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Politics


 UPFA looks for strength in alliance with JVP as election fever hots up

  • Weerawansa faction to sign MoU today
  • Dissanayake brothers pledge support for President
  • Sajith rejects request to contest Wayamba poll

The NFF joining with the UPFA is simply a return of that status quo and they would go back to being elected members of the UPFA under which party they contested the 2004 poll. This effectively puts paid to moves by the JVP to oust Weerawansa and Co. from Parliament on the charge that they have quit the JVP. Party General Secretary Tilvin Silva has already written two letters to UPFA Secretary Premajayantha demanding that the Parliamentary seats of NFF members be cancelled. The JVP’s stake on the news that the Weerawansa group will be joining the government officially was to say that Weerawansa was always in cahoots with the government

While the rest of the country were either celebrating Christmas or enjoying the holiday on December 25, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was preoccupied with a series of meetings at Temple Trees. One of the most important of these was the discussion between the President and the National Freedom Front led by JVP breakaway Wimal Weerawansa. NFF Secretary Nandana Gunathilake and MPs Piyasiri Wijenayake and Kamal Deshapriya were also present at the meeting. On the government side ministers Susil Premajayantha, Nimal Siripala De Silva and Dullus Alahapperuma attended the meeting which lasted over an hour. It was decided at this meeting that the NFF which had broken away from the JVP and functioning independently in Parliament would become a coalition partner in the ruling UPFA. The preliminary meeting in this regard was held on December 23 between the NFF and Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, Nimal Siripala De silva, Susil Premajayantha, Dullus Alahapperuma, D.M. Jayarathne and Western Province Governor Alavi Moulana. As per the agreements reached there, it had been decided to meet with the President on Christmas day. At this meeting Weerawansa was to tell the President that there was a conspiracy to topple the government even as the military operations reached a crucial stage. Weerawansa said that in order to prevent such an occurrence his party would join the government and support it unconditionally. Gunathilake meanwhile told the President that in return for their support they would not accept ministerial portfolios or any other perks of office. The NFF also asked the President to declare the year 2009 as the Year of victory for war heroes. President Mahinda Rajapaksa told the NFF, since the party had 12 MPs, their support would be a great strength to the government. No doubt the President was thinking about the speculation regarding the crossover of several more UNP reformists following the return of the group leader, Karu Jayasuriya to the UNP. Although these remaining dissidents have assured the President that they would not return to the UNP if they or any other government MPs should decide to join the opposition, the 12 NFF MPs would provide much needed stability and crucial numbers for the government in the House.

The NFF is to sign an MoU with the UPFA at 9.30 p.m. today (28) at Temple Trees. UPFA General Secretary Susil Premajayantha and NFF Secretary Nandana Gunathilake will sign the MoU. When Parliament meets on January 7, 2009 the NFF will sit with the government. Political observers believe that the NFF deciding to ally with the UPFA means that they will be able to retain their parliamentary seats unchallenged. Weerawansa and his 12 MPs contested the 2004 general election under the UPFA ticket as the JVP was then a coalition partner. The NFF joining with the UPFA is simply a return of that status quo and they would go back to being elected members of the UPFA under which party they contested the 2004 poll. This effectively puts paid to moves by the JVP to oust Weerawansa and Co. from Parliament on the charge that they have quit the JVP. Party General Secretary Tilvin Silva has already written two letters to UPFA Secretary Premajayantha demanding that the Parliamentary seats of NFF members be cancelled. The JVP’s stake on the news that the Weerawansa group will be joining the government officially was to say that Weerawansa was always in cahoots with the government. JVP Propaganda Secretary Vijitha Herath is on record saying that it is a case of simply the formalising of a long term cohabitation between the two parties.

Provincial polls

With only three days left for nominations to be handed in for the forthcoming Central and North-Western provincial council polls, most political parties are in the thick of finalising their lists. The nominations board of the UPFA headed by Premier Wickremanayake, which has been holding interviews to select candidates, handed its list to President Rajapaksa on Friday. Once the President makes his own recommendations the nominees were to sign the list yesterday (27).

The UNP nomination list is being prepared by a board comprising Gamini Jayawickrema Perera and Karu Jayasuriya. Sirikotha sources claim that the list is more or less finalised. The JVP too has finalised its list and nominated Samansiri Fernando and Nimal Herath as their Chief Ministerial candidates for the Central and North-Western councils respectively.

The UPFA faces this election as a broad alliance encompassing the CWC, the Upcountry People’s Front, The All Ceylon Muslim Congress (Rishard Badurdeen- Hussein Bhaila group), the Weerawansa led NFF and the JHU.

The UNP meanwhile will ally with the SLFP (Mahajana Wing) the Western People’s Front and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. The UPFA has provided the CWC with seven candidates for the Nuwara Eliya District and two each from the Kandy and Matale Districts. The UPF led by P. Chandrasekaran has been given three candidates for the Nuwara Eliya District and one each from Kandy and Kurunegala. Both main parties have already nominated their Chief Ministerial candidates for the Central Province. S.B Dissanayake will contest for the top slot for the UNP while the former Chief Minister Sarath Ekanayake has been nominated by the UPFA. However, neither party has been able to nominate a Chief Ministerial candidate for the North-western province.

The UPFA has decided to keep the slot open for the candidate with the most number of preferential votes as per the directive of Preseident Rajapaksa. Former North-Western Province Chief Minister Athula Wijesinghe, Minister S.B Navina and former North-Western provincial council Opposition Leader Ashoka Wadigamangawa who recently crossed over to the government have requested the Chief Minister position. Amidst this tough contest a newspaper reported last week that Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa is expected to contest the North-Western provincial council election as the UPFA Chief Ministerial Candidate. However, the Minister vehemently denied the claim saying that the first he had heard of such a thing was in this newspaper report.

The UNP is facing similar difficulties with regard to the North-West poll. It was first suggested that Gamini Jayawickrema Perera would contest the poll as the UNP’s Chief Ministerial candidate, but Perera was not in favour of the idea. Subsequently, the name of young MP Dayasiri Jayasekera has been doing the rounds, but it is learnt that he has also refused to contest for the position.

It was in this backdrop that UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was to send an emissary in the form of Party Chairman Gamini Jayawickrema Perera to Hambantota MP Sajith Premadasa last Wednesday, requesting him to contest the poll as the UNP’s Chief Ministerial nominee for North-West . The suggestion did not sit well with Premadasa who rejected the idea saying his political base was in the south of the country and he had no connection with the North Western region. He suggested the name of Johnston Fernando who is from Kurunegala as a candidate for the position. However, Fernando has been at the forefront of the anti-Wickremesinghe campaign within the UNP which erupted following the UNP’s defeat at the provincial polls held in August and a vociferous proponent of an amendment to the party constitution that would clip the powers of the leader.

When Premadasa suggested Fernando, Perera was to shoot down the idea, claiming he was a non-Buddhist and therefore he would not be accepted by the people of the North West as a candidate for Chief Minister, prompting Premadasa to shoot back: “How was Ranjan Ramanayake who is a non-Buddhist also nominated for the position in Sabaragamuwa in that case?”

Many UNPers have in fact approached Karu Jayasuriya who is on the nominations board to put Fernando’s name forward as the Chief Ministerial candidate for the North West. However, the UNP rebel group, including Fernando, Dr. Jayalath Jayawardane, Thalatha Athukorale and others charge that the party leadership would not allow Fernando to contest in this position because his campaign could pose a threat to Wickremesinghe loyalist Akila Viraj Kariyawasam in the area.

UNP Central Province Chief Ministerial candidate S.B. Dissanayake meanwhile headed off to Kandy with a convoy of vehicles last Saturday (20) to commence his election campaign.

Hot on the heels of this start to Dissanayake’s campaign after years of being in political oblivion, his brothers including former Central Province Minister Saliya Bandara Dissanayake and L.R.B. Dissanayake and Ranjith Bandara Dissanayake met with President Mahinda Rajapaksa last Thursday and pledged their support to him at the upcoming poll. The Dissanayake brothers told President Rajapaksa that Ranil Wickremesinghe was using the Central Province poll to isolate S.B. Dissanayake politically and that it was still not too late for the UNP National Organiser to pull out of the race.

President Rajapaksa told the brothers that their putting the country ahead of family at this crucial juncture was an example to the whole country, but cautioned the Dissanayakes against souring family ties by conducting an overly bitter provincial poll campaign.

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