Sunday Politics with Rasika Jayakody
UPFA nominations drama at Keppetipola Mawatha
The United People’s Freedom Alliance, with the launch of its election
campaign, had a tumultuous week with the party leader, President
Maithripala Sirisena, making a fiery statement over the party’s
nomination. Apart from the President’s statement, the party had to deal
with a myriad of issues with regard to nominations for the Parliamentary
The party was divided into various factions internally and every
group tried to increase its ‘quota’ in every district. While loyalists
of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga wanted to ensure nominations for
their members in several districts, the pro-Rajapaksa group too
attempted to gain control of the nomination process.
Interestingly, the UPFA General Secretary, who was supposed to take a
middle path, tilted the playing field in favour of the pro-Rajapaksa
group at the last moment. This led the UPFA nominations to a serious
crisis just before the closing the day of nominations.
Finalisation of UPFA nominations was delayed unexpectedly on Sunday
due to the protest by ex-MP Duminda Silva’s supporters in front of the
Mahaweli Centre, Colombo, where candidates were signing nomination
papers. Silva’s supporters staged a demonstration demanding nominations
for their ‘boss’, and those who were at Mahaweli Centre received
information that hundreds of Duminda Silva supporters had left Kolonnawa
to join the demonstrators in Colombo.
The SLFP seniors thought that would jeopardise the whole process and
made an eleventh hour decision to take the nomination papers to a safe
location. Some candidates, who had to sign the nomination papers at the
last moment, were informed by the UPFA General Secretary to come to the
A ‘quiet place’
The new place was former Minister Felix Perera’s house at Keppetipola
Mawatha, Colombo. The UPFA General Secretary chose the ex-Minister’s
house to finalise nominations for the Gampaha District of which Perera
was named as the District Leader.
Several candidates, including Sudharshini Fernandopulle, were present
at Perera’s house to sign the nomination papers. There were some issues
with regard to the Gampaha district list as Western Province Chief
Minister Prasanna Ranatunga’s name was included in the list at the last
moment. By the time the documents were taken to Felix Perera’s house,
Ranatunga had not signed his nomination papers.
When Sanjaya Siriwardena, a candidate from Gampaha, was preparing to
sign his nomination papers, Prasanna Ranatunga barged into Perera’s
house, shouting poddak inna poddak inna!. He was speaking to someone
over the phone and it did take long for others to realize that the one
at the other end of the telephone conversation was former President
Mahinda Rajapaksa. He addressed Rajapaksa as Janadhipathithuma and it
looked as if the Chief Minister was updating the former President on the
Gampaha district list.
Ranatunga suddenly gave the phone to Susil Premajayantha saying the
former President wanted to speak to the General Secretary. Premajayantha
addressed Rajapaksa as ‘Sir’ and patiently listened to his instructions.
While speaking to Rajapaksa, Premajayantha ordered Siriwardena to
stop signing his nomination paper. Siriwardena, a provincial level
politician known as an associate of former President Kumaratunga,
assumed Chief Minister Ranatunga had a hand in the decision to prevent
him from signing nomination papers. As a result, there was a heated
verbal battle between Ranatunga and Siriwardena. The other candidates of
the district were puzzled over the development taking place at the
former Minister’s residence. Nearly 10 minutes later, former President
Rajapaksa, accompanied by former Minister Gamini Lokuge, arrived at
Felix Perera’s house, in a hurry. Entering the house, he told Perera
that he needed a ‘quiet place’ to have a meeting with Premajayantha and
some members of the nominations committee. Perera arranged the first
floor of his house for the meeting and it was held as a closed door
Apart from finalising nominations for the Gampaha district, they also
had to make a final decision on giving nominations to former
Parliamentarian Duminda Silva. By this time, Silva had already
positioned himself as a stalwart of the pro-Rajapaksa camp and had even
carried out a poster campaign in Colombo to support the former
President. Perhaps Rajapaksa thought that it was his duty to exert
pressure on the nominations committee to include Duminda Silva in the
list – at least at the last moment.
What happened upstairs?
While Rajapaksa was holding a meeting with Premajayantha and several
others, Fernandopulle and Upeksha Swaranamali were on the ground floor
with several Provincial Council politicians. Swarnamali, popularly known
as ‘Paba’, was not willing to contest the election without an electorate
She pleaded with Perera to remove her name from the nomination list
and she was, at one point, literally at the feet of the former Minister
pleading she could not contest the election without an electorate
organiser post. However, many SLFP seniors thought by including
Swarnamali in the list, they could leave out Kumaratunga supporters such
as Siriwardena. Perhaps Swarnamali would go down in history as the only
candidate who signed nomination papers to contest the election with much
Meanwhile, towards the end of the meeting with the former President,
Premajayantha walked out of the room, holding his head in pain.
Premajayantha said he was feeling faint and he was sent home in his
vehicle. After some time, it was revealed that the UPFA General
Secretary had been admitted to the Nawaloka Hospital for treatment. No
one seems ready to disclose as to what actually happened between
Rajapaksa and Premajayantha in that secluded upper room.
Last minute changes in hospital
Half an hour later, former SLFP MP Dilan Perera visited Felix
Perera’s house to take the nomination papers to the private hospital
where Premajayantha was receiving treatment. As the documents were still
at the former Minister’s house, the candidates who were yet to sign the
papers had remained at Perera’s residence.
When Dilan Perera came to take the nomination papers, other
candidates, who were confused over the new developments, urged the
ex-Parliamentarian to keep the papers at Felix Perera’s house as they
had not got the opportunity to sign.
“I don’t know about your issues. My duty is to take the nominations
papers to the hospital.,” the SLFP ex-Parliamentarian told his
colleagues. A few minutes later, Siriwardena, the candidate who could
not sign nomination papers due to Prasanna Ranatunga’s sudden arrival,
was asked to come back to Felix Perera’s house at 7 am on Monday.
Meanwhile, it was later revealed that Premajayantha made last minute
changes to the list while in hospital. It was a quiet and serene place
to perform such a nerve-wracking task and there were no ‘unwanted
visitors’ to hinder his work.
Siriwardena, however, arrived at Perera’s house on Monday morning at
7 o’clock, expecting to sign his nomination papers and he did not get
any signal from the General Secretary for two and a half hours. Around
9.45 am, he received a call from Lasantha Alagiyawanna, another ex-MP of
the party contesting Gampaha. He said the list was being taken to the
Gampaha District Secretariat and asked the candidate to come to Gampaha.
While on his way to the Gampaha District Secretariat Siriwarderna was
informed that he had been removed from the list.
CBK’s next move
It was against this backdrop that United National Front for Good
Governance candidate Arjuna Ranatunga accused Premajayantha of changing
the nominations list at the last moment. Ranatunga made this revelation
when he met Chief Prelate of the Malwatte Chapter Ven. Thibbatuwawe Sri
Sumangala Thera, in Kandy, last week.
According to Ranatunga, the Gampaha District list was initially
prepared with the assistance of former President Kumaratunga and
Premajayantha had taken eleventh hour measures to remove Kumaratunga
loyalists from the list.
When this happened, former President Kaumaratunga was in the UK.
Kumaratunga, a vociferous critique of the Rajapaksas, is scheduled to
return to the country early this week, her Private Secretary, P.
Upon her return, she is expected to align herself with the Good
Governance Front’s campaign. UNP sources said Kumaratunga would
primarily focus on the Front’s campaign in the Gampaha district, the
stronghold of the Bandaranaike family.
MR’s Premiership hopes dashed
President Maithripala Sirisena’s much-awaited address to the nation
last week came as a shock to the UPFA as he made some revelations about
how his rival and former President Rajapaksa forced through his
nomination for the election. In his speech, President Sirisena predicted
that Rajapaksa would be defeated at the Parliamentary election just as
he was defeated on January 8.
Coming from none other than the UPFA Chairman, the statement had a
debilitating effect on the overall campaign of the UPFA. The President’s
various combative statement’s against Rajapaksa and pronouncement’s
about future political strategy after the election has raised serious
doubts in the UPFA camp whether Rajapaksa had any chance of becoming
President Sirisena had pointed out that even if the former President
does win a parliamentary seat and his faction manages to build a
sizeable group in the House, it was he, the President, who had the power
to decide who should be Prime Minister. In his speech, the President
argued that there were other suitable candidates in the SLFP who could
be appointed as the Prime Minister. UPFA insiders feel that this remark
has shattered Rajapaksa’s Prime Ministerial hopes to a great extent.
Moves to oust Sirisena
Soon after the President’s speech, ex-MP Janaka Bandara Tennakoon
convened a press conference to express his disappointment over the
President’s statements and also to urge the party General Secretary to
convene the Central Committee to discuss the matter. Many were of the
belief that the Central Committee would make a decision to remove
President Sirisena from the party leadership.
However, most of the top-rung SLFP leaders, including the party
General Secretary, were aware of the fact that removing President
Sirisena from the leadership was no easy task.
President Sirisena’s appointment as the SLFP Leader was sanctioned by
the party constitution which had crystal clear provision on the
appointment of the party Chairman.
The SLFP constitution says if a party member becomes the head of
state, he or she should be appointed as the party Chairman. The
provision was introduced to the SLFP constitution by none other than
former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to remove former President
Kumaratunga from the SLFP chairmanship in 2006.
Therefore, the party cannot remove President Sirisena from the
leadership without amending its constitution. Any constitutional
amendment has to be endorsed by the party at a general convention and
that is a long and time-consuming process. By convening a Central
Committee meeting on Wednesday, Yapa wanted to counter President
Sirisena’s statement by suspending the party membership of his loyalists
namely, RajithaSenaratne, ArjunaRanatunga, M.K.D.S. Gunawardena and
The Central Committee meeting was scheduled to take place at Sri
Lanka Foundation Institute and the party Chairman was unaware of any
such meeting. It was on Wednesday morning that President Sirisena
realized that the party General Secretary had convened a Central
Committee meeting to take some ‘important decisions’.
President’s note to Party Hqrs
The President had a hectic morning on Wednesday as the weekly cabinet
meeting was also scheduled for 9 am at the Presidential Secretariat. The
UNP Ministers, who were dejected over the UPFA’s decision to give
nomination to the former President, seemed jubilant after the President
cleared the air on the matter. President Sirisena received a warm round
of applause from his ministers as he walked into the meeting room at the
Presidential Secretariat to hold the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday
It was quite evident that the statement had restored the Cabinet’s
faith in the President and his decisions. As the Cabinet meeting ended,
the ministers surrounded him again and expressed their pleasure for
taking a strong stand against former President MahindaRajapaksa, his
main rival at the Presidential election in January.
After an informal discussion with the ministers, the President left
for Polonnaruwa with Minister Karu Jayasuriya to attend the funeral of
Ven. Maldeniye Jinalankara Thera. Before leaving Colombo, the President
sent a note to the SLFP headquarters, through the Administrative
Secretary of the party, cancelling the Central Committee meeting
scheduled for 8 pm at the Sri Lanka Foundation.
According to sources close to the President, in the note he had said
the party constitution had vested enough powers in him to cancel the
Central Committee meeting at his discretion.
The SLFP General Secretary received the note while he was at the UPFA
Elections Steering Committee meeting attended by former President
Mahinda Rajapaksa. After he received the note, the SLFP seniors had
discussed the possibility of convening the Central Committee, without
the consent of the party Chairman.
Their attempt was aborted when the Colombo District Court issued an
order preventing the SLFP from holding its Central Committee meeting,
without the approval of the party Chairman.
The Interim Order – which is valid for 14 days - was issued against
SLFP Secretary General Anura Priyadharshana Yapa. The case was filed
before the Colombo District Court by Prasanna Solanga-arachchi, a
Colombo district UPFA candidate who is also a member of the SLFP Central
Duminda Dissanayake boycotts Anuradhapura rally
After the UPFA elections steering committee meeting, former President
Rajapaksa said he would respond to President Sirisena’s statement at the
UPFA inaugural rally in Anuadhapura. The rally took place at the Salgado
grounds in Anuradhapura where Rajapaksa started his unsuccessful
campaign for presidency last year. A large number of ex-UPFA MPs
attended the rally with their supporters and Opposition Leader Nimal
Siripala de Silva, SLFP General Secretary AnuraPriyadarshanaYapa, UPFA
General Secretary Susil Premajayantha, Dinesh Gunawardena, Wimal
Weerawansa, Prof. G.L. Peiris and former Chief Justice Sarath N Silva
were among participants.
The notable absentee at the meeting was Anuradhapura district
candidate Duminda Dissanayake, a strong critic of the Rajapaksas over
the past few months. Although other ex-MPs of the SLFP who supported
President Maithripala Sirisena in January decided to join hands with the
UNP, Dissanayake decided to remain in the UPFA to contest for
Anuradhapura where he has a strong voter-base. Dissanayake’s boycott and
Solangaarachchi’s legal move blocking the Central Committee meeting are
clear indications that the UPFA has serious internal divisions.
Interestingly, the Anuradhapura rally did not have a single picture
of President Maithripala Sirisena, who is officially the Chairman of the
UPFA. It was all about Mahinda Rajapaksa and it seemed exactly like one
of his Presidential election rallies.
The whole purpose of the rally appears to have been for boosting
Rajapaksa’s own political image. Insiders who were present felt that the
party had completely lost the focus of its Anuradhapura polls campaign.
Observers also noted the recurrence of the now familiar practice of
swelling the crowd by busing in supporters from all parts of the
country. It resembled the UPFA’s unsuccessful campaign in January, which
had similar characteristics.
MR dodges Sirisena speech
Although Rajapaksa had claimed that he would respond to President
Sirisena’s statement during the Anuradhapura rally, he hardly mentioned
the President’s name in his fairly long speech. It was all defence of
his own conduct during his tenure as the President and attacking the UNP
for its conduct in the past.
The same slogans, which were used for the past 10 years, were used at
the Anuradhapura rally too and it clearly demonstrated that the campaign
is finding it difficult to ‘think anew’. Ironically, the UPFA’s campaign
theme for this election is ‘Let’s give life to the country; let’s start
from the beginning’ (Ratata panademu: aluthinma patanganimu).
Sirisena’s counter move
While Rajapaksa was in Anuradhapura, President MaithripalaSirisena
made an interesting move by appointing a new electorate organizer for
Probably, the President wanted to make the move on Friday itself to
show Rajapaksa that he was still in charge of the party’s affairs. The
new electorate organizer for Mihintale is North Central Province Chief
Minister S.M. Ranjitha Samarakoon, a supporter of the Rajapaksas.
Vitarana reveals plan to centralize power
Speaking at the inaugural rally in Anuradhapura, Prof. TissaVitarana,
Leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and former minister, made an
interesting statement. He said that once the Executive Presidency is
abolished Rajapaksa will become the all-powerful Prime Minister in the
future UPFA government. Although Vitarana did not say it explicitly,
what he meant was that the former President should be made an “Executive
Prime Minister” after abolishing Executive Presidency under a UPFA
The statement indicated that the UPFA is determined to turn President
Maithripala Sirisena into a political non-entity after the election.
But, the coalition wants to abolish the Executive Presidency not because
it has any love for Parliamentary democracy, but it wants to concentrate
all powers in Rajapaksa.
On the other hand, the statement comes from Tissa Vitarana, Leader of
the Lanka Sama Samaja Party which was once led by Dr. N.M. Perera, a
staunch critic of Executive Presidency and constitutional autocracy.
Perera passed away in 1979, a year after J.R. Jayewardene’s Constitution
of 1978, which strengthened the presidential system of government,
introduced to Sri Lanka by way of the Second Amendment to the 1972
Constitution. Perera was one of the most vociferous critics of
Jayewardene’s presidency and he made a great contribution to Sri Lanka’s
democracy by pointing out the ill-effects of Jayewardene’s constitution
in a series of articles. The articles were collected and published in
June 1979 to mark his birthday under the title ‘Critical Analysis of The
New Constitution of the Sri Lanka Government.’
According to constitutional expert and LSSP dissident Dr. Jayampathy
Wickramaratne, the booklet soon became a kind of ‘Bible’ for those who
wish a return to a parliamentary form of government.
“NM was unhesitatingly for a parliamentary form of government, not
surprising, given that he was one of Sri Lanka’s best-known
parliamentarians. He was awarded a D.Sc. degree by the University of
London for his comparative study of the parliamentary procedures of the
United Kingdom, United States, France and Germany. He pointed out that
the parliamentary form of government had worked for 30 years in Sri
Lanka with a degree of success that had surprised many western
Writing a few weeks before the Second Amendment was to come into
effect, he said: “We look in vain in the speeches of the Prime Minister
for a clear and concise enumeration of the defects of the present
Constitution, which make the wholesale rejection of the present
structure desirable.“His lame contention that the present system of
government makes for instability and lacks continuity scarcely bears
“Since 1978, the Sri Lankan Left unwaveringly raised the need to
totally abolish the Executive Presidency and return to a parliamentary
form. The issue was raised at every N.M. Perera commemoration event,
every May Day meeting, every Republic Day event on 22 May and every
other possible occasion. The Left’s post-1978 literature is replete with
references to the issue,” Dr. Wickramaratne, a long-standing activist of
the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, wrote in a recent article. Interestingly,
the current leader of the same Sama Samaaja Party, who considers NM as
his political idol, now proposes to introduce an ‘Executive Prime
Minister’ to Sri Lanka, with provision for constitutional autocracy.