SLFP cracks down on dissidents as pro-MR party suffers birth-pangs
With Yoshitha Rajapaksa being arrested in connection with the CSN TV
station controversy, close allies of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa
are now convinced that the wheels of law enforcement are moving.
As an immediate result, they realised the importance of
‘fast-tracking’ their process of forming a new political alliance, so
that they would have a platform to politicise anti-corruption
investigations and legal battles surrounding them.
A special discussion in this regard was held on February 8 at the
Mirihana residence of former President Rajapaksa. Front-liners of the
Abhayaramaya cabal, who have now formed the so-called ‘joint
opposition’, comprising the UPFA dissident group supporting the
Rajapaksa clan, took part in the meeting where they discussed the future
course of action of the pro-Rajapaksa group.
At the discussion, they re-affirmed their decision to form a new
political party to contest the local government election fixed for June.
It was unanimously decided that the former President, a man currently
facing a surfeit of controversies, would lead the new political front.
They have already taken measures to register the new political party
under the name ‘Our Sri Lanka Freedom Front’ with the symbol ‘lotus’. It
is speculated that former SLFP electorate organiser Sagara Kariyawasam,
a lesser-known figure in national politics, will function as the
Secretary. Kariyawasam is the son of former SLFP MP Albert Kariyawasam.
Row in the House
The group also decided to explore possibilities to act as a separate
group in Parliament as it would allow them to get more slots for the
UPFA rebels as speakers during Parliamentary debates. Before the
meeting, the pro-Rajapaksa UPFA dissidents handed over a letter to
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, requesting him to accept them as a separate
group in Parliament. The letter was signed by 39 UPFA MPs supporting the
former President but it did not elicit an immediate response from the
Speaker. The Speaker informed the group that he would announce their
decision later. The MPs who took part in the meeting at Rajapaksa’s
residence, needless to say, were expecting a positive response from the
The Speaker however was not in favour of identifying the UPFA
dissidents as a separate opposition group in Parliament due to multiple
legal and constitutional issues. When he informed his decision to the
House on Tuesday, the Speaker carefully explained the reasons leading to
“A group of 39 members not supporting the Government along with 11
other members have requested to function as a separate group in
Parliament citing issues with regard to time allocations during
Parliamentary proceedings. We too have identified this issue pertaining
to time allocations in the Parliament. I should remind the House the
difficulty we had in the opposition to get time allocated during the
time MP Dinesh Gunawardena was the Leader of the House.
“I discussed your concern with the respective parties. There are six
political parties who contested in the last election and entered the
Parliament. But there are 17 political parties inside the Parliament
now. I have not deprived your rights. Today I have given the UPFA 40
minutes and your faction 41 minutes. There can be several groups within
a political party but several parties within a group. We will take
action to avoid time allocation issues and fair allocations to COPE and
other committees. You are part of the UPFA and I can’t join hands to
destroy the UPFA, which I consider a sin,” Speaker KaruJayasuriya said
explaining his position in Parliament on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, intervening in the debate,
acknowledged the need to address their grievances pertaining to time
allocation, but also contended that the UPFA dissidents could not be
recognized as a separate political group since they were part of the
“We need to identify the Opposition first. Here we selected the party
with the most majority as the Government and the second most as the
Opposition. In 1956, the UNP had the most number of votes but ended up
having 08 seats in Parliament. But on the other hand, the Sama Samaja
Party had more seats than the UNP. So, N.M. Perera became the Opposition
Leader. SLFP received the second most votes in 1977.
But the Tamil United Liberation Front had more seats and it was
recognised as the main opposition. You have recognised the Opposition
Leader. In accordance with Article 41 (a) of our Constitution there can
be one Opposition Leader in the Parliament. There is no room for a
‘joint opposition’ and a main opposition,” said Wickremesinghe.
However, the Prime Minister tried to resolve the time allocation
issue with a different solution.
The Prime Minister’s suggestion was to extend the number of hours the
“However, I understand that there is an issue about the time
allocation. I agree that all should be given time to express their
views. But it has no relevance of accepting the joint opposition
separately. I also suggest extending the number of sittings of the House
of the Parliament. The President has also instructed me to provide more
time for members of the UPFA. When we move into the Committee system all
will be able to express their positions. We can’t have two oppositions –
joint opposition and the main opposition. I believe this is an issue the
joint opposition should first discuss with the UPFA and solve before
coming here,” the Prime Minister added.
The decision to turn down their request to function as a separate
group in Parliament irked the MPs who call themselves the ‘joint
opposition’. They immediately decided to stage a protest inside the
House disrupting its proceedings.
They staged the protest as the government attempted to get the Local
Authorities Elections (Amendment) Bill seeking to increase the
percentage of female representatives in Local Government bodies passed
in the House.
Dinesh Gunawardena, a seasoned Parliamentarian who, at one point, was
the Leader of the House started the protest by coming down to the well
of the House, shouting.
Among the protestors who shouted slogans from the well of Parliament
were Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Pavithra
Wanniarachchi, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Wimal Weerwansa, C.B. Ratnayake,
Udaya Gammanpila, Dullas Alahapperuma, Chandrasiri Gajadheera, Salinda
Dissanayake, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, Namal Rajapaksa, Niroshan
Premaratne, D.V. Chanaka, Wimalaweera Dissanayake, Jayantha Samaraweera,
Tharaka Balasuriya, Shehan Semasinghe, Indika Anuruddha, Prasanna
Ranaweera, Weerakumara Dissanayake, Sanath Nishantha, and Kanchana
Government MPs came and stood around the Prime Minister for his
protection while the UPFA dissident group was staging the protest. Among
them were Ravi Karunanayake, Lakshman Kiriella, Harin Fernando, Mujibur
Rahuman, Kavinda Jayawardena, Nalin Bandara, Chandrani Bandara, Akila
Viraj Kariyawasam and Gayantha Karunathilake.
However, despite the protest staged by these dissident UPFA MPs, the
government managed to get the historic bill passed in Parliament, for
the first time providing for a minimum representation of women in
Meanwhile, in a startling turn of events, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, on
Wednesday, informed Parliament that he received a death threat from an
anonymous caller the previous night. This anonymous caller, according to
the Speaker, was not the typical extortioner asking for a ransom or any
such thing. His only demand was that Parliament recognise the UPFA
dissidents as a separate group in Parliament!
The Speaker, a seasoned politician who played a pivotal role in the
UNP during a tumultuous period, said he was not afraid of such threats
or to face death.
However, he made an appeal that the Parliamentary staff should not be
subject to intimidation over this matter, stating that the officials are
only performing their duties.
“Do not insult the Parliamentary officials,” he said.
When the Speaker made this revelation in Parliament, the governing
coalition MPs pointed their fingers at the MPs of the UPFA dissident
group who had protested in the well of the House on Tuesday.
Responding to the accusations, UPFA MP Dullas Alahapperuma, who had
been part of disruption on Tuesday, asked the Speaker to hold a special
inquiry into the death threat received by him and inform the findings to
“Otherwise this allegation could also be directed at the joint
opposition. Investigating into this incident is your duty and our
right,” he said.
Political watchers have noted that this was the first time the
Speaker of Parliament had come under physical threat from anonymous
callers over matters relating to Parliament. It was clear that some
group was attempting to push the Speaker to the wall for their own
political gains. Little did they realize that they are actually pushing
Parliamentary democracy to the wall, dragging the country’s supreme
law-making body to a new low. Many critics dubbed it as a black day for
In this backdrop, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa made an
important step in the direction of forming a new party by setting up a
new political office. His new office is located at Jayanthipura,
Battaramulla, in the vicinity of the Parliamentary complex. It was the
same place where National Freedom Front Leader and UPFA MP Wimal
Weerawansa ran a political office some time ago.
The office was opened on Friday and a large number of Rajapaksa
supporters, including former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva took part in
the opening ceremony.
A stalwart of the Rajapaksa group told the Sunday Observer that they
had to open a new office because the group was prevented from using the
Abharayaramaya temple premises for political activities.
During the opening ceremony, Rajapaksa made an interesting remark
about the controversy surrounding the Carlton Sports Network which is
being investigated by the Police Financial Crimes Investigations
“If CSN was owned by my son, I would have run that company without
being a burden to others,” the former President said, in a vague and
tongue-in-cheek response to allegations levelled against his son.
In a scathing attack against the national unity government, Rajapaksa
said the government began to plunder the people’s assets from the
Central Bank with a controversial bond issue.
He said that the entire country was in a crisis as the people were
unable to sell their tea, rubber and paddy production.
“The job security of the country’s professionals will be at stake if
the CEPA agreement is signed by the government,” Rajapaksa said,
indicating the line of thinking and the potential slogans of his nascent
“When we suffered defeat on January 8, President Sirisena came with a
group of MPs and asked me to hand over the party Chairman’s post to him.
But, I was advised not to offer the post because he had no right to be
Chairman as he was a person who had broken away and left the party.
“But, when I was told that he could safeguard SLFP supporters from
political discrimination such as transfers, arrest and loss of jobs if
he had the party chairmanship, I decided to handover the post to him.
That is why I gave up the Chairman’s post and went home to spend life in
But when I went home tens of thousands of people came to see me daily
and expressed their thoughts. Thinking such visits would be an
unnecessary hassle for the people, I told them not to visit me and that
I would visit them in their villages. That is how I have come here
today,” the former President said, explaining circumstances leading to
his re-entry into politics, after his defeat at the Presidential
election in January, last year.
“When I was without an office in Colombo to meet people, Ven.
Muruththetuve Ananda Thera came forward and offered me the Abhayaramaya
at Narahenpita to be used as my office to meet people and other
political leaders. Abhayaramaya has a long political history.
Abhayaramaya had always been a rallying point for the progressive camp
helping political and trade union struggles, irrespective of the
government in power.
“That is why we used it as our centre. But, as time passed, people
used to call it ‘Mahindaramaya’. We should actually thank the government
too for allowing it to be used because we had no other place to be used
as an office. But, still we ought to go to the Abhayaramaya because it
is a centre of the progressive political activists in the country. On
the other hand my so called two roomed palace was not spacious enough to
accommodate large numbers of people,” he said.
“Today, I am waiting to receive that 18 billion dollars I am supposed
to have deposited abroad. That is why I promised to commit suicide if
any one proved that I have a single dollar deposited in a foreign bank.
Today, my son Namal too received notice to appear before the
Commission,” Rajapaksa said, in his brief speech at the opening ceremony
if his office.
Former CJ’s faux pax
Speaking at the same event, former Chief Justice Silva made an
interesting remark about the investigation into Yoshitha Rajapaksa. He
said even the last king of the Kandyan Kingdom, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe
punished the family members of Kappetipola Dissave for his alleged
association with British invaders.
“That’s why Madduma Bandara got killed,” the former Chief Justice,
who did a political somersault after the last Presidential election,
The legal luminary seemed to have thought that Madduma Bandara was
the son of Keppetipola Dissave. Rather, he was the son of Ehelepola Maha
Adhikaram who rebelled against the king and whose immediate entire
family was executed by the king.
SLFP Central Committee
Meanwhile, President Maithripala Sirisena last week moved swiftly and
decisively against the elements attempting to divide the Sri Lanka
Freedom Party ahead of the local government election.
He was aware of the fact that the UPFA dissidents were carrying out
discussions in many districts to contest as a separate group under the
leadership of the former President. At the same time, the dissidents
were approaching grassroots level activists and supporters of the SLFP
itself to join the new political movement.
It was in this context that the President decided to summon a Central
Committee meeting of the SLFP. Although the pro-Rajapaksa group claims
that they have the backing of the majority of grassroots level
representatives, the President, as the Chairman of the party, wields the
majority support of the Central Committee, the supreme decision-making
body of the party.
It was speculated that the Central Committee would take disciplinary
action against those who made controversial remarks about dividing the
SLFP. Interestingly, the Central Committee meeting also fell on the same
day when Rajapaksa opened a new political office.
Sending a strong message to the group supporting the former
President, the Central Committee, on Friday, decided to suspend, with
immediate effect, the party membership of seven SLFP politicians heading
local government bodies on then charge that they were in the practice of
criticizing the party and its leadership. It was quite obvious that
these politicians were declared supporters of the former President.
It was also disclosed at the Central Committee meeting that only one
out of 10 local government members, who had been asked for explanation
of their subversive behavior, had sent a response to the disciplinary
committee of the party.
The Central Committee also decided not to endorse any request by
members to act as an independent group in Parliament. It was a slap in
the face of the ‘joint opposition’ group formed by the UPFA dissidents.
All senior members of the Central Committee, except Kalutara district
parliamentarian Kumara Welgama, insisted on disciplinary action against
SLFP members trying to form a separate party within the SLFP. Welgama, a
senior member of the Central Committee, has been a staunch supporter of
the Rajapaksas since the latter fell out of power in January, last year.
The SLFP Central Committee also decided that any attempt to tie the
party up with “extremist parties” would amount to a violation of party
discipline and stern action would be taken against those who were
involved in such attempts. At this point, MP Kumara Welgama stood up in
protest over this decision and questioned the rationale of such a move.
However, Welgama’s action was not supported by the majority of Central
Committee members and the decision-making body proceeded with its
The Central Committee then decided to delegate full authority to the
disciplinary committee of the party to take disciplinary action against
Friday’s Central Committee was a clear indication that the gap
between the two warring groups within the SLFP was widening. The backers
of President Sirisena have apparently adopted a “no - nonsense” approach
towards the supporters of the Rajapaksas and they want the party to take
stern action against dissidents, irrespective of their positions within
the party. The Central Committee’s decision to suspend memberships of 10
local government chairpersons was a clear message to the SLFP MPs
associating with the Abhayaramaya cabal.
Minister Sarath Amunugama, an ally of President Sirisena, addressing
a meeting in Kandy on Friday, said that eleven party MPs now in the UPFA
dissident faction would not be joining the new political party in the
offing. He said they would choose to remain with the SLFP and its
current leadership. If Amunugama’s statement is something to go by,
Rajapaksa’s move to form a new political party may also create a minor
split in the UPFA dissident camp.
However, the majority of dissident MPs are expected to align
themselves with the Rajapaksas when the new political party is
The appointment of the new Attorney General was a development that
drew the attention of many not only in the legal fraternity but also in
political circles. The position became vacant when former Attorney
General Yuwanjana Wanasundera retired from his position on January 8,
The President sent three names to the Constitutional Council as
potential candidates to the AG’s position.
They were Acting Attorney General Suhada Gamlath, Jayantha Jayasuriya
PC and Kapila Waidyaratne PC. As all three had vast experience in the
affairs of the Attorney General’s Department it seemed to a very tight
contest. The front-runners for the position at the very last stage were
Gamlath and Jayasuriya
Although Gamlath was the most qualified candidate out of the two in
terms of seniority, he had a ‘baggage’ to carry due to his alleged
involvement in the Avant Garde inquiry and several other matters.
Therefore, some senior members of the government were of the view
that Gamlath should be appointed to the Supreme Court and Jayasuriya
should be appointed the next AG. Even the members of the Constitutional
Council, who were entrusted the task of nominating the next AG, were
divided on the matter!
Before its meeting on Wednesday, the Constitutional Council conveyed
to the President that under the provisions of the 19th Amendment he
should nominate only one name for the post.
Before arriving at a final decision on the nominee for the Attorney
General’s post, the President had discussions with a wide range of
groups to obtain their views on the matter. It was clear that many
groups, including activists advocating good governance, were not in
favour of Suhada Gamlath’s appointment as the Attorney General.
Interestingly, the Acting Attorney General, the most senior candidate
in the race, was the hot favourite of the UPFA dissident group. In fact,
addressing a press conference in Colombo Udaya Gammanpila said that
Gamlath should be appointed as the new AG in accordance with standard
procedure. Gammanpila’s statement made it clear that Gamlath’s
appointment as the AG was the Rajapaksa camp’s preferred outcome.
Finally, the President decided to nominate only Jayasuriya’s name for
the AG’s position and it was unanimously approved by the Constitutional
Council, allowing the vastly experienced counsel to take oaths as the
29th Attorney General of Sri Lanka.
Blues wedding blues
Former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa had an
unexpected encounter last week when he met President Maithripala
Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe during a wedding
ceremony at Kingsbury Hotel, Colombo. It was the wedding of Danodhya
Yapa, the daughter of former SLFP General Secretary Minister Anura
Priyadarshana Yapa and the list of invitees was star-studded, ranging
from top political echelons to prominent business and corporate leaders.
Although President Sirisena had to leave the wedding soon due to
another engagement, he spared a moment to have a chat with his erstwhile
colleague Basil Rajapaksa. When asked about his political activities,
Rajapaksa responded saying he was busy with ‘court-related activities’.
The brief discussion between the former Minister and the President also
focused on some social issues such as problems relating to paddy
cultivation, fertiliser shortage and fertiliser subsidy. Prime Minister
Wickremesinghe too was seen greeting the former Minister, leaving aside
their political differences for a moment.
Former President Rajapaksa attended the meeting after a tough morning
at the Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court premises. His son Yoshitha was denied
bail and was further remanded for 14 days. However, when he was at the
wedding, the former President, being the astute politician that he is,
tried to act normal and talked to several politicians of both camps.
When he spoke to SLFP General Secretary Duminda Dissanayake, Rajapaksa,
venting his disappointment, said the country’s politics was taking an
After the former President left the wedding, another important guest
walked into the nicely decorated hall. She was none other than former
President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Although three presidents
of the country graced the gala wedding, they could not be seen at the
same time, speaking volumes of the plight faced by the blue camp!