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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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