UNP activists jubilant after Sirikotha success
  • Concern over power tariff hike
  • Sajith ‘grateful to Ranil’
  • Call for compromise candidate
  • Rupa’s mediation sought
  • Voters upset over soaring COL
The United National Party (UNP) activists are jubilant over their successful convention held last week at the party headquarters ‘Sirikotha’.
It signified an overwhelming success to the grand old party that was limping since last April and probably for many years since 2004.
At the parliamentary general election, which concluded few months ago, the UNP did not fare well and many members who were elected by the UNP membership shifted their allegiance on the pretext of strengthening the President’s hands.
A majority of them no doubt had ulterior motives cashing in on the political situation prevalent in the country a few months ago. However, it appears now that the situation is changing at a rapid pace owing to numerous reasons.
The people are gradually realising that the government is unable to deliver the goods although it is more than one year after concluding the Eelam war and crushing terrorism that pushed the country back by several years.
The LTTE held the country to ransom for nearly 30 years except for the period where there was a Norwegian-brokered truce under the premiership of Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister accomplished a great deal of ground work to restore peace and harmony through a peace deal brokered by the Norwegians with the blessing of key international players such as the US, Japan and the European Union and especially India who played a vital role behind scenes.
During Wickremesinghe’s peace process, Karuna Amman, who is now a card-carrying member of the SLFP and a deputy minister in the UPFA regime, broke away from the LTTE thus weakening the LTTE’s Eastern command.
Karuna was a close associate of the LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, and his defection from the LTTE dealt a deathblow to the overall operations of the Tiger outfit.
The Ranil Wickremesinghe government, however, could not continue with the process owing to political expediencies of then President Chandrika Kumaratunga who resorted to short circuit the Wickremesinghe administration by dissolving parliament.
No sooner the UNP went into the political hibernation where the Chandrika Kumaratunga administration with the help of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) found fault with the peace deal as a “monster” aimed at dividing the country according to the whims and fancies of the west, who had shown more sympathy towards Tamil nationalism from the inception of their struggle to create a separate state within the territorial waters of Sri Lanka.

At the 2005 presidential election, President Mahinda Rajapaksa made it with a razor-thin majority to take over the mantle from President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
The Rajapaksa regime further weakened the UNP, which at one stage was unbeatable.
The victory of President Rajapaksa over the LTTE and the elimination of terrorism from the soil gave his party a new lease of life in the Sri Lankan political arena that further strengthened his political ideology.
However, a few months after recording a historical political victory it is apparent that the government is on the decline.
Many reasons could be attributed to the downward trend of the government, cost of living being chief among them.
The government is also fast losing it political sensitivity, having appointed a mega-cabinet including ministers, deputy ministers and parliamentarians with supervisory powers.
On top of all this, the proposal to revise electricity tariffs had irked the public and the private sector alike.
It was on the other day that Minister Champika Ranawaka boasted that the CEB under his administration is running at an operational profit, yet it appears that the consumer may not have any concession as far as the electricity tariff is concerned.

In addition, the CEB also announced that the hydropower installations are running at full capacity and that the CEB is saving a massive amount on fuel since the thermal power generation is minimal.
In this backdrop, it was the most opportune moment for the opposition to show its strength and unity in a bid to mobilise masses in favour of them.
Sunday’s party convention certainly was a show of strength and an indication that the UNP’s long and malefic political expedition has almost ended.
The convention signified a new beginning in the UNP’s journey, having installed a new constitution where the leadership could be elected through secret ballot.
The new amendments would not allow the party leaders to entrench their position in the party and overstaying the assigned period would no longer be possible.
The main problem that would crop up with the new constitution in force is that the present leadership would be compelled to mend his ways if he is to be re-elected to the coveted party leadership. However, the party convention in no uncertain terms endorsed that their future leader should be Sajith Premadasa.

Premadasa had been identified by the general membership of the party as one who could shepherd the party towards a victory binge. The rebels, who made the constitutional changes possible, were in a jubilant mood and are of the view that Premadasa should take over the party mantle at the earliest possible opportunity.
The two factions, one led by party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and the other by Sajith Premadasa held two different press conferences to put their points of view across to the people.
Some were baffled as to whether the UNP which demonstrated its strength as one cohesive outfit at the party convention had in fact divided into two, shortly afterwards.
Realising the ill-effects of the wrong signals that could be passed on to the general public, the UNP leadership later decided to accommodate the rebel parliamentarians too, and allowed them ample space to address press conferences from the opposition leader’s office at Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha.
Most of the party seniors feel that there should be a tangible transformation in the party’s attitude as one that recognises the needs of the masses if the party is to succeed in their political endeavours in the future.
Joseph Michael Perera, former speaker and chairman of the UNP reforms committee, said that it was the wish of the people to see Sajith Premadasa as the future leader of the UNP.
Perera made these observations to a packed audience at ‘Sirikotha’ amidst chanting of slogans in support of Premadasa.
On Friday, some elements in the party who wanted to disrupt the convention sought legal redress at the District Court of Colombo with a prayer to restrain the holding of the convention.
In the absence of the District Judge in the court number one, the case was transferred from one court to the other.

Finally, Judge Marikkar, the presiding judge at court number four who took it up, said that it was not possible to issue an injunction at that late stage when a large number of members have been invited to participate in the convention.
Accordingly, the judge refused the application ending apprehension among the rebels.
The party convention went ahead as scheduled in a peaceful atmosphere.
The rebels were quick to apportion the blame for having had to waste their time in courts to former strongman from the South Vajira Abeywardene who is an ardent supporter of UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, but Abeywardene had denied any knowledge of the matter.
The rebels were also blaming a UNP member who crossed over to the government recently from the Galle District, but there had been no concrete evidence to substantiate this claim.
Having adopted the new constitution, it is now time for healing where those interested in taking over the party machinery should negotiate and come to some understanding as to who should do what.

The rebel MPs were meeting quite often to decide on their strategy and the next step in the direction of taking over the party leadership without much delay.
According to the constitution, everything should happen within the course of the next 120 days.
If the working committee and the parliamentary group fail to reach consensus on the five important office bearers then there should be a secret ballot to decide as to who should be elected to hold the post in question.
The question of the leadership is a pressing problem for the Ranil Wickremesinghe group and making every effort to negotiate with the rebels in a bid to maintain status quo.
However, there is no proper response from the rebels who insist that Premadasa should take over the leadership as soon as possible.
Their argument is that it is essential to keep the momentum at a higher level now that the party has awakened from a deep slumber. Postponing the matter by another year or so means the hope among the people will have diminishing effect.
However, if the rebels agree with this formula hitherto put forward by some of the negotiators of the Wickremesinghe group then they would be compelled to sacrifice Karu Jayasuriya who is at present the deputy leader of the party. Can the party evict Jayasuriya from the substantial post as the deputy leader?
Another group of influential UNP members is of the opinion that Karu Jayasuriya should be the compromise candidate for the leadership of the party for the transition to take place smoothly.

There is another school of thought that Wickremesinghe could have handed over the mantle to Karu Jayasuriya some time back when he felt that there going to be a rebellion in the party against his leadership.
Karu Jayasuriya became the chairman of the UNP after A C S Hameed quit the post by invitation and thereafter he was elevated to the position of deputy leader of the party.
In 2005, soon after the presidential election, in addition to being the deputy leader he was appointed the executive chairman of the party. However, later he decided to hand over the chairmanship to Rukman Senanayake, as Jayasuriya is not keen to hang on to positions.
This was obvious when he told some of his close associates that he was ready to sacrifice position for party unity.

The government too seems to be uncomfortable with Jayasuriya’s presence in the higher echelons of the UNP since he has a more nationalistic appeal than other leaders of the UNP.
What appears now is an inordinate hurry on both sides to consolidate their respective positions.
In this backdrop, most of them have ignored and neglected what is best for the party and looking at their own interests prioritising them. The Wickremesinghe group is also in an unnecessary haste to fortify and safe guard the interest of Ranil Wickremesinghe rather than looking into the residual issues and wellbeing of the party.
Several seniors in the party who met Wickremesinghe for an open discussion on the personal crisis he is facing had reminded the leader the circumstances that led to the present situation in the party.

The irony of the whole issue is that most of the rebels who have turned sour are persons whom Wickremesinghe groomed and brought to the political limelight.
Prominent among them are Buddhika Pathirana, Gayantha Karunatilleke, and Sujeewa Senasinghe who are acting in defiance to a leader, who had done a lot of good for them to shape them as effective political personalities.
A very senior politician who holds the view that Ranil Wickremesinghe’s services to the party during a difficult period should be appreciated in an immeasurable manner had called another senior in the party Rupa Karunatilleke to intervene and settle the current issue in hand.

He was also in the process of obtaining the support of Karunasena Kodituwakku to resolve the matter in an amicable manner acceptable to both sides.
They are looking at a “win-win” situation to avert any embarrassment where Wickremesinghe would be compelled to undergo, because of a possible structural change in the party.

They recognise Ranjith Madduma Bandara who was at the receiving end at one stage owing to an alleged misdemeanour of the party as the most amenable person among the rebels who could convince others to a reasonable formula and adopt a different stance as regards this problem.
The formula may be to agree on an arrangement where Sajith Premadasa be appointed as the general secretary of the party, a post that wields a lot of power with an assurance that he would be fielded as the candidate of the party at the next Presidential election.
They were referring to similar feuds in the party that were settled with patience and endurance.
The Dudley Senanayake-J R Jayewardene clash in the early 70s is a classic example where both leaders agreed on a formula to respect each other’s interests as prominent political figures.
It was late Paris Perera, the UNP MP for Ja-Ela who laid the foundation for reconciliation among the feuding factions of the party. Finally, J R Jayewardene emerged as the party leader following the death of Dudley Senanayake.
Even before his death, Senanayake conceded the leader of the opposition post to Jayewardene while retaining the party leadership. Similarly, the group interested in settling the matter for the greater good of the party is of the opinion that the re-awakening of the UNP is a vital factor and recognises Premadasa as a champion of the grassroots who could lead the party to victory.

It has been revealed that the rebel group had done a survey to determine their fortunes at the event of an election among the members of the working committee and the UNP parliamentary group to elect the leader and is satisfied with the support that they could garner from the members of the two vital bodies.
The Wickremesinghe group is perturbed over the stance of the seniors who were toeing a modest line during the party crisis and their sudden change of heart following the party convention.
The speech made by former Speaker Joseph Michael Perera is a clear indication of the mindset of the seniors who were in a quandary earlier, as to what they should do. Now it appears that they have made up their mind to move with the surge rather being an obstacle and an impediment.
In the meantime, the party has announced that they are not inclined towards creating new posts to accommodate seniors that necessitate another constitutional amendment.
Though party spokesperson Gayantha Karunatilleke is holding that view, Sajith Premadasa group is rather reluctant to upset the apple cart.
Premadasa is aware of the implications of such action and what his father had to undergo after sidelining Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali.
Both Athulathmudali and Dissanayake were responsible for creating opposition within party ranks during the time of President Ranasinghe Premadasa and revamping the opposition SLFP who were in total disarray at the time to create a formidable opposition to President Premadasa.

On the contrary, the politically savvy Sajith Premadasa is acting prudently, he told friends who were close to him politically and otherwise that he held Ranil Wickremesinghe in high esteem and was even ready to play second fiddle to him.
“I know how he supported my father during the time of crisis and I am not ungrateful to do anything ignominious or to damage his reputation,” he told friends.
“I would not even exclude Ravi Karunanayake if I reach the helm of the party and I know that I can’t play around being at the helm.”
Since the UNP is the main political entity in the opposition, sidelining seniors would cause an irreparable damage to the party in the present political context.
Political maturity is something unique one gains through experience over the years and seniors therefore is an essential ingredient in any political entity who could offer advice and help maintain cohesiveness among the general membership.
On the other hand, creating dissension among the UNP membership is more advantageous for the government at a time they themselves were facing problems with the electorate.
In Kesbewa, many dejected UPFA supporters crossed over to the UNP while claiming that scores of UPFA supporters are feeling the pinch and are dejected over the affairs of the state.

It was the other day that the members of the UPFA-held Pradeshiya Sabhas displayed their dissension openly by voting against the Budget, which was corrected in the second round with the intervention of the political authority.
In the circumstances, an organised opposition would pose a grave threat to the UPFA government and Sajith Premadasa’s recent remarks that he would accommodate former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka in the UNP fold has had its effects in the government quarters.
Though at the initial stages Premadasa was rather silent on the issue pertaining to Sarath Fonseka he had become vocal on the issue more recently after having gauged the political dimensions of the matter. What Premadasa is now trying to do is to put the exploits to the optimum use of the opposition when it is unfavourable for the ruling party.
However, Premadasa who is now aspiring to be the leader of the party is being persuaded by some to allow present leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to continue for a further period while Premadasa waits in the wings to be the leader following a smooth transition.

Hidden hand
The Premadasa group though had not responded to the various calls; also see a hidden government hand in trying to peruse them for a settlement.
John Amaratunga and former UNP chairman Malik Samarawickrama’s names have been mentioned as people who are directly involved in some negotiations other than the names mentioned earlier in this column.
Some wonder at what the government has to do with the UNP, but politics is such that the governments thrive only when the opposition is embroiled in crisis.
In a related move, the government had decided to shelve the idea of holding the local government elections under the new law to be enacted in January citing various problems encountered by the respective institutions.
Demarcating the boundaries of wards had met with certain administrative snags etc according to authorities.
However, others think that the government is concerned about the prevailing political climate that is not very favourable for the government under the present circumstances.
If a local council loses the budget the law doesn’t provide for any remedy unlike the present law, but dissolution of the council.
If the new law was in force, several councils would have been dissolved or taken under the direct control of the government through a special commissioner by now.
Though the government intends to pass the law as it is, the next election, however, would be held under the old law which gives the government some respite to ponder on their next strategy to be adopted under the new law.

UNP activists too seem to think that the revival of the party has forced the government to take a step back and consolidate their position in rural areas under the old law which has many levers to manipulate the system.
Be that as it may, the incarcerated former army commander and common opposition candidate at the presidential election Sarath Fonseka turned 60 on December 17.
Fonseka in the meantime had challenged the findings of the second court martial under whose order he had been jailed for a term of two years.
The Supreme Court that looked into the constitutional question of whether a military tribunal falls within the definition of ‘any court’ had apparently concluded its hearing on public and had asked for written submissions within a specific period.

Stay order
The counsel for Fonseka although persuaded the court to issue a stay order on the parliamentary secretary-general and the elections commissioner, pending the determination of the matter the court was not inclined to issue an order.
Fonseka’s counsel made this request on the ground that Fonseka would be completing three months of absence from parliament without leave by early January automatically forfeiting his seat.
The counsel told court the circumstances under which Fonseka had to be away from parliament.
However, it was not a matter before the court.
The Supreme Court said that their decision on the constitutional issue would be conveyed to the Court of Appeal so that the Court of Appeal could arrive at its decision on the matter whether Fonseka continues to be an MP despite being sentenced by a court martial.