seeks control of SLFP
By our Political Editor
One industry that thrives in Sri Lanka today with no local investment
is the Non Governmental Organisations or NGOs. The more empirical
ones among them have the letter "I" in front to denote
International or INGOs.
Dollars and Pounds gush in for them, like oil, the black gold for
the ultra rich Arab sheiks, the movers and shakers of the economies
of many a country. Our NGO and INGO wallahs, however, are a different
breed. They move and shake among themselves with the wad of green
backs but leave an unsuspecting Government in shivers. It has happened
in the past and happens now.
latest is the visit of Martin McGuinness, Chief Negotiator of the
Sinn Feinn in Northern Ireland and a member of the Northern Ireland
Assembly. He made headline news in Sri Lanka after exhorting that
her countrymen should "do their best to prevent the collapse
of the ceasefire and to begin negotiations for a durable settlement…"
Such words of wisdom could have come from a local three wheeler
taxi driver or a bus conductor. But they would not have hit the
headlines. They did because McGuinness said it.
that he arrived, wined, dined, talked and left the shores of Sri
Lanka, the story is unfurling. He was no invitee of the Government
of Sri Lanka. He did not obtain a visa from the Sri Lanka High Commission
to come to Colombo. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was unaware
he was coming. That is no surprise for most things, nowadays are
foreign even to the Foreign Ministry. Whilst Minister Mangala Samaraweera
is still learning, an unhappy President Rajapakse had to call upon
a former Foreign Minister, Tyronne Fernando, to come in as Advisor.
"There are more chiefs than injuns," said one opposition
stalwart looking at the plethora of advisors in the Rajapakse administration.
Fernando quit his post as Governor of the North-East. Rear Admiral
Mohan Wijewickrema, who failed to become Navy Chief only because
former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga did not like
his face, was sworn in last Friday as the new Governor.
arrived in Sri Lanka without a visa. At the Immigration Counter
at the Bandaranaike International Airport he told Immigration officials
he was coming as a tourist. He had a tourist visa stamped on his
passport. The man from Ireland was an invitee of a Colombo-based
NGO which goes as IMPACT. They were able to create an impact with
that tourist visa McGuinness received.
night, he was entertained to dinner by none other than the President
of the Democratic, Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapakse.
The only reason for the move - when Rajapakse visited Ireland long
years ago, he was introduced to a group of politicians there. McGuinness
was one of them. Hence, he felt he owed him a dinner. Advice on
protocol was neither sought from the Foreign Ministry, nor given.
If the first diplomatic gaffe was lunching with the Indian High
Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Nirupama Rao to solve an internal dispute
involving Arumugam Thondaman, here was another. When he met McGuinness
in Ireland, it was as Mahinda Rajapakse. But it was President Rajapakse
who was hosting tourist McGuinness to dinner. Oh heck, what's protocol
got to do with 'friends' as Mangala Samaraweera would say.
seems NGOs do not fear to tread where fools did. Then came some
complaints from the Donor Co-chairs of the peace process over last
week's front page report in The Sunday Times about Rajapakse's remarks
suggesting Iceland as a venue for talks. Of course, the report said
that Rajapakse had mentioned Iceland in lighter vein, but that was
serious enough a matter for the donors. Supposedly, a joke can be
a serious thing. An embarrassed Rajapakse said that it was not an
official account passed down by his office and expressed regret
if it had embarrassed them.
a more important issue - the jailing of former Minister S.B. Dissanayake
- was taking centre stage at a meeting of party leaders. Speaker
W.J.M. Lokubandara was to tell party leaders no action to fill the
vacancy was possible since the matter was still pending before Supreme
Nimal Siripala de Silva raised issue over another aspect. He said
even if one were to assume that position was correct, although the
Court had not made any specific request to stop filling the vacancy,
there another important aspect - Dissanayake's absence from Parliament
for over three months. In the absence of prior leave, that amounted
to his forfeiting his seat.
General of Parliament, Priyani Wijesekera, was to intervene to say
she wrote to the Commissioner of Elections, Dayananda Dissanayake
on March 9, 2005 informing him of the vacation of Mr. Dissanayake's
seat due to absence. Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle was to ask "what
did you say in that letter." Wijesekera brought a file and
read out what she wrote. She said she had called upon Dissanayake
to fill the seat rendered vacant by the absence of S.B. Dissanayake.
JVP's Wimal Weerawansa asked why the Commissioner of Elections did
not enforce it.
same morning Elections Commissioner Dissanayake turned up for a
meeting of a parliamentary committee going into legislation concerning
the issue of National Identity Cards. When the meeting was over,
Dissanayake was button holed by Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, Nimal Siripala
de Silva and Wimal Weerawansa. Dissanayake declared he found no
such letter from the Secretary General in his files at the Elections
"I just took custody of a copy," declared Dissanayake.
last Thursday Dissanayake wrote again to the Secretary General of
Parliament. In that letter, he had said he was not in possession
of the letter referred to and asked whether he should still initiate
further action. A reply confirming the move was sent by Wijesekera.
In the coming week Dissanayake is to issue a gazette notification
declaring the Nuwara-Eliya (Hanguranketha) seat of S.B. Dissanayake
over why action was not taken after the Supreme Court delivered
judgment jailing S.B. Dissanayake are still being raised.
Against this backdrop, President Rajapakse received a telephone
call from former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who
is still holidaying in the United Kingdom. She was chirpy and greeted
Rajapakse. Thereafter she wanted to know how he was keeping.
came the request Rajapakse was waiting for. Kumaratunga said she
had got to know Rajapakse was planning to reconstitute the board
of management of the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference
Hall (BMICH). In such an event, she wanted to make sure she (Kumaratunga)
was made the chairperson. Here was a case of Kumaratunga, who shied
away from backing Rajapakse at the presidential election campaign,
now seeking his help to be made chairperson of BMICH.
was lamenting that she had a lot of time on her hands now with very
little to do. Hence, she felt the management of the BMICH rightfully
belonged to her family. It was a vile act of the late President
J.R. Jayewardene that had led to the management of this international
conference hall going to other people and out of the Bandaranaike
family, she said.
was unwilling to continue the conversation. He said he had no intention
of changing the board of management. However, he said "I will
see what can be done." Later, Rajapakse discussed the matter
with senior aides. One of them was to say that there was a lot of
money in the BMICH. They were also earning a good income. Rajapakse
did not appear inclined to concede Kumaratunga's request. He said
part jokingly "she will use even that money to hit at me."
on a serious note, Rajapakse is planning to wrest the Sri Lanka
Freedom Party (SLFP) leadership from Kumaratunga. This is particularly
in view of what his aides say are the many obstacles she had continued
to place on Rajapakse even after he became President. They point
out that Kumaratunga is refusing to concede that she is no longer
President but behaves as one.
close supporters are planning a massive rally of SLFP members in
Colombo on a date in February. This is to mark the third month of
the Rajapakse presidency. Aides say on this day he proposes to launch
his campaign to win over the SLFP leadership. Rajapakse wants to
apprise the rank and file of the SLFP of the obstacles he had to
face to win the Presidency and how things are still being made difficult
for him. He is also to reveal plans of how he wants to build a stronger
SLFP that would be devoid of the control of one family cartel, which
would probably see the end of an era in Sri Lankan politics.
crisis sorted out? Ranil, Karu to share power
Things were also happening within the opposition United National
Party. Efforts to dis-lodge party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe having
failed, mass defections have been threatened by those who not only
want Wickremesinghe out, but also want a place in the sun with the
Trees has regular visitors from the UNP ranks, and last Friday,
some of the editors of national newspapers who had gone to have
breakfast with the President were bemused to find UNP stalwart from
Matale Alick Aluvihara and his son Ranjith seated patiently outside
waiting for an audience with His Excellency.
to support the Rajapakse administration from within, or from outside,
or not at all has consumed much of the defeated party's time, as
it has on moves to oust Wickremesinghe from the leadership. And
the former issue has come in to take at least some of the heat away
from Wickremesinghe distracting the members from targeting him.
exactly what happened at the last UNP Parliamentary Group meeting
on Tuesday. In what appeared to be the big match from the Kalutara
boys, Mahinda Samarasinghe and Rajitha Senaratne engaged themselves
in a right royal battle of the mangoosteens over this very issue.
Samarasinghe was advocating the need to support Rajapakse, with
Senaratne saying that the UNP must have its own identity and that
supporting the JVP should be out-of-the-question.
flirtations with Rajapakse were well-known in UNP circles, so much
so that when his secretary had called a Bala Mandala (branch) meeting
at Kalutara, Tilak Karunaratne, the former Sihala Urumaya leader
had asked the secretary "than, mona paththe bala mandalayada
me? " or " now, which side's branch meeting is this?".
maybe, Samarasinghe is being portrayed as someone who wants to cross
over because he has a bribery inquiry against him. This is more
an unfair indictment on the Bribery Commission than even Samarasinghe,
because it shows what people think of the Commission -- that if
you are on the right side politically, you can get away with anything.
the backdrop to the Parliamentary Group meeting goes back to the
Wednesday before when Wickremesinghe conferred with five members
of the so-called Reformist faction that was demanding party reforms
that would see the wings of Wickremesinghe clipped and more strength
given to deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya's elbow.
himself, together with Rukman Senanayake, Gamini Lokuge and Rajitha
Senaratne met Wickremesinghe with ex-Hotels Corporation boss Bodhi
Ranasinghe being the party go-between valiantly trying to bring
about an amicable settlement to the two month old feud.
told the Reformists at the meeting that "there cannot be two
leaders for any party", and that he was willing to give Jayasuriya
the deputy leadership (which he already has) plus "something
else with executive powers". That evening while travelling
to Kandy, he telephoned Bodhi Ranasinghe and told him that he was
willing to give Karu Jayasuriya the post of Executive Chairman of
the party in addition to deputy leader.
An earlier request to make Karu Jayasuriya the party's General Secretary
was dropped when all accepted Wickremesinghe'a argument that the
party secretary needs to be full-time present at 'Siri Kotha', the
party headquarters at Pitta Kotte, and this was not something for
Jayasuriya to be doing.
meeting was then fixed for noon last Sunday at the Opposition Leader's
official residence at Cambridge Terrace. The same group met, and
the Reformists said they were in agreement in principle, but Lokuge
asked if Wickremesinghe could chair all party committees except
that Jayasuriya be made the chairman of a reinvogorated Political
Affairs Committee (PAC).
said "No", except that Karu Jayasuriya could act in his
(Wickremesinghe's) absence. The game plan was to be that Wickremesinghe
would preside at the PAC meetings every fortnight, while Jayasuriya
handles the day-to-day affairs of the party, and any matters Jayasuriya
cannot resolve will be brought to the fortnightly meetings before
and Jayasuriya were to name the party General Secretary, and nominate
six names each for the PAC. There was unanimous agreement to this.
came Monday. The Reformists were unable to convince the rest of
the group that what was agreed was a good idea, and there was some
insistence that the names of the General Secretary and the PAC members
be agreed to before that afternoon's Parliamentary Group meeting.
At 1 pm., on Monday, Wickremesinghe and Jayasuriya met one-to-one,
and agreed that the biggest headache for both would be to nominate
their six members to the PAC, which was now going to transform itself
from a mere advisory body to the party leader, to a virtual decision-making
body of the party -- even over and above the Working Committee,
often referred to as a rubber-stamp of the party leader's dictates.
a one-hour meeting, i.e. at 2pm., Wickremesinghe and Jayasuriya
emerged to meet with the rest of the 19-MP Reformist group. Two
requests were made; to make Jayasuriya co-chairman of the PAC, and
to increase the PAC from 12 to 15 members. Wickremesinghe flatly
refused the first request, and said he would consider the second.
The Group thus got underway at 3 pm., and began it did, with thunder
from the Kalutara duo going for each other whether to support the
Rajapakse Administration, or otherwise.
side issues were brought up. For example Dr. Jayalath Jayawardene
asking whether his name had been ommitted from the PAC list, only
to be told that there was no such list; Prof. G.L. Peiris asking
why he was not consulted when the party manifesto was drafted, only
to be told by Wickremesinghe that he had shown the manifesto to
the learned professor; and Mahinda Wijesekera asking what the party
was hoping to do regarding the campaign to release S.B. Dissanayake
And only thereafter, what one thought was the burning issue within
the party, party reforms, was taken up for discussion. Nuwara-Eliya
MP Naveen Dissanayake was one of those to explode. He used very
strong words to describe his party leader, saying it was his "ego"
that was at the root of the party's problems, as his embarrassed
father-in-law Karu Jayasuriya sat sphinx-like to the left of Wickremesinghe.
(Later, Rukman Senanayake was to tell the young Dissanayake that
that was no way to talk to a party leader).
then spoke, rather movingly, to the absolute surprise of the MPs.
He said he was handing over the day-to-day affairs of the party
to Karu Jayasuriya, and that the next elections scheduled -- the
Local Government polls -- will be handled under Jayasuriya's stewardship.
He asked the MPs to support Jayasuriya, and that his support was
assured. Within 20 minutes, the issue of the party leadership had
been resolved -- except that though nobody raised issue at the time,
a cabal that had wanted Wickremesinghe flung out of the Siri Kotha
windows, was now hatching a plot to join the Rajapakse Administration,
cabinet portfolios and all.
next day, Wickremesinghe telephoned Rukman Senanayake and Gamini
Lokuge to thank them for their understanding and "balance"
in handling the leadership crisis. With the crisis resolved, at
least for the moment, the party went for the All-Party Conference
on the peace process and was able to talk with one voice.