The Political Column22nd April 2001
Dissidents move against RanilBy our Political Correspondent
Plus| Business| Sports|
|Acrisis is brewing in the UNP after
the controversial vote on the final reading of the budget with a group
of UNP parliamentarians accusing the party leadership of inaction.
A group comprising about 20 MPs met a number of UNP parliamentarians to solicit their support for a censure motion against the leadership. However, their move which found momentum when Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was away in Oslo, has been met with resistance, especially from new and young MPs some of whom fear repercussions if the whole thing backfires.
Mr. Wickremesinghe was not unaware of the developments. He was being briefed on what was happening by several loyal members.
Mr. Wickremesinghe initially did not take the developments seriously but later telephoned from Oslo to ask his confidantes to monitor the situation and keep him informed. One such confidant was his secretary Naufel Rahuman. Mr. Rahuman did not see anything unusual in the movements of MPs, most of whom were in their electorates. But he could not rule out that something was going on beneath the surface.
When Mr. Wickremesinghe received danger signals from his sources, he decided to cut short his Norway tour by a day or two to be back in Sri Lanka on Friday. He has also been suffering from a throat infection. He is now planning his moves to withstand the tremor in the party ranks.
The main complaint of the dissident group is that the party leader dragged his feet during the crucial vote on the third reading and the party squandered an opportunity to defeat the government.
The dissident group feels that ordinary members are rallying round Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya and believes they should push him to the pedestal of leadership.
Some Ranil loyalists believe that the dissidents are planning to submit a no-confidence motion against the leader on May 10. But others believe the dissidents would instead apply pressure on Mr. Wickremesinghe to put the party back on track. One of their demands would be to initiate disciplinary action against Mr. Wickremesinghe's private secretary Sugath Chandrasekera and his removal if he is found guilty. They are also likely to demand the removal of Mahinda Samarasinghe from the post of Deputy Whip.
A large number of UNP MPs who were out of Colombo during the Avurudhu holidays have come back to the capital sensing that something unusual was going on in the party.
A leader of the dissident group told this column that MPs are likely to explode at the next group, openly expressing their disapproval over the manner in which the party was run.
He said they would prefer Mr. Jayasuriya to Mr. Wickremesinghe for the party top post but lamented that the deputy leader was reluctant to accept the 'hotseat.'
Some Ranil loyalists suspect that the man behind the coup is Assistant Leader Gamini Atukorale. But Mr. Atukorale has told journalists who reached him to verify the story that he had nothing to do with the dissidents.
However, the Ranil loyalists are also planning counter moves. One such
move is aimed at removing Mr. Atukorale from the post of Assistant Leader.
To do this, they might resort to the party constitution which, according
to them, does not give legal status to the post of assistant leader.
Some Ranil loyalists believe that Mr. Wickremesinghe would probably ask Mr. Atukorale to step down unceremoniously. This way, the Ranil loyalists believe, they will be able to isolate Mr. Jayasuriya from the rebel group. They are quite confident that Mr. Wickre-mesinghe could withstand the tremor quite easily. However, several party seniors who are disgruntled with the party leadership are putting their weight behind the dissidents.
The dissidents are furious that Mr. Wickremesinghe did not act even after they managed to get the required number of MPs, including some government members. In the meantime, it is learnt that President Chandrika Kumaratunga is trying to identify the members who had met opposition leaders and pledged their support to defeat the government. These members are likely to be dealt with severely, according to government sources. But others say they would be looked after to ensure that such a thing would not recur.
Coming back to the crisis in the UNP, the week ahead is set to see a some drama with several heads rolling.
It is reported that Speaker Anura Banad-aranaike also alerted Mr. Wickremesinghe of the impending danger. According to insiders, Mr. Bandaranaike had communicated with Mr. Wickreme-singhe and warned him of a move to oust him as the leader of the opposition.
At the Dudley Senanayake commem-oration meeting on April 13, Wijeyapala
Mendis, Minister without Portfolio and a former UNPer, appealed to the
Leader of the Opposition to rise above party politics to form a national
government. Mr. Mendis who leads the UNP's alternative group in the government
and whose loyalties are still with the Senanayakes compared the role of
Dudley Senanayake, with that of Mr. Wickremesinghe. He said Mr. Senanayake
was not a leader who had lust for power and he set an example in 1953 when
he resigned his prime ministership. In 1970, when his party was routed
by the United Front led by Sirima Bandaranaike, he immediately gave up
his position as the opposition leader, having entrusted it to the versatile
leader J. R. Jayewardene,
UNP members who attended the commemoration meeting included Karu Jayasuirya, Rohitha Bogollagama, Rukman Senanayake and Colombo Mayor Omar Kamil.
Though there were moves within the UNP to oust Mr. Wickremesinghe, the government MPs are keen on keeping him as the Opposition Leader. Probably the government leaders are going with the maxim that a known devil is better than unknown angel.
Mr. Wickremesinghe entered parliament in 1977 after contesting Biyagama electorate. He held on to the electorate until he was appointed the leader of the UNP in 1994. He was first appointed as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs by the then President J.R. Jayewardene. Thereafter he was appointed Minister of Education and Youth Affairs and Gamini Atukorale was his deputy for sometime and they built up a very good rapport during this time.
In 1994 with the demise of Gamini Dissanayake who was the presidential candidate of the UNP, Mr. Wickremesinghe emerged as the leader after a brief crisis in the party. President D.B. Wijetunga who opted to step down accepted the formula devised by former Minister A.C.S. Hameed where he suggested that Mr. Wickremesinghe be made the leader of the party while making Srima Dissanayake, the widow of Gamini Dissanayake, the party's presidential candidate for the 1994 elections.
Mr. Wickremesinghe thus emerged as the party leader while his longtime deputy Gamini Atukorale as the General Secretary of the party.
Mr. Wickremesinghe has been the leader of the UNP for the past seven
years and had not been successful in a single election held todate. Mr.
Atukorale took some of the rap for the defeats. Thus party seniors agitated
vehemently for the removal of Mr. Atukorale as the party general secretary.
They claimed that Mr. Atukorale being an active politician did not allocate
ample time for party activities to revive the party and bring it to its
former status. Apart from this Mr. Atukorale implemented the Wickremesinghe
agenda implicitly. However he had to step down.
Mr. Wickremesinghe is apparently of the view that the party has some more time to defeat the government. He says there is more disillusionment to come in the way of the government and the UNP has to be patient until the government's popularity dwindles still further . The UNP leader is also being accused of not giving his full support for the impeachment motion prepared by a UNP committee aga-inst Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva.
Mr. Wickremesinghe does not want to move due to obvious reasons. Legal experts closer to him have advised him not to do anything against the incumbent Chief Justice. The UNP leader discussed the matter with some leading journalists at a recent meeting. He disagreed with the party to move against the Chief Justice while others still clamour that the party should consider some action against the Chief Justice. Some journalists walked out in dismay saying that the UNP would not be able to defeat the government at any stage.
But the leader is firm because his legal advisers have told him that there is not sufficient ground to move against the Chief Justice.
Be that as it may, the government ranks are disturbed over the news
that Speaker Anura Bandaranaike will be called upon to fill the vacancy
of the PA presidential candidate at the end of the term of President Kumaratunga
in 2005. Some ministers have begun their campaign against Mr. Bandaranaike
who left the party after differences with the former leadership.
The PA seems unable to find a leader without a Bandaranaike name after years of politics in this country. This as led some people and PA supporters to believe that there is no democracy in the PA when it comes to leadership. It is Bandaranaike, Bandaranaike and Bandaranaike again. One can foresee that it would be Anura Bandaranaike after Chandrika Kumaratunga and another Kumaratunga after Bandaranaike. The party is not ready with an alternative leader and there is no person in the party ranks who could take up the leadership.
Some ministers are discussing this seriously. Ministers who are younger
in age are perturbed. They want to follow the UNP's style where a Premadasa
could become the leader of the party, thus deviating from the UNP's 'Sahib'
mentality which was prevalent from the time of Independence.
He has advised the ICC to withhold any action until the disposal of the Writ Application filed by the dissolved Cricket Board officials against the decision of the Minister.
Mr. Muzammil has drafted this letter after a long consultation with
Gamini Marapona, an expert on Sports Law. The letter addressed to ICC chief
executive D. L. Richards among other things states:
"In the meanwhile, please take notice hereby that in the given circumstances no person, whomsoever, is lawfully entitled to act on behalf of the BCCSL, now dissolved as morefully set out in the Writ Application annexed.
"We also enclose a copy of our Letter of 10th April 2001 addressed separately to 6 persons, namely Messrs Vijaya Malalasekera, Michael Tissera, Siddath Wettimuny, Asantha de Mel, Richard Ebell and Dr. P. Ramanujam (who is also the Secretary, Ministry of Tourism & Sports and accordingly the 2nd Respondent in the aforesaid Writ Application) of a purportedly appointed Interim Committee of the dissolved BCCSL, the contents of which said Letter are self-explanatory."
Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to