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Sunday, 14 February 2016





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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 Speaker.

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 his decision.

“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 UPFA.

“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 Parliament sits.

“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 Wijesekera.

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 legislative bodies.

Death threat

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 the House.

“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 Parliamentary democracy.

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 Department (FCID).

“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 political movement.

“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 retirement.

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, said erroneously.

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 decision.

The Central Committee then decided to delegate full authority to the disciplinary committee of the party to take disciplinary action against such members.

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 officially formed.

AG battle

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, this year.

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 “ugly turn”.

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!


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