Mangala’s entry to UNP: Only means
of self salvage?

The country’s main opposition political entity, the UNP will soon witness yet another upheaval with the advent of former minister and affable politician Mangala Samaraweera to the party. Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was longing for the arrival of Samaraweera, a one-time archrival, who is now prepared to take political refuge within the UNP. Had he any other alternative in the present circumstances, Samaraweera would never have joined the UNP, but the political climate is such, Samaraweera may have thought it is the only way out, and the best option available for him in the present scenario.

The UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe extended an invitation to Samaraweera a few months ago, that stirred the political mind of this politician, who finally decided to accept it without any pre-conditions. Samaraweera’s decision would no doubt strengthen the position of Wickremesinghe, who, at present, is embroiled in a factional feud with some of the top rung members of the party aspiring for leadership within the UNP to shepherd them to victory. The dissident group within the UNP has already rallied round youthful Sajith Premadasa, and renewed their call for a change in the leadership, after a dormant stint following the controversial Central Committee meeting a month ago. The calculated approximation for this sudden burst in the dissident ranks is nothing but the reassurances given by
Samaraweera to work along with Wickremesinghe, in a bid to surmount the obstacles.

Family legacy
The discord among the UNP dissidents is understandable, but what is surprising are the hiccups within Government ranks, when they heard of Samaraweera’s entry into the UNP. According to political analysts, the reasons adduced are the capabilities and the talent that goes along with Samaraweera to the UNP that now faces the threat of erosion, given the unsettled situation within the party. The Samaraweera family, which hails from Matara, has a chequered political history. His father, Mahanama Samaraweera, being an influential Minister in the 1960-1964 Cabinet of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

However, in 1964, Mahanama Samaraweera joined hands with the then Leader of the House and powerful Minister C.P. De Silva, to agitate against the then government’s move to introduce the Press Council Bill, subsequently defeating the government, resulting in the early dissolution of the 1960-64 regime of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Consequently, the senior Samraweera joined the SLFSP (Sri Lanka Freedom Socialist Party) formed by the late C.P. De Silva, and contested the 1965 Parliamentary election as a coalition partner of the UNP led by former Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake.

The senior Samaraweera was however, not successful, and lost the Matara electorate, a predominantly left electorate, by less than 1000 votes. Dudley Senanayake, who became the Prime Minister in 1965, following the victory of the UNP-led coalition, made him Chairman of the Kantale Sugar Corporation, an important State institution at the time. After the demise of senior Samaraweera in 1966, the Samraweera family went into political oblivion until 1988, when Mangala joined the SLFP, under the leadership of Bandaranaike.

Though entertaining reservations of Samaraweera, Bandaranaike admitted Mangala into the party, where, initially, he developed a close affinity to Anura Bandaranaike. With time, Mangala forged closer to the more politically perceptive Chandrika Kumaratunge, and challenged the UNP government led by President Ranasinghe Premadasa. Ironically, once again, Mangala is in the forefront this time to defend Ranil Wickremesinghe from a rebellion hitherto masterminded by the dissident group within the UNP led by Sajith Premadasa. However, Mangala is a politician who can infuse his long experience with political perception to suit the present requirements of the UNP, but again, that would be something challenging, given the state of affairs within the ‘Grand Old Party’ the UNP.

At war with Wickremesinghe
In 1994, along with Chandrika Kumaratunga, he made a successful bid to grab governmental power, and became a powerful minister, while Kumaratunga ascended the Presidency of the country, that was hitherto held only by the UNPers. As the powerful Minister of Media at one stage, he belittled the abilities of journalists. His unwarranted utterance that ‘all journalists could be bought over for a bottle’ jolted the scribes. A sheer underestimation of the characteristics of the journalists and a slur on them, but with time, he grew up to be a mature politician who discharged his duties diligently, as a cohesive partner of a team led by Chandrika Kumaratunga.

After the defeat of Chandrika Kumaratunga’s parliamentary administration in 2001, when Ranil Wickremesinghe became the Prime Minister, Mangala played a pivotal role to outwit the Wickremesinghe administration. By ganging up with the JVP, Mangala masterminded the exit of the UNP from power. Hence, the Wickremesinghe regime had to pack up their bags at the most unexpected moment, when they were pursuing peace efforts with the LTTE, through the good offices of the Norwegian government.

Therefore, in a way, Managala has to bear the responsibility not only for the short spell that Wickremesinghe had in Government, which pursued both development and peace as priorities, but also for the state of affairs within the UNP. Once again, in 2005, Mangala Samaraweera, along with some vociferous members of the JVP, and his close associate Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi, carried out the most virulent campaigns of all against Wickremesinghe, at the presidential contest, where President Mahinda Rajapaksa won by the skin of his teeth. In 2007, he left the government of President Rajapaksa, after having differences with the President. The President removed Samaraweera and his close ally Sripathi Sooriarachchi from the portfolios they held. Anura Bandranaike too was in the same boat, but he joined the government once again, after pledging his support to the President.

Nevertheless, Managala
Samaraweera has been branded by the UNPers as one who has done enormous damage to the party in general and to Wickremesinghe in particular. He, along with the JVPers, branded Wickremesinghe as being sympathetic towards the LTTE, and that Wickremesinghe would help them to establish a separate State within the boundaries of Sri Lanka, an allegation from which the people have not absolved Wickremsinghe entirely to date.

However, it appears that Wickremesinghe is more interested in short-term projects, rather than long-term ones. The main objective is to consolidate his position within the party right now, which is at stake. In the circumstances, it really does not matter to Wickremesinghe, whether it’s Mangala Samaraweera or anybody else, so long as he achieves his target. The game plan is already in motion, and the dissidents have been taken unawares of how to face the present challenge, which has been coupled with an investigation aimed at holding an inquiry against the more prominent figures of all.

However, the fact remains that, though Wickremesinghe has directed Party Secretary Tissa Attanayake to initiate an inquiry, he (Wickremesinghe) has no particular interest in doing so, since he feels that this not the right time to alienate people from the party. This is the kind of strategy adopted by Wickremesinghe to put all the dissidents in the places they ought to be. However, it is difficult to affirm right now that Wickremesinghe is in unassailable position, having done what he could at his disposal to safeguard his position.

A resourceful person
Whatever Mangala had done in the past to destabilise and keep the UNP at bay, is immaterial now, as he, undoubtedly, is a resourceful person that Wickremesinghe earmarked while he (Mangala) was with Chandrika Kumaratunga. In the circumstances, his advent to the UNP could change things rapidly for the betterment of the party. Managala’s only request from the party leadership had been that he be given the opportunity to do the much needed groundwork in the Matara District, on behalf of the UNP, which is a reasonable request. At the same time, it would also throw a challenge at others who failed in their duty as district organisers, to deliver the required results for the party. The irony of the UNP’s unfolding episode is that many virulent critics of Ranil Wickremesinghe, in the past, had to take refuge in the UNP camp, including the affable S.B. Dissanayake, who is now gradually fading away from prominence.

The task that had befallen on Dissanayake is tough, as the Minister of Higher Education, who has to see private universities flourishing in Sri Lankan, while keeping the non-affluent university students under his thumb by any means. As the minister, he would be compelled to take measures that would cost his popularity as a politician. The underlying truth of all these is that, there are moments where you would be shot to prominence, and take a deep plunge the next day, and what all and sundry should bear in mind is that politics is only a gamble that keeps you going until you are exhausted. However, the disconcerting factor is that no politician could slake his or her thirst for power, making it a vicious cycle.

At the end, Wickremesinghe has ended up with bagging another prominent politician of the Kumaratunga era, to equip himself with self confidence, to show up at the next Central Committee Meeting scheduled for the 11th that would be crucial for all UNPers. In the meantime, Mangala Samaraweera made a diplomatic move by inviting all in the dissident group and the Working Committee members to UNP headquarters on Friday, where he officially received UNP membership. Accordingly, Sajith Premadasa graced the occasion, while Sagala Ratnayake delivered more like an acceptance speech. Samaraweera says that the decision to join the UNP had been taken at his behest, and that he was not influenced by any prominent figure to do so. He also says that he is his own boss. However, others were of the opinion that Samaraweera had a round of consultations with his former boss Chandrika Kumaratunga, on various other matters, where he mentioned this in passing.

Chandrika was dismayed but could not do anything under the circumstances. Mangala’s contention is that the SLFP at present has deviated from its policies inculcated to the party by its late leader S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike. He says he stands for social justice and basic human rights that he is unable to achieve through the present SLFP administration.

Mavericks going scot-free
He believes that the UNP is the only party that could project a better image of Sri Lanka internationally, and safeguard the basic rights of the people. While Mangala made his entry into the UNP, President Rajapaksa went ahead with his ambitious programme to bag two more scalps from the UNP coalition, to strengthen his Government, and to ensure that he enjoys a near 2/3 majority in Parliament. The question asked all round is whether Ranil Wickremesinghe needs any further consultations with the Government on Constitution-making, since, in any case, the Government would get the required majority to steamroll the Opposition. The political turncoats who helped the Government in this instance are Prabha Ganeshan and P. Digambaram, who brought Colombo and upcountry minority votes to the UNP. Prabha had a grouse with the UNP leadership, for the denial of a national List slot for his brother Mano.

Mano Ganeshan too, was kicking up a row for the failure of the UNP to nominate him to Parliament through the National List. Mano lost the Parliamentary Elections in 2010. Kandy being his electoral district. However, at this instance, Mano made no qualms about the political intricacies he had with the UNP, but swiftly moved to suspend his brother’s membership from his party, the DPF, which is an affiliated partner of the UNF. Digambaram, who is maintaining a close affinity with S.B. Dissanayake, of course was a forgone conclusion among political circles in Colombo, as a possible turncoat, his only obstacle to join the Government being Thondaman. However, in real terms, all of them, including Thondaman, being political weathercocks, would join the forces that wield power at any given time.

They have their own arguments to justify their claims that the prospects for minorities, and their salvation lies in the hands of those who wield power. However, it will take time for them to realise that in an outdated political connation. Besides all this, the talking point in town is the heroics of maverick Deputy Minister Mervyn de Silva, under whose directions, an officer attached to the Samurdhi project was tied to a tree last week. Mervyn de Silva’s action came in the wake of the failure of the officer concerned to show up at a Dengue prevention programme undertaken by the Kelaniya AGA’s office. Television footage showed clearly de Silva directing some people with him to tie the officer to the tree. Other than a solitary woman who confronted the Minister against this highhanded act, there was no other person. She, in her own way, protested against the Kangaroo Court which unfairly, and without any authority, tied one

Mohomed Isham to a tree.
It is a pathetic sight to witness Government politicians walking scot-free with impunity, after having allegedly committed such unwarranted and antisocial acts. More than anything, the larger segment of the people were astounded by the way certain people hailed this criminal act (certain online newspapers bear testimony to this). That shows a clear system failure within society, and that the people are fast losing faith in the administration of justice within the country. A maverick type minister does what he wants, the people hail it, and is this the kind of society in which we are living? This is the pertinent question posed by most of the law-abiding citizens.
Thwarting trends of anarchy

A complete erosion of values we cherished from time immemorial, is ostensibly clear within society today, signifying that all religions have failed to shape and mould society according to their great teachings. People have apparently taken morbid pleasure looking at this unpleasant degrading of another human being for no wrong. The international coverage that this act received, projected an appalling image of Sri Lanka, at a time the Government is striving to attract tourists as much as possible, a money spinner for the economically limping country in the post-war scenario. If this trend continues unabated, Sri Lanka is poised to suffer much more internationally, added to the muddle that we are already in with the United Nations.

Therefore, it is time appropriate to thwart the trend that would finally result in lawlessness and anarchy in the country. If society condones such deplorable acts, Sri Lanka’s chances to propel its image as a true Buddhist country spreading compassion and love among one another, will fall by the wayside. Leader of the Opposition, Ranil Wickremesinghe quite rightly, on Wednesday demanded a statement from the Prime Minister in Parliament on this act, allegedly committed by a Deputy Minister of the Government. There was a round of condemnation by the Opposition politicians and political parties including the UNP and the JVP, which would serve as a stinker to the Government.

A concerted and a cohesive action plan should be set in motion to prevent such incidents in the future, to treat everybody as human beings. If you turn to the Police for some sort of redress, they will take up the position that there is no complaint of the sort, but the very fact that this happened in the presence of Police officers is a severe indictment on the Police. In that case, the question here is will the Police wait until a complaint is lodged to apprehend an assassin. Nevertheless, the moot point here is whether the authorities are interested in probing the issue to bring those who are responsible before a court of law. Politics in this country is such that, it may have given enough heartburns to an amiable President Rajapaksa, who is conducting an in-house workshop for the members of the ruling coalition in Beruwala. The idea behind the workshop is to resolve the many problems that had surfaced during the past few months, after the new government came into being.
However, despite all the political ramblings, the people have placed their faith in the present regime, with the hope that they could look forward to a better future. The Government has already identified the aspirations of the people and working towards achieving this goal. At the same time, Government machinery is geared towards converting the country into an economic hub in the region, with the realisation of the many development projects undertaken by the Government under the leadership of President Rajapaksa.