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Politics



President Rajapaksa UNP Leader - Ranil Wickremesinghe UNP MP - Renuka Herat
 
R. Sampanthan – TNA Leader

Woes and gimmicks of UNP and TNA

  • Ranil survives party crisis on 60th b’day
  • Chief Leader post proposed
  • UNP leader refuses to quit post
  • TNA rejects MR’s invitation for talks

Last week marked UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s 60th birthday, and was also the one in which he survived yet another move by his party members to oust him from the UNP. At the working committee meeting of the UNP held last Monday (23,) Wickremesinghe agreed to hand over political power to the Deputy Leader and the party’s political affairs committee, while still retaining the leadership himself.

As a result of this victory, on March 24, Wickremesinghe was able to celebrate yet another birthday as leader of the country’s oldest political party. A religious ceremony was held at the Hunupitiya Gangaramaya temple to mark the UNP Leader’s birthday. Officiating at the ceremony were Gangarama Chief Monk Galaboda Gnanassara Thero, Maduluawe Sobitha Thero, and Iththaapaana Dhammalankara Thero, who chanted pirith and evoked blessings on Wickremesinghe. During his sermon at this ceremony, Sobitha Thero was to remark that former UNP Leader J.R. Jayewardene ascended the presidency in later life, and said that there was time enough for Wickremesinghe to attain the same goals in the years ahead.

Since Jayewardene became President at age 71, those gathered at the ceremony made a quick mental calculation, and realised that this meant Wickremesinghe was hoping to become President only after the end of incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term in office was complete.

But the day before, the UNP’s Working Committee met at Sirikotha around 3 p.m. The meeting had been highly anticipated, since it was widely believed to be one during which the Leader was forced to devolve power or quit the leadership. The main item on the agenda that day was the presentation of the report by the eight member committee on reforms, headed by Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, that would decide on the fate of the current UNP Leader. At the beginning of the meeting, Wickremesinghe rose to say that a group of 20 MPs had sent him a letter asking him to create the position of “Senior Deputy Leader,” and asked Party Secretary Tissa Attanayake to submit this letter to the Working Committee. Next it was time to present the committee report.

“The reform necessary for the party is not to create the position of senior leader, but to create the position of the Chief Leader. Apart from this, the position of Party Leader should remain. The appointment of organisers and all other business of the political affairs committee would be under the jurisdiction of the Leader. All working Committee meetings must be held under the co-chairmanship of the Chief Leader and the Party Leader, and all main political decisions must be made by the political affairs committee. Chair at the party convention should be the Chief Leader. The current Working Committee will remain until the next party convention. Until then no changes should be made in posts held. Arrangements should be made to bring the necessary amendments to the constitution as soon as possible,” the reform committee report said.

Rising to speak after the submission of the report, MP Palitha Range Bandara said the party does not need a position called ‘Chief Leader’ and suggested that this recommendation be removed from the report.

“You appointed a committee to solve the leadership crisis. Now that committee has presented its report. Why did you also submit the letter signed by 20 MPs now?” queried MP Dayasiri Jayasekera, who then insisted that the letter be read out to the Working Committee.

At this point, MP Kabir Hashim rose to speak: “I have maintained a middle path throughout this crisis. I was also given this letter to sign. But I did not do so. MPs had been asked to come to MP Cader’s house to be signatories to that letter. MPs Renuka Herath and John Amaratunge have gone to Cader’s house to encourage MPs to sign this letter. It is a grave mistake for Renuka to have coerced people to sign this letter, especially since she is a member of the committee presenting this report today. When the letter was given to me, only 11 MPs had signed it,” he said.

Reveal

With Hashim’s statement, the meeting took an angry turn, with several MPs present demanding that Wickremesinghe reveal the names of the 20 MPs who had signed the document. However Wickremesinghe remained mum.
Rising to speak, MP Ravindra Samaraweera charged: “The 80 member UNP Parliamentary Group is now down to 40. It is the party leader who should take responsibility for this. Instead, what are you trying to do? Present a letter by 20 MPs and try and run away from the problem. We cannot undertake this political journey with you. So finish this problem once and for all by holding a secret ballot.”

Soon after, MP Vajira Abeywardane told the Committee that 24 MPs had signed this letter and handed it over to Wickremesinghe. Abeywardane added that he was willing to try and solicit more signatures for the document, and said that it was necessary to protect the Party Leader at this time.

“According to the letter Vajira has submitted, it proves that of 80 members in the Working Committee, only 24 have faith in the Party Leader. You have been defeated in this also. We have heard that only 12 MPs have signed this letter. We love this party. We cannot go on with you as our leader. You’re trying to get a small group of people together and show your strength. But you’re out of touch with the people of this country. Please hold a vote and end this problem once and for all. You came here against the wishes of the party’s MPs. You set up a committee also. Now the recommendations of the committee have been ratified. Implement them immediately” said Moneragala District MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara.

Firebrand Lakshman Seneviratne then rose to say that he was not going to speak since he had been a member of the committee. “But after Vajira’s speech I felt I had to say something. According to Vajira and some others the only leader this party has is Ranil Wickremesinghe. Only he can win elections. Tell me this: isn’t there a single person in this party apart from Ranil who is suitable to lead?” Seneviratne queried.

He then levelled accusations at Wickremesinghe: “When Sirisena Cooray was Party Secretary, he purchased a printing press for the party. Where is that press today? You sold that press in secret for Rs. 40 million. To which account did you credit that money? Where is that money today?” Seneviratne charged.

“Bodhi Ranasinghe and Irvin Weerakoddy who were present when this press was given to the party are here today. Go on, ask them what happened to the press. I am asking all of you present today to search your consciences and tell me whether the UNP can win elections with Wickremesinghe at the helm? We are going to lose the Western Province, then Uva and the South. We are going to lose the presidential race. Please go home without destroying this party any further. Please go home!” Seneviratne continued.

Election

Speaking up at this point was UNP National Organiser S.B. Dissanayake who said there was no point talking any further. “Sir, there is no point talking about this. Hold an election now. The election will decide it. I also believe that this party cannot go on with you as the leader,” he said.

D.M. Swaminathan at this point said that the reason Prabhakaran forced the people of the north and east to boycott the Presidential election was because he realised that Ranil was in cahoots with Karuna, while also having dealings with the LTTE.
Rising to speak, MP John Amaratunge said that the only way to solve this problem was to hold an election to choose the Chief Leader, the Leader and the Deputy Leader of the party. Dissanayake who seconded this suggestion said that was a good and democratic way to resolve the issue.

Senior Party man Joseph Micheal Perera also lent his voice to the heated discussion saying it was impossible to continue with Wickremesinghe as leader and insisted that a vote be taken. Johnston Fernando one of the leading rebels in the party said at the last convention, Wickremesinghe had created the deputy leader and assistant leader positions without consulting them.

“Although the Seniors Committee headed by Joseph Micheal Perera, asked you to give S.B. Dissanayake the assistant leader position, you did not do so. You appointed Rukman and Karu Jayasuriya without asking us for an opinion. At the Parliamentary group meeting in Parliament, you promised that you would be senior leader and allow Karu to take over the leadership. It was you who first created the distinction between the senior leader and the party leader. But you keep selling us dead ropes and creating divisions within the party. So if you’re holding an election, hold a secret ballot. The election should decide whether you should remain party leader or not,” Fernando stated.

At this point, Wickremesinghe suspended the meeting for a few minutes and asked the 8-member committee to meet again and decide on the matter. Speaking to the committee, Wickremesinghe said he wanted to remain leader, but that he was willing to devolve his powers to the deputy leader.

When the committee commenced again, Party General Secretary Attanayake made a statement saying that the powers bestowed on the leader by the party constitution would be handed over to the deputy leader. As a result, the appointment of organisers and making decisions at the political affairs committee would be handled by the deputy leader.

Suddenly MP Dilip Wedaarachchi rose to say that MP Sajith Premadasa should be appointed the party’s assistant leader. Rosie Senanayake decided to second the motion.

This exchange angered Vajira Abeywardane who charged: “Why should Sajith be given the assistant leadership? Ever since this rebellion started, I have spoken up for you. Why are you trying to give Sajith this now? If you must give it to someone, you better give it to W.J.M. Lokubandara.”

Ravi Karunanayake also opposed giving this post to Premadasa and suggested S.B. Dissanayake be given the position instead.
But Dissanayake refused to accept it. “I am not interested in positions. I will not be tantalised by the offer of positions. I didn’t enter this process in order to solicit positions,” he said.

And so the meeting dragged on until Dayasiri Jayasekera took the bull by its horns. “Sir, it is clear that you hope to be leader of the UNP for all eternity. Since this is your fervent desire, by all means, stay leader for life. We will also go along with this. But remember that as long as you’re in this position, the UNP will never win,” Jayasekera told Wickremesinghe.

Johnston Fernando echoed those words. “Dayasiri is right. You want to be leader for life. So go ahead. God save the party and the leader.”

At this juncture, the rather thick skinned Wickremesinghe said “Now this meeting is over,” and rose from his chair and walked out concluding the much awaited Working Committee meeting.
Speaking to the media after the meeting, Attanayake said that Wickremesinghe would continue as leader while all his political powers would be devolved to the deputy leader.

Tongue in cheek, Johnston Fernando told reporters that they had decided to keep Wickremesinghe on as UNP Leader for life.
And so once more, the UNP rebellion was swept under the carpet. However it is widely believed that with the party’s almost inevitable loss at the April 25 Western Provincial Council election, the struggle will rise to the surface again.

President invites TNA et al for talks...

With a majority of the international community now pressuring the government to go for a political solution with the end of the military operations, President Mahinda Rajapaksa last week invited the Tamil National Alliance and other Tamil and Muslim parties for a discussion on a final solution on Thursday, March 26. The meeting was to be held at 6.30 p.m. at Temple Trees. The President’s invitation put the TNA in an extremely awkward position. A majority of TNA members believed the meeting would provide the ideal opportunity to appeal to the President about the plight of the trapped civilians in the north. However, several pro-LTTE MPs within the alliance were totally opposed to this meeting with the President.

TNA Group Leader R. Sampanthan found that this proposed meeting was to become a huge issue for him within the party. After several rounds of talks, the party members were unable to reach a consensus about attending the meeting, since the pro-LTTE members were claiming that they should obtain the views of the LTTE leadership in the Wanni.
Since these instructions were not received by the night of March 25, the party could not make a decision about attending the meeting.

However, according to TNA sources, the LTTE leaders in the Wanni are reported to have instructed the party not to attend the meeting. After receiving this message, the TNA group met again on the afternoon of March 26. Apart from those who were abroad, 13 TNA MPs were present at this meeting. MP. Sivanathan Kishore sent word that he could not attend the meeting since he was in Vavuniya. It was decided at the meeting to reject the President’s invitation and not attend the discussion.

Holding a press briefing soon after this meeting at Hotel Janaki in Colombo 5, TNA Leader R. Sampanthan announced the party’s decision. He told journalists that since the government Forces were conducting offensives against the civilian population in the north, the TNA could not accept the invitation until these operations were ceased. The TNA Leader added that he can convince the LTTE to lay down arms and enter talks with the government, if the government was to present a reasonable and just solution to the north east problem.

Although the TNA boycotted his meeting, the President held talks with other Tamil and Muslim parties. Also present at this meeting were Prime Minister Rathnasiri Wickremanayake, Leader of the House, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, Senior Presidential Advisor and MP Basil Rajapaksa and Minister for National Integration, Vinayamurthi Muralidharan alias Karuna Aman and Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan.

TULF leader V. Anandasangaree, EPDP Leader Douglas Devananda, SLMC Chief Rauff Hakeem, PLOTE Leader D. Siddarthan and representatives of the Upcountry Peoples’ Front, TMVP Democratic Front, EPRLF were also present at the meeting.

The meeting lasted from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and the minor parties explained matters at length about the plight of the trapped civilians in the Wanni. Anandasangaree asked the President about food and medicinal supplies to these civilians. President Rajapaksa explained the facilities provided for civilians leaving the LTTE controlled areas, and said that the government was sending food sufficient for 300,000 people into the safe zone in the Wanni.

The President assured the parties that the government was never going to allow injustice towards any community in this country.
Another main topic discussed at the meeting was the holding of provincial elections in the North. Anandasangaree and Hakeem both asked about this possibility. President Rajapaksa said that the government was committed to securing the democratic rights of the people of the North, and that he would set a date for these elections as soon as possible after consulting with the defence establishment.

Speaking about the TNA’s non participation at the discussion, the President said that it only went to prove that the party had no interest in addressing the issues facing the people of the north and east.

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