panacea for settling differences
- Second dpty. Leader for UNP
- President cuts short Nepal tour after Lahore attack
- Bogols assures Pakistan of Lanka’s friendship
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa were
on a three-day official tour of Nepal when they learned that the Sri
Lankan cricket team had come under attack in Lahore during their second
test match against Pakistan last Tuesday. The President began the second
day of his visit by travelling to Anandakutti Bihar, a Buddhist temple
situated in Swoyambhu, a short distance from Kathmandu. The First Couple
undertook religious observances at the ancient Buddhist shrine and
offered alms to the priests of the temple.
It was while the Presidential delegation was touring the temple that the
mobile telephone of A.B. Lalith, one of the journalists travelling with
the delegation, received a text message saying that the Sri Lankan
cricketers had been attacked in Lahore. Lalith immediately informed the
President about the news he had received. Upon hearing of the attack,
President Rajapaksa immediately cancelled the rest of his schedule for
the day and headed back to his hotel where he and members of his
delegation tuned into BBC to learn more about the attack. In the
meantime, Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge and Prime Minister Ratnasiri
Wickremanayake telephoned the President from Colombo to appraise him of
the current situation.
Addressing Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama who was also part of the
delegation to Nepal, President Rajapaksa instructed him to fly directly
to Lahore in order to find out what had really transpired. The President
then went on to cancel the remainder of his tour, including a visit to
Lumbini and told his Secretary Lalith Weeratunge to make immediate
arrangements to return to Sri Lanka at the earliest.
Speaking to Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Pakistan, former Air Force
Commander Jayalath Weerakody, the President asked him also to fly to
Lahore immediately in order to learn the condition of the injured
players. Weerakody who is based in Islamabad was provided with a
Pakistani Air Force aircraft to fly the 470 kilometres to Lahore.
Minister Bogollagama however was unable to secure a special plane and
was forced to fly the normal route from Kathmandu to Bahrain from where
he caught a flight to Karachi and subsequently flew domestic to Lahore.
By the time he reached Lahore, it was past 6 p.m. on Tuesday.
President Rajapaksa had instructed Sports Minister Lokuge to make
arrangements to send a special plane to transport the Sri Lankan players
back to the Island as soon as possible.
Since the President was originally scheduled to leave Kathmandu on
Wednesday afternoon, the special Sri Lankan airlines aircraft to fly him
back home was to be dispatched on Wednesday morning. However, with the
President having cut short his visit, a special aircraft had to be flown
to Kathmandu on Tuesday instead. Since the special aircraft had to fly
over Indian air space in order to bring the President back home,
permission had to be obtained from the Indian government for this
purpose. However, since this authorisation took over three hours to
obtain, the President finally left Kathmandu around 7 p.m. and returned
to Colombo at 11 p.m.
Meanwhile, the President’s special envoy to Islamabad Minister
Bogollagama held discussions with Pakistani President Asif Al Zadari,
Prime Minister Gilani, Foreign Minister Mahmoud Shah Mahmoud and Prime
Ministerial Advisor, Rehman Malik. At the discussions, the Pakistani
President expressed his apologies to the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister
about what the Sri Lankan cricket team had to face in Lahore. President
Zadari had also telephoned President Rajapaksa previously to apologise
for the attack on the Sri Lankan team.
The Pakistani President and Prime Minister assured Minister Bogollagama
that the perpetrators of the attack on the cricket team would be found
and brought to justice as soon as possible. Minister Bogollagama in turn
assured the Pakistani leaders that this incident would in no way mar
relations between Pakistan and Sri Lanka who have long been friends in
During the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 which took the lives of some
40,000 Sri Lankans, President Chandrika Kumaratunga was in London on
holiday. Despite the crisis in her country, the President only returned
to the Island several days after the disaster. At the time, Prime
Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa held the fort and commanded the relief
operations on behalf of his government.
Many people praised President Rajapaksa’s decision to cut short his tour
of Nepal and return to the Island upon hearing about the attack on the
Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. President Rajapaksa also spoke to
Nawaloka Hospital Director Jayantha Dharmadasa on the telephone early on
Wednesday morning and instructed him to provide the cricketers receiving
treatment at the hospital the best possible facilities and services. The
President also spoke to Sri Lankan cricket Skipper Mahela Jayawardane,
Deputy Captain Kumar Sangakkara and Spin Bowler Muttiah Muralidharan to
inquire after their health. During his conversations with the players,
the President is reported to have thanked the three world class
cricketers for keeping Sri Lanka’s honour intact when they issued
statements to the media soon after the incident.
Meanwhile, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and MP Ravi Karunanayake also
visited the players who were receiving treatment at the Nawaloka
Hospital to inquire after their condition.
Ranil under fire
Sparks flew at the UNP parliamentary group meeting last week, when a
majority of MPs present called for current UNP Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe to step down from office and hand the party over to a
person more in touch with the voters. Wickremesinghe however, in usual
form, maintained stoic silence and in the end, appointed a four-member
committee headed by Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya and comprising, Tissa
Attanayake, John Amaratunge and Kabeer Hashim to study the grievances of
those who were calling for a change in leadership in order to determine
whether they merited action.
The four member committee invited UNP members who wanted Wickremesinghe
to step down to come before them at the Opposition Leader’s office last
week and state their case. However, the chief protagonists of the rebel
group demanding the ouster of Wickremesinghe declined to come before the
committee, saying it was just another ruse by the UNP Leader to buy time
and eventually sweep the issues under the carpet once more. Johnston
Fernando, Jayalath Jayawardane, Thalatha Athukorale, Lakshman
Seneviratne and Dayasiri Jayasekera boycotted the sessions.
Despite the UNP Leader’s moves to stifle the rebel movement however, it
is fast proving impossible to do. Of the paltry 42 UNP MPs remaining
with the party, only around 10 parlaimentarians are still in favour of
Wickremesinghe remaining party leader. These include, Tissa Attanayake,
Vajira Abeywardane, Lakshman Kiriella, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Sagala
Ratnayake, Renuka Herath, Palitha Rangabandara, Gayantha Karunathilake
and Ravi Karunanayake.
Staying on the sidelines of the leadership debate so far are John
Amaratunga, Joseph Micheal Perera and Sajith Premadasa.
Wickremesinghe’s new strategy
Now realising that a majority of his parliamentary group is moving
against him, Wickremesinghe has commenced a separate effort to win over
members of provincial councils and local government bodies.
To this end, last Monday, Wickremesinghe summoned UNP candidates
standing for election in the Western Province to Sirikotha for a
meeting. Karu Jayasuriya, Ravi Karunanayake, Imthiaz Bakeer Markar,
Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, Joseph Micheal Perera and John Amaratunge
were also present at the meeting. Wickremesinghe told the candidates
that the media was publicising a leadership struggle within the UNP and
warned them that such rumours could disrupt the Western Provincial
WPC candidate M.J.M. Muzammil who expressed his views said that
Wickremesinghe should remain the leader of the UNP. “The Opposition has
been weakened by the fact that its membership is more preoccupied with
creating a perception in the country that the Leader must be ousted
instead of focusing on taking a stand against the government as a good
opposition is supposed to do. At a time of an election especially,
raking up these perceptions through the media could totally disrupt the
polls campaign. Ranil Wickremesinghe should continue as party leader.
This should not change,” Muzammil recommended and all the candidates
present unanimously agreed to the proposal.
Continuing his strategy, Wickremesinghe also summoned North Western
Provincial Councillors to Sirikotha last Friday (6). The UNP Leader is
also in the process of summoning UNP parliamentarians individually to
discuss things with them. Accordingly on March 3, Wickremesinghe
summoned a MP from Matale and informed him that he was going to reform
the party. Wickremesinghe informed the MP that as part of his reforms
process he would create a second Deputy Leader position within the party
and this would be given to Ravi Karunanayake. In addition, an assistant
leader would also be appointed and Vajira Abeywardane will be given the
post. The Matale MP then inquired why Hambantota MP Sajith Premadasa had
not been considered for any of the positions. Wickmesinghe responded
that Premadasa rarely participated in parliamentary sessions and he was
furthermore not an active member of parliament.
On the other hand, Wickremesinghe said, Karunanayake was an extremely
vociferous member of Parliament and was active within the legislature on
Wickremesinghe has also summoned Karunanayake to give him the good news.
When Karunanayake questioned why he was to be given the deputy leader
post when Jayasuriya had already been appointed to the position,
Wickremesinghe explained that this would be a second deputy leader
position. “If I want, I can appoint even three deputy leaders,”
Wickremesinghe is reported to have told Karunanayake.
Wickremesinghe then summoned Vajira Abeywardane and informed him that he
would be appointed Assistant Leader of the party in lieu of his service
to the UNP. However, Abeywardane had opposed this saying that he would
prefer if he was appointed to a position equal to that of Karunanayake,
instead of being appointed to a position inferior to that of the Kotte
Learning of these unilateral moves by Wickremesinghe, the party’s rebel
group has decided to commence a grassroots movement to get the party
leader ousted by holding meetings with district level organisers. It is
also learnt that this group has decided that it will no longer carry out
orders issued by Wickremesinghe. As part of this strategy, the group of
MPs boycotted the parliamentary debates on the extending the emergency
regulations, the CEB bill and another financial bill last week. Although
the debate was open for the Opposition to criticise the Government’s
proposed bills, the quorum bell in Parliament had to be rung five times
on Thursday because the chamber was virtually empty of MPs during the
debates. It is learnt that the rebel group has decided that if the
leadership change is not affected soon, they will break from the party
and conduct themselves as an independent group in the opposition.
Campaigning in full gear
With the Western Provincial Council elections drawing nearer, the main
political party campaigns are gathering momentum. The UPFA has appointed
Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake to head the party’s campaign
committee which also includes Ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva, Susil
Premajayantha, Maitripala Sirisena and Dulles Alahapperuma. The campaign
rallies and meetings to be attended by the President and the Prime
Minister are also decided by this committee.
The UNP has appointed a similar committee headed by Deputy Leader Karu
Jayasuriya and comprising John Amaratunge, Joseph Michael Perera Tissa
Attanayake, Imthiaz Bakeer Markar and Gamini Jayawickrema Perera. This
committee has decided that the campaign would include about 1000 small
rallies within the Western Province ahead of the poll date. UNP Leader
Ranil Wickremesinghe is also taking a more active leadership role in
this election, Sirikotha sources claim, adding that the Leader was also
hoping to attend a great many more rallies for this election. The UNP
Committee hopes to make the cost of living, the country’s economic
crisis and the need for relief to be provided to the people the main
theme of this election.
Even as the two main parties gear up for the campaign activities, the
candidates of both parties are fathoms deep into their battles for
preferential votes. The fact that this is a long campaign culminating
only on April 25 has become a problem for candidates who have minimal
resources. However, the richer candidates have no such issues.
The UPFA has declined to nominate its Chief Ministerial candidate for
the Western Province. However, newspaper magnate Thilanga Sumathipala,
Gampaha District Leader Prasanna Ranatunge and former Chief Minister
Reginald Cooray has already commenced their campaigns to be the
Certain candidates of the two main parties have banded together in
threes, the number of preferential votes available on a single ballot
paper, and decided to campaign together. These candidates are promoting
their three candidate numbers on a single propaganda leaflet and are
also organising combined rallies. Other candidates have decided to
campaign throughout a district, prompting an angry reaction from those
who have confined their campaigns to their electorates only.
Since posters and cut-outs are prohibited under election regulations,
many candidates have purchased advertising space in newspapers and air
time on radio and TV channels for their propaganda. It is learnt that
some candidates have already reserved space in newspapers for the final
week of campaigning.
Several candidates and their supporters have also commenced house to