Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 26 July 2015





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

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 officer.

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 responsible.

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 added.

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 election.

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 President’s life.

His attempt to blame the senior Army officer earned him the ire of the Sinhala-Buddhist electorate, an integral part of Weerawansa’s political constituency.

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 Rajapaksa administration.

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 supporter.

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 President’s popularity.

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.

Three-cornered battle

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 Parliamentary election.

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.


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