How Ranil defused the
- SB - Ranil meet and make up
- President meets JVP tomorrow to seek its
The negotiations got underway last Sunday night
with a dinner hosted by former Christian Affairs and Interior Minister
John Amaratunga. The main Opposition United National Party (UNP)
was on the verge of a major split, and Ranil Wickremesinghe no longer
its undisputed leader.
On Wickremesinghe's behalf were the host himself,
ex-Speaker Joseph Michael Perera, one-time NWP Chief Minister Gamini
Jayawickrama Perera, Lakshman Seneviratne, Tissa Attanayake and
Bodhi Ranasinghe. On the 'Reformists' side were former Ministers
Gamini Lokuge, Dharmadasa Banda and P. Dayaratne.
The eating must have been taken very seriously,
for the meeting got really nowhere. They adjourned for a Monday
luncheon meeting starting at 11 a.m at P. Dayaratne's house. There,
the 'Reformists' - those who wanted to clip the wings of the Party
Leader came better represented. G.L. Peiris, S.B. Dissanayake, Mano
Wijeratne, and Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene joined the trio of the
previous night, while the Wickremesinghe Camp dropped Jayawickrama
Perera from their side on the basis that they were not too sure
if the politician from Kurunegala was with them, really.
This was a more substantial meeting where there
was some camaraderie displayed. S.B. Dissanayake went to the extent
of saying that the eight resolutions he signed asking for reforms
within the party were not really his own, they were a collective
decision - that he only "belled the cat" - and played
the role of the pusa (the cat).
The one nagging problem however was the appointment
of Tissa Attanayaka as the new Party Secretary. They could not agree
to this, and the 'Reformists' kept throwing up the name of Jayawickrama
Many of the so-called Dissanayake Resolutions
were amended - for example, the suggestion to include 22 District
Chairmen and 22 District Secretaries in the Working Committee was
pruned to a total of 22 from the Districts on the simple basis that
the room in which Working Committee (WC) meetings are held can't
accommodate more than 100. The WC now has 86.
At 5 p.m. that Tuesday - 24 hours before the WC
was scheduled to meet, yet another attempt was made at reaching
a settlement. This time, they met at Dharmadasa Banda's house. This
meeting got acrimonious when Rajitha Senaratne walked in and Lakshman
Seneviratne objected to his presence saying the negotiating teams
cannot be expanded at this stage thereby further complicating matters.
A proposal to have Attanayake and Jayawickrama
Perera as joint secretaries as a way out was overruled on the grounds
that the Elections Commissioner had held against such a post on
a previous occasion involving the JHU. The meeting ended abruptly
as Joseph Michael Perera walked out of it saying it was heading
Then came Wednesday, the day of the WC meeting.
A proposal was made to have incumbent Secretary N. Weragoda remain
in that post as a compromise choice, and Attanayake stay as Assistant
Secretary. The Wickremesinghe Group refused to budge. It was Attanayake
- or a vote at the WC for them.
Lokuge (one-time Tourism Minister) and Ranasinghe
(one-time Hotel Corporation Chairman) now on opposite camps, were
kept at the Opposition Leader's Office at Cambridge Terrace till
the Reformists gave the green light, but none showed, and at 2:45
that afternoon the former called the latter to call it a day. A
showdown was fast approaching, both sides seeing who will blink
At 4:30 - half an hour before the scheduled WC
meeting, the two sides met again at one last throw of the dice.
Enter Ravi Karunanayake. Nobody was quite sure on what side he was.
That guessing game paid Karunanayake dividends as he came as the
Good Samaritan by offering a Committee to study these reforms as
the answer to the impasse - with himself of course, on it.
Outgoing Chairman Malik Samarawickrama presided
at this meeting inside the Party Secretary's Office. Here, Karunanayake,
G.L. Peiris and Rajitha Senaratne were bitter critics of the Party
Leader. At times the exchanges were heated. Peiris once insisted
that these resolutions must be passed - sammatha karanna oney; to
which Lakshman Seneviratne said he had come to saakachcha (discuss)
not sammatha (pass) these resolutions.
This meeting went on for almost three hours, mainly
on the appointment of Attanayake - to the crucial post of Party
Secretary. Everyone knows why that post is important. That is the
post the Elections Commissioner recognises as the official stamp
of the party, especially for party recognition, symbol recognition,
and at election time. The Wickremesinghe Group must surely have
realised the extraordinary interest shown by the 'Reformists' for
But the Reformists probably realised they would
not be able to muster the numbers to out-vote the Wickremesinghe
Group at the WC.
Just the previous day, Wickremesinghe's Office
asked 65 of the 86 WC members to a meeting with the Party Leader.
Forty turned up, and five who didn't come, pledged their support;
while the balance 20 came in from the Provinces the next day and
also assured support. Known opponents were not invited - so were
some of the fence-sitters.
Bandula Gunawardene was one of the 40 present.
After meeting Wickremesinghe, he went to a dinner that night hosted
by Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya, where the 'Reformists' were assembled,
and told them about the numbers that had pledged their support to
Behind the scenes, Wickremesinghe's apparatchiks
were preparing for war. They knew the 'Reformists' had 12 speakers;
who they were; and what they would say.
They had 12 to match them, in sound and in substance.
Then, they left the heavy artillery - Vajira Abeywardene, Johnston
Fernando and the like, for the final onslaught.
While the last minute negotiations were in progress,
the party hierarchy - Wickremesinghe and Jayasuriya at loggerheads
no doubt - hadn't yet lost their nerve. They decided that they will
keep out of the fray themselves, and allow their respective Camps
to do the negotiating.
Both share the same room at 'Siri Kotha', the
Party Headquarters, and they spent some awkward moments seated at
their respective tables - without talking to one another - until
a verdict had been reached.
Both groups then went in to meet the UNP leader
with the settlement that had been eventually reached. It was finally
agreed to support Attanayake as the Party Secretary. As they made
known their joint decision, Wickremesinghe pulled out a rabbit from
his hat - or so to say, the trump card he had kept with him since
the previous day.
It was in the form of a legal opinion he had obtained
from President's Counsel L.C. Seneviratne on the eight resolutions
submitted under S.B. Dissanayake's hand. The opinion held that the
eight resolutions were ultra-vires the UNP Constitution. In short,
the eight resolutions drafted by a Professor of Law, were all invalid.
Wickremesinghe then read out the opinion to the
two groups for the first time;
The opinion stated that S.B. Dissanayake had proposed
far-reaching changes to the UNP Constitution and had submitted them
within the stipulated time period (but then, that seemed to be the
only thing he had done correct). He had not even stated whether
his resolutions were aimed at amending the UNP Constitution by addition,
deletion, repeal or replacement of a provision - which was a legal
With regard to each of the eight resolutions,
the opinion said (extracts);
"……….Resolution No. 1 seeks
to completely change or alter the composition of the UNP Working
Committee. Accordingly the Leader of the Party would be able to
nominate only 10 members and the other members would be appointed
as specified in the Resolution. As this Resolution results in amendments
to the Constitution, it would be necessary for the proposed Resolution
to state in terms of Article 5.3 if the said Resolution is to be
accepted. But the proposed Resolution 1 does not state so and is
therefore not in compliance with Article 5.3 of the UNP Constitution.
" Resolution 2 - This Resolution seeks to
amend the manner or mode of the appointment of several office bearers
of the Party. The Deputy Leader, Assistant Leader, Chairman of the
Party, General Secretary and the General Treasurer of the Party
are all appointed in terms of the provisor of the Constitution.
………The proposed Resolution 2 does not state so
and is therefore not in compliance with Article 5.3 of the UNP Constitution.
" Resolution 3 - This resolution contemplates
the appointment of the office bearers named therein to be appointed
at the Annual Party Convention to be held on 19 November 2006 should
be ratified by necessary amendments to the Party Constitution to
be effected at a subsequent Convention to be held within three months.
Amendments of the Constitution cannot take place ex-post facto the
compliance with Article 5.3 of the UNP Constitution.
" Resolution 4 - This Resolution seeks to
reject the General Secretary appointed by the Party Leader on 3
October 2006. ……..In any event in terms of Article 8.6
(a) the Leader shall nominate the General Secretary and in terms
of Article 8.6 (c) the person so nominated by the Leader shall be
ratified at the Convention of the Party. Therefore the Annual Party
Convention is obliged to ratify the appointment of the General Secretary.
" Resolution 5 - This resolution also, for
the same reasons as apply to Resolution 3, contrary to the UNP Constitution.
Before any person can be nominated and appointed to a particular
Post, that Post must be created in accordance with the UNP Constitution…...
" Resolution 6 - This Resolution states that any provision
in the UNP Constitution contrary to the Resolutions Nos. 1 to 8
must be deleted. It is thus an omnibus Resolution. …Thus this
Resolution is invalid.
" Resolution 7 - This Resolution states that
any Rule promulgated under the UNP Constitution which is contrary
to the Resolutions Nos. 1 to 8 must be deleted. It is thus an omnibus
Resolution…. Thus this resolution is invalid.
" Resolution 8 - This Resolution is not valid
in the form in which it is proposed…..
" ….. For the reasons set out above,
we are of the opinion that the above eight Resolutions proposed
by Mr. S.B. Dissanayake are not valid and are contrary to the procedure
for the amendment of the UNP Constitution. As such the Working Committee
should not place these 8 Resolutions on the Agenda to be placed
before the Annual Party Convention scheduled to be held on 19 November
2006 for consideration or acted upon by the Convention.
" It must be noted that in terms of Article
10.6 of the Constitution, voting at the Annual Party Convention
shall be by ballot or by any other method at the discretion of the
Leader or the person who presides thereat. However, the Constitution
does not specify the manner of conducting a vote of the Working
Committee. Therefore the Working Committee must decide by a vote
taken in the customary manner, i.e. by a show of hands".
An acceptable settlement - and a legal opinion
under his belt, Wickremesinghe was understandably in a magnanimous
mood. He told the self-styled 'Reformists' that he could have "thrown
out" these resolutions, but he would rather keep the unity
of the party, and so accommodate their suggestions. Having said
that, they all trooped to the WC meeting where the others had been
waiting for over two and a half hours.
It was around 7.30 pm when the Working Committee
eventually assembled for the meeting. The compromise formula was
briefly, as follows;
- The reforms called for be entered in the WC
- None of the eight resolutions be accepted in
their original form
- The composition of the WC and the Political
Affairs Committee be changed by discussion between the two factions
- A Reforms Implementation Committee be constituted
comprising the Leader, the Deputy Leader, Ravi Karunanayake (some
objected to him) and two others.
- The composition of the future Working Committee
would be as follows;
The Leader, Deputy Leader, Chairman, General Secretary,
Treasurer, National Organiser, 4 Senior Vice Chairmen, 6 Vice Chairmen,
District Chairmen, 5 MPs elected by the Parliamentary group, Chairmen
and Secretaries of the JSS, LJEWU, Teachers Union, State Employees
Union, Convenors of the Law, University Students, Doctors, Farmers,
Fisheries, Arts unions, Chairmen and secretaries of the Youth, Women,
Students wings, Chief Ministers or Leaders of the Opposition in
the Provincial Councils, Pradeshiya Sabha Chairmen or Leaders of
the Opposition, Group Leaders representatives, Mayors, Leaders of
the Opposition or group Leaders in local councils, 15 appointed
by the Party Leader, and representatives from any party organizations
the Working Committee deems fit to appoint.
The entire WC was there in force when the meeting
began - except for one staunch Wickremesinghe voter - Rosy Senanayake,
the former Mrs. World who was in the UK. What was to be a ruckus
event, turned out to be a rather damp squib. It lasted less than
half an hour.
A jubilant Wickremesinghe emerged to face the
flashing cameras and microphones of the media corps assembled outside,
and to the cheers and crackers of supporters - bus loads of people
from Hanguranketha and Kalutara having long left as the evening
grew older and the news had filtered through that the Reformists
putsch had not succeeded. They had a long way to go back home. Those
who remained were the supporters brought by the Wickremesinghe Camp.
That evening's dinner and musical show to celebrate
the 'revolution' was called off, as the vanquished S.B. Dissanayake
called the victorious Party Leader shortly past 11 p.m. and asked
for an appointment to see him. Having first advised him not to fall
prey to the schemes of others, Wickremesinghe said he would meet
Dissanayake after the 10:30 a.m. conference the next morning (Thursday).
But the two eventually met only on Friday morning.
Both apologized to each other - Wickremesinghe saying that he may
have delayed the Party reforms process, and Dissanayake saying he
was only interested in inner-party democracy, but that he was firmly
behind the Party Leader, and would not leave the Party.
It was interesting that he would refer to 'leaving
the Party'. There had been much speculation that the modus-operandi
of this new drive for Party reforms was to take the shape of a walk-out
of the WC meeting, followed by taking the UNP to court against the
WC, and for it to culminate in an eventual cross-over by these UNPers
to the ranks of the Government with the obvious aim of clinching
portfolios. The fact that at least one of the Reformists leaders
secretively had a meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the
Friday before without informing Wickremesinghe or his own fellow
travellers, only thickened the plot.
The UNP seems to work a lot around lunches and
dinners, and it was therefore no surprise that Ravi Karunanayake
was quick to host a post-WC party at his residence. He had been
one of the first to burst into the Party Leader's office after the
settlement had been reached to congratulate him on overcoming this
'crisis', and said how happy he was at the way it ended; only to
be spoilt by Lakshman Seneviratne who came behind him, and overhearing
those remarks, said " Are these the things you said at the
discussions - why are you saying different things at different places?".
Keen to avoid a scene, Karunanayake withdrew with his books in hand.
The Party he later hosted was a "Victory
party for the Leader", and probably meant to break some ice
- both into the glasses as well as politically.
There was a lot of the former, but very little
of the latter. Milinda Moragoda, the one-time protégé
now turned conspirator of Wickremesinghe downfall continued with
his 7-week long boycott of his one-time mentor.
As this column had it last week, he had been busy
directing operations from the Singapore Hyatt the whole of last
week. On his arrival in Colombo on Tuesday, he had summoned his
coordinators for a strategy session on the 'Way Forward'. Moragoda
had clearly identified himself with the anti-Ranil Camp. His office
was a hive of activity typing letters, printing posters, delivering
statements to the press, making calls, all against the Party Leader.
At this meeting, Moragoda had got some UPG (United
Professional Group) members - the Party's so-called intellectuals
- to compare their own reform proposals with those sent by S.B.
Dissanayake. Questions were being asked as to why these UPG proposals
should be discussed at Moragoda's office; after all, this was an
official Party group - not a Moragoda group.
(As an aside, the Founder-Convenor of the UPG
Tudor Munasinghe has written in to say that he had only asked Party
Leader Wickremesinghe to consider the UPG proposals on party reforms
together with the N.G.P. Panditharatne Committee report -- and that
he had not supported the Dissanayake reforms).
Meanwhile, Moragoda had boasted that he and Karu
Jayasuriya could get Cabinet posts just for the asking, but they
would rather reform the Party.
Despite all this pre-conference hype, Moragoda
did not say a word at the WC meeting. Nor did he take any active
part in the negotiations showing how averse he is to arguing his
case in the face of a hostile audience. He was busy doing nothing,
really. Most of his viewpoint had to be articulated by Matara MP
Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene.
At the Karunanayake party, he looked at, but did
not talk to Wickremesinghe. So too was G.L. Peiris to ignore his
Wickremesinghe and his loyalists were able to
arrest and put down the party revolt, but the UNP remains a Dis-United
National Party. What arguably gave Wickremesinghe some advantage
in this issue was the twin factors that the coup leaders were seen
as adventurists - or buccaneers who jump from one ship to another
in search of a mess of pottage; and the other, that with the exception
of a few - they were not long-time UNPers in the first place.
S.B. Dissanayake and G.L. Peiris have been in
the UNP for hardly five years. Moragoda, Karunanayake, Hemakumara
Nanayakkara, Rajitha Senarathne for not that much longer.
But Wickremesinghe also saw some of the Old Guard
turn against him - M.H. Mohamed, Dharmadasa Banda, Gamini Lokuge
and P. Dayaratne. Many opted to remain silent not agreeing with
either of the two factions.
An angry Wickremesinghe Camp made it a point to
indicate that in all this excitement, Karu Jayasuriya's name has
yet to be nominated to continue as Deputy Leader by the Party Leader
at the Annual Convention next week.
Some years ago, then UNP Leader J.R. Jayewardene
was under some pressure to appoint a Deputy Leader. The shrewd man
he was, Jayewardene appointed R. Premadasa as 'Deputy to the Leader'
- not Deputy Leader.
The healing process will surely have to begin
very soon if the UNP is not to be relegated permanently to the Opposition.
There are miles to go and work to do. Outflanking your Party upstarts
- and winning elections - are two different things.
Meanwhile, the south resembled a battle zone where
troops and police were ready to respond if there were guerrilla
attacks this week. Naval craft patrolled the seas off Tangalle.
Armoured Vehicles and heavily armed troops were on the ready. This
week President Rajapaksa was at his country residence "Carlton"
in Tangalle. It was for ceremonies connected with the death anniversary
of his father D.R. Rajapaksa. Security precautions were so tight
that roads had to be temporarily closed.
There were complaints that some children were
unable to attend school. Rajapaksa used the opportunity of his sojourn
in the south to speak to local SLFP politicians. Some of them made
it a point to relate what went on during the JVP Jana Sangvaada
(People's Debate). They said the President was severely criticized.
They wanted him to counter the situation. "Balamu, Balamu,"
(Let us see, Let us see) Rajapaksa responded with a broad smile.
Some also spoke of the SLFP's Memorandum of Understanding with the
UNP. The accord, they said, had not gone down well with the local
level membership of both the SLFP and the UNP. He was also in touch
with UNP leader Wickremesinghe on the telephone from Tangalle. They
had several lengthy conversations at least one extending to almost
Though he planned a meeting with the JVP last
Tuesday, Rajapaksa was still in Tangalle. He got a message across
to the JVP that he was unable to keep the engagement. Later, on
Tuesday forenoon Rajapaksa returned to Colombo. The Air Force VIP
helicopter bringing him touched down at the grounds opposite Parliament
fuelling speculation that he would visit the House. Security personnel
in Parliament were alerted. Leader of the House Nimal Siripala de
Silva even walked into the President's office in Parliament to see
whether he had turned up. Police Chief Victor Perera who was at
a Consultative Committee meeting in Parliament was also told that
the President was due.
Instead Rajapaksa alighted from the helicopter,
boarded his official vehicle and drove to a funeral. Thereafter
he visited the Sri Jayawardenapura Hospital to meet with injured
soldiers. He also kept a close watch on developments within the
UNP, particularly what would portend on Wednesday when their Working
Rajapaksa was yet conscious of JVP's reluctance
earlier to meet him. He questioned an aide whether the JVP was still
reluctant to meet him. When told they were not averse to such a
meeting, Rajapaksa invited them for a meeting tomorrow morning at
Temple Trees. The JVP team will be led by leader Somawansa Amerasinghe
and includes General Secretary Tilvin Silva and Parliamentary Group
leader Wimal Weerawansa. Rajapaksa is to give them a brief on Tuesday's
budget proposals and seek the JVP support.
For the JVP the date is significant. It marks
the anniversary of the capture and death of their leader, Rohana
Wijeweera. A commemoration event is scheduled for tomorrow evening
at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium.