White van incident :
Secret meetings :
Cracks in the Mahinda camp
When the Mirihana Police arrested three military personnel travelling
in a white van, it sent ripples across the country’s political circles
as white vans were the trademark of the repression of the 10-year-long
Rajapaksa administration. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, former
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and several other prominent
politicians are residents of Mirihana, an area adjacent to Nugegoda, one
of the most populous areas in the greater Colombo region.
The Akuressa incident
It did not take too long for the Police to find that the pistol,
which was in the possession of the soldiers in the white van, belonged
to Major General Prasanna de Silva, the officer who led the 55th
division during the final phase of war. The three military personnel
were identified as members of the security detail of the senior army
Major General de Silva, who joined the military in the early 80s, was
known in the Army as a close associate of former Defence Secretary
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Three years after the end of war, in April, 2012,
de Silva was given a diplomatic posting by the Rajapaksa regime as
Defence Attaché at the High Commission of Sri Lanka in London. This was
against a backdrop where this Army officer was facing various
allegations over his military conduct during the final phase of the war.
Offering diplomatic postings, needless to say, was one of the methods
the Rajapaksas used to reward their loyalists and close supporters. De
Silva presently works at the Defence Ministry under new Defence
Secretary B.M.U.D. Basnayake. There have been various allegations
against Basnayake over the past six months over his alleged associations
with his predecessor in the Ministry.
The white van, which was checked by Police at Mirihana drew attention
because it had an altered vehicle number. It belonged to the Army
headquarters and it was obvious that the Army had breached the country’s
law by using a van that had an altered number.
Top army officers, who spoke to the Sunday Observer, on condition of
anonymity, said the altered vehicle number was nothing but an
administrative failure on the part of the Army. They said it was a
serious lapse and stern action should be taken against those who were
The authorities later found that the controversial van had been
recovered from Vellamullivaikkal during the final phase of war and it
had first belonged to the LTTE. A large number of vehicles recovered
during the final phase of war were brought to the Army headquarters and
senior Army officers used them for various purposes.
The van, taken into custody last Tuesday, had the same altered number
it had when it was used by the LTTE. “Not re-registering the van after
its recovery was an administrative failure on the part of the Army,” he
Weerawansa’s foot in his mouth
By the time the van was taken into custody on Tuesday, Major General
Silva was on his way to Kandy. Three members of his security detail were
travelling in the van, with his official weapon, to join the Major
General in Kandy.
Army sources also added that the Military Police took an
extraordinarily long time to issue a report clearing the Army personnel
and the Major General’s weapon. Exploiting this delay, National Freedom
Front leader Wimal Weerawansa, addressing a press conference in Colombo,
claimed that there was an attempt to harm the lives of former President
Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
Professor G.L. Peiris also addressed the press conference and expressed
similar sentiments, hinting at an attempt to harm the lives of heads of
the previous regime.
Following the arrest, the Mirihana Police questioned Major General
Prasanna de Silva for more than three hours over the incident. The law
enforcement authorities are yet to make a conclusive statement on the
white van saga which occurred just four weeks ahead of the Parliamentary
However, at this point, it does not look as if there was an attempt
to harm the life of any individual using a van belonging to the Army
headquarters. But, the incident raises serious issues in terms of the
security of the common public.
One has every reason to believe that this is not the only vehicle
attached to the Army headquarters which was not re-registered in
Colombo. There can be more vehicles with altered number plates which can
be used for various activities, both legal and illegal. It is still not
entirely clear whether these vehicles with altered number plates have
any connection with infamous “white van” abductions in the past.
Any investigation in this direction will be an interesting outcome of
the white van saga.
Interestingly, National Freedom Front Leader Wimal Weerawansa was one
of the most vociferous critics of the ‘white van’ over the past few
days. He even went to the extent of dubbing Prasanna de Silva as a close
ally of a powerful member of the present government. He said de Silva
got his position at the Defence Ministry due to the influence of this
powerful government member.
Weerawansa’s statement against the Army Major General came under
severe criticism from ex-servicemen who even addressed a press
conference in Colombo to voice their opinion on the matter. They said
Weerawansa was a politician who made little or no contribution towards
the victory of war. Some remarks expressed at the press conference were
damaging to Weerawansa’s pro-Sinhala Buddhist image, which he was trying
so hard to maintain.
At this point, it looks as if Weerawansa is caught between two
motives. On one hand, he wants to cash in on the Sinhala-Buddhist
ultra-nationalist vote in the country by pandering to pro-war,
chauvinistic sentiments. On the other hand, he needs to earn public
sympathy by blaming Prasanna de Silva for attempting to harm the former
His attempt to blame the senior Army officer earned him the ire of
the Sinhala-Buddhist electorate, an integral part of Weerawansa’s
Two days after making this statement, Weerawansa’s ally, Weerakumara
Dissanayake, a UPFA candidate for the Anuradhapura district, found
himself in hot water after Police detected some 2,600 campaign posters
of the candidate which were being transported in a vehicle that had a
forged Army number plate. Dissanayake is a stalwart of the National
Freedom Front and he held a deputy ministerial portfolio under the
Propaganda blunder over Akuressa incident
A video showing an incident that occurred at a UPFA election rally
held in Akuressa attended by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa went
viral over the internet last week. The incident occurred on Tuesday
during a United People’s Freedom Alliance election rally held at the
premises of the Akuressa bus terminal.
In the video, Rajapaksa, who was on his way towards the stage, was
seen moving towards a supporter in an angry manner.
He was seen raising his clenched fist as if to punch the errant
Security guards and supporters pulled Rajapaksa away to prevent what
seemed like an attempted assault by him. As he walked away, the former
President was examining his hand in an irritated manner, adjusting the
many rings on his fingers. The former President got on to the stage
after the brief encounter.
On stage the ex-President was seen waving at the crowd, smiling, as
if nothing happened on his way to the stage. Nearly 1000 people were
present at the Akuressa rally.
The video went viral on social media and many critics said the former
President ‘s behaviour reflected badly on him. The incident was a
setback for the UPFA campaign as it depended solely on the former
As an immediate damage control measure, the National Freedom Front
Leader, addressing a press conference in Colombo, said, the incident
showed security threats were faced by the former President. He said
Rajapaksa attempted to pull the UPFA supporter to ensure that man’s
security. A few hours later, Rajapaksa’s Media Spokesman Rohan Welivita,
responding to media queries, said a man who was present at the UPFA
rally attempted rob the former President’s ring. As a result, he said,
the former President had to push him away to protect his ring.
Meanwhile, addressing a UPFA rally a day later, Rajapaksa came up
with a totally different explanation. He said that the man whom he was
trying to push was an ardent SLFP supporter. The former President said
the supporter grabbed his hand tightly out of love and his ring was
pressed against the finger.
“I was in severe pain and I had to push him away. Otherwise, I might
have shed tears not only from eyes, but from other parts of my body as
well. The man who grabbed my hand was a good SLFPer. Maybe he was a
little drunk,” Rajapaksa said.
In a poorly managed damage-control action, Rajapaksa’s camp has come
up with three contradictory statements over the same incident. The UPFA
even went to the extent of organizing a press conference that apparently
featured the man who allegedly grabbed the former President’s hand at
the Akuressa meeting.
A person by the name of S.S.G. Chaminda addressed the press
conference saying he was the supporter who triggered a controversy by
grabbing Rajapaksa’s hand. In an interesting turn of events, he said he
was a die-hard fan of Rajapaksa and he could not control himself when he
saw the former President in front of him!
If the incident has created negative publicity for the UPFA campaign,
the party has worsened the situation by trying to control the damage in
ineffective ways. It was similar to the propaganda blunder Wimal
Weerawansa made over the white van incident. The contradictory
statements they have already made over the much-talked-about video clip
have already played into the hands of their political opponents.
Susil Premajayantha’s likely u-turn
When the UPFA held its inaugural rally in Anuradhapura, party seniors
showed they were on the same page about giving nomination to former
President Mahinda Rajapaksa to contest the election.
Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva said he would be the first
to propose Mahinda Rajapaksa’s name as Prime Minister of the next UPFA-led
government. Both UPFA General Secretary Susil Premajayantha and SLFP
General Secretary Anura Priyadarshana Yapa had, in the recent past,
projected themselves as ardent supporters of the former President.
It does not require a lot of political wisdom to understand that the
majority of SLFP seniors who pushed for nomination for the former
President wanted to exploit his estimated 5.8 million vote bank to find
their way into the new Parliament. It is not clear, however, whether
they will stand by Rajapaksa after the election, especially if the
former President fails to secure a simple majority in the House. It was
revealed last week that UPFA General Secretary Susil Premajayantha had
met President Maithripala Sirisena privately to discuss positions in the
new Parliament which will be convened on September 1. During the
meeting, it had been conveyed to Premajayantha that he was being
considered as the potential Prime Minister of a future UPFA government.
Expressing similar sentiments, President Maithripala Sirirsena, who made
a special statement two weeks ago, said that there were other seniors in
the party who had enough qualifications to be the Prime Minister.
When the message was communicated to Premajayantha, he had gleefully
agreed with the party Chairman’s view. Premajayantha is also a
front-runner for the Opposition Leader’s post in the new Parliament.
At the same time, current Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva
too does not want to give up his Prime Ministerial hopes. He too wants
to lead the UPFA team in the new Parliament either as the Prime Minister
or as the Opposition Leader. As result, there is a three cornered battle
within the UPFA, among Mahinda Rajapaksa, Nimal Siripala de Silva and
Susil Premajayantha, over top posts in the post-August 17 Parliament.
In addition to this internecine power struggle, there is another
internal campaign against former President Rajapaksa, especially in the
Kurunegala district. The theme of the propaganda campaign is apey
chandaya gamey ekaata (Our vote is for the candidate of our village).
The campaign is directed at former President Rajapaksa contesting from
the Kurunegala district.
This came against a backdrop where there is a keen contest among the
UPFA candidates in Kurunegala after Rajapaksa’s arrival. It is naïve to
believe that Rajapaksa, as the former President, will not top the UPFA
preferential votes list in Kurunegala. However, there is a tight contest
for the other slots in the list as key contenders such as Dayasiri
Jayasekera, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Johnston Fernando, T.B. Ekanayake
and Shantha Bandara vie for Parliamentary seats from that district.
On the other hand, a section of the UPFA candidates still support
President Maithripala Sirisena and they have already expressed
willingness to form a national government after the election. Knowing
this reality, the pro-Rajapaksa group have already launched a propaganda
campaign urging the UPFA voters to vote only for candidates supportive
of Rajapaksa. By doing so, the pro-Rajapaksa faction is attempting to
shrink the Parliamentary share of Sirisena supporters.
Central Committee meeting
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva, UPFA General
Secretary Susil Premajayantha and SLFP General Secretary Anura
Priyadarshana Yapa held a discussion with President Sirisena on
convening the party Central Committee before the election.
The validity of the Colombo District Court’s order preventing the
SLFP Central Committee from convening ended on July 23 and the party
seniors urged the President to take measures to convene the CC. They
cited several reasons to convene the Central Committee before the
Parliamentary election on August 17. Some ex-MPs of the UPFA accepted
ministerial portfolios from President Sirisena with the approval of the
party’s Central Committee.
They said it was necessary to convene the Central Committee as some
members wanted to resign from their ministerial portfolios. At the same
time, they stressed the need of taking disciplinary action against
members of the party who entered into an electoral agreement with the
United National Party.
However, it was clear that the President did not encourage the move
to take action against those who aligned with the UNP to contest the
Almost all members of the UPFA who joined the UNP-led Good Governance
Front were close associates of President Maithripala Sirisena and they
made the move in protest over the party’s decision to nominate the
former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The President himself, in his address to the nation, said he was
against the idea of allowing the former President to contest on the UPFA
ticket. Therefore, the President cannot encourage any move to take
action against those who shared the same views! This is where the issue
surrounding the SLFP Central Committee stands at the moment. It seems
like the President wants to give the problem “a little time”, probably
until the end of the Parliamentary election.
If he manages to form a national government with the support of a
section of the UPFA, it will resolve the issue – at least to a certain
extent. But, the idea of forming a national government may not seem
viable if the UNP secures a resounding majority in Parliament. At this
point, it seems like the UNP’s campaign is gaining momentum while the
UPFA grapples with various internal issues.