told him that he would not discourage him
from leaving the government if that had taken place. However by
that time every thing had been done to pacify Thondaman and the
appointment of Puthirasingamani as a deputy minister did not
take place as scheduled.
As the political landscape keeps on changing all the time, many
political analysts are of the view that it would be rather
difficult for the UNP to come back to power within the next few
years or so. It is their view that the vacant deputy leadership
should now go to a person who could withstand time and take the
party to victory at some point. These changes are even taking
place in India where Rahul Gandhi, the son of slain Prime
Minister Rajiv Gandhi is gradually being groomed to take to
Since President Mahinda Rajapaksa has strengthened himself with
the crossovers and the JHU joining the government, the UNP is
poised to continue in the opposition for another 12 years. In
the circumstances, many in the party are now discussing that
they should have a strong young leader from the party to fill
the deputy leader post and the name promoted by many is that of
Sajith Premadasa. It seems that Party Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe will have to give serious thought to Premadasa to
take the party to new heights.
Wickremesinghe after a hectic tour of Nepal and India returned
to the country on Friday (02) where many people gathered at the
Bandaranaike International Airport to welcome him. His tour of
India had been successful where he met a number of top
politicians including Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.
He apprised Manmohan Singh on the Sri Lankan situation and
emphatically told him that it would be difficult for him to work
with the government after the treatment that had been meted out
to the UNP by the President but however he said that if the
government comes up with a plausible solution for the North-East
question, his numbers are there to support the government to
resolve the problem.
It is now learnt that India has told the government that they
would like to see the problem being solved as soon as possible
and urged the government to expedite the process.
JHU decides to accept portfolio to support
President Mahinda Rajapaksa decided on a Cabinet reshuffle to
muster the support of a group of UNP members after the JVP
refused to join the government. The President also requested the
JHU repeatedly to join the government and accept a Cabinet
portfolio or else he will be compelled to depend on the UNP
crossovers to strengthen the government. However, the President
preferred the JHU, which also contributed to formulating the
Mahinda Chinthanaya policy programme. The JHU’s stance was to
support the government unconditionally as long as the President
respected the agreement with the JHU.
The Supreme Sangha Council of the JHU discussed at length on the
President’s invitation to take up a Cabinet portfolio. Member of
the Supreme Sangha Council of the JHU, Venerable Ellawala
Medhananada Thera was of opinion that it was the JVP’s
withdrawal from the government that paved the way for a group of
parliamentarians promoting federalism to join the government.
The Venerable Thera said it could be prevented if not for the
JVP’s shortsighted step and stressed that the President deserves
the support of all those who want to defeat terrorism at this
Venerable Omalpe Sobhitha Thera pointed out that the JVP’s main
concern is the party and not the country and that they resorted
to strikes, protests, and agitations weakening the government’s
struggle against terrorism. The Venerable Thera said the JHU has
a responsibility to protect the Mahinda Chinthanaya policy
Venerable Athuraliye Ratana Thera was of the opinion that more
federalists will join the government increasing the number of
Cabinet portfolios to 60 that will further burden the people, if
the President is not supported at this stage. The Venerable
Thera said the JHU by accepting a Cabinet portfolio should
prevent the appointment of seven more ministers. If the 39 JVP
parliamentarians joined the government, the number of
ministerial portfolios could be reduced by 35 -40, he said.
Venerable Kotapola Amarakirti Thera pointed out that it is the
duty of the JHU to take the opportunity to serve the country,
and that they should not hesitate to bear responsibilities. The
Venerable Thera said they should support the President and
prevent more federalists from joining the government.
Venerable Rajawatte Vappa Thera said the government would most
possibly, dance to the tune of Hakeem and Thondaman, but the JHU
should prevent any such occurrence. At the meeting that lasted
for six hours, the Supreme Sangha Council resolved to accept a
Cabinet portfolio and to function as a constituent party of the
Thereafter, Venerable Ellawala Medhananada Thera attended the
Central Committee meeting of the JHU with the Sangha Council
resolution. The Central Committee that confirmed the resolution
decided to accept a ministerial portfolio. The next step was to
nominate a person for the post.
Chairman of the Committee, Venerable Kotapola Aamarakitti Thera
said as Buddhist monks they would not accept ministerial
portfolios although they are eligible for such positions.
Venerable Thera pointed out that a Cabinet portfolio is more
suitable for laymen in view of the structure of the Cabinet. The
proposal was carried unanimously by the committee.
At this stage, Ven. Ellawala Medhananda Thera said that Policy
Planning Secretary of the JHU Patali Champika Ranawaka is the
most suitable person for the post and that he has the capacity
to overcome the challenges facing the country. The Venerable
Thera pointed out that one of the JHU parliamentarians must
resign to enable the appointment of Champika Ranawaka and that
the he is prepared to do so.
Venerable Omalpe Sobhitha Thera who protested against Ven.
Medhananada’s decision volunteered to resign from parliament and
said that the Thera could do a better service to the country and
the religion as a Buddhist monk without wasting time in
parliament amid chaos.
Ven Ellawala Medhananda Thera who appreciated Venerable Sobitha
Thera’s decision to give up the parliament seat recalled that
the Omalpe Sobhitha Thera was largely instrumental in preventing
the passage of P-TOMS bill and implementing Liquor and Tobacco
Control laws. Ven. Sobthitha Thera requested Ven. Aturaliye
Ratnana Thera to move forward his campaign in parliament against
unethical conversions. The Thera wished to resign from the post
soon and visit Singapore on a religious mission.
Legal Advisor to the party Udaya Gammanpila immediately
contacted the Secretary General of Parliament and made
arrangement to hand over the resignation letter on Wednesday.
Aturaliye Rathana Thera advised Gammanpila to discuss with the
President and make arrangement for the swearing in of the new
minister. The committee decided to convene a media conference on
January 31 to inform the decision to the media. The committee
was of the opinion that the JHU is subject to the ill will of
foreign elements that would not tolerate the offer of a Cabinet
portfolio to the party and that the decision should be kept a
secret until it is disclosed at the media conference.
When the meeting was about to end, at around midnight, the
members worshipped Ven. Sobthitha Thera. Addressing the meeting
Champika Ranawaka pledged to discharge of his responsibilities
as a minister to the benefit of the nation. Meanwhile, a veteran
astrologer and Central Committee Member , Kampane Gunarathana
Thera immediately prepared an auspicious time and fixed the
swearing in at 8.08 on Navam Full Moon poya day. When Omalpe
Sobhitha Thera handed over the resignation, the Secretary
General of Parliament requested the Thera to change the decision
and to continue as an MP. However, the Venerable Thera said that
the he will be able to do a better service to the country after
the resigning from parliament. Later, the Commissioner of
Elections by a Gazette Extraordinary appointed Patali Champika
Ranawaka as a member of parliament. Udaya Gammanpila and
Nishantha Sri Warnasisnghe were entrusted with making
arrangements for the swearing in ceremony. All those concerned
were of opinion that the appointment of a JHU member as a
Cabinet minister was an achievement for the JHU.