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Politics


 

UNP party leader gets fiery send off

  • Near fisticuffs at UNP Parliamentary group meeting
  • Sajith speaks up against Ranil
  • Mervyn does a peeping Tom
  • Big decisions at Working Committee meet tomorrow?

 

How the ‘No Confidence’ motion originated

The ‘No Confidence’ motion against UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, was plotted at a secret meeting at Peach Valley Restaurant on Flower Road, last Monday (16). The motion was submitted by the party’s Parliamentary group in the House, on Tuesday, at a special meeting held in a committee room.

Present at this secret meeting at Peach Valley were UNP MPs Ravindra Samaraweera, Lakshman Seneviratne, Johnston Fernando, Sajith Premadasa, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Dr. Jayalath Jayawardane, Indika Bandaranayake, Dinesh Gankanda, Ranjith Aluvihare and Earl Gunesekera.

Explaining their stance at this meeting, Lakshman Seneviratne said: “At the last Parliamentary Affairs committee meeting, 14 out of the 16 MPs present said that, they were against the present Leader continuing in his position. It has been 10 days since that meeting. Still, there has been no hum from the Leader. The Parliamentary group meeting scheduled for today (16), was postponed for tomorrow (17). Because of Parliament sessions, we can only have a very short meeting and he knows that. He is trying to delay this decision again.”

“We need to hold a secret ballot at the Parliamentary group meeting this time, to decide whether or not the Leader is to remain Opposition Leader,” responded MP Ravindra Samaraweera.

But Sajith Premadasa was concerned whether they could command a majority, if they went for a secret ballot to decide the matter. Looking at the list of MPs present at the last Parliamentary group meeting, Seneviratne said that, if they had taken a vote at that meeting, they could have won by a majority of 10 votes.

The whole group of MPs gathered at the restaurant then decided that a ‘No Confidence’ motion would be brought against the UNP leader, when the Parliamentary group met again the next day.

Seneviratne proposed the motion, while Samaraweera seconded it.

Although the meeting was supposed to be top secret, an MP from the Central Province, present at the restaurant that night, met Ranil Wickremesinghe at his Fifth Lane residence in Colpetty, and briefed him on the discussions held at the restaurant

Tuesday March 17 proved to be a historic day for the country's oldest political party. For the first time in the United National Party's 62 year history, a no confidence motion had been brought against the leader of the party.

It was the UNP Deputy Secretary Lakshman Seneviratne who submitted the no-confidence motion against UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at a committee room in Parliament where the party’s Parliamentary group members were meeting.

Addressing Wickremesinghe he said: “UNP leaders and party loyalists have lost confidence in you, and it is not appropriate for you to remain as party leader unless you win the confidence of the members. To do so, you should have a secret ballot to ascertain your popularity.

Moneragala District MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara seconded the motion. Vajira Abeywardane who stood at this point said that according to the UNP constitution it was not possible to hold a secret ballot. The rest of the MPs however vehemently protested Abeywardane’s comments. “To hell with the Constitution. If party members and leaders are leaving the party what is the point of having a Constitution?” charged MP Ravindra Samarasinghe.

Continuing in the same vein however, Vajira Abeywardane pointed out that according to article 8.2 of the UNP constitution, if the party’s leader is also a member of Parliament, he would automatically become the leader of the party’s Parliamentary group, and also under the current circumstances, opposition leader. He also added that according to article 8.3 of the constitution, the leader has powers to entrust any responsibility to a MP.

Abeywardane’s comments drew the ire of a majority of the group members and as he was being heckled for his statement by the MPs, Kurunegala District MP Indika Bandaranayake was seen suddenly charging towards him. However he was prevented from approaching Abeywardane for what to inevitably become fisticuffs, by several others in his path.

Seneviratne demanded that the Parliamentary group reach a consensus on the issue, and added that till that point nobody should attend Parliamentary sessions of the day.

Tradition

It is usually a tradition for the UNP Parliamentary group to meet on the first day of Parliamentary sittings and discuss the agenda for the week ahead. However, last Tuesday, discussions on the agenda were set aside, when Seneviratne presented the no confidence motion against the party leader. This Parliamentary group meeting which went on till 11:30 a.m,. became even more heated due to comments made by Dr. Jayalath Jayawardane:

“Sir, the people of this country have lost confidence in you. There is a notion among the people that weapons and equipment were given to the LTTE during the time of the ceasefire. You are seen as an unpatriotic leader. Therefore you can never be marketed again. Taking this situation into consideration, please have a secret ballot and finish this issue once and for all,” the MP said, addressing Wickremesinghe.

Accusing Abeywardane who up to this point was speaking in defence of the party leader, Dr. Jayawardane said that Abeywardane closely associated confidants of the President, and that he was carrying out a contract of the government. He reiterated that the party cannot be led to destruction by government conspiracies and accused Abeywardane of playing the role of a double agent.

Intervening at this stage, Ravindra Samaraweera told the UNP Leader: “It is time for you to go home. The people of this country have rejected you. We are telling you respectfully, that there needs to be a change in the party leadership. Unfortunately we are now forced to speak of these things out in the open.”

Entering the discussion, Ranjith Madduma Bandara stated that Wickremesinghe should take responsibility for the decline of the UNP, and that he was responsible for getting this label thrust on the party. He added that nobody in the party knew anything about the ceasefire agreement Wickremesinghe entered into with Prabhakaran, adding that Vajira Abeywardane and others who now cite the constitution of the party to protect the leader, were silent when agreements were signed to the effect of promising Mangala Samaraweera premiership of a future UNP government and deputy leadership of the party.

“We cannot continue this journey with you at the helm,” said Madduma Bandara, “this is not our voice. It is that of the party. Therefore, you should resign from the leadership and perhaps take up a position in an advisory capacity or as a senior leader. Make a decision on this today.” Party deputy chairman Rukman Senanayake then told the gathering: “I propose that Karu Jayasuriya be appointed party leader and you take up the position of Senior Leader. When I proposed this earlier, all you did was slander me through the Irudina newspaper. You are surrounded by those who merely cite the constitution and take pot shots at us if we propose any changes for the betterment of the party. If you had heeded our advice earlier, you would not be subjected to such harsh criticism now. It is still not too late for you to resign as party leader. I make this request with all due respect,” said Senanayake.

Speaking up for the first time, Sajith Premadasa told the UNP Leader: “When I met you yesterday, I begged of you to put an end to this matter once and for all. You still have not done this. You keep sending me messages through various individuals, saying you are offering me this post and that post. But I have never asked you for anything. J.R. Jayewardene appointed my father party leader after holding a secret ballot. Today, there is a major problem about your leadership. Therefore the time has come to hold a secret ballot. I have no confidence in you as a leader, but I have nothing personal against you either”.

Rising to speak, UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake said that since he is secretary of the party, he would not take sides in this battle. However, Attanayake admitted that there was a serious problem with the leadership of the party and as a result of this issue, the party could not move forward.

Subsequently, Johnston Fernando and Dayasiri Jayasekera also expressed their opinion that Wickremesinghe should resign.
When the clock struck 11:30 a.m. Wickremesinghe moved to adjourn the meeting and attend Parliamentary sessions. However, a majority of the group insisted that the problem needed to be resolved one way or another that day. So it was decided that the meeting would continue at the party’s Sirikotha Headquarters at 5 p.m.

While the UNP meeting was taking place in a committee room, UPFA Nation Building Minister Jagath Pushpakumara informed the Speaker that a group of UNP MPs were holding Ranil Wickremesinghe hostage in a committee room, and alleged that they were preparing to assault him. The Speaker ignored Pushpakumara’s statement, but having heard this, Labour Minister Mervyn Silva walked over to the committee room and peeped in to watch the situation unfold. A group of journalists also followed Minister Silva.

The UNP Parliamentary group met once more at Sirikotha that evening. However, Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was not present at the meeting. By this time, Wickremesinghe had held discussions with Party Chairman Gamini Jayawickrema Perera and Secretary Attanayake and John Amaratunge. He told them that he was ready to give up the party leadership, devolve power and take up a senior post within the party. These three members informed the group of MPs at Sirikotha of the leader’s statement. However, Jayasekera and Premadasa said that this was not to be believed. They insisted that the Party Leader should come to the headquarters and make this statement in person.

Resign

There were 24 MPs at this meeting. Lakshman Seneviratne said that Wickremesinghe had proclaimed he would resign from the party leadership after the last Presidential election but he still remains in the post. “How can we believe these statements?” he said.

Speaking at the meeting Johnston Fernando said: “All the leader does appoint committees whenever there is a problem to deceive us. This time too, wasn’t it the same thing he was doing?”

However, Perera, Attanayake and Amaratunge assured the MPs that Wickremesinghe was sincere, and appealed to the group to allow him to leave with some dignity. The MPs shot back that Wickremesinghe had not directly stated before them that he would resign as party leader, and queried who would take responsibility for this alleged statement made by the party leader.

At this point Attanayake said that he would take that responsibility and that he would not allow the MPs to be deceived. At this point the MPs agreed to discuss this matter further at the Working Committee meeting of the party, scheduled for March 18.

Media

There were many foreign and local media personnel gathered around Sirikotha, while these discussions were proceeding. They surrounded the MPs who came out after the discussions. At this point, Lakshman Seneviratne, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Johnston Fernando and Sajith Premadasa and others told the media that there was no crisis within the party. They said they had gathered to discuss the campaign for the Western Provincial Council Election.

The UNP’s Working Committee met as scheduled on March 18. Although a tense meeting was anticipated when the Working Committee met at 4 p.m. it was not so. Since the party leader had already sent an assurance that he would step down, the Parliamentary group remained calm during the WC meeting. Here it was decided to appoint a committee to look into the establishment of the post of senior leader with certain decision making powers. An eight member committee is to propose the specific roles of the party leader and its senior leader. The committee headed by Gamini Jayawickrema Perera also consists of Attanayake, S.B. Dissanayake, Lakshman Seneviratne, Lakshman Kiriella, John Amaratunge, Sajith Premadasa and Renuka Herath. The committee will meet soon and present its recommendations to the WC due to meet tomorrow.

Working Committee members believe that at this meeting, Wickremesinghe will be appointed Senior Advisor, while Karu Jayasuriya will be appointed Party Leader.

****

Life after Ranil

By Dharisha Bastians
The gauntlet has been thrown down. Tomorrow is expected to be D-Day for UNP Chief Ranil Wickremesinghe, when his party’s working committee will appoint his successor and make a decision on what is to be Wickremesinghe’s next, less powerful role within the country’s oldest political party.

It is almost impossible to contemplate a United National Party out of the grip of its autocratic leadership of some 15 years. Free of the shackles of Malik Samarawickrema, Sagala Rathnayake, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam and their ilk, the UNP will face the daunting task of reshaping and remodelling itself under a new leader with a whole new set of idiosyncrasies – and unfortunately – cronies.

As with any transition of power, the UNP is likely to descend into a state of disarray for a few months, until its new tiers of leadership settle into their roles and begin the repair work that has been necessary for so long. The trouble is that the UNP, poised so delicately as it is between the government’s victories on the battlefield and the Western Provincial Council election that is but a month away, does not have a lot of time to get its act together. Already, it is inevitable that the ensuing leadership struggle has seriously jeopardised and relegated to the backburner the party’s campaign for the provincial election, something that is likely to cost the UNP dearly on April 25. The UNP has been caught up in a vicious and self-destructive cycle at the end of every poll held in the recent past: defeat at every successive election bringing the leadership crisis to the fore, simmering down before the next poll, only to resurface again after the next defeat.

As a result of the appointment of countless committees and the employment of delaying tactics by Wickremesinghe, the struggle for a leadership change never reaches fruition and the struggle and internal politics itself inevitably distracts the beleaguered opposition from the election campaign at hand.

Voiceless

In any functioning democracy, the opposition is a crucial factor in the running of the State. A properly functioning opposition, however small, is required to put up the necessary obstacles to prevent the ruling party juggernaut from steam rolling over the will of the people. While the people might almost unanimously support the government’s war effort for instance, they would not under any circumstances be willing to turn a blind eye to blatant corruption and mismanagement by the ruling party. That is unless, as in the tragic case of Sri Lanka today, the opposition remains mute and impotent, allowing such issues to be swept under the carpet. In displaying their inefficiency thus, the UNP has lost its democratic role as an alternative government and has become a virtual non-entity of all matters of state. In fact, it has on occasion, sat back and allowed other arms of the state to take over its function, a move that seriously called into question the basic precepts of governance, and the most necessary separation of powers.

It has remained a largely voiceless party in the matter of the execution of the war, and even as there is an international outcry about the plight of trapped civilians within the battle zones, the UNP has chosen silence. It has failed, on any level to take up any singularly important cause facing the people of Sri Lanka today. Where once its fundamental electoral base was the deep South, the rural farming belt and the minority dominated hill country, the UNP has become the party of the rich man today. It will be recalled that when the Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga led Peoples’ Alliance first began sweeping the polls, their bastion was the affluent Western Province, while the village remained stoically behind the UNP.

Soul searching

The UNP has therefore, some serious soul searching to do. In the aftermath of the military conflict, there is much work to be done, and the government will require checks to be put in place by a worthy and credible opposition, in order to ensure the aspirations of all the nation’s people are met. The new UNP leadership will be compelled to fight the good fight in the Western Province, if only to protect its Colombo bastion, where the results in the two other districts are virtually a foregone conclusion. A return to basics will be necessary, to rebuild the party of the Senanayakes and Premadasa; to become once more the political party of the people and not that of the Colombo 7 elite.

All this of course depends on whether Ranil Wickremesinghe will go quietly tomorrow. His duplicity in this matter over so many years has made his assurances something that needs to be seen to be believed. The party’s actual restructure will also depend largely on how much manoeuvring room Wickremesinghe will afford the newly appointed leader, and whether he will be content to sit quietly by and allow his successor to function independently, as he carries out his new role as Senior Leader or theoretician.

It will be recalled that the UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya who is tipped to succeed the leadership owes Wickremesinghe a debt of gratitude who allowed him back into the fold and dropped the disciplinary charges against him after his fall out with the government.

No doubt, tonight will be one of reckoning for most members of the United National Party. Tomorrow, their collective fate will be decided for better or worse. No doubt it will be the wish of the majority that Wickremesinghe will be allowed to depart with dignity and the new leadership will take the UNP back to the principles upon which it was founded.

****