Leadership claims and political manoeuvrings

Mahinda Rajapaksa Ranil Wickremesinghe Mahinda Wijesekera Karuna Amman
  • Aftermath of Akuressa suicide bomb attack
  • Karuna vs Pillaiyan
  • UNP rebels tell Ranil “ go”
  • Irudina says conspiracy plot against Ranil

President Mahinda Rajapaksa and First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa were attending religious observances at Temple Trees around 9 a.m. on Tuesday (10) Poya day, when a call came through on the President’s mobile telephone, informing him of the suicide bomb attack in Akuressa, Matara.

The President immediately ceased everything he was doing, and personally called the Air Force Commander and instructed him to have a helicopter ready as soon as possible to fly to Matara. President Rajapaksa then telephoned Director National Hospital Colombo, and told him to have a team of surgeons and neuro physicians ready to fly to Matara on board the Air Force chopper.

As a result, a team of nine doctors including a neurosurgeon boarded the SLAF MI17 helicopter to attend to the high profile injuries in Matara.

In the meantime, the President called the Matara Hospital to find out the condition of those injured in the attack. He learned that Minister Mahinda Wijesekera’s condition was extremely serious, and immediately moved to instruct the authorities concerned to make arrangements to fly the Minister and former Southern Province Chief Minister H.G. Sirisena and his son Manoj back to Colombo for treatment.

Minister Wijesekera was brought to Colombo for an emergency surgery, and that night, President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself visited the Minister at the Colombo National Hospital to check on his condition. Although Minister Wijesekera had sustained extensive injuries and doctors were initially concerned about the seriousness of his condition, by Wednesday afternoon, the injured Minister took a turn for the better, and was even able to breathe without the aid of machines.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa then went on to instruct IGP Jayantha Wickremaratne to furnish him with a report as to why a function in Matara attended by six ministers, was not provided with adequate security to prevent such an attack. As a result of this report, four senior police officials in the Matara District were transferred with immediate effect.

LTTE attack

Fourteen people were killed and more than 40 injured in the suicide attack in Matara, believed to have been carried out by the LTTE who are facing massive military losses in the North. The attack hit hardest on one of Sri Lanka’s oldest parties, the Communist Party of which seven leaders were killed in last week’s explosion. They include Devinuwara Pradeshiya Sabha Deputy Chairman, Attorney at Law Upali Sarachchandra, Matara Municipal Council MP Sirisena Thudawe, Athuraliye Pradeshiya Sabha MP Anura Wickremasinghe, Thihagoda Pradeshiya Sabha MP Rohana Wattage and Coordinating Secretary to Minister Chandrasiri Gajadheera, Kapila Hettiaarachchi.

Intelligence units received information that the LTTE was planning a massive strike in Matara some time ago. However, it is clear that situation was seriously exacerbated by the fact that adequate security was not provided for the function, even though so many ministers were in attendance.

TMVP leadership tussle

The tussle for leadership within the LTTE renegade movement turned political party, the TMVP, ended last week with the former leader of the faction, Vignayamurthi Muralidharan alias Col. Karuna Amman and 2500 of his cadre accepting membership of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Karuna’s arch rival, P. Chandrasekeran alias Pillaiyan remains Chief Minister of the Eastern Province. Pillaiyan manoeuvred the TMVP which was allied to the ruling UPFA during the Eastern Provincial Council Elections, and emerged victorious, earning him the position of Chief Minister. At the time, Karuna who had travelled to Britain on forged travel documents was being held in a prison in Britain, and was only subsequently allowed to return to Sri Lanka. The fact that his former deputy was now lording it over as Chief Minister of his beloved Eastern Province, was a problem for Karuna, leading to tussles between the two factions that often turned violent. As a solution to the problem, the government appointed Karuna as a national list MP of the UPFA.

But this did not result in a resolution to the internal battle within the TMVP as expected. In the end, a larger faction of the TMVP senior leadership, turned out to be loyal to Pillaiyan and made arrangements to oust Karuna from the party. Meanwhile at a ceremony organised in Batticaloa, Pilliayan and the TMVP laid down their arms and surrendered their weapons to the army. It was just a few days after this that Karuna moved into the SLFP, with some 2500 cadres. He has indicated that he hopes to set up SLFP branches in the Eastern Province. After he joined the SLFP, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed him as a non-cabinet minister. However, Karuna was hoping to get the portfolio for Nation Building which the President did not give him. Instead, he was appointed Minister for National Integration. Karuna was hoping that with the Nation Building portfolio, he would be able to conduct a massive development drive in the east. However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa thought that in the long term, giving Karuna the Nation Building portfolio would only intensify the tussle between the two TMVP leaders, and wisely decided not to do so.

Although the Pillaiyan faction disarmed, Karuna and his cadres did not lay down their weapons upon joining the SLFP. When asked about this, Karuna responded that he and his followers did not have many weapons to effect a hand over, and charged that Pillaiyan’s faction had not surrendered their revolvers during the ceremony. However, Pillaiyan maintains that the Karuna faction still have arms in their possession.

When asked about a party member of the SLFP carrying weapons, Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardane replied that during the JVP insurrection of 1988-89, the UNP government allowed the LSSP, Communist Party and the MEP to carry weapons for protection, adding that such a thing was not an issue.

Ranil to go?

Following the UNP’s abysmal performances at all recently held elections on the provincial and local levels, the leadership struggle has emerged once more to the fore, with party seniors now joining in the call for UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to step down.

The majority of the party’s Parliamentary group now hold the view that Wickremesinghe should function as Opposition Leader, but hand over the party leadership to Karu Jayasuriya who is currently deputy leader.

A discussion about these matters was held at the home of UNP National Organiser S.B. Dissanayake last week. Taking the lead at this meeting was UNP stalwart Rukman Senanayake, who has of late lent his voice to the call for Ranil Wickremesinghe to step down, saying the party needed to change direction, and become, once more, a party of the people. Also at this meeting were Lakshman Seneviratne, Johnston Fernando, Thalatha Athukorale and Dayasiri Jayasekera.

Following reports of this meeting being published, the pro-UNP Irudina newspaper last weekend carried derogatory reports about both Dissanayake and Senanayake, in an unprecedented manner. The Irudina reported that both UNPers had met with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and they were leading a conspiracy to oust Wickremesinghe from the leadership. The paper reported that Dissanayake had also spoken to the President on the telephone.

According to the report, it was the plan of this group to hold a Parliamentary group meeting, and appoint Karu Jayasuriya leader, after which they would use Jayasuriya to sign a memorandum of understanding with President Rajapaksa. The group hopes to form a national government and get Senanayake appointed Prime Minister, the paper went on to say. Jayasuriya would then be ousted and Senanayake would take over as party leader of the UNP. Going one step further, Irudina claimed that it was the plan of the rebels including Dissanayake and Senanayake to bring busloads of crowds to Sirikotha during this meeting, and throw stones at the party headquarters, while heckling Wickremesinghe and demanding his stepping down. The paper said that it was all part of a government conspiracy.

Upon seeing this newspaper report, Dissanayake flew into a rage. Further investigations revealed that the persons behind this malicious report were none other than Wickremesinghe and some of his closest allies. Dissanayake decided to hold a press conference in order to respond to the charges. As a result media organisations were informed that a press conference would be held at Dissanayake’s Battaramulla residence.

However, Wickremesinghe’s allies soon learnt that Dissanayake was going to hold a news conference, and urged the party leader to stop him, immediately telephoning Dissanayake and urging him to refrain from holding the media conference. Dissanayake flatly refused. “I have already told the media that this is going to be held. I can’t cancel it now,” he told the UNP Leader.

As a result, the press conference went ahead and Dissanayake announced to media personnel that there was a plot within the UNP to, “assassinate him politically”.

Dissanayake charged that the rumours about his attempting to join the government were false, and went on to reassure party members saying that no matter what internal plots were hatched against him, he would never desert his loyalists in the UNP.


“Irudina is practically run by the UNP. It is the UNP media unit that decides on what interviews are to be published each week in the Irudina newspaper. When Rukman Senanayake and I suggested a change of direction for the UNP, the same paper turns on us. When leaders who are loved by the party members are attacked in this way, it is no wonder that more and more UNPers are joining the government. This is no good for the party,” Dissanayake charged, at the news conference.

Dissanayake also threatened that if the Irudina did not cease this false reportage, he would move to reveal all the informants about the various nefarious activities of that paper.

Meanwhile the UNP Reforms Committee met at Sirikotha last Monday. Wickremesinghe, Senanayake, Tissa Attanayake, Gamini Jayawickrema Perera and Kabir Hashim attended the meeting.

“Most of the party believes that you should resign from the party leadership. The members are asking that both S.B. and Sajith are given more responsibility within the party,” Gamini Jayawickrema Perera told Wickremesinghe.

Responding to this, Wickremesinghe responded: “Allright, I am willing to do so as you are asking. But my recommendations also must be listened to. If S.B. is to be given a deputy leadership position, Ravi Karunanayake must also be given the same position. And if Sajith is to be appointed assistant leader of the UNP, Vajira Abeywardane must also be appointed simultaneously to the same position.”

The UNP Leader was clearly attempting to make sure that his loyalists are also in positions of authority within the party, lest he be sidelined altogether in the reformation process.

However, Gamini Jayawickrema Perera said this would displease the party rank and file, and pleaded with Wickremesinghe not to make these demands. An incensed Wickremesinghe responded with, “Remember that it was I who appointed you Chairman of the UNP.”

Perera retorted: “I never asked for this position. And I am willing to give it up anytime.”
Meanwhile, Sirikotha sources indicate that moves are underway to have Wickremesinghe ousted at the party’s next Working Committee meeting, the only body that can actually effect his removal. A group of MPs are reportedly working towards this, and have already obtained the support about 80 members of the UNP Working Committee. The MP group believes that it will be possible to get further support for the motion, and implement it in the near future.

The UNP membership is all agog at this juncture wondering what bomb is to drop next on the crisis within the party. Loyal UNPers grieve over the fact that it is likely that Wickremesinghe will once more use the enormous powers afforded to him as party leader by the UNP constitution, to quash the rebellion. But this will only result in another group of UNP members crossing over to the government at the end of the day.