SLFP leadership ponders disciplinary sanctions
against MR, supporting MPs:
UPFA rebel rally challenges Sirisena leadership
political parties use ‘protest’ rallies as a powerful tool to achieve
short and long-term goals when they are in the opposition. Ever since
the formation of organised political parties in Sri Lanka, protests have
been a part and parcel of the country’s political culture. Some
protests, in fact, influenced important developments in the country’s
political domain over the past 70 years.
The United National Party, which came to power last year after a
20-year hiatus, made an unorthodox move last week when it decided to
stage a protest in Colombo against what it termed as the “conspirators
of the opposition”. It was one of the rare occasions when the ruling
party took to the streets against the opposition saying the latter was
sabotaging the government’s constructive moves towards achieving
The protest was organised by young Ministers and MPs of the UNP
including Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Harin Fernando, Ranjan Ramanayaka,
Harshana Rajakaruna and Kavinda Jayawardena. Party seniors, including
Ministers Lakshman Kiriella and Sajith Premadasa, extended their support
to their young colleagues when it came to organisation of the
A large number of UNP supporters attended the protest and there was a
heavy traffic blockage in and around Town Hall on Tuesday evening as a
result of the demonstration. Even Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
had to take a 30-minute walk under the scorching sun to listen to the
speeches of the young MPs who organised the protest.
The Prime Minister, however, decided to stay away from the limelight
as he wanted the young MPs to take the full credit for organising the
Another highlight of the UNP’s protest was the participation of
former Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka who was appointed to
Parliament recently from the UNP national list. The organisers invited
Fonseka to address the gathering and the former Army Commander launched
a scathing attack on the previous government, repeating some remarks he
made during his first speech in Parliament two weeks ago.
The main objective behind the UNP’s protest was to spoil the UPFA
rebels’ protest which came two days later. The UNP also wanted to
demonstrate the fact that even seven months after the Parliamentary
election, it wielded significant support among grassroots level voters,
despite the opposition’s claims that the ruling party had lost support
in the villages.
It was against this backdrop that the UPFA rebel group held its
planned protest rally in Colombo on Thursday based on five main demands.
The protest, however, widened the feud between the traditional SLFP
supporting President Maithripala Sirisena and the rebel group supporting
former President Rajapaksa.
The day before the rebel group’s rally, the SLFP leadership held a
press conference in Colombo with the aim of castigating the rebel
initiative. The press briefing was held also to mark new UPFA General
Secretary Minister Mahinda Amaraweera’s assumption of duties. Amaraweera,
a politician hailing from the backyard of the Rajapaksa family in the
Ruhuna, became a staunch supporter of President Sirisena after the
Presidential election early last year.
In addition to Amaraweera, the press conference was also addressed by
Minister Susil Premajayantha, a former General Secretary of the UPFA who
was removed from his post two days before the last Parliamentary
After the Parliamentary election, however, Premajayantha switched his
allegiance and joined the national unity government, led by President
Sirisena, happily accepting a ministerial portfolio.
In an obvious attack against pro-Rajapaksa members of the group,
which calls itself the ‘joint opposition’, Premajayantha said certain
elements were making various remarks about the last Parliamentary
election, without knowing what he termed as the “bottom-line”.
“If I were to correct them, they will end up in difficulties. So,
they should refrain from making comments on matters they have no idea
about,” the Minister added.
“Had the SLFP not contested as one party under the betel leaf symbol,
we would not have secured 95 seats at the election. Only Anura Yapa
(former SLFP General Secretary) and I know the reality behind the
development in the run-up to the last Parliamentary election,”
Premajayantha explained. What he meant was the new protectors of the
former President, who have now formed the ‘joint opposition’, had no
idea about the back-room machinations to give Rajapaksa nomination to
contest on the UPFA ticket at the Parliamentary election.
Another highlight of the event was the presence of MP Manusha
Nanayakkara at the press conference. It was no secret that Nanayakkara
was an open supporter of Rajapaksa before the last Parliamentary
election and he even functioned as the media spokesman of the pro-Rajapaksa
group. After the election however, there were was speculation that
Nanayakkara was preparing to do a somersault by switching to President
Sirisena’s side, accepting a deputy ministerial portfolio.
Nanayakkara’s move this week indicated that he had already switched
to the President’s camp even without any official portfolio in the
national unity government. It was, in other words, an indirect slap in
the face of the ‘joint opposition’ two days before their rally in
While the SLFP waged its propaganda war against the UPFA rebels’
rally, Rajapaksa supporters too held a press conference in Colombo on
the same day to create some ‘media hype’ about the rally. At the
briefing, MP Mahindananda Aluthgamage, a staunch supporter of Rajapaksa,
confirmed the former President’s participation in the rally. He said in
addition to Rajapaksa, a group of MPs from the SLFP would also take part
in the rally, defying instructions given by the party Central Committee.
Shortly before the UPFA dissidents rally in Colombo, the pro-Rajapaksa
camp had to face another unexpected blow as a result of a press
communiqué circulated among some sections of media.
The press communiqué, which had the signature of former President
Rajapaksa, said the former President would not take part in the Hyde
Park rally in line with the Central Committee’s decision. Some news
websites even went on to publish it, assuming the former President had
changed his mind at the last moment as a result of the pressure exerted
by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
However, it was later revealed that the press communiqué bearing the
former President’s signature was a fabricated one and Rajapaksa would
attend the dissidents’ rally. But, the ‘joint opposition’ group however
could not figure out as to who was behind the false press release. The
large majority of them assumed that the anti-Rajapaksa group within the
Sri Lanka Freedom Party had masterminded the false communiqué.
The protest rally held at Hyde Park, a small ground in the capital
city, was not a disappointment for the UPFA rebels. They purposely chose
‘Hyde Park’ as the small size of the ground would exaggerate the number
of supporters present at the rally. However, there was a significant
crowd presence at the rally and the organisers had taken measures to
arrange buses and other facilities for their supporters to attend the
Mahindananda Aluthgamage and Rohitha Abeygunawardena were the main
organisers of the rally while Dullas Alahapperuma handled media and
publicity. Wimal Weerawansa was entrusted with the task of preparing the
stage and decorating it.
Over 30 MPs of the SLFP attended the rally, defying the party’s
Central Committee order. Among the MPs of the SLFP and UPFA who attended
the rally were Mahinda Rajapaksa, Chamal Rajapaksa, Janaka Bandara
Tennakoon, Kumara Welgama, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Rohitha
Abeygunawardana, Bandula Gunawardana, Gamini Lokuge, Mahindananda
Aluthgamage, Namal Rajapaksa, C.B. Ratnayaka, Dullas Alahapperuma,
Keheliya Rambukwella, Salinda Dissanayaka, Sisira Jayakody, Indika
Anuradha, Mohan Silva, P.D.Rathnayaka, Sanath Nishantha, Kanchana
Wijeysekara, Sriyani Wijayawickrama, S.M.Chandrasena, Shehan Semasingha,
Yohan Semasingha, Vimalaweera Dissanayaka, H.A. Muthukumarana,
Weerakumara Dissanayaka, Piyal Nishantha, Jayantha Samaraweera, Kanaka
Herath, Tharaka Balasuriya, Niroshan Premarathna, Udaya Shantha
Gunasekara, Ranjith Soyza, Dinesh Gunawardana, Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya
Gammampila, Vasudeva Nanayakkara.
In addition to the MPs, LSSP Leader Tissa Vitarana, Communist Party’s
Raja Collure and former JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasingha also attended
This was the first time the former JVP leader, who was at one point a
vociferous critic of Rajapaksa, shared the same stage with the former
A few weeks after the last Presidential election, Amarasinghe even
staged a one-man protest at the Independence Square demanding a probe
into the alleged election night coup. He also said the JVP was
pussyfooting on allegations against the former first family.
However, 12 months down the line, the same Amarasinghe has now ended
up in the pro-Rajapaksa camp, taking a 180-degree turn in the twilight
of his long political career.
Rajapaksa’s speech at the Hyde Park rally was not very different from
his last speech in the run up to the last Parliamentary election.
The slogans, the tenor and the rhetoric were the same. His speech was
full of claims that very much sounded like election promises. It was a
clear indication that Rajapaksa, a politician who has been in the
business for over four decades, was still struggling to ‘re-invent’
himself in the post-election period.
It is important to examine as to why the UPFA rebel group, led by
Rajapaksa, opted to show their muscle power at this juncture. It is
common knowledge that several members of the former first family are now
in hot water in connection with several high profile investigations.
Probably the former President wanted to send a signal to the
government that taking action against his family members could cause
troubles for the government in villages.
He also wanted to send a message to the SLFP that he could cause a
serious division in the party in the event the party failed to recognise
him where the next Local Government election is concerned.
After the protest, the former President invited all MPs who attended
the rally for a dinner party at his Mirihana residence. The invitation
for the spontaneous dinner party was made on the stage and it elicited a
highly positive response from the MP group supporting Rajapaksa. The MPs
were seen partying late into the night and some left the former
President’s residence in the wee hours of Friday.
It is interesting to see whether the SLFP would take action against
those MPs who defied the ban on rally participation by the Central
Committee, the supreme decision making body of the party.
It is now reported that there are two schools of thought among
seniors of the SLFP on taking disciplinary action against the MPs who
took part in the protest.
One group says taking disciplinary action against who defied the
Central Committee order would further deteriorate the party’s strength.
They opine that the party is already dealing with a serious internal
power struggle and the Central Committee should refrain from taking
action that would widen divisions in the party.
However, the other group is of the belief that the party should take
stern action against those who violated party discipline, irrespective
of their positions in the party.
They stress that the same law should be applied to former President
Rajapaksa, although he is a former Chairman and a Patron of the SLFP.
“It is true that there are various viewpoints on the matter. However,
the Central Committee has the final authority to make a decision on
taking disciplinary action against them.
The majority of Central Committee members believe that the party
discipline should not be violated at any cost. Even the General
Secretary of the party shares the same view,” a senior SLFP
Parliamentarian told the Sunday Observer on Friday, explaining the
party’s position on the matter.
Another key challenge for the government last week was the
island-wide power outage on Sunday evening – the worst blackout in 20
years. Even after the eight-hour power cut on Sunday, there were
intermittent outages until Thursday as the Norochcholai coal power plant
was not fully functional.
The controversy surrounding the Sunday evening blackout earned a lot
of negative publicity for the government, especially the Power and
Energy Ministry and the Ceylon Electricity Board.
CEB Chairman Anura Wijepala, not surprisingly, was at the receiving
end of many outraged comments especially on social media platforms.
Wijepala, an electrical engineer from the University of Moratuwa, has
vast experience in the field and is known as a professional with high
professional integrity. Soon after the islandwide power outage was
reported, he contacted Ministry Secretary Dr. B.M.S. Batagoda and
informed that he was resigning.
Batagoda advised the CEB Chairman not to take any drastic decision
and to remain patient. However, the CEB Chairman said he would
nevertheless send his letter of resignation when the power supply is
fully restored. He said he was ashamed to function as the CEB Chairman
as there were three blackouts within a period of six weeks.
However, the Minister and the Ministry Secretary took a collective
decision not to accept Wijepala’s resignation. Instead of accepting the
resignation, they urged the CEB Chairman to remain in the position and
assist the government in investigations into the power outage.
Meanwhile, the government launched multiple probes in the power
outage and even the CID was instructed to inquire into the reasons
leading to the incident.
Speculation was rife that the blackout might have been an act of
sabotage as it was the third island-wide power outage in six months.
This idea was brought to the Prime Minister’s office by a group of
young UNP MPs who met him at the Temple Trees after Tuesday’s protest.
They said there was a ‘mafia’ disrupting day-to-day affairs in the
country in a bid to make the government unpopular. They also linked this
incident to the protest launched by the Government Medical Officers
Association (GMOA) against the proposed ETCA agreement with India.
The Prime Minister, after taking these concerns into consideration,
directed that a special committee be appointed to probe the outages and
prepare a comprehensive report. At the same time, Power and Energy
Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya also initiated a separate inquiry in a
bid to ascertain the reason behind the outage.
The Ministry Secretary, on Monday, also wrote a letter to the
President requesting his immediate intervention to resolve a multitude
of issues crippling the power sector.
“We are still short of 300 megawatts on the national grid.
Norochcholai has faulted and we are presently not using our hydro power
due to the water shortage,” he said in his request.
Moving a step further, President Sirisena directed that the Army be
deployed to provide security at all CEB installations connected to the
The move was aimed at preventing any party with vested interests from
sabotaging the power plants.
The President also appointed a ministerial committee to inquire into
the matter and present its recommendations within three months.
The Committee consists of Power and Renewable Energy Minister Ranjith
Siyambalapitiya, Ministers Susil Premajayantha, Patali Champika Ranawaka
and Sagala Ratnayaka, Deputy Ministers Eran Wickramaratne and Ajith P.
The inquiries into the blackout have now revealed various
administrative lapses on the part of the CEB.
One inquiry had revealed that the General Manager of the Ceylon
Electricity Board had apparently turned down a request made by the
Biyagama CEB installation’s chief engineer to replace the transformer at
the plant. It has now been established that an issue with the
transformer at the Biyagama installation was the main reason for the
blackout. The request, according to authoritative CEB sources, had been
made a year ago.
The documents pertaining to the request have already been handed over
to President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, they further
Another aspect that is being probed is the pace at which the relevant
authorities took action for damage-control after the breakdown at the
The report of the ministerial sub-committee will be handed over to
the President on Tuesday and it will contain a comprehensive analysis of
circumstances leading to the power outage.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister held discussions with senior
authorities of the Power and Energy sector and instructed them to take
immediate action to restore power supply.
The Prime Minister stressed that the public-at large should not be
burdened for the shortcomings on the CEB’s part. “Therefore”, he said,
“power cuts should not be considered a solution to this problem.
The Norochcholai power plant was brought back to normalcy on Thursday
and the CEB announced that there would be no power-cuts from Friday.
However, on Friday morning, an unexpected development that occurred at a
power station at Ja-ela sent ripples across the CEB’s top management. A
sudden fire followed by an explosion at the Kotugoda Sub Station of the
Ceylon Electricity Board resulted in a power cut in a number of areas in
Ja-ela and Kotugoda.
The incident occurred several hours after the Power and Energy
Minister’s announcement that there would not be any power cuts as power
generation by the Norochcholai power plant had resumed. Therefore, there
were obvious fears that the minor explosion and the subsequent fire
could have been an act of sabotage.
According to a CEB official, the blast caused a fire at the
substation around 4.30 p.m. affecting power supply in a number of areas
in Ja-Ela and Kotugoda. The operation of turbines at Norochcholai power
plant Stage I was delayed as a precautionary measure to avert a possible
black-out throughout the country.He said the blast did not have any
impact on the national grid.
However, the government sought an immediate report from the
Government analyst pertaining to the incident. Deputy Power and Energy
Minister Ajith P Perera, CEB Chairman Anura Wijepala and senior
officials rushed to the scene minutes after the blast to inquire into
Such developments however have compelled the government to keep a
close eye on the power and energy sector – a key element in the
country’s economy – as many believe there is an under-the-radar mafia
crippling daily affairs in this sector.