The buzz had been in the air for some time that UNP Kurunegala District MP Dayasiri Jayasekera was contemplating crossing over to the Government. After months of speculation, it finally happened on Wednesday. But the bitterness with which Jayasekera made his final speech in Parliament, which was followed by an unexpectedly vicious attack on him [...]


Dayasiri opts for ‘bluer’ pastures with credibility in question

Diatribes from either side of the ‘great divide’ render reputations to the shredder

The buzz had been in the air for some time that UNP Kurunegala District MP Dayasiri Jayasekera was contemplating crossing over to the Government. After months of speculation, it finally happened on Wednesday. But the bitterness with which Jayasekera made his final speech in Parliament, which was followed by an unexpectedly vicious attack on him by some of his UNP colleagues, was another classic example of the well-known adage that there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies in politics.

Dayasiri Jayasekera began his speech by quoting the founding father of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, on the “inherent right of people to the freedom of thought.” “I am forced to make this statement here today because of the dangerous manner in which my right to freedom of thought is being stifled inside my Party. Instead, we have been forced to grope in the dark. Today, I am happy to have made the decision to come out of that darkness,” he said

With that he announced his decision to quit Parliament, as well as the UNP, and contest the upcoming polls to the North Western Provincial Council (NWPC) on the ruling Party ticket.

Throughout his nearly hour-long speech, Jayasekera tried to justify leaving the United National Party (UNP) to join the ruling Party. Being the able orator that he is, he started off in a convincing manner, but somewhere down the line, he lost his way. Instead of coming across as a man whose decision to leave the UNP was based on principles, he became a little self-indulgent and angrily blamed the leadership of the UNP for driving him and many others away.

His speech was laced with quotations from Benjamin Disraeli to Voltaire, but the high flown nature of the speech did not somehow ring true of the Dayasiri Jayasekera whose impromptu speeches previously made on the floor of the House, were far more effective and sounded sincere.

His overemphasis of internal party politics, when delivering a farewell speech in the House, only left the door open for a vicious counterattack from some of his colleagues in the UNP, by which time Jayasekera had left the Chamber. He was not there to see some of the ruling party members who had been at the receiving end of many of his verbal jibes, speaking in his defense, while those with whom he was often seen cozying up in the House, tearing his credibility to shreds.

Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa generously granted ample time for Jayasekera to make his “special statement to the House”, a courtesy usually accorded to members who make a request for such time. But what was unusual was the Speaker permitting time for UNP MPs to respond to Jayasekera, after Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunga requested they be granted an opportunity to respond.
And although virtually, the entirety of Jayasekera‘s speech was an attack directed at the leadership of the UNP, its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who sat and listened patiently, made no effort to respond. Instead, several backbenchers were apportioned the duty of responding to Jayasekera.

The outcome was that the floor of the August Assembly was used to wash more dirty linen of the UNP, while the debate listed for the day on the Sri Lanka Electricity (Amendment) Bill, which is more beneficial to the public, being completely ignored.

Dayasiri Jayasekera walks out of Parliament after stating his decision, with UNP MP Asoka Abeysinghe. Pic by Mangala Weerasekera

UNP Badulla District MP Harin Fernando was given the first task of responding to Jayasekera. The two had hugged each other tearfully a short while earlier in the Parliament library, when Jayasekera confirmed he was quitting, but Fernando now turned his wrath on the departing UNP member, accusing him of accepting Rs 25-30 million” as a bribe to cross over. “This is the death knell of his political career. He has committed political suicide and betrayed the people who voted for him,” Fernando said.

The bad mouthing that started inside the Chamber continued in the Committee Rooms within the Parliament complex, first, with Jayasekera holding a press conference to repeat much of what he said inside the House a short while earlier, but spicing things up a little more by saying that “sexual harassment’ was a contributory factor to his decision to quit.

A press briefing by four UNP MPs, namely Harin Fernando, Ajith Perera, Ranjan Ramanayake and Ruwan Wijeywardena followed. More allegations were levelled at Jayasekera of having accepted large sums of money to cross over, of being ungrateful to the Party that helped propel him to the current level of recognition as a politician, and of being an impatient man, hungry for power.

Here, actor turned politician Ramanayaka said all the awards he has won over the years in his acting career, he would now hand over to his former colleague. “I may have won many awards for my acting, but I cannot beat Dayasiri Jayasekera’s acting skills,” he said.
To the credit of Jayasekera, it must be said that he did not take the easy option of crossing over to the Government side and continuing to occupy his seat in Parliament. Instead, he said, he would seek a fresh mandate from the people of Wayamba at the PC polls scheduled for September but would like to re-enter Parliament at a later date.

Unfortunately for Jayasekera, the stark reality is that, changing sides does not make things easier for most politicians. People identify the politician with the party and, one being without the other, results in loss of identity. UNP stalwarts such as Lalith Atulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayaka who left the party accusing then UNP leader President Ranasinghe Premadasa of harassment, learnt the hard way that their individual political prowess was not adequate to retain their popularity with the public, outside the UNP. Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga who formed the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMC) with her actor turned politician husband Vijaya Kumaratunga, emerged as a leader, only after returning to the SLFP fold. As MP Harin Fernando said in his speech, one lesson that Dayasiri Jayasekera should learn from President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who he newly embraced as his leader, is patience.

The hasty decision to quit the UNP may cost Jayasekera dearly, especially if the people of his area reject him at the upcoming polls. Then he will have time to repent leisurely, while a promising political career may have all but come to an end by then.

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