Crucial meeting tomorrow; Wickremesinghe not going anywhere yet; and Premadasa does not want to quit party Concern over AG’s arrest order; police committee to review it while President Rajapaksa advises caution President also clarifies issues relating to missing persons, claims misquotation of talks with UN envoy On the verge of a split down the middle, [...]


New move to resolve UNP crisis: Ranil as leader but Sajith to lead alliance at polls


Crucial meeting tomorrow; Wickremesinghe not going anywhere yet; and Premadasa does not want to quit party

Concern over AG’s arrest order; police committee to review it while President Rajapaksa advises caution

President also clarifies issues relating to missing persons, claims misquotation of talks with UN envoy


On the verge of a split down the middle, rival leaders of the United National Party (UNP), which leads a depleted main opposition now, are locked in intense discussions to remain one entity.

Yet another meeting on the issue is set for tomorrow (Monday). Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is not going anywhere yet and will remain the leader of the party. He contends that he had made many concessions to the rival faction promoting Sajith Premadasa to take over from him as party leader. That included the post of Leader of the Opposition and Prime Ministerial aspirant. On this basis, he says he has a mandate from the party membership to continue as leader until 2024 and that he has the support of several senior members and backbenchers. Any change in the leadership will have to be at an annual convention of the party. However, Premadasa, backed by his group of MPs spearheaded by Malik Samarawickrama, Ajith Perera, Harin Fernando, Harsha de Silva, Eran Wickramaratne and others, insists that the party leadership is a sine qua non or an essential condition before the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Former Prime Minister and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and the party’s deputy leader, Sajith Premadasa, seated next to each other at an election meeting recently, but they are looking in different directions in a politically symbolic way

The issues played out on Friday at a meeting in a Parliamentary office complex, which Wickremesinghe, as former Prime Minister, occupies. Among those backing him and present were UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Ravi Karunanayake, Navin Dissanayake and Sagala Ratnayake. Associated with Premadasa were UNP Chairman Kabir Hashim, Malik Samarawickrema and Ranjith Madduma Bandara. A large group of UNP parliamentarians who could not be accommodated inside the room intensely followed what was going on.

This is the first meeting of the two rival factions with their respective leaders after the chaotic parliamentary group meeting on Thursday (January 16) at Sri Kotha , the party headquarters at Pita Kotte. Details of what transpired were reported exclusively in these columns. The highlight was how the meeting formally adjourned by Wickremesinghe was ‘called to order’ again with Premadasa in the chair. That ‘session’ decided by ’52 votes’ with none against that Premadasa should be the leader of an expanded New Democratic Front. Former State Minister Eran Wickremeratne was on the lookout for a registered political party which they could use together with its symbol at the upcoming parliamentary elections. Earlier, he had even drafted the outlines of a new UNP constitution. Harin Fernando, a Premadasa loyalist, videoed on his mobile phone the ‘voting’ taking place to thus confirm their own “extended meeting.”

But all this appears to have changed. Despite all the brouhaha, Premadasa does not want to leave the UNP. He is perhaps reminded of his father, the late Ranasinghe Premadasa. When President J.R. Jayewardene wanted to sign the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987, the then Opposition Leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike, made overtures to Premadasa, the then Prime Minister. She wanted him to be part of the opposition to the accord. He did not yield. He told Jayawardene he was not in favour, but would still support it. It was Premadasa who eventually tabled the accord in Parliament. Years earlier, he had challenged party leader Dudley Senanayake and in fact sent his resignation from the UNP to form the Citizens Front. The then UNP General Secretary Gamani Jayasuriya held on to the resignation letter without submitting it, enabling Premadasa to ‘return’ to the UNP without an issue.

So, what was enacted at the parliamentary group meeting last week turns out to be theatrics, to mount pressure on Wickremesinghe to quit. But a somewhat politically battered, bruised and even humiliated UNP leader stood his ground. This week, he formally named Sajith Premadasa as the Deputy Leader of the UNP. Not that such a position required that re-assertion. Premadasa was already Deputy Leader. Yet, that was a message that it was that far Premadasa could go. Wickremesinghe is now busy formulating a list of new members to the Working Committee. It will also be announced tomorrow, but it is also expected that the full membership will not yet be filled. Here too, Wickremesinghe has total control of nominating members, and others in the nomination board like Premadasa can at best object to a name, not name their own nominees.

New formula

During Friday’s talks, a new formula to resolve issues has emerged. Wickremesinghe will remain the UNP leader whilst Premadasa would be the leader of the alliance (together with the UNP) for the parliamentary elections. There would be a Nomination Board that will pick candidates of the alliance and this could come under Premadasa. The election of a new UNP leader is to take place after the parliamentary elections. That means through a new parliamentary group with or without the inclusion of the new Working Committee. Wickremesinghe noted that he was agreeable in principle to the new formula. However, a few issues have cropped up. Fiercely opposing the move was Wickremesinghe loyalist, Ravi Karunanayake. After the outcome of the presidential election, he proposed a “national government” with the SLPP-led alliance but their leaders laughed it off. Karunanayake’s issues largely centred on trust over Premadasa. It is at this stage that the meeting was put off for tomorrow (Monday) for another round of talks. With parliamentary elections due probably soon after the National New Year, time is running out for the UNP to fix its differences.

Despite many a shortcoming in his leadership of the UNP or for that matter governance as Prime Minister, Wickrermesinghe’s steadfast assertions that he be the leader is paying off, with dividends, too. At least for the moment, he would have his way. Premadasa had believed that mere pressure tactics would pave the way for Wickremesinghe to yield, the way it happened with the Presidential candidature with disastrous consequences to the party. Added to that is the absence of deep political acumen to strategise on issues before him dispassionately. A close study of his conduct before and after the presidential election bears testimony to this.

In fact, it is not clear what Premadasa would tell UNP local councillors who have been asked to assemble at the Convention Centre along D.R. Wijewardene Mawatha today. The meeting was originally summoned in the aftermath of the parliamentary group meeting where they decided to “form a broader alliance.” Now the move has disappeared. One party member said; “This meeting is something which is organised by the Deputy Leader of the party supposedly to thank the local council members. This is being reportedly done on behalf of the alliance.”

“We have not made any decision regarding the nominations so far. There is time for that”. He was not sure he had been invited to the event.

In retaining the UNP leadership and consenting to allow Premadasa to head the broad alliance, Wickremesinghe is placing his deputy with a great responsibility. It is Premadasa who would thus be responsible for the parliamentary polls campaign though Wickremesinghe has assured his fullest support. This means Premadasa would have to not only choose his campaign staff but also formulate his strategies. Then there is the all-important question of raising funds at a poll which is heavily loaded in favour of the SLPP-led alliance. All types of issues arose during the Presidential campaign over funds, or the lack of it. His close confidants now are mostly those in the second level leadership. Almost all of them lost their own seats badly at the November election.

Wickremesinghe ceding the Opposition Leader post to Premadasa has helped him to climb newer heights. On Friday, for the first time he attended the Constitutional Council. The meeting endorsed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s recommendations to appoint Yasantha Kodagoda as a Judge of the Supreme Court and A.H.M.D. Nawaz as President of the Court of Appeal. Justice Kodagaoda’s name was recommended by Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya.

Move to arrest of judge

The meeting devoted considerable time discussing the repercussions caused by the collection of tape recordings made by actor turned politician Ranjan Ramanayake. They took note of one of the sensitive areas — a directive issued by Attorney General Dappula de Livera to acting Police Chief Chandana Wickremeratne to arrest High Court judge Gehan Pilapitiya. This was after the CID recorded a statement from him over a conversation with Ramanayake when he was serving in Colombo.

On Thursday night, the spokesperson for Attorney General de Livera told media outlets that he had directed the arrest of judge Pilapitiya. At the highest levels of the government, the news came as disturbing. One leader noted that such a move could place the judiciary against the government and thus trigger a chain reaction. Acting Police Chief Wickremeratne was asked to place the matter before a committee of officials and determine whether the arrest order held legal validity. Needless to say, that the move was a snub on AG de Livera. Here was the opinion of the AG, the Chief Law Officer of the State, being subjected to re-scrutiny by a team of officers.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa directed his Media Division to re-issue a January 15 statement regarding arrests. This is what it said:

“The President instructs police officers to act without fear while discharging duties in compliance with the law. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said law enforcement officers should carry out their duties without any fear or favour, but their actions should strictly be in compliance with the law.

“He said that any arrests should be carried out only when absolutely necessary and in strict compliance of the law. As arrest is not part of the punishment and results in the serious deprivation of liberty of citizens and other significant implications, such as loss of reputation and standing in the society, arrest to be carried out only when absolutely necessary and upon a decision taken with utmost care and in strict compliance of the law, President Rajapaksa instructed Acting Inspector General of Police Senior DIG C. D. Wickramaratne.

“President further directs the Police to ensure that, necessity to arrest to be made entirely on the professional judgment. Due respect should be given by officers discharging such duties to the Members of Parliament as representatives of the people and professionals such as Doctors. The Police was further directed by the President to apply same equally to all citizens of Sri Lanka without any discrimination whatsoever nature and under no circumstances carried out for extraneous purposes and should not tolerate any undue influence.”

The AG’s move also sparked protests by lawyers outside the Chief Magistrate’s Court in Hulftsdorp. They carried placards against the AG and charged that he was interfering in the judiciary. Senior government politicians also voiced opposition to the AG.

The case of missing people

Where it concerns the tape recordings of Ranjan Ramanayake, the government finds itself in a dichotomous situation in respect of issues related to the judiciary. On the one hand, some of the revelations have lent credence to the efficacy of the judiciary – a main highlight in the US sponsored resolution due to come up again at the UN Human Rights Council sessions in March, this year. The resolution (co-sponsored by Sri Lanka) makes a call for international judges. On the other hand, the Presidential Secretariat said in a statement that another aspect — the fate of missing persons — has been misreported. This was after President Rajapaksa had a meeting with Hanna Singer, Head of the United Nations in Colombo.

A January 21 New York Times report was headlined ‘I can’t bring back the dead: Sri Lanka Leader Ends Search for War Missing.”

The report written by Maria Abi-Habib and Dharisha Bastians, slamming President Rajapaksa for the remarks, said: “Dashing the hope of thousands of families desperate for word about loved ones who went missing during Sri Lanka’s long, grissly civil war, the country’s new President has offered an unsparing rebuff to their quest for closure.

“The missing are in fact dead, said the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and ‘I can’t bring back the dead.’ The government, eager to close a painful chapter in the country’s history plans to issue death certificates for the missing Sri Lankans, a number put as 24,000. But not all Sri Lankans missing relatives in the 26-year war that ended in 2009 were ready to act as that. The cases are closed. Some rejected the notion that the years they have spent searching for loved ones in the hope that they survive had been in vain.

“Even after 21 years, I still do not accept that my son is no more,” said Vishaka Dharmadasa, whose son disappeared at the height of the civil war between the government and Tamil Tiger insurgents. “I haven’t seen a dead body. I am till waiting for him.”

“She said she planned to keep her son’s certificate of absence, a document that allowed the families of the missing to make legal decisions on their behalf.

“Sri Lanka is haunted by the scars of this civil war. Even as the country tried to move on devastating reminders of the carnage crop up. It is not uncommon for mass graves and old weapons caches to be uncovered during excavations to build shopping centres or upscale hotels in the country, which became a tourist hot spot after the conflict had ended.

“Now, President Rajapaksa appears to be seeking to usher in a new era for the country by trying to close one of the final chapters of the war: the file of the missing…….”

Though it did not refer to NYT by name, the Presidential Secretariat said in a statement; “Certain International media channels had reported to the effect that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had stated that 20,000 listed as missing are dead. In all these reports, however, the crucial detail that necessary investigations would be conducted before a death certificate would be issued had been wittingly or unwittingly omitted. Furthermore, neither President Rajapaksa nor Ms. Singer discussed a number. The subject was discussed in very general terms.

“Most unfortunately, these news items are carrying a misquotation to the effect that President Rajapaksa as having “acknowledged” that over 20,000 disappeared are dead. For the record, he did not make any such acknowledgment and nor did he make a reference to a number as missing or dead.

“The meeting between President Rajapaksa and Ms. Singer was in itself a general discussion that touched on a number of topics. The focus was to explore how the UN may assist the new Administration in areas of mutual interest for both parties. In the hour long discussion, President Rajapaksa outlined his plans to alleviate poverty, improve accessibility to education, address climate change, and digitalising the Government departments.

“Addressing the issue of missing persons was discussed as a response to a query by Ms Singer. She inquired the Administration’s priorities for promoting peace in Sri Lanka. In answer, President outlined his plans to develop the economy, recruit people from the area into the police force and address the issue of the missing persons.

“President Rajapaksa observed that because bodies have not been recovered, families do not know the fate of those who had disappeared. However, most of these families attest that those disappeared had been recruited or forcibly conscripted by the LTTE. Therefore, after the necessary investigations, steps would be taken to issue a death certificate and the necessary support for the families to rebuild their lives.”

It is clear that pressure is building up ahead of the UNHRC session and a campaign is afoot to paint President Rajapaksa black.

These developments come amidst reports that the government is launching a programme to provide 100,000 jobs to the neediest. The Cabinet approved a recommendation by President Rajapaksa that retired Major General Nanda Mallawaratchchi head the Multi Development Task Force (MDTF). President Rajapaksa directed this week that the selection process for those receiving these jobs should be only from among the poor. He has directed that no one should be allowed to interfere in the selection process.

This week’s developments show that the Ramanayake tape recordings and the repercussions caused by them have superseded many other matters. It is in the government’s interest to ensure that the areas that require investigation are thoroughly gone into. This is much the same way that the claim of Swiss Assistant Migration Officer Banister Garnier Francis of a fictitious abduction claim is gone into. Calls made by outside parties have come to the fore. More are sure to emerge and would consolidate the government’s position that it had acted correctly.

Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
Comments should be within 80 words. *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.