JVP claims it has Weerawansa confessions
- Party leadership lashes out at Wimal's group as it moves to form new front
- Charges and counter-charges as main parties run neck-and-neck in East
At least for members of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), all roads led to the Town Hall grounds in Colombo last Thursday. A big turnout made theirs the largest attended May Day rally.
That apart, fears that a section of the party would yet take a different road from the majority in their party's political journey became clear on May Day. It is now certain that the breakaway faction led by their parliamentary group leader, Wimal Weerawansa, backed by eleven other MPs, would form a "Patriotic National Front." The latest addition is Nandana Gunatileke, the first JVP presidential candidate and first MP to leave the party.
Not even a friendly cricket encounter between old pupils of Tissa Madya Maha Vidyalaya and Kalutara Vidyalaya, where the JVP protagonists were playing could settle the political dispute.
Weerawansa had arrived when rivals Kalutara Vidyalaya were to bowl just two more overs to complete the game. He quickly donned pads and went to bat. Trying to go for a big hit, he was out for a duck. An Amerasinghe loyalist was to remark "that is what will happen to him with the new front. All the guards to save him from bodyline bowling will not be enough. He will be out for a duck again." But Weerawansa's side defended him saying he had arrived late and had to face just two overs. Amerasinghe bowled a few overs of spin and returned admirable figures. Thereafter, he received a telephone call and had to leave.
Weerawansa, now protected by a crack team of Army commandos assigned by the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government, chaired a meeting of the dissident group on Thursday. Also taking part was Nandana Gunatilleke. This was whilst his erstwhile colleagues including the party regular members gathered for May Day.
|JVP leader Somawansa Amerasinghe (right) and General Secretary Tilvin Silva at the party's May Day rally at Town Hall, Colombo.
Weerawansa had issued an ultimatum early in the week calling upon the JVP leadership to resolve his issue before May Day or face the consequences. A non-compliance was to include a warning that he would form his own political front.
This is exactly what Weerawansa and his colleagues decided on Thursday. Now, supported by some lawyers and professionals, a new constitution for the new front is being formulated. Notice is to be given to the Commissioner of Elections immediately after the Eastern Provincial Council elections are concluded on May 10. Once this is done, the front will hold its first public rally in Colombo to spell out its strategy. Though Weerawansa keeps insisting that he has no truck with the Rajapaksa Government and claims both supporters of the ruling party and even opposition United National Party (UNP) would join, the move appears to be clearly a transparent ploy.
At a time when any parliamentarian or political party leader, who is not well disposed towards the Government, has his security withdrawn without any warning, Weerawansa has found that his Ministerial Security Division detail has been further supplemented with Army commandos. Unlike during previous Governments, provision of security is not based on threat assessments but rather on how persons concerned are perceived by powerful officials as threats to the Government. So much so, some had to seek the intervention of the Supreme Court to enjoy their right to protection under severe threat to their lives.
Being protected by Army commandos is a privilege not enjoyed even by the Opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe or any of his party colleagues. Senior JVPers accuse Weerawansa of having a close dialogue with both senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa and his brother, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. They also claim that a one-time JVP front liner, Nandana Gunatilleke, is also acting as a conduit with other Government leaders. They allege Gunatilleke was responsible for the exit of the ten other JVP MPs who he had reportedly introduced to politics.
Weerawansa, however, denies he has any secret links with the Government. Now that he and his parliamentary colleagues have decided to form a new front, will the JVP sack him?
"They cannot sack me. We are MPs of the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA)," says Weerawansa taking a technical or legal point rather than a principled political point. " Therefore, officially, they have no right to sack us," Weerawansa told The Sunday Times.
He said that the JVP, after it broke ties with the Government, had told the UPFA in writing that they were not part of the Alliance. "If they are not, how could they sack me or my colleagues," asked Weerawansa, clearly now, distancing himself more and more from the mainstream JVP. He said on Thursday he and his colleagues had discussed the current political situation and decided that there was room for another political force. "We will be the anti imperialist force and not the others who make false claims," he said.
"Weerawansa is still a member of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. Its Central Committee has preferred some charges against him. All he has to do is come before the Committee and explain himself," JVP leader, Somawansa Amerasinghe told The Sunday Times.
"Since we have not expelled him nor taken any action against him so far, it is clear to anyone that he is shying away from facing the Central Committee. We cannot contact him. There is no answer on his telephone. He has shifted residence and we do not know where he is now. Why is he shying away, what is the reason?"
Amerasinghe said it was the JVP Central Committee that has to hear Weerawansa's response to charges. If he is innocent and is confident enough, why is he not facing the charges? Surely, he can answer them, he added. Amerasinghe reiterated that the Central Committee would decide on Weerawansa's fate. He asserted that no one was above the party rules and the party would not allow any member to abuse their position and betray its ideals.
The die is cast for Weerawansa. Party stalwarts not only hit out at him but used strong language to do so. General Secretary Tilvin Silva asked the large May Day crowds "whom do you want as the leader of the JVP. Is it a man called Somawansa Amerasinghe who had built up the party braving all odds or a "hottu kolla." (a phlegmatic boy). The crowds shouted "Amerasinghe sahodaraya."
"We cannot change our party policies according to the needs of some minor members in it. The "hotu kollas" who cry in front of Speaker W.J.M. Lokubandara cannot fight imperialists. Let us see what happens when new parties are created," said Silva. What more stinging could one be at a, seemingly erstwhile, party colleague?
That was not all. Added Member of Parliament Anura Kumara Dissanayake: "Even though President Mahinda Rajapaksa could not expel Mervyn Silva from his party, we in the JVP have shown that we are not afraid to act against any errant member."
Dissanayake called Weerawansa a "pappadam pappa" somewhat to liken him to a papadama, a bloated appetizer with one's plate of rice, but has no real food value in it. He declared such a person will not be given positions within the party. "Our party discipline is enforced from top to bottom without fear or favour. We will not allow anyone to destroy or break up the JVP," he added - all in the absence of Weerawansa, till this year, a terrific crowd-puller on the JVP platform.
Some of the issues in the Weerawansa controversy within the JVP have not fully reached the public domain. Unlike other political parties in Sri Lanka, the JVP is different. Its MPs who receive their salaries must pool it to a central fund with the party. The party then allocates money to MPs for their expenditure. In the case of Weerawansa, the party had rented a house in Battaramulla in Greater Colombo at a cost of Rs. 75,000 a month. Even for import of vehicles, though in the names of respective MPs, the party pays from its funds and allocates the vehicle to the MP.
The Central Committee, among other matters, is the disciplinary authority of the JVP. From time to time, party members, even those in the hierarchy, who are accused of misdemeanours or improper conduct, are called upon to indulge in self-criticism. Such an act has to be carried out in writing, something peculiar to Marxist, almost the Stalinist past.
One party source said that with regard to some of the accusations against Weerawansa, made by the party before the controversy broke out, the JVP parliamentary group leader had in his own handwriting owned up to these accusations. He had then apologised to the Central Committee and through them to the party about the purported wrong-doing on his part. Damning evidence it is, if such self-confessions are in one's own handwriting.
With Weerawansa now deciding to go his way and form a new political front, it would now fall on the Central Committee to decide on the new course of action. The Committee may recommend his sacking from the party not only for his refusal to come before it and answer charges but also because he had chosen to form his own political front. Such a decision would go before the JVP's May 27 annual convention where the entire membership would endorse a Central Committee decision - the final execution of Weerawansa by the party which he said he joined as a young boy sacrificing his youth.
The biggest question remains whether Weerawansa's handwritten self-confessions would be made public on that occasion.
Some senior JVPers are of the view that the entire membership should be apprised of the events that led to Weerawansa's reluctance to appear before the Central Committee. Unless they made the self-confessions public, the public and the party workers will not be convinced of his misdemeanours, they point out.
Weerawansa, still the JVP parliamentary group leader, is accusing two senior party members of causing all the controversy.
According to him, the two members had developed close ties to the UNP. However, the party leadership is dismissing these allegations. They say if indeed there was a nexus with the UNP, or for that matter with any other party, Weerawansa should have done the proper thing by raising issue at the Central Committee.
Notwithstanding the crisis within the JVP, next Saturday's Eastern Provincial Council election was still the focal point in political circles. UNP Leader Wickremesinghe was forced to trek the journey to the East through Habarana by road as the Rajapaksa administration which first promised, and then went back on its promise to provide the Opposition Leader with a helicopter to make the journey.
The UNP released photographs of Wickremesinghe with his car on a ferry at the Kinniya crossing, and this marked in sharp contrast especially when the Non-Cabinet Labour Minister Mervyn Silva supervising the Government's May Day arrangements was involved in a car accident close to Dehiyattakandiya, the venue for the rally, and was provided with a helicopter to be brought down to Colombo for a fracture of his toe. This did not show the Government in good light, but it does not seem to care what light it is shown in as long as it cripples the opposition campaign any which way it can.
In Colombo yesterday, UNP lawyers headed by Daya Pelpola went to see Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake and raised several issues ranging from the activities of the armed pro-Government Pillayan Group to abuse of State power at the campaign.
They named two persons - Ajith and Shantha - as persons heading hit-squads on behalf of the Pillayan Group in the Batticaloa District, and said that there were 17 camps belonging to Pillayan's TMVP (Tamil Makkal Vidithulai Pulikal) operating in the district.
The Elections Commissioner said he would give directives to the Police to see that cadres in these camps were disarmed, as much as he promised to write to Secretaries of Ministries saying that the use of vehicles belonging to the Government for election work was illegal.
Commissioner Dassanayake also said he would once again write - this time give a directive - the state run Rupavahini and SLBC not to run exclusively pro-Government interviews and programmes.
He said he was aware of the problem of temporary Identity Cards that have been issued by the Government, and the possibility of these cards being misused, but UNP questioning on the reasons why a DIG had been sent on transfer and an SSP detailed to look after his work, and the reason for amalgamating Polling Booth Nos. 62 and 63 with 61 remained unresolved, with the Commissioner saying he would ask the Education Ministry to send the Principal of a school on leave for the duration of the election period because he was a relative of Pillayan.
The Commissioner had argued that Booths Nos 62 and 63 were to be closed because they were close to the offices of two Tamil-based political parties.
Dissanayake said that he would ask the Police chief to see that some new recruits to the Police, apparently on the recommendations of Pillayan, would not be recruited before the elections, and would not be deployed on election duty. He said he would also look into the possible delays in clearing voters from some 200 static guard points in the District where Pillayan cadres are reportedly 'assisting' the Police and Army. The Opposition fears that voters would be delayed and thereby deterred from voting on May 10.
The Elections Commissioner denied allegations that some 20 persons recommended by the Government had been detailed for election duty. Dissanayake told the UNP delegation that all the election officers were hand-picked by him, and that he had the fullest confidence in them in ensuring a free and fair election.
If the candidates and their supporters were busy campaigning in the three districts --- Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara -- UNP Leader Wickremesinghe met heads of the diplomatic community in Colombo.
He apprised them of the obstacles placed before the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the United National Party (UNP). He said the Batticaloa Municipal Council had denied the use of a ground in the town area for the UNP to hold an election rally. Candidates of the two parties were being intimidated and harassed by supporters of the TMVP led by Pillayan. US Ambassador Robert Blake had a meeting earlier on Friday. Thereafter envoys of the European Union were among those who spoke with Wickremesinghe.
On Thursday, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appeared himself at the Government's May Day rally at Dehiyattakandiya and suggested that a UNP victory would mean an LTTE victory. He expects to win the Sinhala vote in the East with the anti-LTTE theme, the Tamil vote from Pillayan and at least some portion of the Muslim vote in his quest for political victory in the province. While he must compete, partly with the JVP for the Sinhala vote, the UNP for the Tamil vote and the Muslim Congress (SLMC) for the Muslim vote makes the election - on the face of it -- seemingly evenly contested.
The unseen but not unexpected factor is the violence that will be unleashed to destabilise the poll. If the Rajapaksa administration can win the polls in a clean contest, it will mean everything to the President and his Government. A victory under a cloud would mean a pyrrhic victory. A defeat in free and fair poll, would still mean a victory for the Government, but would it opt for such niceties which mean little in today's politics, remains to be seen.