More provincial councils run by the former ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) are set to change hands with UPFA members throwing their support behind the United National Party (UNP). Provincial governors are being pressed by council members to change the councils’ chief ministers who are suddenly finding themselves deserted by their own party members [...]


Musical chairs in provincial councils

Five to change hands as members rush to back former foes

More provincial councils run by the former ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) are set to change hands with UPFA members throwing their support behind the United National Party (UNP).

UNP’s Harin Fernando being sworn in as Chief Minister of Uva Provincial Council. Pic by Palitha Ariyawansa

Provincial governors are being pressed by council members to change the councils’ chief ministers who are suddenly finding themselves deserted by their own party members who are flocking to back President Maithripala Sirisena and the new UNP-dominated national government.

This week, Uva Provincial Council then-opposition leader, the UNP’s Harin Fernando, was sworn in as Chief Minister, with the UPFA in four more councils – North Western, Central, North Central and Western Province – set to lose its majority.

Five UPFA members of the Uva Provincial Council joined 13 members from the UNP-led then-Opposition to submit affidavits requesting Governor Nanda Mathew to appoint Mr. Fernando as Chief Minister, replacing the UPFA’s Sashindra Rajapaksa.

The UPFA received 19 seats including two bonus seats in last year’s Uva provincial council election while the UNP received 13 seats and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) two seats.

Mr. Fernando said he had the support of 18 members including UNP crossover member Janaka Tissa-kuttiarachchi.

With North-Western Provincial Council Chief Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera extending his support to President Maithripala Sirisena, all 34 UPFA members of that council, along with the two Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) members, have pledged their support to the Sirisena government.

With Rishard Bathiyudeen of the All-Ceylon Muslim Congress (ACMC) and Rauff Hakeem of SLMC joining President Sirisena’s government, the Eastern Province is seeing drastic changes.

Now the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leads the Council after other parties defected from the then-ruling UPFA.

Previously, a UPFA-led coalition held power in the council with 14 seats (including the two bonus seats), supported by seven SLMC members. The TNA, then heading the opposition, had 11 members and the UNP, four.

The SLMC crossed to the opposition after its leader pledged support to President Sirisena. They were joined by a Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) member, which gave the then-opposition a majority in council so it now leads the council. Adding to the complex mix, the UPFA members pledged support to President Sirisena.

In the Western Provincial Council, Chief Opposition Whip Harshana Rajakaruna said discussions were being held with a group of UPFA members to topple the UPFA-led council leadership. The UPFA has 56 members in council and the UNP, 28. Mr. Rajakaruna said all other parties had extended their support to President Sirisena.

“We are getting positive responses from UPFA members of the council. The next sitting is on January 20,” he said.

Council Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said he had the support of 56 members of the 104-member council.

Western Provincial Council Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga at a news conference. Pic by Amila Gamage

Mr. Ranatunga said Western Provincial Governor Alawi Moulana had been briefed to avoid appointing a new chief minister in a manner similar to how matters evolved in the Uva Provincial Council.

The trend continues even in the Central Province where, this week, 34 UPFA councillors submitted affidavits to Central Province Governor Tikiri Kobbekaduwa requesting the appointment of Thilina Bandara Tennakoon (UPFA) as chief minister, replacing Sarath Ekanayake (also UPFA).

The councillors included Opposition Leader Ranjith Aluvihare (UNP) and other members of the Opposition as well as some UPFA members.

The Sunday Times learns that as Mr. Aluvihare plans to present himself as a candidate at the forthcoming parliamentary elections, UNP members too support the appointment of Mr. Tennakoon as chief minister.

Governor Kobbekaduwa has sought advice from both the SLFP and the Attorney-General on the legality of such an appointment as both Mr. Ekanayake and Mr. Tennakoon are from the same party.

The North Central Provincial Council’s Opposition is also planning to obtain the majority support of UPFA councillors for a change of chief minister.

The UPFA obtained 21 seats at the last election in the province while the UNP had 11 and one for the JVP. But this changed after UPFA councillors Peshala Jayaratne and P.B. Dissanayake crossed to the UNP and the UNP Opposition Leader Kingsley Nelson joined the UPFA.

“We will be getting support from about 20 UPFA councilors, and documents are being prepared. Next week will see many changes in the Provincial Council,” Opposition member Anil Ratnayake said.

Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council Opposition Leader Thusitha Wijemanne said that although there was a wide gap in seat numbers (UPFA 28, UNP 14) discussions were on foot to gain UPFA support for a change in leadership.

Sabaragamuwa started to change when one of its 28 UPFA members, Jayatissa Ranaweera, extended his support to President Sirisena. Along with the 14 UNP members are two from the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC).

It is not only provincial councils that are seeing a change of power: UPFA-led Matara Municipal Council could fall to the UNP, Opposition Leader Upul Nishantha said.

Matara council has 15 members, of whom nine were from the UPFA. When UPFA member Raj Chandralal extended his support to President Sirisena, however, that number went down to eight. The UNP has seven. Mr. Nishantha said he is confident that another three UPFA members would cross over to the Opposition.

Mayor Sosindra Handunge, indicates he means to stay on, saying that he will remain a UPFA member but support President Sirisena’s 100-day reform programme.

Governor angered by rowdy intrusion

By our Badulla
correspondent Palitha Ariyawansa

Heated arguments took place at Uva province Governor Nanda Mathew’s office when former provincial minister Chamara Sampath Dasanayake and M.P. Leelasena stormed in with a lawyer and demanded the reinstatement of former chief minister Sashindra Rajapaksa whose position was taken by the UNP’s Harin Fernando following the request of a majority of council members.

The councillors and President’s Counsel Marshal Perera produced a document said to be an emailed letter from Mr. Rajapaksa.

The Governor refused to accept the letter and told his visitors they were free to take legal action if the decision he had made was illegal.
Governor Mathew also ordered council member Chamara Sampath to leave his office over his unruly behaviour and threats.

The councillor said the Governor’s personal security guard had drawn a pistol and tried to block him from entering the office and that he will lodge a complaint.

Badulla police official said the Governor does not have a personal bodyguard or a security guard with a pistol.

Governor Mathew said that before publishing the gazette of the Chief Minister’s appointment he had annulled the appointment of the previous CM via a gazette notice.

Chamara Sampath Dasanayake exchanging heated words with Uva Province Governor Nanda Mathew

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