UNP’s leadership crisis takes a bizarre turn

The debacle that the UNP suffered at the last Saturday’s local government polls has left the party’s MPs and the rank and file highly dejected. UNP MP Rosy Senanayake said in a press release issued soon after the party’s worst defeat in its history that party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe should take the rap for the poor showing at the polls. Mangala Samaraweera opined that the party members and sympathisers had kept away from the polls because of their disgust over the sectionalism bedeviling the party.
However, Sajith Premadasa who campaigned on his own holding himself aloof from the party’s official propaganda effort, kept mum about the outcome of the polls. Meanwhile, he had been inundated with telephone calls from party members and sympathisers pressing him to take up the fight for the leadership to revive the moribund party.
In response to the numerous calls he received, Sajith met his loyalists at his Rajagiriya residence about 3 pm last Wednesday. Among those who participated in the talks that went on till about 9 in the night were Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Rosy Senanayake, Talatha Atukorale, Dinesh Gankanda, Asoka Abeysinghe, Sujiva Senasinghe, Shiral Laktillake, Imitiaz Bakir Markar, Ranjith Aluvihare and Maitri Gunaratne.

Karu becomes the choice
Maitri Gunaratne at this meeting told his colleagues that a number of Buddhist monks are preparing to stage a fast-unto-death opposite Sirikotha UNP Headquarters until Ranil Wickremesinghe steps down from leadership. He appealed to Sajith take over the leadership to prevent such an eventuality. However, Sajith replied that he was not in a hurry to assume the party leadership. He added: “I am prepared to come forward as the party candidate at the next Presidential poll. Our immediate task should be to put our party back on the winning track. We cannot do it if the leader does not step down. At this stage a senior leader like Karu Jayasuriya should take over the leadership. I am prepared to work towards the party’s victory under him. If Ranil Wickremesinghe remains as the leader, the party will slide to worse defeats.”
“Why don’t we sound Karu Jayasuriya on this idea and see his reaction?” said Shiral Laktillake. However, several participants said that Karu Jayasuriya is not a person who would stake his claim for leadership. “He would wait until the leadership lands in his lap,” they said. However, the view of the majority was that Karu was the best choice for the party leadership. At this stage, Sajith said he wished to consult Rukman Senanayake as well on the matter. When Sajith contacted Rukman who was outside Colombo, the latter had assured Sajith that he was ready to go with any decision to be taken by them.
After a lengthy discussion, the Sajith group decided to request Karu Jayasuriya to accept the party leadership. However, when Sajith rang up Karu the latter said he was away from Colombo and they could meet him about 10 the following morning.

Dayasiri with Sajith again
Meanwhile, Dayasiri Jayasekera who had moved away from the Sajith group after accepting the post of Deputy Opposition Leader offered by Ranil Wickremesinghe phoned up both Sajith and Shiral the same night and informed that he would call at Sajith’s residence the following morning.
It was a repentant Dayasiri who called on Sajith the following morning. He confessed that he had now realised that the Ranil group had used him for their purposes and that he too was willing to back Karu’s leadership bid.
Sajith Premadasa and his loyalists called on Karu Jayasuriya at the latter’s Amarasekera Mawatha residence about 10 the following morning. Among those who attended the talks were Rosy Senanayake, Talatha Atukorale, Dinesh Gankanda, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, and Imitiaz Bakir Markar. The delegates told Karu the present dictatorial and corrupt government would remain in power as long as Ranil remains as the UNP leader and if the party were to look forward to any electoral win, they had to remove Ranil from the party leadership. “Therefore, in the interest of the party please accept the party leadership,” they told him.

“Don’t miss the last train”
Karu gave an attentive ear, but remained noncommittal and this prompted Imitiaz Bakir Markar to quip:” This is the last train available for you. Therefore, please take a quick decision.”
Karu Jayasuriya replied that he was ready to accept the leadership if it is the consensus decision of the party. However, Rail Wickremesinghe should be offered a responsible position in the event of his taking over the leadership, he said.
Following the meeting with Karu Jayasuriya, the Sajith group held a media briefing at Renuka Hotel, Kollupitiya on Thursday afternoon to announce that Karu Jayasuriya had agreed to accept the leadership of the UNP. However, Karu Jayasuriya did not attend this media briefing. He had explained that he had to attend a funeral.

Ranil contacts Karu from London
Meanwhile, Ranil Wickremesinghe now in London had on Thursday evening inquired over the phone from Karu Jayasuriya about the media reports relating to the latest developments in the party. Jayasuriya had told Ranil that the Sajith group called on him and requested him to accept the party leadership and he replied that he was prepared to take over the leadership if it was the consensus decision of the party.

Mangala speaks to Karu
A disconcerted Ranil loyalist, Mangala Samaraweera, had meanwhile, phoned up Karu and told him that various rumours about the party were making rounds and that he had to be careful in making public statements. UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake also called on Karu Jayasuriya at the latter’s residence on Thursday evening and this meeting too lasted several hours.
Later on Thursday evening, Karu Jayasuriya issued the following press statement. “A party delegation comprising several senior members and MPs of the party who called on me this morning emphasised that a change in the party is an imperative at this juncture.
“They also emphasised the dire need for the UNP as the main opposition in the country to emerge as a strong opposition completely free from internal dissention at this critical hour when there is a government reeking of corruption and when Sri Lanka is faced with formidable challenges locally and internationally.
“On the occasion I enrolled myself as a member of the UNP, I gave a solemn pledge to work for the common good and to place the interest of the country first, that of the party second and my own as the last. I strongly believe in the importance of the unity of the party. …
“I have always taken up the stand that I will happily give up any position in the party I hold if it is in the interest of the UNP and it is the wish of the majority in the party. By the same token, I am also prepared to take up any challenging task entrusted to me in accord with the wishes of the majority of the party membership and that of the eminent and popular personalities among the Sri Lankan people, to accept their co-operation and to discharge all duties devolved on me to take forward a united UNP.”
Meanwhile, UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake told the media that here is no possibility for appointing a new leader to the party ultra vires the party Constitution. He said Ranil Wickremesinghe will continue as the leader in accordance with the decision taken by the party’s Working Committee.
Karu Jayasuriya, as if to distance himself from the growing political storm in the party, left for India on Friday morning on a private visit. He is due back only on August 6.

Sajith pooh-poohs Ranil’s statement
Meanwhile, Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday morning issued a media statement from London saying that he had entrusted the task of uniting the party to Karu Jayasuriya. Reacting to Ranil’s statement from London Sajith Premadasa said that they do not attach any significance to it.
The UNP Working Committee is due to meet again August 17.Will the new crisis in the UNP exacerbates in the meantime or will it end in an anticlimax as at last time? An answer may emerge within the next few days.

SL versus Channel 4 and Tamil Diaspora
The Tamil Diaspora left no stone unturned in their bid to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka in the eyes of the international community following the showing of the controversial documentary “Sri Lanka Killing Fields” by the British TV Channel 4. Sri Lanka government rejected outright the video as a fake. The Tamil Diaspora took the initiative to televise the documentary in a number of countries including the United States, EU, Australia and India.
On the occasion of the screening of the documentary in New York, Sri Lanka’s Deputy Representative in the UN Major General Shavendra Silva stumped the video’s director by establishing that it is a fake fabricated by interested parties to discredit the Sri Lankan government.
The documentary later became the butt of criticism by Sri Lankan people and the disinterested international observers. In fact, the Sri Lankan community in UK recently staged a protest against the video opposite the Channel 4 headquarters in London

Channel 4, obviously angered by Major General Shavendra Silva’s dismissal of the “ Sri Lanka Killing field” as a fabrication, televised another video clip directing war crime charges against Major General Shavendra on Wednesday night. This video clip that ran for less than 10 minutes is titled, “New Sri Lanka’s War Crimes Evidence”. This video clip features a silhouette of a person described as an army officer named Fernando supposed to have figured in the final military operation in the North. Only his voice is heard. Voice attributed to Fernando says that Major General Shavendra Silva gunned down in cold blood the civilians who were crossing over to the army-held territory on orders received from Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. LTTE leaders Pulidevan and Nadesan too were among the civilians who were summarily executed. Another person, a blurred figure shown in the video repeats the same charges in `an eye witness narration.’
When a Channel 4 newsman who confronted Shavendra Silva opposite the UN Headquarters and asked him to respond to the charges made by the `shadow-man’ in the video clip, the latter countered: “Who are the army officers who gave you the information. What are their names?” The newsmen said he could not reveal the names of the eye witnesses. This alone confirms the widely held view the video clip featuring only `shadows’ and giving `voice cuts’ of characters whose identity buried in anonymity is, no doubt, a fabrication.
Sri Lankan government has already rejected the second Channel 4 video too as a fake.

Chandrika gives a boost to Channel 4
What former President Chandrika Kumaratunga said in her Justice Palakidnar memorial oration recently may have encouraged the Channel 4 to produce the second documentary to denigrate the Sri Lankan government. She told the audience on this occasion that her son telephoned her from London to say that after watching the Channel 4 video he felt ashamed to call himself a Sri Lankan or a Sinhalese. She also said that her daughter too expressed similar sentiments. She called for a probe into the incidents shown in the video.
The former President did not question the veracity of the incidents depicted in the video. She had expressed her views on the presumption that the incidents had really taken place. Her comments had come as a godsend to the Channel 4 and the Tamil Diaspora.
Although Sri Lankan government dismissed the Channel 4 video as a fabrication, it took no action to prove it is spurious. Nor did the External Affairs Ministry take action to file legal action against the Channel 4. Lessons learnt and reconciliation Commission of Inquiry had got an IT expert to test the Channel 4 video to find out whether it is genuine or spurious. However, his findings were not released to media. Meanwhile, TV Channels in several countries including Great Britain and Australia conducted panel discussions on this video, but none had come forward to represent the viewpoint of Sri Lanka government at any of these programmes.

Stop venting the spleen
The post of Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner which fell vacant a few months ago remains so still now. An appointment is said to have been made, but the appointee is yet to take up duties in office. Former Air Force Commander Tisara Samarasinghe who was appointed High Commissioner for Australia several months ago had assumed duties only on July 28. The unavailability of responsible officials in our key diplomatic missions abroad, it appears, accounts for the failure so far to have effectively countered the anti-Sri Lanka feeling generated by the Channel 4 video.
However, it is high time for the government to either take legal action against the Channel 4 or diplomatic measures to combat the adverse publicity resulting from the video instead of venting its spleen over it.

Government –TNA talks
Another round of talks between the government and the TNA on the ethnic problem is due to be held on August 4. The TNA is to participate in the talks this time round with the victory at the recent local polls under their belt. So far government has held 10 rounds of talks with the TNA. Ongoing talks appear to be building a bridge of understanding between the two parties. The LTTE provided leadership to the Tamil community when it was holding sway in the North and East. Now that the LTTE is no more, the void left has to be filled by the TNA. Being in the democratic mainstream, the TNA is not in a position to fight for an Eelam or an autonomous administration. Therefore, they are participating in talks with a view to seeking devolution of powers.

Sumanthiran takes centre stage
The TNA appears to be gradually softening its hawkish political attitude judging by a statement reportedly made by party MP M.A.Sumanthiran during his recent visit to London to attend the 57th sessions of the Association of the Commonwealth of Nations. Sumanthiran who was a member of the Sri Lankan Parliamentary delegation to the sessions had attended a meeting organised by the Tamil Diaspora in London. He had reportedly told this meeting that time has come for Tamils now living outside Sri Lanka to look on their country with a new outlook.
He also had said that the TNA is already engaged in negotiations with a view to finding solutions to the main problems that the Tamil community is facing today. “There is a rapport with the government in the making as a result. The Tamil Diaspora, due to their conduct, has now gone down in the esteem of foreign diplomats now. We are also not prepared to dance to the tune set by the Tamil Diaspora either.”
Sumanthiran had also reportedly said:” Sinhalese account for the majority in Sri Lanka. The Tamil community has to subscribe to a solution acceptable to the Sinhala majority.”
However, the comments reportedly made by Sumanthiran have drawn flak from a section of the TNA. Meanwhile, TNA MP P.Ariyanetran had told media that the comments alleged to have been made by Sumanthiran reflect his personal opinion and not the official stand of the party.
It is an open secret that when the LTTE was calling the shots in the North-East, the TNA was functioning as its proxy. As a matter of fact, even the TNA candidates at polls were the nominees of Prabhakaran.
Now that the LTTE is no more, the TNA is free to establish its credentials as a democratic political party. The TNA politicians who were once the mouthpieces of the LTTE are no longer in Parliament. Sumanthiran who began his career as a Parliamentarian quite recently is considered a pragmatic politician. A lawyer by profession, Sumanthiran is also a chartered accountant. He has obtained a degree in IT law from the Monarch University. He has won wide acceptance as an eminent intellectual in the Tamil community. Chances are that he will assume the leadership of the TNA in the very near future as the present leader R.Sampanthan is expected to step down given his poor health.
However, according to Tamil political sources, a number of TNA MPs like Suresh Premachandran, Adakkalainathan, and Ariyanetran are awaiting the return of Sumanthiran to question him about his controversial comments.