Mahinda appears to be increasing his speed in the effort to be the next Prime Minister.
Govt. plays T20 with 20A while 76 play for Mahinda
While the 20A was played as a T-20 game finally last Friday agreeing to enlarge the capacity of Parliament from 225 members to 237, Friday also marked another significant feature in the deep South where over 70 UPFA/SLFP Members of Parliament and a host of Provincial Councillors gathered to attend a public rally organized by the faction supporting former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Unlike at the previous meeting held in support of Mahinda at which he got his message read out in his absence, on Friday Mahinda arrived at the rally to boost the crowds. He was so near but yet far from boarding the platform. The Matara rally appears to be an eye opener towards the support that Mahinda still has in his hometown area. Now the message is quite clear. The SLFP stands divided; Maithri Group and Mahinda Group. However, when it comes to a general election, the ground situation is quite different to that of a presidential election. A presidential race is more a personality based competition. At a general, the party is more important than the candidate.
Back to last Friday at Matara, a total of 76 MPs reportedly attended the public rally in support former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. This was an increase considering the presence of MPs supporting him over previous such meetings held in other areas. That fact was confirmed by former Minister Bandula Gunawardena who addressed the meeting. He said the number of Parliamentarians at the rally surpassed the attendance of previous rallies. What Badula stressed in his address was the need to establish a Maithri-Mahinda government, instead of setting up another Maithri-Ranil government. He called upon the people to support the establishment of a new government before the end of four Poya Days to come. MPs Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, Dullas Alahapperuma, Sarath Weerasekara, G.L. Peiris, Bandula Gunawardena, C.B. Ratnayake, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Salinda Dissanayake, Manusha Nanayakkara, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, S.M. Chandrasena, Gamini Lokuge, Tissa Karaliyadda, Uditha Lokubandara, Thenuka Vidanagamage, Ven. Ellawala Medhananda Thera, Chandrasiri Gajadeera, Sarana Gunawardena, Lakshman Wasantha Perera, Arundika Fernando, T.B. Ekanayake, Indika Bandaranayake, Malini Fonseka, Janaka Wakkumbura, Nishantha Muthuhettigama, Chandima Weerakkody, Sarath Kumara Gunaratna, Priyankara Jayaratne and Kumara Welgama were seen among the gathering.
At grass-roots level presence, former Uva Province Chief Minister Shasheendra Rajapaksa and a host of other provincial and local government politicians were present. The leader of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU), Western Provincial Council member Udaya Gammanpila told the crowds that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was close to the venue of the rally, held at the Sanath Jayasuriya Grounds in Matara. He thanked Rajapaksa for inspiring them by his presence. A video footage showed Mahinda waving to the crowds assembled at the grounds from a distance and crowds surrounding him. Gammanpila addressing the large gathering said, the incumbent government’s only problem was that the people still rallied round Mahinda Rajapaksa despite his defeat last January. The rally was the fifth in a series of similar events organized by certain coalition partners of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), calling for Mahinda as the party’s prime ministerial candidate.
T20 on 20A
The 20th Amendment which contained the electoral reforms forced the Cabinet to meet twice last week as minority political parties were up in arms with regard to representation under the proposed first-past-the-post and PR systems. President Maithripala Sirisena summoned a special Cabinet meeting last Monday to discuss the crisis. Earlier it was proposed to increase the number of MPs to 255 but the UNP and MEP firmly stood that the present number of 225 should be retained. When Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe stood against increasing the number, it was opposed by Rauff Hakeem and Palani Digambaram. They claimed the present number looked unreasonable by the minorities. After Hakeem and Digambaram expressed views, Rajitha Senaratne chipped into support the need to get the 20A passed early. He met with stiff resistance from Hakeem and Digamabaram and the situation turned into a heated atmosphere.
The President intervened to calm the situation stating the 20A was a pledge given to the people. The meeting ended with the position standing at retaining the 225 number in Parliament.
Thereafter, the President left to Parliament to chair a UPFA meeting. When he arrived there, he was informed that the meeting had been scheduled at the Presidential Secretariat. When the UPFA group was briefed on what happened during the Cabinet meeting over the 20A, members too stressed the need to increase the number of MPs under the Amendment. The President told the group to submit all proposals to him on Thursday and added he had fixed a special Cabinet meeting on Friday to finalize the issue. At that point, members inquired whether Ranil would be re-appointed as Prime Minister after the next general election. “I have not made such a promise up to now,” replied the President adding that the next Prime Minister would be appointed from the party that commands the majority in Parliament. Sarath Weerasekera stated that the no-faith motion on Ranil must be passed early to send Ranil home. He was critical of both Ranil and Mangala. Keheliya Rambukwella interjected to say, “Recently the Prime Minister came to a Kandy temple and undermined some of our MPs. He has said that the Opposition which had roared like lions opposing the 19A had finally voted for it like puppies”. Bandula Gunawardena joined the fray to lament, “Sir, you must resolve this crisis. We cannot get hammered and also raise our hands to support Amendments. The UNP is targeting us. I was hauled before the FCID. It affects the mentality and psychology of my children. You also have children. Please resolve this as the SLFP President.”
The President who gave a patient hearing replied, “I also have something to say. I know that the UNP is harassing you. Why is it happening? It so happens due to your own faults. After I won, I asked you to come and support me. What did you all do? You ignored my calls and placed one leg in other camps. If you all kept your feet together in my camp, this situation would not have arisen. Ranil also knows that fact. That’s why Ranil is attacking you all.” Stating these facts, the President left the meeting to attend another meet.
at GL’s house
While Maithri and Ranil were busy holding meets on the 20A, the Mahinda faction too met to organize the Matara rally which calls for Mahinda as the next Prime Minister. The final meet was held at Prof. G.L.Peiris’ residence and Mahinda was also present. Nearly 40 MPs representing the SLFP attended the meeting. Among the topics discussed were the Friday’s Matara rally and the no-faith motion on Ranil. The members told Mahinda that they expected at least 75 MPs to attend the Matara rally. They agreed that until Parliament is dissolved, Mahinda should not board the platform but could mark his presence at a point close to the venue. They further said that within three days of the dissolution of Parliament, a special platform will be set up for Mahinda to make his presence. And the venue would be the sacred city of Anuradhapura.
In case Parliament was not dissolved in the near future, the Mahinda faction decided to conduct the next rally at Ampara. The next issue discussed was the no-faith motions on Ranil and Ravi in Parliament. The members agreed to press for those debates. Then it was pointed out that Mervyn Silva and Vijithamuni Soysa were making damaging statements about Mahinda at various platforms. “Don’t take those statements seriously. Both are good-hearted chaps,” Mahinda quipped with a smile.
CBK’s letter to Maithri
Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga had sent a letter to President Sirisena last week, reliable sources disclosed. The contents of the letter were not disclosed by both parties. Sources in the SLFP noted that the former President had reportedly made several critical remarks about the party. She had reportedly claimed in the letter that re-organizational work was yet to start in the party after Maithri’s victory and had warned that the Mahinda faction was trying to raise its head again. She has stated that it would be the last letter she would write to Maithri. The letter resulted in an emergency meet between Chandrika and Maithri last week but the details were not disclosed.
Meanwhile, on the international scene regarding Sri Lanka and her efforts to reconcile the once fragmented society, the Office of the Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General has conceded that a failure in its ‘system’ had led to the delay in the dissemination of a statement regarding last week’s telephonic conversation between Ban Ki-moon and President Maithripala Sirisena. This followed the media making certain observations about the telephone discussion between Ban Ki-moon and Maithri and the President’s Media Division which issued a press release on the conversation immediately after the phone call while a statement from the UN was made only yesterday, six days after the reported telephone discussion.
A statement from the UN Spokesperson’s office stated: “When inquired by reporters regarding the delay in issuing the readout, which had been the cause for ‘misunderstanding’ in Sri Lanka about the call, the Spokesman for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric said: “It was a failure in my system.” “I can tell you that the Secretary-General congratulated the President on his accomplishments since assuming office, including on the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The Secretary-General sought the President’s views on the prospect for electoral reform. He wished him success with ongoing legislative efforts and inquired about next steps.” “The Secretary-General said he appreciated the President’s emphasis on reconciliation and offered the UN’s continued support to Sri Lanka’s peace building efforts,” Dujarric said, at the daily press briefing yesterday.
Mangala and GTF
Following a meet in London between the representatives of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera which was criticized by the opposition, Samaraweera said that topics such as lifting the proscription of the LTTE or war crimes allegations did not surface at the discussion with the Global Tamil Forum and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in London. He told Parliament that there was no discussion of lifting the proscription of the LTTE. He also dismissed reports that talks were held regarding a political solution to the country’s ethnic issue. “Nor did we discuss the impending domestic mechanism which the government, at the moment, is preparing,” he noted.
In response to questions raised by the Leader of Opposition, Nimal Siripala De Silva, regarding the discussions with the GTF, which was given much publicity in sections of the media, Minister Samaraweera said the needs of the displaced people and prisoners held under the PTA without charges were the main subjects discussed. He also said that the annual review of the persons listed under Gazette Regulation No.1758/19 of 15 May 2012 and No. 1760 of 31 May 2012 (by the previous Government) to give effect to UN Resolutions 1373 and 1267, was discussed. “This annual review is mandatory as per the regulations that are already in the gazette introduced by the previous Government,” he pointed out. Samaraweera described the proscription of over 400 Tamil Diaspora members in 2014 as “an election gimmick” and scoffed at such action performed to gain popularity.
“There were people who were included in the list who had perished several years before the list came out. That indicates and confirms that it was a hurriedly compiled list without taking into consideration the true facts,” he told the House. According to Samaraweera, the discussion was attended by TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran, GTF representative Suren Surendiran, representative of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation M.S. Jayasinghe, a representative from the South African Government, a representative from the Swiss Government, former Norwegian Ambassador to Sri Lanka Tore Hattrem and Eric Solheim, who participated briefly on the 1st day to share his experiences in engaging the diaspora.
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa hailed his achievements as President for a decade during which period he took steps to modernize and develop the City of Colombo. Commenting on the recent report that Colombo has become the fastest growing destination city among 132 leading cities around the world, Rajapaksa has pointed out that these improvements were among the most visible achievements of his government and this has now gained formal international recognition.
Issuing a statement, the former Head of State noted, “I note with immense pride that the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index for 2015 has declared Colombo the fastest growing destination city among the 132 leading cities covered by the Index. CNN described the cumulative annual growth rate of over 21% achieved in this regard by Colombo since 2009 as ‘staggering’.
According to MasterCard, tourism had recovered strongly after the end of the three decade long war against terrorism. Rapid economic growth and fast improvements in infrastructure are among the other reasons ascribed to the growth in tourist arrivals.
After the war, my government embarked on an ambitious programme to uplift the city of Colombo. The priority areas were: the clearing up of waterways in and around Colombo and the proper maintenance of wetlands to prevent parts of the city going under water at the slightest rain, the building of new housing estates and the clearing of slums, improving garbage collection and disposal, building new parks and walkways, restoring historic and architecturally distinctive buildings, improving city roads and pavements and constructing international quality bus shelters etc.
These improvements were among the most visible achievements of my government. This has now gained formal international recognition. None of this would have been possible if not for the commitment and hard work of the former Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, the former Additional Secretary to the Ministry in charge of World Bank funded projects and the project team, the former Chairmen and staff of the UDA and the Land Reclamation Corporation, the town planners and the architects of the UDA, the Municipal Commissioners and staff of Colombo and Kotte, the environmental police, the military personnel who supervised and coordinated this effort and the Civil Defence Force personnel who participated in its implementation. I thank them all. They have done our nation proud. Maintaining what my government achieved, is the responsibility of the present government.”
UNP Polls Reforms
The United National Party (UNP) strongly defends the scheme of electoral reforms approved by the Cabinet a few days ago as part of the 20th constitutional amendment. Yesterday the party said the final agreement to expand the parliamentary seats to 237 looked reasonable as the minority and smaller parties should get adequate representation. Earlier the UNP stressed the need to keep the proportion at 5:4 for FPTP and PR to ensure that the minorities were given adequate representation. (Out of 225, 125 MPs will have to get elected under the FPTP and 100 under PR.) They said a bigger expansion of seat like 255 would only mean a “drain on the resources of the country which should be reduced”.
Ranil warns of dissolution
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, last week said that dissolution of Parliament was the option in the event of a no-confidence motion being mooted against him. Earlier, President Sirisena too warned his party against moving such a motion against the Prime Minister whom he had appointed to office. Wickremesinghe told his rivals that there were two options – to take up the motion or to dissolve Parliament. However, he called for the dissolution of Parliament immediately. Wickremesinghe claimed the UPFA MPs, demanding for the debate on the no-confidence motion, were afraid of an election in the aftermath of dissolution of Parliament. The Prime Minister said the government never planned to stay any longer after the conclusion of the 100-day programme period, but it remains in office at the request of the UPFA.
Meanwhile, the delay in dissolving Parliament looks to have put the UNP organizational structure at cross roads. This delay has also put the UNP minority government in a crisis being unable to map out financial strategies. Party sources said that if dissolution was not forthcoming, the party would soon take a decision about its future. The UNP Working Committee met last Friday chaired by Ranil. The UNP leader gave precedence to appoint electoral organizers to meet the challenge of a possible general election. However, certain sections within the party have expressed their displeasure over the manner certain electoral appointments had been made by their leader.
All political parties seem to be experiencing crises in the face of another general election. The present Parliament has life till next April. The scenario is that Ranil wants an early general election. Maithri plays time to resolve crises in the SLFP. Come what may, a delay of holding a general election will boomerang on Ranil and his government in the face of the crucial UNHRC sessions due in September. Geneva demanded a domestic mechanism in place before September. Colombo says the process is yet underway. United States Secretary of State, John Kerry who helps Colombo will have to save his face. The US expects a new government to be in office before September. Hence, all is not rosy for Maithri and Ranil. And, Mahinda appears to be increasing his speed in the effort to be the next Prime Minister.