Ranil consolidates his position

UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was facing imminent ouster from the party leadership, a few weeks ago, due to strong pressures exerted by the rebel group, has now begun consolidating his position within the party. The main reason for this turnaround is that, no contender has come forward so far for the UNP leadership. Even Sajith Premadasa, who said he would confer on Hambantota the honour of producing both the party leadership and the country’s leadership, is not prepared to vie for the party leadership at this stage.

Resigned to Ranil’s leadership
Following Sajith Premadasa’s decision to bide his time, even the UNP stalwarts, who were earlier backing him in his pursuit of the party leadership, have come round to the view that Ranil Wickremesinghe should continue as party leader for the foreseeable future.
Ranil Wickremesinghe has made it a habit not to react in any way whenever his position is challenged. He would just `play possum’ until the issue loses its steam. He adopted the same strategy when confronted with the latest challenge to his leadership as well.

More representations to Reforms Committee
The Reforms Committee headed by Joseph Michael Perera, had recommended that the Leader, Deputy leader, Deputy Chairman, Assistant Secretary and the National Organiser should be elected by secret ballot, in the event of failure to reach unanimity in picking suitable aspirants to these positions. At the outset, a majority of the membership readily lauded this proposal. Meanwhile, Ranil Wickremesinghe had asked the Reforms Committee to seek the views of other party organisations as well. Accordingly, Jatika Yowun Peramuna, Lak Vanitha Sanvidhanaya, National Lawyers’ Association and Jatika Sevaka Sangamaya affiliated to the party, and UNP PC members made representations to the Committee, when it held sittings at the party headquarters on May 31, June 1, 2 and 3.

At these sittings, UNP PC members had placed a series of important proposals before the Reforms Committee. A number of PC members had asked as to who would enjoy the right to vote at the elections to be held for the top party posts, except those of General Secretary and Treasurer. When Kalutara district PC member Lakshman Wijemanna posed this question to the Committee, Joseph Michael Perera had said that Working Committee members and party MPs would be entitled to vote at these elections. However, Wijemanna and Southern PC members Asoka Dhanawansa de Silva and Bandu Lal Bandarigoda had insisted that the right to vote be extended to PC and Pradeshiya Sabha members as well. Meanwhile, WPC member Manju Sri Arangala had proposed that the voting right be granted to all people’s representatives and electorate level organisers. Southern PC members had emphasised that a change in the party leadership was imperative, if the party is to win elections in the future.

Distorted version
However, most national dailies the following day carried a story that the UNP PC members had agreed to the Reforms Committee to accept the continued leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe. However, Southern PC members Asoka Dhanwansa de Silva and Lal Bandarigoda promptly contradicted this story, saying that they expressed no such consent before the Committee, and that, the story was a distorted version planted in the national dailies, by the Media Unit of the UNP leader, through journalists close to them.

Mussammil’s proposals
Colombo district Western PC member A.J.M. Mussamil, making representations before the Committee, had pointed out that the UNP is the political party that represents most minority segments in the population, but the party has failed to secure their vote. “The UNP failed to secure a representation in Ampara, Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts at the last general election, as a result of contesting in alliance with certain `minority parties’, instead of fielding candidates from minority communities within the party. However, `the minority parties’ that fielded candidates on the UNP ticket, greatly benefited at the expense of the UNP,” Mussamil told the Committee. He had really meant the SLMC, when he referred to “certain minority parties”.

He had also pointed out that the UNP had failed to win a seat in the Nuwara Eliya district as well. Mussamil had emphasised the need for the Muslim and Tamil people to have their own leadership within the UNP. Therefore, there should be two Deputy Leaders in addition to the Senior Deputy Leader, to provide leadership to Muslim and Tamil members and supporters of the party and take over the task of expanding the UNP’s the vote base within their respective communities. “Let these two Deputy Leaders be picked from among the party’s MPs or PC members,” he had added. (It may be that Mussamil has made the last proposal to promote his own eligibility as Deputy leader to represent his community in the party.)
Meanwhile, a group of UNP PC members backing the recommendation that office bearers be elected, had proposed to the Committee that hopefuls vying for top posts in the party, should be those who, at least, had succeeded in winning their electorates. However, UNP seniors who had been elected, thanks to the district basis, despite losing their electorates at the Presidential and general elections, raised strong objections to this proposal.

Meanwhile, a third group led Ravi Karunanayke, was of the view that a leadership panel should be appointed to direct the party, while retaining Ranil Wickremesinghe as a figurehead leader. “I don’t say that Ranil Wickremesinghe should be removed. Let him be on the sideline. The leadership panel or board should be at the helm of the party. There is no other way for the party to forge ahead,” Ravi Karunanayake said.

Reforms Committee’s final report
The Reforms Committee was expected to hand over its final report to party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe last Friday. The proposals will be placed before a joint meeting of the Working Committee and the parliamentary group later for adoption. The proposals will again be placed before the special national convention due to meet on August 7, for ratification. However, judging from the intrigues taking place within the UNP, there is a strong possibility that the Reforms Committee proposals would take on a completely different complexion by the time the convention is held.

Ranil meets the chief scribes
UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe met the Chief Editors of national newspapers or senior journalists representing their editors, at his Cambridge Terrace office Thursday (3) morning. Editors of State-run newspapers had not been invited. After welcoming the editors present, Wickremesinghe explained the reasons for this media conference. He said: “The country is facing many socio-economic problems today. We, as the UNP, are taking a series of measures to ensure that these problems are effectively addressed. However, the measures we are taking do not receive adequate publicity in the media,” adding with a loud guffaw, “Of course, you are giving us lots of publicity, but not for our party’s activities.” The UNP leader was evidently referring to numerous stories being carried by the Press about the protracted crisis within the UNP.
Right to Information Bill revived
Wickremesinghe continued: “We, as the opposition, are facing difficulties in obtaining information. Therefore, I am planning to introduce a Right to Information Bill in Parliament. It would be presented as a private member’s Bill,” said the UNP leader.
He also said that, these days, he wais studying Parliament’s traditions and conventions, with special focus on the role of the opposition.

Asked to comment on the Constitutional changes that the government is going to implement, Wickremesinghe said: “We have reached 90% agreement on revisions relating to the system of elections. We also made representations to the Dinesh Gunawardena Committee on Constitutional Reforms. Our stand is that, a system of elections, which is a blend of both first-past-the post system and the PR system, should replace the present PR system. We know nothing about the Constitutional changes that the government is going to introduce, nor is it possible for us to know what the government proposes to do.”

Elections Dept registers new political parties
The Elections Dept is now registering new political parties, an important function that the Dept had deferred, pending the conclusion of the recent national elections. A large number of new political parties have now begun filing applications for registration, Departmental sources said. One of the new parties that has sought registration is the Tamil National Liberation Alliance (TNLA), which former TNA MPs M.K. Sivajilingam and N. Srikantha had formed to contest the last general election. Srikantha is the President and Sivajilingam the General Secretary of this party founded with the main objective of winning the right to self –determination for the Tamils.

Why Sivajilingam, Srikantha denied TNA nomination
Sivajilingam, who carried out a campaign in several countries including India, to canvass material and moral support for the LTTE, when Eelam War IV was raging in the North, was denied nomination to contest the April 8 general election by the TNA, for contesting the Presidential election earlier, in defiance of the party’s decision. Srikantha was refused nomination to contest because he backed Sivajilingam’s candidacy.
Having been disowned by the TNA, Sivajilingam and Srikantha formed the TNLA and contested the general election in alliance with the New Left Front led by Dr Wickramabahu Karunaratne. However, they could not win a single seat in Parliament. Although they had sought the registration of the TNLA as a political party, to pose a challenge to the TNA in the North, they have failed to receive an encouraging response from the people there, reports from the North said.

Dulles returns
Youth Affairs Minister Dulles Alahapperuma, who had left the island, raising many an eyebrow, soon after assuming duties at his Ministry, returned to the country. According a government source, Alahapperuma had attended the weekly Cabinet meeting last Wednesday. “Later, he has had a long chat with President Rajapaksa, and it appears that he had sorted out whatever problems that had caused him concern. “All’s well that ends well”, the same source said.
Many people had questioned the sudden disappearance of Minister Alahapperuma from the public eye, following his swearing-in as a Minister. Dulles, who was a star speaker at UPFA election rallies and media briefings, was offered the Youth Affairs Ministry by President Rajapaksa. He assumed duties at his Ministry, hours after the swearing-in ceremony, disregarding a request by Ministry officials to assume duties at an auspicious hour to be appointed by an astrologer.

Several subjects relating to foreign employment, such as providing guidance for securing foreign employment, the registration of foreign employment agencies, and the welfare of Sri Lankans employed abroad, had been originally listed as those coming under the purview of the Youth Affairs Ministry. However, these subjects, along with the Foreign Employment Bureau and Sri Lanka Foreign Services Ltd were brought under the External Affairs Ministry, soon after his being sworn in. He also had said earlier that he would appoint a professional as the Chairman of the National Youth Services Council (NYSC). However, the President had appointed Attorney-at-Law Lalith Piyum Perera as the NYSC Chairman...

Mervyn still looking for an office
According to government sources, Deputy Highways Minister Mervyn Silva is faced with the problem of finding a suitable building to locate his office. By the time Mervyn was appointed a Deputy Minister of Highways, Nirmala Kotelawala had already been appointed a Deputy Minister of the same Ministry. Kotelawala had assumed duties at the already available office of the Deputy Minister of Highways at Sethsiripaya, and when Mervyn visited Sethsiripaya, as Deputy Minister Number two, he found there was no accommodation for him there. On being apprised of this situation, President Rajapaksa had advised Mervyn Silva to look for suitable office accommodation in Kollupitiya or Colombo Fort area.

JVP in the political doldrums
Following the bitter defeat at the general election, the JVP’s political activity at grassroots level has come to a standstill. Full time party activists and electorate level organisers are keeping a low profile these days. Meanwhile, politics of the party hierarchy has been confined to holding occasional media briefings and interviews with newspapers. Front-liners who have taken, even this limited activity, seriously, are Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Vijitha Herath, Somawansa Amarasnghe, while Sunil Handunetti, Vijitha Herath and Anura Kumara Dissanayake continue their political operations from the DNA headquarters established by General Sarath Fonseka. The campaigns that they launched for the purpose of securing the release of General Fonseka too have come to a halt. Inquired about the JVP’s present lacklustre attitude towards the issue relating to General Fonseka by Anoma Fonseka, Somawansa Amarasinghe had reportedly said that factors such as the prevailing political atmosphere, the ongoing military trials against the General and the fact that General Fonseka is now a parliamentarian, have placed constraints on their ‘agitational’ activity.
The drying up of the flow of funds to the JVP, following the defeat of a large number of former party MPs at the last election, who had been contributing to party coffers from their monthly pay, has caused a financial crisis within the party, sources close to JVP headquarters said. Meanwhile, the flow of regular subscriptions from foreign branches of the party too has reduced to a trickle, they said.