Sinner becomes saint
Mahinda Samarasinghe awaits for the auspicious time at Temple
Trees to be sworn in as a minister whiel Erik Solheim was already
inside talking to the President. Pic by Ishara S. Kodikara
Our Political Editor
It was Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who sounded a pessimistic
note when Government and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leaders
met last Tuesday.
was in the backdrop of Norwegian International Development Minister
and Special Envoy Erik Solheim's meeting with President Mahinda
Rajapakse. "I don't think anything is going to come out of
this," he bemoaned.
Rajapakse was very upbeat. "Wait and see. They will agree.
I have all the hope. During the presidential elections, I became
confident during the campaign that I was going to win. Similarly,
I feel the LTTE will come for talks," he told those gathered.
the Government side there was Samaraweera, Nimal Siripala de Silva,
Dulles Alahaperuma and Basil Rajapakse. The JVP team was led by
Somawansa Amerasinghe and comprised Tilvin Silva, Wimal Weerawansa
and Anura Kumara Dissanayake.
took the Rajapakse rejoinder nodding his head and with a smile.
Then he went on to say "maybe, even if they do not, we will
have to get together and fight." He was not talking of fighting
the LTTE this time. It was making a case for the JVP to join the
Rajapakse was clearly moved by the remarks. "I am facing a
lot of challenges. These are not personal. They are challenges to
the nation. If you join in and strengthen me, you are making me
strong to face the national challenge," he said in a voice
that choked with some emotion. He appealed to the JVP to take this
all important decision and assured he would promptly resolve all
were the issues that Rajapakse wanted to resolve?
One was a re-composition of the Cabinet. In the event of the JVP
choosing to join the Government, he was willing to keep numbers
to the limits placed by them. Moreover, he was also willing to address
their concerns over some members of the United National Party joining
drew a comment from JVP's Anura Kumara Dissanayake. "We don't
have problems with some of the UNPers who want to join. But we do
have problems with some others. We are opposed to them."
made pointed reference to former Cabinet Minister G.L. Peiris whom
he felt was seeking opportunities to further his own personal political
ambitions. He said that during the presidential election campaign
and even before, the JVP had targeted UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe,
Milinda Moragoda and G.L. Peiris. He said the JVP could not protect
the Government with people like G.L. Peiris who were political opportunists.
"But I have made a promise to take him to the Government,"
Dissanayake, "we cannot agree or be a party to this."
Retorted Rajapakse, "I will not take a single UNPer. That is
if you all come and join me. Why not do that."
was pin-drop silence. As one participant told The Sunday Times "it
was so quiet we could hear the grass in the Temple Trees lawn grow."
The names of at least 12 UNP MPs who want to cross over were mentioned.
They included G.L. Peiris, Bandula Gunawardena, Susantha Punchinilame,
Mano Wijeratne, Earle Gunasekera, Chandrasiri Ariyawansa Sooriyaratchchi,
Ranjit Aluvihare, Sarath Ranawaka and Neomal Perera.
The two sides also discussed the forthcoming local government elections.
It was pointed out that nominations for these polls will be called
between February 9 and 16. There was a likelihood of the polls being
held on March 29. The ruling party and the JVP are yet to conclude
a no-contest pact and field common candidates. It was pointed out
that such joint action would offer the biggest challenge to the
is likely the two sides will soon begin discussions to explore the
possibility of a joint arrangement. In this regard, attempts by
former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to block an
electoral alliance between the SLFP and the JVP are to be opposed
by the Rajapakse supporters.
who was in London in the past weeks, is due to return to Colombo
today. Early this week, Sri Lankans in the UK saw her visit a Tesco
supermarket store near Hartsfordshire. She was seen purchasing bananas,
beer and other alcoholic drinks. An elderly male gentleman, who
accompanied her, made payment in cash. Kumaratunga was clad in blue
denims, an overall and wore tennis shoes.
later telephones of participants to the meeting began to ring almost
in unison. Reports were trickling in about bomb explosions in Castle
Street, Nugegoda, Mount Lavinia, Kiribathgoda and Wattala. Rajapakse's
mobile phone was the busiest. It seemed he was receiving a kind
of ball-by-ball commentary from Army and Police top brass about
the explosions. They were all saying the bombs were crude. There
were explosives packed in polythene or "sirisiri" bags
and a detonating device attached. This prompted Army and Police
explosive experts to say it could not be the handiwork of the LTTE.
next day President Rajapakse received intelligence reports. Among
other matters, the finger pointed to an arms dealer who had later
turned to a small time vernacular publishing business. He was being
suspected as the mastermind behind the string of explosions. President
Rajapakse ordered the Police to conduct a thorough investigation
and bring to book all those responsible. A Police Headquarters source
said an arrest was imminent in the next day or two since some important
leads were now being followed.
Wednesday was an auspicious day. It seemed a happy augury in many
ways for Rajapakse. The good news that the LTTE would sit down for
talks with a Government delegation in Geneva came that day. Two
UNP stalwarts crossed over to the Government and were sworn in.
On the same day, JVP's Vijitha Herath surrendered his bachelorhood.
Wednesday morning, Mahinda Samarasinghe, a one time UNP Cabinet
Minister called on his leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe. He gave him
the shocking news, or the not-so-shocking news, that he was leaving
his fold to join the Government. He said he was doing so for personal
reasons. "I came to tell you," he declared. Wickremesinghe
was caught by surprise. He said he did not wish to interfere into
personal matters but asked Samarasinghe to re-consider his decision.
He said he should think again.
The next day, Wickremesinghe had been at the receiving end of a
verbal barrage by some of his partymen for giving young bucks like
Samarasinghe a place in the sun in the party. He was chief party
whip, after all - the man supposed to be in charge of party discipline,
and in a sense, to ensure nobody crossed over to the other side!
the attack was parliametarian T. Maheswaran who said that Samarasinghe
was the one who prevented awkward questions being asked from the
Government in Parliament, and that was with Wickremesinghe's blessings.
He then directly blamed Wickremesinghe for stopping them from attacking
former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the dividends of which did
not pay off. He asked him what he had to say about all this.
just kept tapping the table with his ball-point pen. Probably he
had no answer. Those whom he gave special places to -- Samarasinghe,
once upon a time Ronnie de Mel, Rohitha Bogollagama -- had all decamped
for better prospects leaving him in the lurch. G.L. Peiris, his
voice once, was waiting for a government pick-up.
first UNPer to be sworn in as Minister of Plan Implementation was
UNP's Kandy district MP, Keheliya Rambukwella. It was at the auspicious
time of 12.15 p.m. The appointment was to create heartburn in sections
of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) parliamentarians, especially those
in the Kandy district.
were upset that Rambukwella has been given an important portfolio.
It was the Ministry of Plan Implementation that was responsible
for implementing Mahinda Chinthanaya. Why could not an SLFPer be
tasked with this responsibility? Why give such a responsibility
to a UNPer who has just joined in, they asked. But like in most
instances, there was no one among the disgruntled group to bell
the cat or, in other words, complain to those who mattered.
Samarasinghe's auspicious time for swearing in -- 3.02 p.m. -- was
nearing. He was chatting with President Rajapakse. The President
received a telephone call from the Peace Secretariat in Colombo.
He was told there was a satellite phone call from the Wanni. Erik
Solheim had clinched a deal and the LTTE was willing to sit down
for talks in Geneva, Switzerland. "Didn't I say so," he
quipped to MP Dulles Alahaperuma who was standing close. "How
were you so sure, Sir," asked Dulles.
Said Rajapakse, "I was so sure. I felt the same way during
the presidential elections."
same evening Solheim called on Rajapakse to give the good news.
He said the first round of talks would focus on some issues relating
to the Ceasefire Agreement. Yet, that was a significant breakthrough,
said Solheim. They spoke to each other over a number of matters
including media reportage of recent developments. That evening,
Solheim rushed to the Paget Road residence of Foreign Minister Mangala
Samaraweera for a reception. For Samaraweera, it was a case of the
Sinhala proverb Kapanna Beri Atha Imbinna Wenava (or kiss the hand
that you cannot cut off). Samaraweera had steadfastly wanted Solheim
out of the peace process. He wrote to his Norwegian counterpart
and later spoke to him personally in Hong Kong last month. All that
proved futile. Now, Samaraweera was hosting a reception to greet
Solheim and, no doubt, bathe in the glory of his success.
of guests were present. Among them Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera,
MP Sripathi Sooriyaratchchi, Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP)
leader Douglas Devananda, diplomats and well-wishers. There was
a highly discomforting moment when Solheim who was walking around
greeting the guests shook hands with the EPDP leader Douglas Devananda.
Devananda, "have they (the LTTE) agreed to stop assassinations?"
Solheim replied "yes, they have. Now you all had better stop
Devananda was cheesed off. "I have entered democratic politics
years ago. I am for talks," he thundered.
Coming to Devananda's aid was Sripathi Sooriyaratchchi. He declared,
"I endorse what my friend said."
Solheim, the peace maker made a hasty retreat to shake hands with
Solheim had become a Viking in shining armour, just by getting the
LTTE to the negotiating table. Even before he heli-hopped to the
Wanni, he was greeted almost like a conquering hero. The country
was on the brink of war, and the government was at the receiving
end of criticism for its inability to stop LTTE killings - 90 servicemen
in 60 days.
So, when Norwegian envoy Hans Bratskaar threw a welcome reception
for Solheim on Monday, his hall was bursting at the seams with people.
Ministers led by Nimal Siripala de Silva, a possible head of the
Government delegation for the Geneva talks, Constitutional Affairs
Minister D.E.W. Gunasekera, LSSP Minister Tissa Vitharana, EPDP
Leader Douglas Devananda, the service chiefs led by Vice Admiral
Daya Sandagiri, the IGP Chandra Fernando, UNP cross-over aspirant
Mahinda Samarasinghe and double-crosser aspirant G.L. Peiris, TNA
MPs, NGO wallahs, especially those Norwegian-funded, journos and
'civil society' overwhelmed Bratskaar's Gregory's Road residence.
his triumphant return from the Wanni, and in the blaze of the media
publicity, Solheim and Bratskaar toured the south, and especially
Buddhist Viharas in a damage control; building temples (actually,
bridges) exercise to woo the southern Sinhalese electorate.
time, Buddhist monks were not burning his effigy, but bestowing
merit on him. He was now Solheim, the Saviour. The sinner had become,