Ranil pitted against General Fonseka

Contest in Colombo a battle of the goliaths

  • Avissawella UNP organiser, ex-test cricketer, Hashan Tillekeratne has suddenly resigned
  • The intense heat that characterised the recent presidential poll is largely absent at this election
  • Ranil Wickremesinghe General Sarath Fonseka entering the contest in Colombo has further intensified the race
  • Group of SLFP (M) dissidents called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Nominations for the April 8 general election closed at 12 noon on Friday. According to the nominations filed, the government coalition UPFA, the UNF and the Democratic National Front are to run in a large number of districts. The TNA and the recently formed Leftist Liberation Front have entered the fray in the North and East. However, the intense heat that characterised the recent presidential poll is largely absent at this election, probably because the victory of the government coalition is a foregone conclusion. A clue to this general thinking came when the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told a function held recently at the J. R. Jayewardene Centre in Colombo that the government should not be given a two-thirds majority in parliament. Government leaders say that the opposition leader by this statement has indirectly conceded victory to the government.

It is quite obvious that there is a keen fight between the main parties in the Colombo District. In fact, there are nine prominent ministers and several other popular figures in the running on the UPFA ticket in the Colombo District. The ministers are Susil Premajayantha, who leads the list, A.H.M.Fowzie, Jeevan Kumaratunga, Disnsh Gunawardena, Bandula Gunawardena, Milinda Moragoda, Gamini Lokuge, Rohitha Bogollagama and Champika Ranawaka. The other big names are Wimal Weerawansa, Chandana Katriarachchi, Gamini Tilakasiri, Duminda Silva, and Thilanga Sumathipala.

General says `no’ to Ranil
That both UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and the leader of the recently formed Democratic National Alliance (DNA) General Sarath Fonseka too have entered the contest in the Colombo District has further intensified it. General Fonseka’s entry into the fight has posed a formidable threat to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, say the political analysts. In a bid to ward off the impending clash in the Colombo District, the UNP leader had offered the deputy leadership of the UNF and a slot on the UNP national list to General Fonseka which the latter had rejected outright. In fact, the General had bargained for the UNF leadership and the premiership under a UNF government. He had also insisted that the UNF too contest under the `Swan’ symbol. The UNP leader, however, refused to agree to the conditions laid down by the General. In these circumstances, Mangala Samaraweera, Rauff Hakeem and Mano Ganesan, who had earlier thrown in their lot with the General, are now in the running under the `Elephant’ symbol of the UNF.

On February 22 Monday, Wijedasa Rajapaksa, who called on General Fonseka requested him to sign the UNF nomination list for Colombo without avail. Later, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Karu Jayasuriya, and Tissa Attanayake had again sent messages to General Fonseka through his wife Anoma to reconsider their request. General Fonseka’s firm response had been that he would contest under the `Trophy’ (Cup) symbol of the DNF.

Meanwhile, Mangala Samaraweera has entered the fray as the Matara District leader of the UNP. SLFP (M) General Secretary, Ruwan Ferdinandes and the party’s national organiser Tiran Alles, who had opposed the party’s leader’s move to team up with the UNP, have now come forward to support the DNF and its leader General Fonseka. Another group of SLFP (M) dissidents last week called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa and expressed their willingness to return to the party fold. They had told the President that they decided to join the opposition as an injustice was done to Samaraweera adding that they would like to return to the UPFA as the latter had left them in the lurch by joining forces with the UNP. The President had explained in reply that he entrusted Mangala Samaraweera with a great responsibility by handing him the Ministries of Ports and Civil Aviation and Foreign Affairs but that he had exploited that responsibility to obstruct the forward march of the government, adding that Samaraweera’s actions compelled him to remove him from office. “Had I retained Mangala any longer in the government, we would not have been able either to win the war or ensure the continuity of the government,” the President had told the dissident SLFP (M) group.

Arjuna forlorn
Arjuna Ranatunga, who crossed over to the opposition to express his solidarity with General Fonseka, had to grapple with a serious problem last week. He had initially planned to contest from the Gampaha District under the DNF banner. But he had to have second thoughts when he found that his younger brother had come forward to contest in Gampaha under the UPFA banner. He later wanted to run in the Colombo District and had to ditch this plan too when he learnt that both General Fonseka and Sunil Handunnetti were to receive slots on the DNF list for Colombo. At last he found himself in the running in the Kalutara District where he is a stranger with no roots whatever.

Hashan skips nominations
Meanwhile, Avissawella UNP organiser, ex-test cricketer, Hashan Tilakaratne has suddenly resigned from his position as the Avissawella UNP organiser. The UNF had learnt that he had gone abroad when they were looking for him to obtain his signature for the Colombo district nomination list. The party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had told his family members to ask Hashan to return home immediately to sign his nomination. But Hashan had sent back word saying that he had no intention of contesting the election and further he was resigning from his office as the organiser of Avissawella. He had added that, however, he would function as a member of the Western PC. Hashan is a first cousin of Danuna Tilakaratne, son-in-law of General Fonseka. He is also an intimate friend of Arjuna Ranatunga. According to sources close to Hashan Tilakaratne, the latter has decided not to contest as he does not want to be a rival of General Fonseka and also in response to a request made by Arjuna Ranatunga. Meanwhile, it is learnt that the CID is planning to record a statement from Hashan Tilakaratne in connection with the case against Danuna Tilakaratne.

Sagara Senaratne, a former UNP activist who was looking forward in vain to receiving nominations from the UNP as the party organiser for Avissawella, crossed over to the UPFA after a meeting with President Rajapaksa. Therefore, the UNP is facing the problem of finding an organiser for Avissawella. Jayantha Ketagoda, who was a likely choice to fill the void in Avissawella, had earlier put up cutouts and banners carrying his picture and the `Elephant’ symbol all over the district obviously as a preparation to contest the April 8 election. However, Ketagoda had called on Anoma Fonseka and DNF General Secretary Vijitha Herath at the Rajakeeya Mawatha office of General Fonseka on Wednesday to inform them of his willingness to contest under the DNF banner. Now he is in the fray as a UNF candidate. But the cutouts and banners he had put up displaying the `Elephant’ symbol are still there very much in the public eye.

Meanwhile, the UNP’s Colombo District candidates have become highly agitated after reading reports by political analysts who point out that of all the candidates in the fray in the district the only Sinhala candidate who stands a chance of making it to Parliament is UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Analysts are positive that the UPFA will bag at least 11 seats leaving only 8 to the opposition. They concede 2 seats to the DNF leaving only 6 seats for the UNP. According to their reckoning, of these 6 seats, 3 will go to the Muslims and 2 to Tamils leaving only 1 seat for the Sinhala candidates. Given this scenario, UNP veterans like Ravi Karunanayake, Karunasena Kodituwakku, Sujiva Senasinghe, Srinath Perera, Rosy Senanayake, Jayantha de Silva, Niroshan Padukka, Mohanlal Grero, and Sunethra Ranasinghe are facing bleak prospects.
Facing equally dim prospects are the UNP dissidents who accepted ministerial portfolios after crossing over to the government. This is because their chances of mustering votes both from the UPFA and the UNP are minimal. This is the reason why President Rajapaksa had asked the UPFA ministers at the last Cabinet meeting not to cold-shoulder or mete out stepmotherly treatment to the UNP dissidents now in their ranks.

Journos in the running
Among those in the running at this election, is an owner of a media institution as well as a host of working journalists. Of them, the owner of the Udayan and the Sudar Oli published in Jaffna is contesting in the Jaffna District on the TNA ticket. Contesting on the UNP ticket are News Editor, Virakesari Sri Gajan in Jaffna, SIRASA News Director Susil Kidelpitiya in Colombo and Jeya Sri Ranga of the Shakti TV. Running on the UPFA ticket are ITN Deputy General Manager Sudarman Radaliyagoda in the Colombo District and National Rupavahini’s Executive officer Karu Paranavithana in the Ratnapura District
The UPFA will not present a manifesto at this election. They are asking for a mandate from the people to implement the `Mahinda Chinatana– Idiri Dekama’ manifesto’ unveiled at the presidential election. The UNP has taken action to prepare an election manifesto. The manifesto will be put into shape by a special committee headed by party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe after a study of the fundamentals on good governance, unemployment, cost of living and economy worked out by the professionals in the party.

DNA campaign
Meanwhile, the DNF has planned to launch its election campaign at a propaganda rally to be held in Colombo on March 1. Anoma Fonseka will preside over this rally.
The UNF has planned to hold a series of meetings of party’s district organisations from February 27 to March 15 and countrywide propaganda meetings from March 15 to April 5.

Hornet’s nest
A statement made by opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at public rallies describing as `Vaitulyavadin (heretics) and `paviddan’ the Buddhist monks who called on the Mahanayake Theras to protest against the `Sangha Samuluwa’ scheduled for February 18, has come in for severe criticism from the Maha Sangha. Ranil Wickremesinghe expected that the planned `Sangha Samuluwa’ would serve as a launching pad for a countrywide protest campaign by the bhikkhus against the government. The Mahanayake Theras of Asgiriya and Malwatte chapters took the initiative to organise the `Sangha Samuluwa’ following representations made by pro-UNP and pro-JVP Buddhist monks to them during their frequent visits to the Maha Viharas. However, the Mahanayake Theras postponed the `Samuluwa’ indefinitely after several ministers, secretary to the President and bhikkhus like Ven. Welamitiyawe Kusaladhamma and Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka had enlightened them on realities.

Later, Ranil Wickremesinghe took up cudgels against the bhikkhus responsible for calling off the `Samuluwa’, referring to them in derogatory terms like `Vaithulyavadin’ and `Paviddan’. Ranil Wickremesinghe is now facing flak from various quarters for the statement he had made exposing his ignorance of the history of Buddhism in this country.

Sabaragamuwa University Chancellor Prof. Kumburugamuwe Vajira Nayake Thera at a recent media briefing held at the Abhayaramaya, Narahenpita gave vent to the general feeling of the Maha Sangha over the statement made by the UNP leader. The Ven. Thera said, “Ranil Wickremesinghe has made various statements defamatory of the Maha Sangha. He has referred to the Mahanayake Thera of the Malwatte Chapter as `Mahanayake’. What right has Wickremesinghe got to address a dignitary holding such high ecclesiastical office in such a term? Is he the Sanghanayake in our country for him to refer to bhikkhus as `Paviddan’? He has described bhikkhus as `Vaitulyavadin’. Vaitulyavadaya means Mahayana. A foreign bhikkhu, who came here during the Anuradhapura period of our history, tried to introduce Vaitulyavadaya and destroy the Theravada of the Maha Vihara tradition here. However, our bhikkhus protected the Theravada Buddhism amidst much hardship. We have no Vaitulyavadi monks in our country today. We have only bhikkhus following the Theravada Buddhism.”

Ven. Kumburugamuwe Vajira Thera also recalled that Wickremesinghe had alleged that a group of bhikkhus had threatened the Mahanayake Thera of Malwatte Chapter to transfer the temples of the Malwatte Chapter to the Rohana Chapter.” However, the Mahanayake Thera of the Rohana chapter later denied having made such a move. The statements that Wickremesinghe has made could lead to a schism in the Sangha. Wickremesinghe should tender an apology to the Maha Sangha. Otherwise, we will address him as `Vaitulyavadi Wickremesinghe,’ he added. Ranil Wickremesinghe has not reacted to criticisms that his statements had drawn. Several statements he had made on some previous occasions which betrayed his poor knowledge of Buddhism, the history of the country and the Buddhist history reduced him to a butt of public displeasure and ridicule.

Reacting to Miliband
Sri Lanka has expressed her displeasure and concern to the British government over British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband’s participation as the keynote speaker in a meeting of the pro-LTTE Global Tamil Forum held in London recently.

It was also reported that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown too had met the representatives of the forum at the British parliamentary complex. Reacting to protests, the British High Commission in Colombo said that the British government is extending its co-operation to those working towards national reconciliation in Sri Lanka. A press release by the High Commission also said that the British Foreign Secretary delivered an address at the Forum on the theme, ‘A peaceful political solution to the crisis in Sri Lanka’.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama summoned the acting British High Commissioner in Colombo, Mark Gooding to convey the displeasure and the concern of the Sri Lanka Government over the British Foreign Secretary’s participation in the Global Tamil Forum.

Minister Bogollagama had told the British envoy that the British Foreign Secretary had violated the British government’s policies on separatism by his participation in the Tamil Forum. The Global Tamil Forum is an outfit that subscribes to separatism. The British Foreign Secretary by participating in the forum proceedings has stood out as a person sympathetic to separatism, Bogollagama had pointed out. He had also explained that the conduct of Foreign Secretary Miliband is damaging to the close relations between Britain and Sri Lanka and his participation in the event could be construed as the hailing of terrorism.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband was among those who tried hard to bring about a ceasefire when the war in the North was in the final phase in a bid to rescue the LTTE leaders who were ringed by the troops. Miliband came here on a chartered flight on this mission. It is also well known that he had been wooing the support of the US, France and other EU countries to pressurise Sri Lanka to call a halt to the war.
US Assistant Secretary of State, Robert O Blake, a former US ambassador here, too was among those who made comments to media which were favourable to the LTTE at that time.

Blake preaches
US Assistant Secretary of State, Blake has also said that the United States cannot condone the manner in which General Fonseka was arrested and the government should immediately announce the charges against him. He has said that General Fonseka should be prosecuted under the civil law and not under the martial law. He has insisted that about 100,000 displaced persons sheltered in relief camps be immediately sent back to their original homes, and action be taken to devolve power and restore national harmony . Blake has also asked the government to appoint probes into human rights violations and war crimes during the hostilities here.

It may be recalled in this context that it was Robert O Blake who held talks with a delegation from a combine of Tamil organisations including the TRO active in the US at the US State department regarding preferring war crime charges against the Sri Lanka government. It is noteworthy that this delegation was headed by LTTE leader in the US T. Rudrakumaran. US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, whose election campaign was bank-rolled by the LTTE to the tune of millions of dollars, made it a point to make statements against Sri Lanka at that critical period of the country.

It is a well known secret that the United States was looking forward to a change in power in Sri Lanka in the recent past. There is talk that the United States had made large contributions to the election fund of the main rival candidate at the January 26 presidential election. Now that they have failed in their devious attempts so far, it is no wonder Robert O Blake is set to carry out a new anti-Sri Lanka agenda.