Third group enters UNP power tussle

• President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s surprise
• Top UNP trio attending reforms com. sittings irregular
• UNP candidate Furkhan to file petition

Many people thought that an end to the crisis plaguing the UNP was in sight when the party reforms committee headed by Joseph Michael Perera submitted its much awaited report to the party’s Working Committee and the Parliamentary group recently. The committee had recommended that the party Leader, Deputy Leader, National Organiser and Assistant Secretary be elected by the party membership by secret ballot, and the elected Leader be vested with the power to select the General Secretary and the Treasurer of his choice.

Sajith Premadasa, who was generally regarded as the main contender for the party leadership, had said earlier that he was not in a hurry to seek the party leadership and he would wait for another few years to achieve the position. Therefore, most people believed that Ranil Wickremesinghe would continue as the party leader for a further period. But a statement reportedly made by Sajith Premadasa at a function held in Angunakolapelessa last week to thank the voters of the Hambantota district has rekindled the embers of the crisis which were thought to be dying out. Sajith had promised his supporters at this meeting that he would bring the leadership of both the party and the country to Hambantota. Meanwhile, UNP Parliamentarian Dayasiri Jayasekera, who is the leader of the Rebel Group pressing for reforms in the party, had said that Ranil Wickremesinghe should step down from the leadership with grace.

Ranil advocates
UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had made some comments on the reforms committee’s recommendation relating to the election of office bearers of the party at a party meeting held in Homagama on May 22.He had said, “The UNP has always selected the leader as well as other office- bearers with the consensus of the membership. This helped maintain the unity of the party. The party reforms committee has now recommended that the leader be picked with the unanimous decision and election be held only in the event of the failure to reach unanimity over the choice of the candidate. We must always try to reach unanimity in reaching decisions. A vote was not taken to elect Dudley Senanayake as the party leader following the death of D.S. Senanayake. Nor was Sir John Kotelawala elected to leadership. The party Constitution provides for holding elections to select other office- bearers.”

Wickremesinghe continued, “Following the death of Dudley Senanayake, J. R. Jayewardene became the leader by a unanimous choice. Ranasinghe Premadasa, D.B. Wijetunga and I too were chosen by unanimous decision. We should even in future try to reach consensus in selecting the party office bearers to safeguard the unity of the party.”

UNP seniors disagree
The UNP seniors point out that the statement the party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe made at the party meeting held at Homagama to thank the people, who voted for the UNP, is not correct. There was an election at the UNP Working Committee to pick the leader when both Gamini Dissanayake and Ranil Wickremesinghe sought the position, and Gamini Dissanayake was elected the Leader. Again an election was held to pick the Prime Minister when J.R.Jayewardene was the President. The aspirants were Ranasinghe Premadasa, Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake and Premadasa emerged the victor when a vote was taken. The party seniors further recall it was none other than Ranil Wickremesinghe who stopped the practice of holding elections to pick the office bearers in 1994.

Reforms Committee
Meanwhile, the joint meeting of the UNP Working Committee and the Parliamentary group that met the last time, decided to grant further time for making representations to the reforms committee to those UNP MPs who had failed to do so. For this purpose the reforms committee will again meet on May 31, June 1, 2 and 5 at the Sirikotha headquarters. However, Ranil Wickremesinghe has advised the committee to seek the views of the members of the party’s women and youth leagues as well as those of the trade unions. Wickremesinghe, Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya and General Secretary Tissa Attanayake too will be present at these reforms committee sittings on a decision by Wickremesinghe, party sources said.

The party seniors, irked by this move say that the trio would be attending the sittings of the reforms committee militates against the decision taken by the Working Committee and their unwelcome presence would restrict the space available for the members to give evidence free from undue influence. The party seniors also point out that the proposed move by Ranil, Karu and Tissa to be present at the sittings of the committee is unethical as well.

Ravi contradicts
Meanwhile, Ravi Karunanayake had told the media that the reforms committee has not been given a mandate to entertain proposals aimed at amending the party constitution He had argued that only the party’s national convention is empowered to amend the party constitution. Meanwhile, the Working Committee members maintain that it was the Working Committee that granted a mandate to the reforms committee to make recommendations on the procedure to be followed in picking suitable members for the party’s top posts including that of the party leader. The pro- Ranil Wickremesinghe group has decided to file a law suit against the Working Committee in case it decides to amend the party Constitution.

Opposition to Ranil grows
There are indications that the opposition to the present UNP leadership is fast growing at the periphery. This became quite obvious when a large majority of members who had attended the UNP Galle district Executive Committee meeting held recently in Galle took up the stand that Ranil Wickremesinghe should step down from the leadership paving the way for the election of a democratic leader. They had said, “Go Ranil without being a curse to the party.” Over 70 members including the Galle district MPs Gayantha Karunatillake, and Manusha Nanayakkara, former MP and Galle district leader Vajira Abeywardena, Galle district electorate level organisers and the opposition leaders of the local government bodies in the Galle district had attended this meeting.

UNP’s Baddegama organiser, Ananda Lanerolle had told the meeting that Ranil Wickremesinghe is not a strong leader and the party would never win an election under his leadership. He recalled that he asked Ranil to give him an opportunity to speak to him about the reorganisation of the party long ago , but he did not get the opportunity he sought until after the defeat of the UNP at the 2004 election. Lanerolle had also said, “Ranasinghe Premadasa brought a large number of new members to the party. But during the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe a large section of party crossed over to the government. Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation which was worth Rs.60 billion was sold to the private sector for Rs.6 billion and the corrupt deal of selling 9 acres of prime land belonging to the Colombo harbour to the Lanka Marines Ltd was clinched when Ranil Wickremesinghe was the Prime Minister”.

Lanerolle had also slammed the UNP leader for offering a national list seat to D.M.Swaminathan who he said had never appeared on the stage of a UNP election rally. “This act of the leader becomes all the more atrocious in the backdrop of his failure to accommodate on the National list Vajira Abeywardena who had stood by Wickremesinghe through thick and thin,” Lanerolle had said.
Habaraduwa UNP organiser Lionel Ipalawatte and Hiniduma organiser Sunil Senanayake too had taken up cudgels against the party leader for looking on passively when the party was sliding to wrack and ruin. Abeywardena had maintained a studious silence while Ranil Wickremesinghe was being hauled over the coals by the local UNP leaders, informed party sources said.

A serious conflict has arisen between the SLMC and the Batticaloa district UNP Muslim MPs over the post of the leader of the opposition in the EPC and the UNP seat in the EPC that fell vacant when Baseer Zegudawood was elected an MP from the Batticaloa UNP district list. The candidate who becomes eligible to fill the vacancy that has occurred in the EPC is Furkhan from the UNP who occupies the slot next to Zegudawood on the district preference votes list. However, the SLMC has created a crisis by demanding that the UNP nominate Ismail of the SLMC whose name appears below that of Furkhan on the preference votes list.

The SLMC argues that Zegudawood being an SLMC member, his successor too should be an SLMC candidate on the Batticaloa district preference votes list (At the last EPC election, the SLMC fielded its candidates on the UNP district list.) Irked by the ‘unreasonable demand’ made by the SLMC, the Muslim MPs of the UNP have charged that the UNP leader is following a policy of appeasement in regard to the SLMC. They have urged Wickremesinghe not to concede the vacant seat in the EPC to the SLMC, standing fast by the tradition so far followed in similar situations. They have also expressed their opposition to conceding the post of the opposition leader in the EPC as well to the SLMC.

The eight SLMC members in the EPC who called on SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem had proposed a compromise formula of sharing with the UNP the opposition leader post in the EPC on a ‘two year term each’ basis with the SLMC taking the first two year term and the UNP the balance term.
Meanwhile, it has been decided at a discussion held between the SLMC and the UNP to appoint SLMC candidate Ismail to fill the vacant seat in the EPC. UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya, General Secretary Tissa Attanayake and SLMC General Secretary Hassan Ali had participated in this discussion. Under these circumstances, UNP candidate Furkhan has decided to file a petition in courts praying for an order that he be appointed as a member of the EPC to succeed Zegudawood, UNP sources from the East said.
Meanwhile, SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem has reportedly taken a respite from political activity to concentrate on studies for the LMM examination he is due to sit next month.

Range Bandara disenchanted
UNP Puttalam district MP Palitha Range Bandara, who is thoroughly disappointed with the lackadaisical conduct of the UNP leadership, says that in future he would not participate in any party meeting, function or any other party activity. Range Bandara, who was critically injured when he was set upon by a gang of goons said to have been led by a UNP PC member, had to be admitted to the ICU of Colombo National hospital where he had to undergo treatment for over one month. Range Bandara has lost his faith in the UNP leadership for foot-dragging in taking disciplinary against the PC member responsible for the attack on him.
Reached for comment on the Range Bandara affair, UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake said that a formal disciplinary inquiry against the errant PC member can be instituted only after charge-sheeting him following a preliminary inquiry by the Disciplinary Committee of the party. The failure on the part of the party leadership to, at least, suspend the PC member in question from the party membership has angered Range Bandara. “I do not propose to quit the party immediately. But I am seriously considering joining another democratic party,” Range Bandara has told media.

Release Gen. Fonseka pleas
The Democratic National Alliance (DNA) has now launched several campaigns with a view to securing the release of General Sarath Fonseka. The DNA is also making preparations to report to the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association that the Parliamentary privileges and the Fundamental rights of General Fonseka are being violated by his being held in military custody. It is learnt that a team of lawyers are now preparing documentation for the purpose. In the meantime, the DNA has taken the initiative to collect signatures of 50 MPs for a petition to be sent to the President calling for the release of General Fonseka, DNA spokesman Vijitha Herath said.
MPs from the UNP, SLMC and the DNA have signed this petition. But the TNA MPs who backed General Fonseka at the last Presidential election have not signed it.

FMM in muddle
The Free Media Movement which once spearheaded the campaign for media freedom was forced to lie low for sometime due to allegations of irregular financial dealings directed at its office bearers. Most of the FMM high officials who had to face the allegations relating to irregularities and questionable financial dealings are now living in foreign countries pending granting of political asylum.

The FMM which initially functioned as a watchdog of media freedom was later registered as an NGO. It had undertaken the implementation of several projects worth millions of rupees with foreign funding. Given the charges being made against the leading lights of the movement pointing to their complicity in financial frauds, the membership had a special meeting of the FMM convened at which a committee of inquiry and two audit officers were appointed to investigate the alleged shady deals. The audit officers had submitted their report recently following an inspection they had conducted with great difficulty.

A statement of accounts along with the recommendations of the auditors was presented at the general meeting of the FMM held on May 25. The membership who perused the audit report and other documents decided that Sunanda Deshapriya, Uvindu Kurukulasuriya, K. Rushangan, Kasun Yapa Karunaratne, Manjula Wediwardhana and Athula Vithanage should be held responsible for the financial discrepancies detected. The membership also decided to call for explanation from the officials concerned and expel them if they failed to submit their explanations within three months.

It was also revealed at the FMM general meeting that some of its high officials of had skipped the country on visas obtained from Western countries like US, Germany, UK and Switzerland on the pretext of facing death threats while the audit inspection was underway. In the meantime, an FMM employee who had been handling its accounts too had, posing as a journalist, skipped to Switzerland along with his wife.

The special national convention of the UNP due to be held on July 17 for the purpose of adopting the proposals of the reforms committee has now been deferred for August following a request made by Sajith Premadasa, according to Sirikotha sources. Sajith had asked the party leadership to postpone the momentous event as he is required to go abroad by mid-July to attend a foreign confab. Commenting on the postponement of the national convention, a senior UNP front-liner said that it is a godsend for Ranil Wickremesinghe and his loyalists.

Day of significance
President Mahinda Rajapaksa , who was getting ready to attend the Dharmadesana to be held at Temple Trees to mark Vesak on Thursday, surprised his media chiefs and his personal aides by asking them an unexpected question. “Do you know that today is a day of great significance to me? Can you guess why it is so?” The media chiefs and the officials had looked nonplussed. “An old friend of mine had contributed an article to Silumina on this last Sunday. None of you seem to have seen that article,” the President had added. In fact, the officials had learnt about the significance of the day only when they read the article that appeared in Silumina: the President had completed 40 years of political life on May 27. President Rajapaksa was elected an MP for the first time on May 27, 1970. Highly agitated officials of the Presidential Media Unit immediately had swung into action. The national dailies carried special articles to mark the event. The SLBC and state TVs too aired special programmes. The newspapers, of course, carried the special feature articles only on May 28. Incidentally, the Silumina article referred to by the President had been written by Amarasinghe Kudgalara, a longstanding friend of the President.