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Elections 2010: All betel for the New Year?

  • UPFA cruising on autopilot as opposition plunges into divisions within divisions
  • Gen. Fonseka's image further tarnished; court martial likely to be named on Tuesday
By Our Political Editor

The cloth banner on the wall said it all. The left side bore a mug shot of retired General Sarath Fonseka. On the right was a full image of him in Army ceremonial uniform. The middle bore the legend Prajatantrawadi Jathika Peramuna (Democratic National Alliance) with a cross marked against the party's symbol, a trophy.

Last Monday morning, in front of this banner sat Anoma Fonseka, wife of the one-time war hero and now-turned villain in the eyes of the government. On her right was the former Chief Justice, Sarath Nanda Silva. On her left was Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Somawansa Amerasinghe flanked by Arjuna Ranatunga, who has just begun a new innings in politics. The occasion was the launch of a web-based online petition to the Government urging the release of retired General Fonseka.

The venue was No: 3 Rajakeeya Mawatha, once the epicentre of activities of all opposition political parties that came together to support the one-time Commander of the Army at the January presidential election. Conspicuous by its absence was the main player, the United National Party (UNP) or the United National Front (UNF). It has now parted ways with the joint front it formed to support Gen. Fonseka at the presidential election.

For the first time former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva made public that, his political allegiance was with the DNA. Other than him and Arjuna Ranatunga, last Monday's event was essentially a JVP show under the DNA banner. Thus, the Rajakeeya Mawatha office, once command headquarters of the opposition parties to oust Mahinda Rajapaksa as President has now turned into a virtual JVP office. The other one-time allies who were conspicuous by their absence at the Supreme Court when it heard the fundamental rights application of retired General's wife, Anoma Fonseka, were not there to sign the online petition. Nor were they invited.

The former Chief Justice who made the keynote speech was to remark that the detention of Gen. (retd.) Fonseka was illegal under Article 13 of the Constitution. This supreme law of the country stipulated that a suspect or a person taken into custody had to be produced before a court of law within 24 hours. He accused the Government of violating the Constitution. The remarks drew angry responses from other lawyers who countered his views, particularly in the state-run media.

Sarath Silva, however, was unaware that some of his actions when he served as Chief Justice were the subject of discussion at the highest-level weeks earlier. However, these did not relate to judgments or other issues relating to the judiciary when he was Chief Justice. It was over other alleged improprieties. A proposal was made that a Commission of Inquiry be appointed to probe into such matters. Legal officers were told to work out the parameters of such a Commission. However, the move has been delayed in view of the April 8 parliamentary elections.

Mr. Madduma Bandara giving his side of the UNP’s Moneragala mess at a a news conference on Friday. Pic Sumanasiri Gunetillke

If last Monday's events were further proof that the opposition coalition backing Gen. Fonseka is now fractured; there were other fissures too. It was not only for the major constituent of the United National Front, the UNP. Also hit was the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (Mahajana Wing) led by Mangala Samaraweera.
On February 26, the day nominations closed, UNF leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was at home, when he received a telephone call from Moneragala. The caller said Tissakutti Aratchige Chaminda Janaka's name, which was on the nomination list for that District for the forthcoming parliamentary elections, had been deleted. Instead, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, who headed the list of candidates, had inserted another name reportedly. Party leader Wickremesinghe, UNF sources said, was incensed. He had been warned of this possibility and told to be on the lookout. He had hence directed that UNP lawyers present during nominations be alert to this. He promptly telephoned UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake and asked him to write to Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake. A copy was also sent to the Returning Officer of the Moneragala district.

This is what Attanayake said:

"I write with reference to the candidates contesting from the Moneragala District on behalf of the United National Party (UNP) at the forthcoming General Elections.

"The Nomination Paper signed by me as the General Secretary of the UNP setting out the names of the candidates and taken charge by Mr. R.M. Ranjith Madduma Bandara (the candidate whose name appeared first on such paper) to be delivered to you, included the name of Tissakutti Aratchige Chaminda Janaka as one of the candidates. I have now been informed by Mr. Tissakutti Aratchige that his name is missing from the list and instead the name of Mr. Chaminda Senaka Ratnayake has been inserted. This alteration was not in the Nomination Paper signed by me and has been done without my authority after it was taken charge by Mr. Madduma Bandara.

"I therefore, have reason to believe that the nomination paper delivered to you by Mr. Madduma Bandara is one that has been tampered with after it was signed by me without my authority and would therefore constitute a forged document. I shall thank you to take note of this fact and take such action as you may deem necessary."

That the lapse was a blot on Attanayake, the General Secretary of the UNP, is bad enough. Angering the UNPers further was another fact. They say, he sensed defeat and chose not to contest from the Kandy District. Instead, he had placed himself on the National List. And, here was a General Secretary of the party unable to make sure its candidates who headed its lists carried out the party's decisions.

The party hierarchy, however, defended Attanayake saying that with the UNP embroiled in coalition politics, and the leaders of the other coalition parties, Rauff Hakeem (Sri Lanka Muslim Congress) and Mano Ganeshan ( Democratic People's Front) contesting from the Kandy district, they felt that Attanayake should not be bogged down in fighting for the 'manapey' (preferential vote) in the same district. Instead, they felt he should be allowed to organise a national-level campaign, which he seems not to have done too well either.

The Sunday Times asked Ranjith Madduma Bandara for his response. He said: "The problem about Tissakutti Arachchige Chaminda Janaka has been there since the Provincial Council elections last year. There were several people against him as he was a supporter of Mangala Samaraweera. This time party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe decided to allow him to contest, as there was an alliance with Mr. Samaraweera. Even before the nomination period Tissakutti Arachchige had problems with the party membership".

"When we went to 'Sirikotha' (the party headquarters) to sign the nomination papers, I did not find his name on the list. He did not even come to 'Sirikotha' to sign the nomination papers. However, he claims that he signed the papers in the presence of Mr. Wickremesinghe. The list given from 'Sirikotha' did not have the name of Tissakutti Arachchige. I did not make any changes to the original list. I only handed over the list given to me. CID is currently carrying out an inquiry into the matter".

The matter has not ended there. In a hand-delivered letter dated March 2 to the Commissioner of Elections, Paul Ratnayake Associates representing Tissakutti Arachchige has charged that there was a forged alteration of the nomination paper. The move confirmed that the UNP was preparing for a long drawn legal battle. Here are excerpts;

"………Our client has discovered that his name which was third on the list had been erased with tippex and the name of one Chaminda Senaka Ratnayake (said to be bearing identity card number 800321174V) of Kumburegedera, Gallabada, Badalkumbura has been inserted as the third candidate.
"…..The General Secretary of the United National Party has further informed you that the alteration done by the insertion of Chaminda Senaka Ratnayake has been done without his authority after the nomination paper was taken charge by Mr. Madduma Bandara. You have also been informed that the said Nomination Paper is one that has been tampered after it was signed by the General Secretary and would therefore constitute a forged document.

"Accordingly it is clear that the nomination paper submitted to the Returning Officer on 26th February 2010 on behalf of the United National Party is a forged document……..As you are aware Section 66(a) of the Parliamentary Elections Act No 1 of 1981 states that every person who "forges or fraudulently defaces or fraudulently destroys any nomination paper, or delivers to the returning officer any nomination paper knowing the same to be forged," commits an offence. Furthermore this alteration comes within the second limb of the definition of a false document contained in Section 453 of the Penal Code……."

There is a dilemma for the UNP. It is unable to deal with Madduma Bandara since he does not hold any post in the party. Nor is it in a position to sack him from the party since he is officially acknowledged as a candidate. In the highly-unlikely event of the Commissioner of Elections accommodating the UNP's request to place Tissakutti Arachchige on the ballot paper and leave out Chaminda Senaka Ratnayake, it would have to seek Court action. A senior Elections Department official, who spoke on grounds of anonymity, explained that the responsibility to ensure the names of all its candidates are on the list and no substitutions are made remains solely with the political party concerned and not the Commissioner of Elections. "If it fails in this task, the legal remedy for it lies in courts," the source explained.

By the time the UNP goes to courts and receives a ruling, the parliamentary elections may be over. There is only a costly and embarrassing option left for the UNP. All it has been able to do is to ensure that Madduma Bandara is not appointed the Chairman of the Moneragala District UNP Organisation, but that too is because Madduma Bandara refused to accept the letter appointing him some months ago by pushing it away when it was given to him.

If the Moneragala mess-up is bad enough, there was also much heartburn over the National List. It was not only Tissa Attanayake's name on the National List that has angered party rank and file. They say his nomination defeats the objective of placing names on the National List - incorporating would-be parliamentarians from various professions and those from un-represented groups so they could make a national contribution. Staunch party loyalists say young professionals, including lawyers who had toiled for the party have been ignored. One example they point out is the nomination of 80-year-old K.N. Choksy who had lately backed the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration on a fiscal matter in a move that thoroughly embarrassed the UNP. One UNF leader had said he "would not be nominated" though his name is on the list, and that his name was only included as a "courtesy" to an old-timer. However, others ask why place the name if there are no plans to nominate him.

The UNP leaders who were negotiating with their coalition partners appear to have been lackadaisical in their approach to the inclusion of names on the National List. It now transpires that whenever the SLMC or Mano Ganeshan's DPF asked for a name to be included, the UNP hierarchy agreed without keeping a tab on the names, and suddenly found the UNP had been out-numbered. That is why the List is so full of minority members.

The UNP has also accommodated active politicians Joseph Michael Perera, the one-time Speaker and chief opposition whip and one-time party chairman Rukman Senanayake on the National List.

Names for the National List were included, and then excluded at the last minute in a scramble for slots. UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya was trying to accommodate some names, especially some lawyers who had worked on cases for the party, but to no avail. Last afternoon, the party's National Lawyers Association had been summoned for a meeting to discuss this very issue.

The mad scramble for slots had started the day before the deadline for nominations. There was high drama in filling the list for the Colombo District. Even by midnight the night before the final date for filing nominations (Feb. 26), the UNP list for Colombo District was not ready. The outstanding issue was candidature of C.Y. Ram, a Colombo Tamil/Catholic provincial councillor who was being vehemently opposed by the former Kotte and currently Colombo North chief organiser and former MP, Ravi Karunanayake.

He claimed that Ram had not worked for the Presidential election and should not contest. Ram had told Karunanayake that he would ask his voters to cast their three preferential votes for party leader Wickremesinghe, for Karunanayake and himself, but this hardly impressed Karunanayake.

In a quandary, Wickremesinghe asked who would fill the slot left for Ram, then. Several names were mentioned - among them National Lawyers President Upul Jayasuriya and party vice chairman Daya Pelpola. Karunanayake was unable to contact Jayasuriya and Pelpola had flatly refused. The name of Gunaratne Wanninayake, the secretary of the party's lawyers association was suggested. Karunanayake had tried to contact him but failed. It was now 12.30 in the night and Wickremesinghe said that he was going home for dinner and would return in an hour. Unless a suitable substitute was found Ram would be on the list, he said firmly.

Karunanayake also went away sending his security escort to track down Wanninayake who was fast asleep at his Boralasgamuwa home. The security guards had scaled the wall of his house alerting neighbours who had in turn telephoned the Police saying burglars had entered the Wanninayake residence.

When Wanninayake was woken up with the message to contact Karunanayake, he was asked if he would contest from the Colombo District on the UNF ticket. Wanninayake must have thought he was having a nightmare. Pinching himself, he found that all this was true, but he too bowed out of the contest and refused to come to sign his nomination papers.

Wickremesinghe returned at 1.30 in the morning. There was no Wanninayake but two others instead, Hemaka de Alwis and Methsiri Paranavithana. Both of them had been brought by Karunanayake, but then said that Ram was the best candidate. Paranavithana was however coaxed to contest, but Wickremesinghe said that unless Wanninayake gave his consent it would be Ram.

Making that decision Wickremesinghe left for home at 3 am. Attanayake asked a lady typist who was kept for the secretarial work to type the name of C.Y. Ram as the candidate. At 3.45 am Attanayake got a call from Wickremesinghe saying he had changed his mind. He had relented and asked that Paranavithana be the candidate, and the typist was asked to tippex Ram's name and substitute Paranavithana's name. Party sources say that the underlining factor behind the change of mind was that Karunanayake, now facing a criminal court case might be a potential cross-over in a bid to squash the case.

The UNP, a party now getting famous as the tippex party, did not have a reservoir of candidates, a reserve list so to say to contest from the all-important Colombo District, once upon a time its unshakeable strong-hold.

For the SLFP (Mahajana Wing) too, the troubles continued. The shocking news for it this week was the parting of the ways by Dilrukshi,

wife of late Sripathi Sooriyaratchi, who left the Rajapaksa government with Mangala Samaraweera and was a vocal critic of the government till his untimely death in a car accident. She was fielded by the UNF as a candidate from the Gampaha District. This week she accused the SLFP (M) leader of betraying party principles as a prelude to going and meeting President Rajapaksa on Friday. Now it is clear that she will support the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA).

In this unusual move, Ms. Sooriyaratchchi said yesterday that although she was on the UNF list of candidates, she would in fact be seeking to win votes for the UPFA. She told UPFA campaign manager and senior presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa during a meeting yesterday she would also take part in UPFA campaign meetings.

There is no doubt that her cross-over was a well calculated coup by top UPFA strategists who want to weaken and further embarrass the opposition. These moves paid off.

Ms. Sooriyaratchchi told President Rajapakasa she did not "want to destroy her life" by going with people who did not know what they were doing. Rajapaksa was to thank her for offering to support the UPFA. He said her late husband played a decisive role in the 2005 elections. He was only sorry he had to part ways.
Another defection was that of Dr. Cecil Bandara, an old hand at Sri Lanka Freedom Party headquarters.

He returned to his original party and has now become a vociferous critic of SLFP (M) leader, Mangala Samaraweera. Another staunch backer Tiran Alles is now a key player in the Democratic National Alliance. Dr. Bandara was placed in charge of administration at the SLFP (M) office located at Rajagiriya along the Kotte Road. There was also a break in of Samaraweera's office this week with photo copiers and music systems going missing.

For the DNA also, its problems are far from over. On Tuesday, President Rajapaksa is expected to name members of a General Court Martial that will hear charges against retired General Fonseka. At a top-level conference on Friday, detectives and Government legal advisors held a lengthy meeting where matters relating to the conclusion of the summary of evidence and the impending charges were discussed.
This was whilst a retired Judge Advocate General of the Army, retired Major General Mervyn Samarakoon, appeared at the Media Centre for National Security to explain provisions of the military law.

He explained how a military court is constituted, the reasons an ex-military person or one who is serving could be arrested. He also spoke on the provisions of how appeals could be made and how a request could be made to remove a person from the panel (Judges). He said that there should be three to five judges in a General Court Martial and that the accused could bring his witnesses and obtain assistance of lawyers. Associated with him at the media briefing was Military Spokesman Maj. Gen. Prasad Samarasinghe. The briefing was intended to explain that there are no time constraints with regard to a military inquiry.

Maj. Gen. (retd.) Samarakoon said that any person who committed an offence against the state (Rajaya Virodhi Kriyawak), enlisted in the army illegally or deserted the army could be arrested at any time. He said there was no time limit to arrest for these offences.

One of the subjects of discussion this week is whether the General Court Martial should comprise members of only the Army or the tri-services. One view expressed was that the Gen. (retd.) Fonseka is being indicted under the Army Act and hence the General Court Martial should comprise Army officers of his rank or the nearest. This is in keeping with military tradition, that most are unaware, that those who hold much lower rank do not try a senior officer. This is more so in this case since retired General Fonseka is a former Commander of the Army and Chief of Defence Staff. However, others pointed out that a tri-services court could be constituted.

They cited the case of Vijayamunige Rohana de Silva, the naval cadet who attempted to assault late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, with a rifle butt in Colombo on July 29, 1987. This was when the Indian leader came to Colombo to sign the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord. He was tried before a tri services General Court Martial. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

As CID detectives continued investigations, there was more embarrassment for retired General Fonseka, now in custody in an annexe at Navy Headquarters. The latest is how then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, Commander of the Army, released

a Defender Jeep, still serviceable and in good mechanical condition, for sale at an auction which was allegedly manipulated.

The vehicle in question, U HA (Sinhala letters) 8720 was sold at an Army auction in 2007. The successful bidder was Manakkara Vithanage, a businessman. He was a classmate of Gen. (retd.) Fonseka's son-in-law, Danuna Tillekeratne. He had paid Rs 777,000 for the Defender manufactured in the 1990s.

On January 10, when the presidential election campaign was at its height, this Defender Jeep had met with an accident in the Wariyapola Police area. It became known that a serving Army soldier drove it. Police had detained the vehicle and insisted that the owner turn up to take charge of it. It was then that Manakkara Vithanage turned up, reportedly as the owner, to take the vehicle from the Wariyapola Police.
Vithanage has now told CID detectives that he was not the owner of the vehicle nor the real bidder. He had done so at the request of his classmate, Danuna. A junior Army officer had come to him after the auctions and got him to sign documents on which they had taken delivery of the vehicle. He neither paid money, nor used the vehicle, nor had it in his possession, Vithanage has claimed. To make matters worse, detectives have now discovered that the insurance cover for the Defender Jeep was in the name of retired Brigadier Tissa Tillekeratne, Danuna's father.

Detectives are also probing how the former Commander of the Army made a donation of Rs 3 million from funds belonging to the Buddhist Society. This, they alleged, had been done without approval of the society and paid to a temple in Ambepussa. Ms Anoma Fonseka was to be the chief guest at a ceremony on March 5 (Friday) where buildings constructed with the donation was to be opened.

Retired General Fonseka's close aide and campaign manager, S.H.A.(Senaka) De Silva as revealed in these columns last week, turned out to be a convicted criminal. This week, CID detectives found he had deposited Rs 10 million in his bank account. The deposit of this sum had been made on January 26, the day of the presidential election. Detectives said he had been taking different positions over how he inherited the money.

On one occasion, he had named a professional, the son of a former Foreign Ministry official backing the UNP as the one who has given him the money. Detectives are to interview him shortly.

Efforts by de Silva to obtain nominations from the DNA to contest the April 8 parliamentary elections failed. Senior JVPers were strongly opposed to the move though he had sent several messages from his place of custody. A Government Minister this week confirmed the Sunday Times exclusive revelation last Sunday that Belgium had requested the extradition of Senaka de Silva. Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena told a news conference the Government had received the request and confirmed that the man concerned was a convicted criminal.

The Belgian Government's request came to the CID through the Interpol Headquarters in Lyons, France. It is the task of Interpol to communicate with its branches in countries worldwide when requests to track down or arrest criminals are made. Such criminal matters are not dealt with through diplomatic missions or the Foreign Ministry. The Sri Lanka branch of the Interpol functions within the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). Senior CID officials are still in consultation with the Attorney General's Department over the matter. This is because there is no extradition agreement between Sri Lanka and Belgium.

As the campaign for the April 8 parliamentary elections gets into swing, one thing has become clear. There is hardly any overt excitement among backers of the United National Front (UNF). What enthusiasm they displayed during January's presidential poll appears to have evaporated. It is the same with the DNA, more particularly the JVP. With its new leader, retired General Fonseka in custody, and his personal integrity greatly tarnished with new evidence of misdeeds on the part of his extended family, JVP threats to take to the streets have turned out to be only rhetoric.

These are ominous signs that the opposition parties are in for more trouble after April 8. That is particularly for not profiting by the lessons learnt and promising change that often does not come. As for President Rajapaksa and the UPFA, it seems they are on autopilot cruising to victory. The birth of a new political culture is not far off.

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