The deals and the wheels
- Angry JVP to launch virtual war on Mahinda
- Ranil intervenes to carry MoU beyond portfolios
and personal perks
- UNP battles continue with SB seeking top
The one-time UNP MP now supporting President Mahinda
Rajapaksa to uplift the film industry, Ravindra Randeniya, was probably
the perfect man for the occasion -- the Master of Ceremonies at
the historic signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) betwen
the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the main opposition
United National Party (UNP).
Randeniya usually doesn't get his lines in a tangle,
but that is exactly what happened to the film star-turned-politician
last Monday afternoon.
The cameras were rolling, but there was none to
say "cut cut", as Randeniya was going live. He invited,
"President Mahinda Banda.... sorry, President Mahinda Rajapaksa"
to deliver his address to the distinguished invitees from the two
parties. There was a chuckle all around, and an embarrassed Randeniya
quickly recovered. Underscoring the spirit prevailing, UNP Leader
Ranil Wickremesinghe turned to the President and said "Bandaranaike-la
hewanella wage innawa ne" (The Bandaranaikes are there like
your shadow isn't it).
|In happier days SLFP Gen. Secretary Maithripal
Sirisena greeting JVP Gen. Secretary Tilvyn Silva after the
signing of an agreement to form the UPFA and work together.Then
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa looks on.
Tourism Minister Anura Bandaranaike was seated
only two seats away from the President, next only to the Prime Minister
whose job was his for the asking, but which he abdicated when he
did not campaign for Rajapaksa last November.
Randeniya was not the only embarrassed soul that
day. Earlier, UNP's deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya was asked by the
party's outgoing chairman Malik Samarawickrama to come to light
the lamp, but when the announcer read out the names of the persons
who were to light the lamp, it was Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ratnasiri
Wickramanayake and party secretary Maithripala Sirisena from the
SLFP, Wickremesinghe, Samarawickrama and Speaker W.J.M. Lokubandara
from the UNP, who were asked to light the lamp.
It was indeed a momentous day. Not since the SLFP
was founded by the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike -- together with D.M.
Rajapaksa and others, had the party joined hands with its arch-foe,
the UNP to work together towards nation building. Significantly,
it was probably only in 1971, that the UNP, also in opposition at
the time, offered its support to the SLFP Government of the day
to quell an armed insurgency of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).
History was being repeated, in a sense, though
under different circumstances, and the UNP-SLFP marriage had resulted
in the SLFP giving the boot to its one-time partner, the JVP.
At least one outcome of this MoU is the distancing
of the JVP from the Rajapaksa Presidency. They say politics make
strange bedfellows. And Rajapaksa, who rode to power on the JVP
bandwagon, had not only ditched them but also infuriated them.
He made many overtures to maintain a continuing
dialogue with the JVP to soothe the tensions and urge his erstwhile
comrades and king-makers to continue the political love affairs.
Emissaries offered date after date on which Rajapaksa wished to
meet with JVP leader Somawansa Amerasinghe and a delegation. But
the JVP kept on telling him they were far too busy.
That was true. They were very busy castigating
Rajapaksa for betraying the Mahinda Chinthana. JVP leaders were
doing so at Jana Sanvaada meetings. Their hierarchy had decided
that 10,000 such meetings should be held countrywide. In a few of
the meetings that have already got under way, Rajapaksa has come
in for bitter criticism for betraying the mandate people gave him
during last November's Presidential elections. The details were
given one after the other to project that Rajapaksa was a leader
who would do anything for political opportunism and survival.
The tempo is to be stepped up now. That is with
the return to Sri Lanka of JVP leader Somawansa Amerasinghe. He
was in Turkey on an official invitation extended by that Government.
Yesterday, the JVP Politburo was set to meet to step up its campaign
against what it calls Rajapaksa's betrayal. Contrary to speculation,
the JVP has not written to Rajapaksa delivering him an ultimatum.
JVP sources say after yesterday's Politburo meeting,
they will put Rajapaksa and his Government on notice. This is not
only on reneging on promises made in the Mahinda Chinthana. They
will also list out a number of other outstanding issues. Already
the JVP has written to Rajapaksa asking him to immediately put in
place state machinery in the East. This is after the Supreme Court
decision de-merging the Northern and Eastern provinces. If this
is not heeded, the JVP wants to make this also a campaign issue.
This UNP-SLFP marriage was clearly the initiative
of a section within the UNP that was clamouring for Ministerial
posts. They first tried a cross-over; but were prevented by the
JVP that was still holding the reins of the fledgling Rajapaksa
Presidency and influencing its decisions. Rajapaksa himself tried
to win over more and more UNPers, but the numbers (in Parliament)
were not sufficient for him to run a long-term trouble-free Administration.
So, he went for the next option; cohabitation with the UNP.
These UNPers met Rajapaksa and his partymen behind-the-scenes
and forced the hand of Wickremesinghe to agree to cohabit. A paper
called Structure for Collaboration was drafted whereby it provided
for UNP MPs to sit in the Opposition and be Ministers in the Rajapaksa
This is the point at which point Wickremesinghe
came hands-on and scuttled the move. He decided to take the negotiations
to Rajapaksa on a one-to-one, and when the MoU finally came to be
signed -- there was no reference to UNPers being made Cabinet Ministers.
It is for this reason, that the original brokers
were the unhappiest persons at the MoU signing ceremony last Monday.
They were stunned when Ven. Sobitha Thera told the gathering that
the Buddhist clergy welcomed this rapprochement between the two
parties, but that this exercise must not be clouded by the craving
for Ministerial posts. So, when Rajapaksa asked them all to stay
for lunch, they could not stomach what had happened, so they left.
On Friday, Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe met for
40 minutes for the first time since the MoU was signed, and the
only two topics that were discussed were the High Level Committee
that was to take this cohabitation forward through some kind of
modalities for co-operation; and the issue of political victimization
of UNPers. There was no other subject discussed, and the issue of
UNPers taking Ministries was not only not discussed, but there wasn't
a hint of anything like it.
The High Level Committee is to be co-chaired by
Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe, but the UNP Leader's appointment of
the other three members to the Committee -- deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya,
incoming chairman Rukman Senanayake and ex-Speaker Joseph Michael
Perera, has sidelined those who were the most eager on this cohabitation.
Prof. G.L. Peiris was one of the unhappy men.
He was arguably the keenest of them all to forge this process of
cohabitation. He was the author of all the documentation connected
with the initial discussion, as was the one who introduced the paper
for UNPers to become Ministers. On Thursday, he sought and obtained
an appointment with Wickremesinghe.
At 11 am., Peiris came to see Wickremesinghe and
asked him why there was no structural agreement - no documentation
- no papers - no details on the manner in which the UNP would give
support to the Rajapaksa Presidency. Wickremesinghe said that the
spirit of cohabitation was what was more important. He said good
relations were the key, and that in such partnerships one must not
Then, Peiris asked what the future of ex-SLFP
General Secretary S.B. Dissanayake was in the UNP.
S.B. Dissanayake has been, for some time, knocking
on the door of the UNP leadership asking for a leadership role himself.
He is now asking that he be made the party's Assistant Leader cum
National Organiser Secretary. This would effectively make him next
to Karu Jayasuriya, but remarks Dissanayake is purported to have
made at a party that he would "kick Karu Jayasuriya around
like a football" - have been conveyed to Jayasuriya. This prompted
his son-in-law and National List MP Naveen Dissanayake to ask Wickremesinghe
whether there were plans afoot to give S.B. Dissanayake such an
exalted position in the party.
Wickremesinghe told S.B. Dissanayake himself that
he could not assure him such a post as there were other senior partymen,
and what was more, the party constitution stated that where there
is an Assistant Leader, as the case was when the late Gamini Athukorale
was 'kicked upstairs' from General Secretaryship in 2001, the post
must be held by an MP. Stripped of his civic rights, S.B. Dissanayake
was also stripped of his seat in Parliament.
Now, S.B. Dissanayake has submitted a string of
resolutions for the party to take up at the annual convention due
on Nov. 19. He had come with party senior M.H. Mohamed to meet party
secretary N. Weragoda with a bagful of resolutions. Among them was
one to make him the Assistant Leader of the party. Ironically, the
resolutions did not have a seconder. Even Mohamed had not seconded
Another resolution was directly aimed at restricting
the powers of the Party Leader, while others questioned the appointment
of a new party chairman in Rukman Senanayake and a new party secretary
in Tissa Attanayake.
UNP's Resolutions Committee will now study all
these resolutions, as well draft new ones that need to be passed
at the convention. This committee comprises Wickremesinghe, Karu
Jayasuriya, Malik Samarawickrama, N. Weragoda, Rukman Senanayake,
Tissa Attanayake, Jayawickrama Perera, Kabeer Hashim, Gamini Lokuge
and representatives from the trade unions, women's leagues and the
parliamentary group. Judging by the members, it seems unlikely that
S.B. Dissanayake's resolutions will get much accommodation.
The Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe summit this Friday
also discussed the possible fallout from the Geneva peace talks
now in progress. The UNP will come into the All Party Committee
that is working out a national consensus to provide a political
solution to the northern insurgency.
Wickremesinghe appointed former Finance and Constitutional
Affairs Minister Kasi Choksy and G.L. Peiris to this Committee.
Significantly omitted is Milinda Moragoda, who together with Peiris
teamed up as the UNP Government's peace negotiators with the LTTE
Moragoda, who continues his boycott of the party
leader, has now been dropped by Wickremesinghe from his meetings
with foreign dignitaries. Recently, Wickremesinghe met Japanese
special envoy Yasushi Akashi and US Assistant State Secretary Richard
Boucher without asking Moragoda to join in.
Both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe decided to wait
for the M.D.D. Peiris Experts Committee report that was due to make
recommendations for a political settlement to the northern insurgency.
But in the process, Rajapaksa has opened up a new flank -- the JVP,
and how they react to what the UNP and SLFP jointly decide to do,
would be clearly the political events that will unfold in the weeks