The Political Column

22nd April 2001

Dissidents move against Ranil

By our Political Correspondent
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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

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.Karu Jayasuriya

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. 
Whether Mr. Wikremesinghe shares this view is however not all certain, as his association with Mr. Atukorale goes back many years and to difficult times.

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.cartoon

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, 
This was how the leaders of the past conducted themselves, Mr. Mendis said. He also praised UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya comparing him with Dudley Senanayake. The tone of his speech suggested that Mr. Wickremesinghe should step down and make way for a capable person to lead the party. 

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, too, asked his party members after the defeat of the UNP at the last general elections whether they wanted him to continue as the leader. Mr. Wickremesinghe loyalists at that stage supported his leadership and the others who were expecting a change did not object to the continuation of Wickremesinghe leadership. 

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. 
Mr. Bandaranaike became the Speaker after a deal struck between the UNP and the PA.
Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle in parliament announced that Mr. Bandaranaike could be their next Presidential candidate after the term of Chandrika Kumaratunga. The People's Alliance and the SLFP do not seem able to move forward without the Bandaranaikes. Mr. Bandaranaike as a parliamentarian could not muster as much support as he would have liked in the Bandaranaike fortress of Attanagalla or subsequently in the Gampaha District. During the time of President Premadasa, his mother Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike polled over 200,000 votes in the Gampaha District. At the last general elections, Mr. Bandaranaike came second to Mr. Jayasuriya.

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. 
Thanks to J. R. Jayewardene who shrewdly assessed political opinion of the time that there should be a change in the leadership pattern and the represetative of the common man should get his due place. There is opinion within the PA that this example should followed and that there are people in the party who could succeed president Kumaratunga. In another development, the vice-president of the former Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka, A. J. M. Muzammil, has written through his lawyers to the Chief Executive of the International Cricket Council requesting them not to take action against the Sri Lankan Cricket Board in the face of a decision taken by the Sports Minister to dissolve it and cancel its registration.

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: 
"BCCSL being a Full Member of the ICC in terms of the Memorandum of Association of ICC as aforesaid, we hereby urge you, not to precipitate any action to cause any jeopardy to the Full Member status of BCCSL of the ICC, and thereby cause any jeopardy to the status of Sri Lanka as a Cricket Playing Country to play Test Matches officially recognized by the ICC, as per the said memorandum & Articles of Association of the ICC, until the hearing and determination by the judiciary of Sri Lanka of the aforesaid Writ Application.

"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."

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