Leader - Ranil
UNP MP - Renuka Herat
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
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.
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
“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
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?”
“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.
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
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
“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
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
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.