wants to address Mahinda rallies
By Our Political Editor
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse has been inviting various groups
during the past few week to Temple Trees as he has stepped up
his canvassing for the presidential elections. This week he
met Three-wheel drivers. In the picture the three wheel drivers
are seen serving themselves lunch offered to them. Pix by Ishara
New York where the political glitterati from the world over gather
every year, the mood appears to have changed again for President
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and her brother, Foreign Minister
telephoned Colombo and asked one of her aides to speak to Prime
Minister Mahinda Rajapakse's staff and slot in seven public rallies
for her countrywide. That is to campaign so as to make Rajapakse
the fifth Executive President of Sri Lanka. There was no word about
a hurried dissolution of Parliament, summoning the Government Parliamentary
Group or the Central Committee of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)
to force Rajapakse to abandon his deals with the Janatha Vimukthi
Peramuna (JVP) and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). Nor were there
more verbal blasts at Rajapakse.
that came when sister and brother met in New York, ahead of the
World Leaders' Summit and the inauguration of the UN General Assembly
sessions. At the time, the brother made the New York Declaration
where he said "After extensive discussions with H.E. the President,
I have agreed with her proposal that the Sri Lanka Freedom Party
should closely examine the recent agreements entered into by Mr.
Rajapakse with some parties and groups. If it does accept the interest
of our party and its people and if the Sri Lanka Freedom Party so
decides, I will extend my full support and campaign for Mr. Rajapakse
on my return."
the sister-brother talks in New York, Kumaratunga set off for San
Francisco. Reports from that part of the world said that she travelled
to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. But she returned to Washington
D.C. to address a meeting of the Global Consortium on Tsunami Recovery.
It was chaired by former US President Bill Clinton, who is UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan's special envoy for tsunami recovery. She was
due in Japan, and later in Thailand before returning to Sri Lanka
late on Tuesday or Wednesday. With only a few days stay in Colombo,
she is due to go to France next.
New York, brother Anura went in a different direction. He set out
on a visit to Washington D.C. Thereafter, he was off to his favourite
haunt, Los Angeles where he is known to make his annual, sometimes
bi-annual pilgrimage for rest, recreation and recuperation. This
time, SLFP insiders say, he will not return to Colombo until after
October 7, nomination day. SLFP seniors who are aware of his regular
sojourns in Los Angeles do not grudge his absence. As one office-bearer
of the party said, it’s better he is out than being here and
plunging himself and the party, from one embarassing controversy
to another. But there is a difference in his absence this time -
Sri Lanka's Foreign and Tourism Minister is living abroad as a tourist.
in New York, the shock that she is in the twilight of her career
has continued to haunt Kumaratunga. She had hoped for another year
to notch up a 12 year period as President but the Supreme Court's
land- mark ruling put paid to it. During her official visit to China,
she sat down for an informal meal with some of her State media heads,
the only people in the fourth estate she is comfortable with. During
the visit to New York, she ducked several media engagements with
leading US media.
prompted Sri Lankans in New York to remark that she felt the US
media was also "loyal to Ranil Wickremesinghe." They were
alluding to remarks she made after the 54th anniversary of the SLFP
in Colombo that all the private media were loyal to the UNP and
This was after they reported that Kumaratunga has paid tribute to
Wickremesinghe at this event which also coincided with the launch
of Rajapakse as presidential candidate.
with Hudson Samarasinghe (SLBC), Newton Gunaratne (ITN) and Janadasa
Peiris (Lake House) at the Diayutai State Guest House in Beijing,
Kumaratunga lamented about her sudden exit from Presidency. She
said she could not cut an onion, drive a vehicle (after her eye
injury) or did not even have a house to move over. "How can
I face this all of a sudden?" she asked.
in Colombo, the lament continued. It was with the Southern Province
Governor Kingsley Wickremaratne. She had begun colour washing the
Janadipathi Mandiraya only the week the Supreme Court ruling came.
The colours had been personally chosen by her. Even that work was
not over. She had obtained a detailed inventory of all the items
that were in the Janadipathi Mandiraya that belonged to the State.
She had even obtained a video film of it. "All I have to do
is give that file to my successor," she told Wickremaratne.
The Southern Province Governor had other thoughts. "Why don't
we make this place a museum? A future President can move over to
another place," he suggested. But that did not receive any
response from Kumaratunga. Imagine her as caretaker of a - museum.
in New York, where she met SLFP sympathisers among the Sri Lankan
community, it was the same story. Many wanted unity between her
and Prime Minister Rajapakse. She assured he would receive her full
support. But she had left Colombo after firing off a strongly-worded
letter to Rajapakse as revealed in these columns last week. It was
then reported that Harim Peiris, the "unofficial envoy"
for Tiger guerrilla affairs and Presidential Spokesman was at the
meeting where this letter was formulated. It is now known that he
was abroad. He had read this column whilst being abroad and asked
an official to intimate this to The Sunday Times.
waiting nervously and with trepidation for that Kumaratunga support
to arrive, Rajapakse was still puzzled about the role of Ceylon
Workers Congress (CWC). Kumaratunga had taken its leader Arumugam
Thondaman as part of her UN delegation. Like Kumaratunga, brother
Anura, now comrade-in-politics, Arumugam was also shooting off a
missive from New York.
were newspaper accounts that Thondaman would support a Presidential
candidate who backed the P-TOMS (Post-Tsunami Operational Management
Structure) and the ISGA (Interim Self Governing Authority) demanded
by the LTTE. Worried Rajapakse aides went to work to find out what
concerns have been raised by a previous development. Weeks before
he signed an agreement with the JVP, Rajapakse has had informal
soundings from the CWC. For their support for his candidature they
had placed some five demands. That had included matters relating
to Cabinet portfolios, assurances over certain Police matters etc.
But this time, Thondaman was insisting on the P-TOMS though reports
that he called for support for the ISGA have turned out to be incorrect.
Rajapakse aides learnt that his demand for acceptance of P-TOMS
came after talks with Kumaratunga in New York, where he was given
red carpet treatment. According to one source, Kumaratunga acknowledged
there was nothing wrong in Thondaman placing demands that were in
the best interests of the people he represented.
has made clear his intention to go ahead if the CWC continues to
insist on its demands. "I will face it on my own if they are
not reasonable”, he told a member of his campaign staff.
also tried to fire a strong shot at the JVP from New York. A Tamil
newspaper, at the butt end of JVP criticism for its reportedly close
ties with the LTTE, had run a story that a JVP leader had been behind
the plot that led to the killing of Vijaya Kumaratunga, President
loyal propaganda man Eric Fernando, who had been leaking more stories
in the past weeks than issuing press releases, telephoned the Tamil
newspaper in question in Colombo from New York. He wanted more details
and made no secret that Kumaratunga was very interested in the matter.
Fernando said she wanted to pursue it further. It turned out that
it was SLBC Chairman Hudson Samarasinghe who had informed Kumaratunga
in New York about this news report.
next moment, Lake House media was called upon to expose details
of this "sinister plot" and the men behind it. But the
matter went before a Committee headed by Minister Anura Priyadarshana
Yapa, a one time media minister and now Minister of Plantation Industries
that was tasked to oversee propaganda matters relating to the Presidential
campaign. They decided the story should not be run, for it would
damage Prime Minister Rajapakse's association with the JVP to win
the upcoming Presidential Elections.
a party stalwart ordered that the story be used at least in the
SLFP's official newspaper, Dinakara. But the staff there held the
same view - they would be shooting themselves in the foot if the
story ran. Rajapakse would be the loser. That put paid to Kumaratunga's
latest salvo to drive a wedge between Rajapakse and the JVP.
had other problems too. Though the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) signed
a deal with him, none of their representatives were present at the
first official rally at the Town Hall. JHU representatives met Rajapakse's
staff to discuss the issue. They said from the very next rally their
representatives will be on the platform.
there was another thorny issue that Rajapakse faced from the JHU
- the Anti-Conversions Bill. Rajapakse had been told that agreeing
to the JHU insistence that the Bill be passed in Parliament would
only alienate Christian, more particularly, Catholic votes. JHU
leaders who spoke to Rajapakse pointed out that their 12-point agreement
made no reference to this Bill and Rajapakse should not entertain
any fears. To further assure him, JHU representatives pointed out
that they were due to meet the Archbishop of Colombo to assure him
that the JHU had no quarrel with the Catholics.
during the party leaders' meeting in Parliament, however, JHU leaders
have been pushing vigorously for the passage of the Anti-Conversion
Bill. During the latest meeting, it was found that the Bill should
have been referred to Select Committee B in Parliament but its Chairman
Deputy Speaker Geetanjana Gunawardena of the pro-Sinhala nationalist
MEP was not in favour of heading it. Many other names were suggested.
That included Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and Opposition Leader
Ranil Wickremesinghe but they all declined pronto. In desperation,
the name of M. Sachchithanandan of the CWC was then suggested, on
the basis that the anti-conversion laws were a demand of the country's
Hindus as well.
Some SLFP insiders felt that the in-fighting in the JHU was continuing
unabated. So much so, one faction had insisted they should abrogate
their agreement with Rajapakse if he at any time reneged on the
12 points he had agreed upon.
a controversial politico known for his many antics, but a staunch
if raunchy supporter of Kumaratunga also caused some ripples. The
loquacious man had found a new girlfriend, a one time beauty queen
who bore the name of a mythical Indian queen. During the 54th anniversary
public rally of the SLFP at the former Race Course, this politico
had taken this girlfriend of his and introduced her to Kumaratunga.
But there was a snub when he presented her to Anura Bandaranaike
man took the bold step of asking the Foreign and Tourism Minister
"Sir, Meyata Kiss Ekak Deela Pili Ganna. Mey magey girl friend
(Sir, Give her a kiss and greet her. She is my girl friend). He
told him to take her and get out. Meanshile this politico, his girlfriend
and her mother had gone to India when Rajapakse held his first public
rally. The politico responsible for Colombo, some say, ducked the
meeting and wanted to be away. On the other hand, it seems, Rajapakse
does not want him anywhere close by either.
has, meanwhile, mended fences with the SLFP organisations in the
Gampaha district. Representatives of these organisations are due
at Temple Trees today for a meeting, said to be taking place with
the concurrence albeit absence of, Anura Bandaranaike. Also backing
the patch-up move was Lasantha Alagiyawanna, the Kumaratunga confidant
who nurses the Mahara electorate in the Gampaha district.
a meeting with Rajapakse this week, Alagiyawanna asked him to give
Kumaratunga a telephone call to New York. He has so far not heeded
the advice. He has not spoken to her after the tough letter she
sent before departing to New York. Nor did he reply the letter.
Kumaratunga will be back next week and now wants to campaign for
Rajapakse. Who will speak to whom first? Your guess is as good as