The Nation Sunday Print Edition - page 5

The Nation Sunday, November 9, 2014 Page 5
politics
W
hile debate on budget 2015 is pro-
ceeding as per the schedule, the
much talked about topic in the lobbies of
Parliament is whether Matara District MP
Mangala Samaraweera is returning to the
SLFP or not. While the die-hard UNPers
and wishful thinkers argue the possibili-
ties and impossibilities, pros and cons of
MP Samaraweera joining the forces with
government in the present context, the
matter has been beyond argument for a
handful of journalists, who were among
the mediamen who attended Prime Minis-
ter D.M.Jayaratne’s dinner at old Acland
House which is now called Visumpaya on
November 3 evening, for the second citi-
zen of this country confirmed to them
that good old Mangy is returning.
For Mangala crossing over is not a new
affair – for it is in his genes and people
still recall his father’s political summer-
saults from SLFP to the UNP in 1960s.
Mangala too followed in his father’s foot-
steps when he deserted the incumbent
government in 2007 after falling out of
grace despite the fact that he was a key
personality in helping Mahinda Raja-
paksa win the presidency in 2005 - Man-
gala was the campaign manager.
Mangala’s return could be in view of
the next presidential election – he could
be the campaign manager again and
lead that campaign to victory, those who
know of his political acumen would say.
But that is in the future.
Leaving the future to be built on the
present, we must peep into the past, upon
which the present is built. Decamping
for the political gain is not new to us, Sri
Lankans, who have heard of Buddhist
stories related with the past.
One such story is of Vassakāra (pro-
nounced as Vassakaara) who was a gen-
eral of the army of King Ajasatta. It was
the time soon after King Ajasatta had
become a fully pledged Buddhist giving
up the company of Devadatta. King Aja-
satta was ruling Magadha and wanted
to invade Vajji. After making all prepa-
rations, he however wanted to consult
the opinion of Lord Buddha and sent
his general to the latter. General Vassa-
kara visited Lord Buddha, who in return
said that as long as Vajjins practised the
Saptha Aparihani Dhamma
(the seven
conditions of prosperity) none would be
able to conquer them. The Buddha also
said that it was none other than himself
who taught the Vajjins the importance
of the
Saptha Aparihani Dhamma
at Sa-
randada cetiya. The Saptha Aparihani
Dhamma according to Buddhist liturgi-
cal sources available to us are as follows:
‘Assemble in concord, rise in concord,
and do your duty as Vajjins in concord;
Avoid enacting the unenacted or abolish-
ing existing enactments and proceed in
accordance with the ancient laws as en-
acted; Honour, respect, revere and ven-
erate the Vajjin elders and think they
should be heeded; live without molesting
and abducting women and girls; Honour,
respect, revere and venerate the Vajjin
shrines both in town and country with-
out allowing the lawful oblations, hith-
erto given and made, to lapse; provide
lawful protection, defence and guarding
among the Vajjins for Arahants; encour-
age Arahants to come to the realm and
provide them with facilities to live hap-
pily.’
General Vassakara was a positive man.
And he was smart enough to know that
the Buddha did not stop the army of King
Ajasatta waging war against Vajjins, but
only pointed out a winning method. He
realized that the downfall of the Vajjins
could be brought about by diplomacy or
disunion. He thereupon conspired with
the king and, by agreement, the latter
expelled him on the charge of showing
favour to the Vajjins during discussions
in the assembly. Vassakara then went to
the Vajjin country, and the Vajjins, all un-
suspecting, welcomed him and appointed
him as the teacher of their children. By
means of cunning and questioning the
children in secret, he made them quar-
rel with each other, and these quarrels
soon spread to the elders. In three years
the Vajjins were completely disunited,
and when the assembly drum was beaten,
they failed to appear. Vassakara then sent
a message to Ajasatta, who was able to
capture Vajji country without meeting
any resistance.
Looking at what Mangala did to the UNP
after 2007 to disunite the grand old party
to the point that it is in a position with-
out a leader to contest the presidential
election, one could, but say that Mangala
is doing a la Vassakara. Can anybody ac-
cuse him-Mangala-on moral grounds for
crossing over to the SLFP? Well it would
be impossible for those who recall the
popular quotation of Winston Churchill:
‘A man does what he must - in spite of
personal consequences, in spite of obsta-
cles and dangers and pressures - and that
is the basis of all human morality.’
From the Floor
Mangala has the makings of General Vassakara
Vipaksha
W
hile other political parties of the
opposition were having discus-
sions with the Movement for a
Just society on forming a common alliance
before the next presidential election, the
G-20 group of the main opposition party
met on Friday evening to discuss its stand-
point on fielding a UNP-backed common
candidate.
G-20 Group is the twenty member opera-
tions committee appointed by UNP Leader
Ranil Wickremesinghe to manage the party
presidential election campaign and many
were of the view that Friday’s group meet-
ing would lead to a crucial decision with
regard to the much-talked-about common
candidate.
In the end, Friday’s meeting too, ended
on a let’s-discuss-this-on-another-day note
as usual and no crucial decision was made
on the vexed question of finding a common
candidate. But it was crystal clear that the
majority of the party’s parliamentarians
were of the view that the UNP should pro-
ceed with a common opposition front and a
common candidate with the support of oth-
er political parties and civil organizations.
Only a handful of Parliamentarians, in-
cluding its newly appointed Deputy Leader,
held a different viewpoint on thematter. The
group led by Premadasa – who were allowed
to take part in the party’s strategy meet-
ings after the latter’s ascension to deputy
leadership - were pitching a UNP-only and
elephant-only policy as the main ‘strategy’
for the presidential election.
As of now, the ‘equation’ is quite interest-
ing!
UNP National Leader Wickremesinghe,
who earlier positioned himself as the par-
ty’s presidential candidate, is now gradu-
ally loosening his grip on the candidacy.
After multiple requests from various par-
ties, Wickremesinghe has decided to make
way for a common candidate who can unite
the opposition and civil organizations such
as “pivithuru hetak” council and the Move-
ment for a Just Society under a common
umbrella.
Wickremesinghe has decided to make
way for another ‘horse’ not because he has
any love for a common candidate. Wick-
remesinghe’s close allies have pointed out
that if he fails to secure victory at the presi-
dential election, he will not be in a position
toplayany significant role in the party in the
future and Sajith Premadasa will ascend to
party leadership soon after the election. Af-
ter taking all these risks into consideration,
Wickremesinghe said he would not stand in
the way of a common candidate backed by
the main opposition party.
The UNP, at themoment, has two common
candidate options. One is its Leadership
Council Chairman Karu Jayasuriya and the
other is former President and former leader
of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Chandrika
Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. However, at
this point, Jayasuriya is in a better position
to become the UNP-backed common candi-
date of the opposition as many view CBK’s
candidature under the UNP ticket with a
modicum of suspicion.
Too much of a gamble
One of the staunch backers of CBK’s can-
didacy is former Chairman of the United
National Party Malik Samarawickrama,
who is also known to be a close ally of Wick-
remesinghe. According to internal sources
of the party, Samarawickrama has started
a fresh campaign promoting CBK’s candi-
dacy while downplaying the “Karu factor”.
This has created a controversy among rank
and file of the party. Transforming a former
President and a former leader of the Sri
Lanka Freedom Party into the UNP’s presi-
dential candidate is too much of a gamble
for the main opposition party, especially at
this juncture.
The main advantage wedded to CBK’s
candidature is the fact that she still can
draw the support from the SLFP old guard
who are already dissatisfied with certain de-
velopments in the ruling party. Those who
support the former President argue that the
main opposition party will be able to cash in
on the disillusioned SLFP old guard if the
party fields CBK as the presidential candi-
date. But, the question is whether the same
move will jeopardize the support of UNP
“old guard” who still harbor bitter memo-
ries of CBK and her tenure as the president
- which was also a nightmare of some sort
for the main opposition party.
For instance, the provincial council elec-
tion of the North Western province in 1999
is still a bitter experience for the “old guard”
of theUNPwho are still not ready to let go of
the post-1994 experiences. The North West-
ern Provincial Council election was char-
acterized with unprecedented violence and
hundreds of UNP supporters were attacked
by goons who were ‘imported’ from Colom-
bo during the election period. On the other
hand, during CBK’s tenure, a large number
of UNP supporters were harassed at state
sector institutions and were dismissed from
service due to political reasons. It is still a
question whether they would make up their
minds to cast their votes for CBK when she
is contesting as the presidential candidate
fielded by the main opposition party.
But, Samarawickrama’s move to promote
CBK’s candidacy is a question to many!
“The Samarawickrama we know will not
even bat an eyelidwithout the party leader’s
knowledge. Therefore, one has to identify
the root cause behind his support for CBK.
It will be interesting to see whether he is
acting under the instructions of the party
leadership,” a senior UNP Parliamentar-
ian, who is well aware of internal develop-
ments inside the camp, told
‘The Nation
on Friday. Samarawickrama’s strange
support for CBK brings Wickremesinghe’s
bona fides into serious question!
The other option for the party is its
Leadership Council Chairman Karu Jaya-
suriya who is presently the frontrunner
in the common candidate race. The only
obstacle standing in his way was his deci-
sion to crossover to the government along
with 17 other Parliamentarians of the
party. As a result of that decision, some
portrayed Jayasuriya as a “traitor” in the
eyes of the UNP who betrayed the party
and its supporters at a crucial time when
the party was about to topple President
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government in 2007.
But, what requires emphasis is the fact
that Jayasuriya’s very move – wittingly or
otherwise- has prevented the government
from attaching the “tiger” label to his
name as the crossover happened when the
country’s war against terrorism reached
its final stage.
Meanwhile, sources close to Jayasuriya
told The Nation that several leading Bud-
dhist monks have pledged to issue a state-
ment on behalf of him, explaining the
realities underlying his crossover. Jaya-
suriya’s ability to draw the support from
the Bhikkhu community of the country
comes as a major advantage for him at the
presidential polls as the “Buddhist” fac-
tor is expected to play a pivotal role in de-
termining the final result of the election.
On the other hand, Jayasuriya, who has
earned some reputation as a ‘clean politi-
cian’ over the past two decades, has a bet-
ter chance of arriving at an understand-
ing with Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera
and the Movement for a Just Society.
Multiple sources confirmed that CBK
and Athuraliye Rathana Thera too have
agreed to consider the possibility of sup-
porting Jayasuriya’s candidature.
Sajith’s standpoint
It is also important to see where UNP
Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa stands
in the present structure. Premadasa’s
main condition was that Wickremesinghe
should contest the election under the ‘El-
ephant’ symbol, without coalescing with
other political parties of the opposition. It
was clear that Premadasa was vehemently
opposed to any idea of forming a common
alliance or fielding a common candidate
and was hell-bent on making the party
leader the presidential candidate.
When the discussion of finding a common
candidate gained ground, some Working
Committee group members asked whether
Premadasa was willing to become the presi-
dential candidate of the party. Premadasa
asserted that he will not be the presidential
candidate of the UNP unless he is given the
party leadership. In another development,
Premadasahas toldhis supporters thisweek
that he does not want to position himself as
the presidential candidate of the UNP even
if he is given the party leadership! This in
other words means that Premadasa is of the
belief that the main opposition party is not
in a position to win the forthcoming presi-
dential election.
Moreover, while discussions are still un-
derway, Premadasa keeps declaring in pub-
lic that Wickremesinghe will be the presi-
dential candidate of the UNP. This has come
as a surprise to many members of the UNP
Working Committee as one needs approval
from the Working Committee before an-
nouncing the name of the presidential can-
didate. Although there were speculations
from the outset, the UNP has not yet made
any official announcement on the name of
the party’s presidential candidate. A section
of Working Committee members now ques-
tion as to how Premadasa can disclose the
name of the presidential candidate without
any approval from the Working Committee.
Therefore, the statements he has made on
the presidential election are likely to boo-
merang on him at internal strategy meet-
ings of the party.
Possible crossover
Meanwhile, speculation was rife last
week that UNP Parliamentarian Man-
gala Samaraweera, who was arguably the
staunchest critique of the government in
the recent past, is likely to cross the aisle
of Parliament. Samaraweera, who is the
head of the Media and Communication
unit of the UNP, is presently in Singapore,
and is expected to make a final decision on
the matter upon his arrival. It is clear that
Samaraweera is closely monitoring the de-
velopments in his camp before arriving at
a final decision.
A close associate of Samaraweera told
‘The Nation
’ a few days ago that Sama-
raweera would certainly leave the party
if UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe
became the presidential candidate of the
UNP at the upcoming election.
“It’s not a problem about the party leader
of his candidature. But, if Wickremesing-
he fails to secure victory at the presiden-
tial election he will certainly lose the party
leadership too. That will make way for Sa-
jith Premadasa to become the party leader
and that is Samaraweera’s greatest concern
at the moment. The UNP will be able to re-
tain him if it fields a common candidate
who is acceptable to every party,” a close
associate of Samaraweera said yesterday.
Meanwhile multiple parties, including
online petitioners, have requested Sama-
raweera to remain in the opposition and
decline the “offers” he has received from
the government. It was in the grapevine
that the government had offered him the
Ministry of External Affairs, a position
he once held when he was a member of the
UPFA.
In the government camp too, there is a
contention of some sort on whether or not
Samaraweera should be welcomed to the
ruling camp. A sizable proportion of UPFA
Parliamentarians are of the view that Sa-
maraweera, who was a key member of the
Sri Lanka Freedom Party for over 18 years,
should not be welcomed to the government.
Common Opposition candidate
Karu’s candidacy dream
disturbed by Chandrika’s shadow
Ranil Wickremesinghe
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
Karu Jayasuriya
Sajith Premadasa
Malik Samarawickrama
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