The Political Column

18th, May 1997

Anura to Ranil: 'won't cut you'

By Our Political Correspondent

Ranil:silent on many political issues
Anura:no travels abroad
The Nalanda Ellawala assassination case took a decisive turn last week when the state moved to discharge fifteen of the twenty six suspects in custody.

The eleven others, including Ratnapura District MP Susantha Punchinilame and ex-Mayor Mahinda Ratnatilleke were charged on 13 counts of murder, attempted murder, grievous hurt and unlawful assembly.

On May 15, The Attorney General took over the case and non-summary proceedings will take place now.

Nalanda Ellawala's grieving mother Surangani met President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga recently to discuss matters pertaining to the case.

Ms. Ellawala reportedly expressed full satisfaction over the manner in which the state is handling the case.

However she has also expressed fears that if Mr. Punchinilame is released on bail that he could allegedly pose a threat to the Ellawala family and other SLFPers in the area.

In other words, she said the rivalry would continue and wanted a solution to it.

President Kumaratunga indicated the government would issue detention orders if necessary "to keep him inside".

Meanwhile the PA is also planning to appoint Ms. Ellawala as a national list MP giving her political clout in the battle against the UNP. But there is a problem as to who would resign to make way for her.

Cooray controversy

Meanwhile, the overall political situation is improving with a slight upturn in the economy while the UNP is again keeping a low profile.

The UNP apparently is trying to put its house in solid shape, though disputes keep emerging with the Cooray controversy being the latest.

The Cooray factor still looms large in the UNP. Mr. Cooray's return to the country gave rise to many questions among UNPers as to whether he would rejoin the party and what role he would play.

But it appears the UNP leaders want to keep him at some distance, since they feel that they cannot project a new image if they carry with them the old guard of the UNP.

This has disturbed the Cooray camp, which believe that he is the man of the hour to revive the party.

What is clear at juncture is that Mr. Cooray doesn't want to go behind anybody to stake claims in the UNP. He thinks that nobody could push him out of the UNP of which he has been a member for decades.

Many party men are known to be trying to bring about a 'rapprochement' between party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mr. Cooray while the latter is pondering as to whether he should have a different programme altogether.

Mr. Cooray is also to revive his proposal to raise funds for the Premadasa Centre to carry out a work programme.

For this, Mr. Cooray has proposed a membership drive all over the country.

'Still these are his people at grassroots level and it's only a matter of time before he gets all together to launch a membership drive,' a Cooray loyalist told this columnist.

Though it looks like an exercise to raise funds for the upkeep of the Premadasa Centre, Cooray loyalists believe that he is in a position to build up a strong network through the Premadasa Centre to make him a powerful force in politics.

The network they believe could act as a pressure group in the UNP, making things difficult for the party's present set-up.

Mr. Cooray's principal aims would be to force the UNP leadership to come to terms with him and avoid a split.

Some UNPers feel Mr. Cooray has the ability to do single handed what more than several committees have done upto now.

Some UNP advisors such as Milinda Moragoda known to be close to Mr. Wickremesinghe met Mr. Cooray to discuss the current political situation in general. But they are tight-lipped when asked whether Mr. Cooray would be back in the UNP.

When Anura Bandaranaike heard about the return of Mr. Cooray he telephoned the latter and said: "You came with a bang". Mr. Cooray laughed and discussed personal and political matters.

As the Cooray controversy continues, another group in the UNP is trying to bolster the position of General Secretary Gamini Atukorale in the backdrop of the possible re-entry of the former General Secretary.

Mr. Atukorale has had some of his functions delegated to others such as Charitha Ratwatte and Daham Wimalasena, and will carry on as General Secretary for some time, largely because of on-going plans to restructure the party at grassroots level.

Mr. Wickremesinghe on a recent tour of the Central, North Central and North Western Provinces got first hand knowledge as to how the party structure works in these Provinces and is contemplating steps to strengthen it at grassroots level.

As for Mr. Cooray, his staff is now going through the computer printouts where they have thousands of addresses of Gam Udawa beneficiaries. Soon these beneficiaries will receive letters from the Premadasa Centre, inviting them to join it to foster Premadasa ideals. Whether or not Mr. Cooray's drive will pose a challenge to the UNP leadership is yet to be seen.

Besides this, UNP circles are talking about a heart-to-heart chat between Mr. Wickremesinghe and Mr. Bandaranaike at the Horton Place residence of The Grindlays Bank's outgoing General Manager Ananda Atukorale.

This house which originally belonged to the lawyer Aellian Nanayakkara was the venue for many a political discussion during the mid-sixties when Dudley Senanayake was the Prime Minister.

At the meeting, Mr. Bandaranaike re-iterated that he would not undermine Mr. Wickremesinghe's authority in the party.

Mr. Bandaranaike said, "I won't cut you." But Mr. Bandaranaike also pointed out that the party members were criticising them for inaction.

He said that Mr. Wickremesinghe's policy of not strongly reacting to President Kumaratunga's political moves had perturbed some party loyalists.

He said they were wondering why Mr. Wickremesinghe was silent on many political issues.

The main grievance of these party members as pointed out by Mr. Bandaranaike, was that the UNP had allowed President Kumaratunga to decide on the course of the UNP.

Mr. Bandaranaike also promised not to go overseas but to stay and fight together with Mr. Wickremesinghe.

Minority parties

On the plus side the UNP's fight against the now disgraced Broadcasting Authority Bill was successful. While the UNP fought it out in the Supreme Court, it would not organize any mass public protest as many journalists did not want to be identified with the party.

Many journalists believed the UNP had little right to talk about freedom of the media, after what happened during the latter part of the UNP regime.

Even within the UNP, there were diverse views on the Broadcasting Authority Bill. When one MP moved to get the signatures of others against the Bill, some MPs opposed the move.

They felt there should be some control over the media.

One MP said that any party while in the opposition championed the cause of media freedom but when in office, it used the jackboot.

A recent muppet show on the TNL was a good example for these UNP MPs. It portrayed ex-President Premadasa, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, President Kumaratunga and even the alleged assassin of Mr. Premadasa, Babu. There were mixed reactions to the programme while UNPers tried to find out who was behind it.

Be that as it may, the latest development within the UNP circles is the move by the leadership to get the Chief Opposition Whip, Wijeyapala Mendis, to step down as an MP.

This comes in the wake of findings of a Special Presidential Commission probing malpractices of the previous regime. The SPC found Mr. Mendis guilty of a land transaction and recommended stripping of his civic rights.

But the stripping of civic rights needs a two thirds majority in Parliament but it is not clear the UNP would support it.

However, the UNP leadership is likely to ask Mr. Mendis to step down.

If that happens, the UNP would have to elect a new Chief Opposition Whip which is most likely to go to Gamini Atukorale, the present General Secretary.

This will enable the party leadership to appoint a person of its choice as General Secretary.

But the present political trend in the UNP may not help such a move, since the leadership favours Mr. Atukorale's Secretaryship at this stage, in the background of Mr. Sirisena Cooray's return to the island.

Two others in the running for the post of Chief Opposition Whip would be Nanda Mathew and Dharmadasa Banda, now Deputy Whips.

Apart from these developments, the UNP's intention to talk to the LTTE directly was revealed last week.

The UNP had unofficial talks with the Eastern political authority of the LTTE and asked for any country of LTTE's choice to have direct talks. But the LTTE has apparently rejected the offer saying that it was not the opportune time.

In its feelers, the UNP had projected itself a party concerned about the welfare of Tamil refugees. It indicated it would even work for the well-being of the refugees in areas under LTTE control in the East if the rebels gave the greenlight for that.

Though the UNP is showing much concern for the rehabilitation of the refugees, it is dragging its feet on the Tamil question as a whole.

When a delegation consisting of minority Tamil and Muslim groups met a UNP team recently, the minorities felt that the main opposition party was trying to side-step the main issues.

TULF Leader M. Sivasithamparam was openly critical of the UNP's attitude at a time when the Tamil parties are pondering on whether they should support the government's move to hold local elections in the liberated areas in the North-East.

At present the Tamil minority parties are discussing whether they should contest as separate parties or as a front.

However, the TULF is not in favour of having elections and initially it did not want to contest. But it is likely that consensus will emerge.

In the meantime the TULF's announcement that it had reached an understanding with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress on the question of the unit of devolution has brought about a new dimension in minority politics. The lack of consensus on this issue had been considered the chief obstacle to pushing a strong case for regional autonomy in the North-East.

Four years ago, when the Tamil parties presented their case to President Premadasa, he avoided any commitment on a devolution package till they first reach consensus with the SLMC.

The TULF at last week's meeting between the UNP and Tamil minority parties said the understanding with the SLMC included the formation of a Muslim majority South-East territorial unit comprising the Kalmunai, Sammanthurai and Pottuvil electorates of the Ampara District from which the Sinhala majority Ampara District would be carved out, while the rest of the North-Eastern Province would constitute a Tamil majority unit where the Muslims will have enhanced representation.

But many Tamil parties are not happy with the arrangement while TULF's parliamentary group leader Joseph Pararajasingham said that he was kept in the dark on this arrangement.

Premature retirement

Another major story doing the rounds in political circles is the attitude of the government which ultimately led to the premature retirement of one of Sri Lanka's most respected diplomats Jayantha Dhanapala.

In Parliament UNP MP Karunasena Kodituwakku has raised the following questions on the matter from the Foreign Minister:

(1) Did Mr. Dhanapala seek the approval of the government to run for the post of UN Secretary General?

(2) Is it true that some foreign governments, including that of the USA, supported his candidature? If so, what are those countries and Agencies?

(3) Has any action been taken by the government with regard to Mr. Dhanapala's request?

(4) Did Mr. Dhanapala seek the approval and backing of your Ministry to run for the post of Director, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna? If so why was he not allowed?

(5) Mr. Dhanapala, who is described as one of the bright sparks of Sri Lanka Foreign Service, has sought early retirement from the diplomatic service?

(6) Do you approve of the position that while most other countries are heavily campaigning for this type of prestigious post, your Government is denying our diplomats the positions they have earned on their own merit?

In reply, Mr. Kadirgamar said:

(1) Mr. Dhanapala sought the support of the Government to run for the post of UN Secretary General. He was informed that the Government would first support a second term for Mr. Boutros Boutros Ghali, as previous Secretaries General has been elected for two terms, and would next support another African candidate so that the African continent would not be deprived of its legitimate expectation of two terms for an African national and, thirdly, would consider supporting Mr. Dhanapals's candidature if the first two alternatives failed. Mr. Dhanapala accepted that position. I am not aware of any other Sri Lankan who had any interest in this post.

(2) The Government of Sri Lanka was not informed by any foreign Government or agency that it supported Mr. Dhanapala's candidature. Neither did Mr. Dhanapala inform the Government that he had any such support.

(3) Does not arise in view of the answer to Question 1.

(4) Mr. Dhanapala sought the approval of the Government to run for the post of Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Her Excellency the President decided that the over-riding consideration in a matter of this kind is whether the national interest would be better served by his holding the post in question or by his continuing to serve the Government as one of its senior Ambassadors. The Government entertained no doubt that at this critical juncture in the affairs of the country his service as the head of an important Mission far outweighed any advantage that might accrue to the country from his being the Director General of the IAEA. Our foreign service is faced with a desperate shortage of experienced senior personnel. The Government expects all its senior personnel to place their experience and expertise at the service of the Government until their retirement.

In 1965 Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake was requested by several Commonwealth Prime Ministers to release the late Glannie Peiris, a senior foreign service official, to be the first, Commonwealth Secretary-General, but Prime Minister Senanayake particularly wanted him to be our Ambassador in Bonn. Mr. Peiris readily agreed and consequently a Canadian was appointed Secretary-General.

(5) This is a statement not a question.

(6) It is naive to assume that our diplomats "earn" international positions "on merit".

These positions are fiercely contested. For such positions the Government of Sri Lanka does not foolishly support national candidates whose services are urgently required by the State or who do not have any reasonable prospect of securing such a post.

However, Mr. Dhanapala tendered his resignation from the diplomatic service last month, making meaningless the Government's decision that his services are required for the country.

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