UNP’s woes escalate as Govt. confident
of massive victory

  • Govt. confident of landslide at polls
  • UNP’s intra-party woes still festering
  • Ranil’s proposed alliance stumped
  • Minority parties meet MR

Now that it has been confirmed by authoritative sources themselves that both the Presidential poll and general Parliamentary elections are round the corner, the government coalition has already made headway in making preparations to face them with confidence. Government leaders also look forward to recording a two thirds majority at both these national polls.

The main Opposition UNP, despite having held several rounds of discussions with a view to working out preliminaries for the coming elections, have yet to come down to brass tacks. The main reason for this costly lagging is that the party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has been engrossed in attempts to resolve the festering internal crisis that threatens to split the party.

Ranil’s internal crisis

Meanwhile, the UNP has failed so far to reach a decision on SLFP (M) leader Managala Samaraweera’s much publicised proposal on a Joint Opposition Alliance to take on the UPFA at the coming elections.

A series of talks aimed at wrapping up the proposed Common Opposition Alliance and also a joint manifesto, were held at the Cambridge terrace office of the UNP leader in the recent past. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya, and party’s general secretary Tissa Attanayake represented the UNP at these negotiations The SLMC was represented by Nisham Kariyappar, Democratic People’s Front by Mano Ganesan and the SLFP (M) by its leader Mangala Samaraweera.

Joint Opposition Alliance

The UNP leader is keen on forming the proposed alliance, but is stumped by a majority of Working Committee members who are opposed to the proposal. A large section of the party is also opposed to jettisoning the party symbol `elephant’ for a common symbol of the proposed alliance. They argue that there is no need to change either the party identity or the party symbol, as UNP is a party with a large vote base in the country. Among the party seniors who are adamant that the `elephant’ symbol should not be sacrificed for any political deal, are Rukman Senanayake, Johnston Fernando, Lakshman Seneviratne, Karu Jayasuriya, Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena and Talatha Atukorale.

These party seniors however, have expressed their consent for reaching a common consensus with the other opposition parties to contest the upcoming elections. In fact, the UNP Executive Committee at a recent meeting adopted a resolution approving the formation of a common consensus instead of a common alliance, and vehemently opposing any move to change the party symbol `elephant’.

Following the adoption of this resolution, the question of getting up a joint opposition alliance remained on the back burner for sometime. However, the protagonist of the joint opposition alliance Mangala Samaraweera refused to lie low on this question, and continued to prod the UNP leader to swing into action to bring his proposal to fruition.

Holding a brief for his proposal, Mangala had pointed out to Ranil Wickremesinghe that Chandrika Kumaratunga could sweep the election in 1994 despite the SLFP being very weak at that time, thanks to the alliance formed with minor parties such as the LSSP, CP, SLMP and Desha Vimukti Janatha Pakshya. Citing this example, he had argued that they could emerge as a strong people’s movement by doing a `Chandrika’ in 2010!

With hopes of more promising political fortunes thus revived, addressing the meeting of the party’s Working Committee held at Sirikotha last Wednesday, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had announced that he would present the document on the proposed Joint Opposition Alliance at the next meeting of the Working Committee. The Working Committee members had greeted this announcement with a meaningful silence. However, Sabaragamuwa PC’s opposition leader Ranjan Ramanayake broke the ice expressing his support for the party leader’s move.

By way of laying the setting for the presentation of the controversial document, the UNP leader has imposed a taboo on party MPs against speaking to media on intra-party issues. He has also warned of stern action against MPs making public statements prejudicial to the interests of the party.
Rukman Senanayake, Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena, and Johnston Fernando had taken exception to the leader’s warning, saying that the UNP Media Unit at the behest of the party leader is using mass media to attack them.

Sabotaging of Freedom Platform

Party General Secretary Tissa Attanayake had told this meeting that he would present a report on the inquiry held into the incident of booing at SLFP (M) leader Mangala Samaraweera at the Kurunegala Freedom Platform meeting, at the next Working Committee meeting.

The UNP leader at this meeting had warned Johnston Fernando about his `unbecoming’ behavior at the last Working Committee meeting.

The Working Committee at this meeting had also approved the decision taken by the Political Affairs Committee to appoint Talatha Atukorale as the Ratnapura district chief organiser.

TNA delegation talks with Mahinda

A delegation of TNA MPs who called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees last Monday, held a discussion with him that lasted for three hours.
This was the first time the TNA MPs participated in a discussion with the President since their decimation out of the LTTE.

The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) under the dictates of the LTTE had to form a Tamil political combine with ex-militant groups such as TELO, EROS, and EPRLF as Tamil National Alliance to contest elections. Therefore, the TNA once elected, had to represent the interests of the LTTE rather than those of the people in the North and East.

The reality is that it was the LTTE that fielded the candidates under the TNA banner at successive elections for over one decade. In this scenario, Tamil leaders who refused to toe the LTTE line like V. Anandasangaree were denied the opportunity to represent their people in Parliament. The Tamil political leaders such as A. Amirthalingam who refused to subscribe to LTTE ideology, were brutally gunned down by LTTE hit-squads. Given this situation, the TNA MPs had to function as de facto representatives of the LTTE in Parliament. They had to take all important political decisions after consulting the LTTE leadership in Vanni until the latter was decimated.

There was a time when TNA MPs M.K.Sivajilingam and S. Adekkailanathan were touring India and European countries spreading the canard that thousands of Tamil civilians were getting killed in artillery and mortar attacks by Sri Lankan security forces. The purpose of their misinformation campaign was to persuade foreign nations to bring pressure on Sri Lankan government to halt the humanitarian operation.

President meets minority parties

On March 26 this year, when the military operations in the North had entered the final stage, President Rajapaksa called a meeting of political parties representing minority communities. He wanted to discuss with them the situation that had arisen from the escalation of hostilities. But the TNA refused to attend this meeting saying that the objective of convening this meeting was not clear.

Meanwhile, TNA leaders visited India and urged Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other top political leaders to pressure Sri Lanka to halt the military operations. A group of TNA MPs including R. Sampanthan and Mavai Senathirajah, visited New Delhi to seek an interview with the Prime Minister to brief him on the situation in the North of Sri Lanka. However, India’s External Affairs Ministry blocked all moves by the TNA delegation to meet the Indian Prime Minister. Finally, they called on Tamilnadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and asked him to use his good offices to persuade Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to grant them an interview. Karunanidhi conveyed their request to the Indian Prime Minister. But the reply the TNA MPs got was that Indian Security Advisor M.K.Narayanan was available for talks with them. Later Narayanan had advised the TNA MPs to discuss their problems with President Rajapaksa.

President Rajapaksa called a meeting of all political parties after completely defeating the LTTE. The parties in the mainstream such UNP, JVP, SLMC, and the TNA – the latter for the first time -attended this meeting held on July 2. Parliamentarians R. Sampanthan, Mavai Senathirajah and S. Sri Kantha represented the TNA at this meeting. Post-war work on reconstruction and rehabilitation in the North was discussed at this meeting. A Task Force headed by Presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa for this purpose was also appointed on this occasion.

The TNA leader had wanted to take advantage of this meeting to discuss with the President the problems faced by over 250,000 IDPs living in Menik Farm and other relief villages.He had also planned to take up the national problem with him and express their views. However, they had to defer taking up these issues due to objections from a few pro-LTTE MPs.

Liam Fox arrives

Meanwhile, British shadow Foreign Secretary Liam Fox paid a visit to Sri Lanka. He held talks with the main opposition UNP and the TNA too. He too had during talks advised the TNA leaders to discuss their problems with President Rajapaksa. Accordingly, a TNA delegation led by R. Sampanthan met President Rajapaksa at Temple Trees. Mavai Senadhirajah, S. Sri Kantah, Suresh Premachandran, R.S.M. Imam, Sivashakti Anandan and Tangeshwari Kadirgamar were the other members of the delegation. Associated with President Rajapaksa at these talks were Senior Presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa, Ministers Susil Premajayantha, and Rishard Budurdeen. Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Northern province governor G.A. Chandrasiri and Essential Services S.B. Divaratne.

The President at this discussion which lasted for over three hours vowed that he would hereafter leave no room for the LTTE or any other organisation to resort to terrorist activities. “We are giving priority to resettling the displaced people and we will lose no time in accomplishing this task no sooner than had the de-mining been completed. I consider providing security and security for all people as item number one on my agenda. I hope that the day is not far away when not only the TNA but also other parties could carry out democratic political activity in the North,” said the President.

The TNA delegates had at this discussion emphasised the need to build a bridge of understanding between the government and the TNA as a pre-requisite for attaining the goal of peace and prosperity in the country.

The participants had agreed to continue these talks as a confidence-building exercise. TNA leader R. Sampanthan had later told media that they were quite satisfied with the outcome of talks held with the President. Talks have paved the way for the TNA too to participate in the programme for the development of the North.

Offending video tape

The video footage now proved a fabrication, showing soldiers of the Sri Lankan Army gunning down Tamil civilians stripped naked and with hands tied behind, aired by the Channel 4 TV, engendered a wave of anti- Sri Lanka feeling in Western countries.

Later this video footage was given wide publicity by the BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera. TVs and the British newspapers like London Times, London Guardian etc. Human Rights organisations such as Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch lost no time in issuing statements slamming the Sri Lankan government. The British government and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon too issued statements expressing their concern over the `atrocity’ depicted by the video footage.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government had experts of international repute to examine the video tape. IT specialist Siri Hewavitarana, Senior lecturer of the Computer Science and IT Engineering department of Moratuwa university Dr. Chatura de Silva, Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe, of Sri Lanka Army, a qualified expert in video photography and Major P.A. Bandara of the Media Centre for National Security who examined the video tape concluded that it is a total fabrication.

Channel 4 TV had said that the controversial video tape produced with pictures taken by a mobile telephone was handed to them by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, an organisation formed by a group of Sri Lankan journalists which is based in Germany.

However, the scientific tests conducted on the initiative of the government, have established that the pictures in the video tape have been taken by a video camera and not by a mobile telephone and dubbing of voice had been done later. According to Disaster Management Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe this video tape has been produced by using actors.

The government last week held a media briefing to announce the finding of the panel of experts who conducted a scientific examination of the video tape: that it is a fake containing pictures of enacted scenes. Minister Samarasinghe also took steps to explain to foreign diplomatic corps in Colombo that the video tape is only a concoction.

Government is now looking into the possibility of taking legal action against Channel 4 as well as other TVs and print media which publicised the offending fake video tape, if an apology is not forthcoming. President Rajapaksa, in fact, had consulted Attorney General Mohan Peiris in this regard last week.
Channel 4 TV is yet to make a response.