10th January 1999
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Our Lobby Correspondent
A new year heralds fresh hopes of better-behaved legislators and maintenance of higher parliamentary standards. Despite hope springing eternal in the human breast, each year we are condemned to get repeatedly disillusioned with members engaging in verbal wars with more zeal than parties to the separatist war- too busy scoring petty points to fulfil their oft -repeated yet forgotten pledges.
When members trooped in on Thursday to wage a verbal battle over the extension of emergency, (the solitary sitting scheduled for the 'electioneering month), focus fell predictably on the Wayamba polls and hence the militant mood thrived. What a start for 1999 commented wags as four Parliamentarians also raised matters of privilege against three Lake House publications, immediately dampening the spirit.
The opening innings was played by UNP's irrepressible Chief Whip W.J.M. Lokubandara who ushered in a bit of Greek mythology into the House.
"God Janus, in whose honour the first month of the year was named after had two visages to view the past and the future, and naturally all aspects in life were covered. I think Janus meant to educate the PA ranks," noted he with ill- concealed mischief.
Openly scoffing the governing party, he sniped that having failed in all election postponing antics, the PA was grudgingly holding the NWP polls, with levels of violence assuming gigantic proportions, immediately drawing a few stinging comments from PA ranks.
Undeterred, he chose to lambast Minister Ashraff in a blaze of fury- for alleged destruction of an archaeologically and religiously important temple building in Digavapi.
The same Minister was recently crowned as the unofficial king of Akkaraipattu with regalia and a 'koskola crown' he accused.
Fez adorned MP U.L.M. Mohideen was soon defending his party leadership, who in his opinion was the only person who strived to protect the Buddhist heritage in Digavapi and spend enormous funds to restore it to its pristine glory.
Soon, the debate focused on Wayamba proper and spearheading the campaign was irate UNPer A.H. M. Azwer. Firing a barrage of questions on 'PA goondas going on a violence spree in Wayamba', he enthusiastically charged PA members of instigating violence and destroying campaigns of opposition parties.
"The abuse of power and misuse of government property has never risen to such levels. In addition to the vehicles sans number plates, there were Ministry vehicles specially transporting posters from Colombo and assisting certain candidates with their campaigns," charged he enthusiastically, making dramatic statements regarding recent violence.
Turning the tables on the UNP was pint-sized deputy minister Athauda Seneviratne who said the word 'violence' was given new meaning by the UNP during its reign of terror which the people have not forgotten.
"Go to the villages and you will know what public wrath means.
"Those were the days of summary executions of hated people, abductions and killings, stoning of houses of judges and the like.
"What you experience today are minor incidents caused by individuals and not of government sponsored thuggery."
Forwarding the argument that if the government didn't endorse thuggery, there should have been prompt probes was UNP backbencher J.C. Alawathuwawala, whose Ridigama office was attacked last week.
" I have never indulged in violent politics and have always conducted my political life in a non-obstructionist manner. I have appealed to the IGP and sought an inquiry, but all my complaints have fallen on deaf ears. Pradeshiya sabha chairmen have turned thugs and are instilling fear in the minds of people. Weapon wielding thugs are calling the shots", said the young MP in utter disgust.
Speaking on a similar note was UNP's Nuwara Eliya member Renuka Herath who threw back the charge that despite PA's self congratulatory speeches, history proved mass political victimization by the SLFP.
True to the tradition of trading insults than turning the search light inwards, Yapahuwa PA member T.B.Ekanayake was next giving the UNP the taste of its own medicine- hurling accusations.
" The selection of the UNP 's chief ministerial candidate comes as no surprise from a government which survived due to its alliance with the underworld.Intimidation was a way of life for UNPers," charged the young turk, his voice hoarse with emotion.
"The amnesic UNP has forgotten how their own membership was threatened. Ronnie de Mel fled the country.Incalculable damage was caused to life and property and we of the PA lived in perpetual fear expecting the worst any moment", he said, expressing hope that a grateful public would mark their preference for the PA again.
Expressing shock and dismay over the conduct of MP s in a House gone wild was PA's D.M. Seneviratne.
The elderly member in a reflective mood glossed over the causes of the present breakdown in law and order, and observed a certain pattern in escalating violence.
" It was no less a person than Dudley Senanayake who deprived graduates of employment, and the system collapsed totally due to domineering inhumanity of the 'dharmishta rule' of a tyrant. We are culling what they sowed and the damnable heritage has destroyed the political firmament of this once blessed land," he noted.
Comparing the UNP and PA as equal evil forces was SLPF's Nihal Galappatty who returned to the House after a lengthy self- imposed absence. And he was convinced that if the UNP's sins were unpardonable, PA's were unforgivable, which left this country with no option but to elect a third force.
Challenging both political parties, which had ruled the country for half a century, he thundered that over 200 government vehicles were used for electioneering. UNP and PA waging war against each other was the norm, but caught in between,was the SLPF members who were crushed by two sets of thugs, said he.
Following suit was Minister Mangala Samaraweera's trusted lieutenant Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, who gleefully threw a few punches at the UNP.
"I am touched by all the theatrics, of the publicity stunts and the statements to police regarding incidents which never took place.
"The UNP had not regrouped and their branches were in disarray and lacked people's support at grass root level, hence the sensationalism and desperate efforts to gain some effect," he concluded.
Explaining the edge enjoyed by any opposition was newly elected UNPer Harindra Corea.
After four years, any government (specially a hopeless one like the PA) was bound to lose support, and a minor swing of 2% was adequate for the UNP to change its fortunes. Anywhere in the world this was so, and the UNP after revamping was ready to take on any formidable opponent, he said.
In his customary style, defending the PA's record with indomitable fervour was Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle- who not to be outdone by the UNP's woebegone stories whipped up his own theories and leisurely listed the UNP's atrocities.
Exhaustively explaining his theory of violence, he said: "You try to redefine violence, and hooting and removing banners did not fall under this category.
"We feared to breathe, walk out of our homes or send kids to school then. Such was the fear in our hearts. Opposition politics was taboo then and we were the targets of a violent government.
"Today, everyone freely lodged complaints and they were investigated into. During the UNP, either ministers occupied the OIC's chairs or the police refused to take down complaints fearing a counter attack by the government.
"When you threw acid at our members, stood on Vasudeva Nanayakkara's chest and set houses ablaze, we could only shed silent tears.
"Having lived and breathed free air, you have forgotten your own atrocities" he said, inviting UNPers to hold more pickets in front of police stations, a privilege the then Opposition dared not enjoy! In response to the UNP's barrage of accusations, Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte opined that people were impatiently waiting to record their verdict once again.
Refuting all charges on alleged PA- orchestrated violence, the warrior minister said Wayamba could not have been more peaceful, having had the experience of a terror reign. "You claim there are vehicles sans number plates, it seems that you stand by the roadside counting vehicles without campaigning to recover your lost glory," he said, spicily adding that those who had crooked shadows were condemned to fear their own reflections.
Your green yuppies will be beaten blue in Wayamba
This week, I must confess at the outset that I am writing this column firstly because I have an obligation to my readers who would be disappointed by my absence and secondly because my unseen friend, Viruddha Paakshikaya is sure to call me a coward if I give my chance a miss.
But I admit I do this hastily, involved as I am with the work for the Wayamba Provincial Council on behalf of our party, the Peoples' Alliance.
And of course, this week there can be no other topic in political circles other than 'Wayamba'. "Wayambata monawa weida?" is on everybody's lips and I'm sure our public will be more interested in this election than about what our cricket team is doing down under!
But, as someone who has been on the campaign trail what is most hilarious is to find UNPers complaining of violence and thuggery. At long last, it seems, the hunter has become the hunted.
But just in case Viruddha Paakshikaya cries foul I must remind him that the UNP is the party which impersonated the vote of SLFP Presidential Candidate Hector Kobbekaduwa. It is the UNP that made a total mockery of the Referendum to extend an entire Parliament by using state power to take over polling booths. And it is the same UNP-plus or minus a few stalwarts - which is crying about "thuggery" by us!
By all means, Viruddha Paakshikaya, I agree that elections are worthless if they are not free and fair. But given the UNP's track record in these matters, we can hardly trust you even though you are in the Opposition.
Therefore, it has prompted our grass-roots organisations to adopt an eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth, bomb-for-a-bomb approach to the campaign, because we want the UNP to know that violence, thuggery and intimidation is not their monopoly, after all.
The UNP instead of being a vigilant opposition, is guilty, like Rip Van Winkle, of being in Slumber while we guided the country's economy and the war through difficult times. Now, it finds itself suddenly woken to the reality of an election.
And this is not an idle claim, Viruddha Paakshikaya - I have facts to support what I say. To start with, their party machinery is now thoroughly disorganised. While our leader, the President kicked off her campaign last Saturday in grand style, the UNP's leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe was still speaking to his party organisers trying desperately to get their act together.
It is only now - that the UNP is thinking of posters and what they should depict. And they still haven't decided whether Ranil Wickremesinghe should send out one single message or two messages to the voters. Prove me wrong if you can, Viruddha Paakshikaya.
I got to know from very reliable sources in your party that one of your leader's self-appointed advisors (there are many of them!) has said to send only one message to the voters. When asked why only one and not two, his answer was "there is no time to send two!". And this is how your campaign is run, Viruddha Paakshikaya.
Now this same advisor was seen travelling around Wayamba in his BMW looking at an Automobile Association road map, because he's probably more familiar with Wisconsin than with Wayamba.
And that is why, Viruddha Paakshikaya, you will lose this election: you are up against people like S. B. Navinna, people who are real sons of the Wayamba soil.
Of course, our advisor is not alone. The UNP's "big shots" are all coming in droves in their Volvos, BMWs, Pajeros and Benz cars to woo the Punchisinghos of Wayamba. But, believe me, Viruddha Paakshikaya, some of them confess that the UNP has no hope in this election. But they all want themselves to be seen at Wayamba by their leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe just to show him that they "did their bit" for the party. So, they come in their limousines, mark their presence and then do the vanishing act. By all means, Viruddha Paakshikaya, we are more than happy with all this. After all, if the UNP wants to campaign in comfort and commit "hara-kiri", so be it!
But, isn't it also a fact that your own party men do not take your leader seriously, Viruddha Paakshikaya? I know, from my visits to Wayamba that some candidates had been telling their grassroot organisers - in a bid to back-stab the other candidates for the "manape" or preference vote - that Ranil Wickremesinghe had chased out the nominees who had come as proxy instead of the actual candidates for a meeting Mr. Wickremesinghe summoned at the UNP office in Colombo.
But, if that was the disrespect for your own leader by your own candidates, Viruddha Paakshikaya, it was worse last week when Ranil Wickremesinghe came to Wayamba: at least ten candidates didn't turn up for his meeting! Such is the respect commanded by the honourable leader of the Opposition.
My guess, Viruddha Paakshikaya, is that even Ranil Wickremesinghe knows that his fate is sealed at Wayamba. So, though on the first occasion he chased out the proxy candidates, he didn't make any fuss the next time around about the absentee candidates. As they say, when the going gets tough, Mr. Wickremesinghe gets going - backwards, to beat a hasty retreat.
My guess, Viruddha Paakshikaya, is that even now, instead of putting heart and soul into the campaign, like we in the PA are doing, you are very busy working out theories and explanations to the people about why you lost the election. By all means, my friend,keep up the good work because you are going to need those excuses and need them badly too!
This, by the way is in total contrast to what we in Wayamba have organised for our candidates. The President herself, despite a heavy schedule and security concerns, is campaigning ever so enthusiastically. And the public response has been genuine and spontaneous, where people in their thousands are enduring terrible weather to hear her agenda for Wayamba.
Of course I confess that Ministers and our MPs are camped at Wayamba. But Viruddha Paakshikaya, isn't that being "one with the people?" Didn't your own President Premadasa adopt that strategy in the Gam Udawas some time ago?
The tragedy for you here, Viruddha Paakshikaya, is not that you are not "one with the people". The real tragedy is that you think the people are with you, when in fact, they are not. Let's face it, your party has been taken over by yuppie politicians and advisors who like cellular phones and opinion polls but have no sense about the grievances of the people.
The culture that your yuppie advisors worship may have a place in Colombo, but not in the arid climes of Wayamba.
Remember, Viruddha Paakshikaya, those who go to the polls in January will be from Bangadeniya, Polpithigama and Norocholai, and not from Barnes Place, Park Road or even Nugegoda.
And that my friend, will be the reason you will be resoundingly beaten at the Wayamba Provincial Council elections for S.B Navinna to become Chief Minister, I'm prepared to bet my last Bandaranaike Commemorative coin on that!
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