Political leaders swim in stormy seas…
The political centre stage looked confused over the past week with signals going in many directions. President Maithripala Sirisena sent shock waves into the calm UNP Sea when Maithri announced at Dambadeniya that he had not entered into any agreement with the United National Party (UNP), and had not given any assurance that he would make Ranil Wickremesinghe the Prime Minister in the next Parliament.
He told the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) organizers there that if the party stood divided the UNP would form a government at the next elections and cautioned them about their future plight. This statement fully confused the UNP, while the SLFPers too wondered as to what Maithri was going to do after the next general elections. The UNP viewed the statement as a betrayal and thought Maithri was going to topple the ladder that helped him to climb the highest office in the land. In that hot backdrop in politics, Ranil decided to despatch a team last week to meet Maithri to know what exactly Maithri had in mind.
Ranil despatched Lakshman Kiriella,Malik Samarawickreme, Kabir Hashim and Ravi Karunanayake to meet Maithri last Monday. The UNP delegation, at the outset inquired of the date Parliament would be dissolved and the fate of No-Faith Motions that are hanging at present. They pointed out that there were certain economic issues that needed urgent attention and the present imbalance in Parliament was an obstacle to resolve them.
“When are you going to dissolve the Parliament?” asked the UNP team.” I will dissolve Parliament at the right time, please don’t ask me about the date,” shot back Maithri. Replying to the question on No-Faith Motions, Maithri assured the UNP team that he would not leave room to bring those motions. The UNP then requested the President to be apolitical during the general election campaign. “How can I be apolitical? I am in the SLFP for fifty years. I am the former SLFP General Secretary and the Chairman now. I have to look after my party,” Maithri replied.
In a surprise move Maithri hurriedly summoned a meet of the SLFP MPs and electoral organizers at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI). Arriving at the venue, Maithri summoned seniors like Anura Yapa, Janaka Bandara and Susil Premajayantha to the VVIP Room for a discussion. Later following the arrival of all participants, Maithri exchanged several views with the membership and Janaka Bandara Tennekoon stressed the need to march forward as a party. Then Maithri briefed the membership on the talks he held with the UNP delegation on the previous day.
After party General Secretary Yapa made the welcome address, Maithri told the gathering, “I decided to hold this meeting as a minority party leader had told a weekly English newspaper that the SLFP will be divided and a new party will be formed. Our people are also spreading the same story at village level. They are telling that they will bring Mahinda from any party under any symbol. You’d better write and keep that if this party is split none would be able to stop the UNP from forming a government. There is no party that had split like our party. On every such occasion, the UNP formed governments. Though I walked out of the party I never joined other parties. I could have dissolved Parliament on 9 January after I won the election. Had I done it, the SLFP would have faced a humiliating defeat. Then I will not face the problems I face today from my party. I also want to form a SLFP Government. We cannot be ruled by other minor parties. Tell me everything you have in mind. There is democracy within the party now. Don’t forget the fate you would have to face if you split the party and lose the next elections”.
As the President concluded, Kumara Welgama stood up to say, “Mr. President, we have nothing to hide. Our former President Mahinda Rajapaksa goes from temple to temple to contest the next elections. He will not budge from that move. The masses are with him. You also have people. We have brought three No-Faith Motions. But none was taken up. The Opposition Leader is responsible for that lapse. What I say is that we should take Mahinda and move forward”.
Thereafter, Lakshman Seneviratne and Dhanasiri Amaratunga expressed views and Bandula Gunawardene lost his cool on a remark made by Lakshman who said the masses wanted 20A more than Mahinda. When Bandula scoffed at that statement, Lakshman retorted that the entire country was laughing at Bandula though the latter scoffed at his remark. “Bandula, you said a family can live on Rs 2,500. There were 4,000 jobs in Kurunegala when you were Education Minister, but you gave none”. “All those have been now filled,” cracked another MP.
Keheliya intervened to change the topic to request that 19A, 20A and No-Faith Motions should be discussed in Parliament and not there and asked whether the No-Faith Motions would be taken up shortly. Nimal Siripala de Silva interjected to answer in the positive.
Dilan Perera rose to say, “A few persons have contracted a fever to divide our party. We don’t want even to divide the country. If we are going for elections we must have a good product to market. In 1994 we marketed Chandrika. If we like it or not, the only product we could market is Mahinda. So let us take Mahinda and move forward”. Susil Premajayantha too backed that idea and it was decided to set up a committee to work out measures in that direction.
S.B. Dissanayake did not look a happy man with that move and said, “What’s the use of a committee? That will only create more issues. Let Maithri and Mahinda meet face to face and solve the issue”. When Upali Kodikara rose to speak in support of Mahinda, he was disturbed. Finally a committee was set up to work out a plan of rapport between Mahinda and Maithri comprising Susil, Anura Yapa, John Seneviratne, Dilan and Welgama.
While, views were expressed for and against a unity between Maithri and Mahinda, there was a silent spectator listening to those views. He was none other than Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, the Minister of Health. Rajitha walked out of the previous government with Maithri opposing Mahinda and Rajitha watched the proceedings at the meeting with anger on his face. After the meeting ended, Rajitha burst out against the move, to the media. The following morning, Rajitha spoke to the people behind the move to patch up Maithri with Mahinda.
- He told them, “We came to the present position after speaking against the corrupt Rajapaksa regime.
- During the polls campaign we went on stage and said we will chase out the Rajapaksa administration.
- Can we talk about re-uniting Maithri with Mahinda wearing clothes?
- Can we ask the people to support to make Mahinda the next Prime Minister wearing a trouser?
- If you try such nonsense, I will quit politics”.
Maithri got wind of Rajitha’s move that if Maithri patched with Mahinda, Rajitha was going to quit politics. Maithri telephoned Rajitha and inquired about the details on the meet latter had with the media after the SLFI discussion. Rajitha told Maithri that he would quit politics in the event Mahinda was brought back into the fold.
“I will not let that happen. I only want to unite this party. There are others in the party who should take responsibility. I want them to shine”, said Maithri. Thereafter, Maithri telephoned SB to discuss the latest trend in the party.
Maithri’s message to Namal
After talking to SB, Maithri telephoned Namal Rajapaksa and requested the latter to call at his residence the same night. Accordingly Namal drove to Maithri’s Wijerama Road residence expecting something positive on his father’s move to return to SLFP politics. However, the message Namal got crashed his hopes. He said though a committee is set up to work out a rapport between him and Mahinda and others plans are being mooted to make Mahinda the prime ministerial candidate, Maithri told Namal, “I cannot give your father such things. I have also decided not to offer him nominations. I will meet him and tell this to his face”.
The committee members also got wind of this stand of Maithri. When the news reached them, they were discussing moves to make Mahinda the next prime ministerial candidate at John Seneviratne’s residence. The committee had decided to make arrangements to give nominations and keep the prime ministerial candidature open till a new Parliament was elected. Though this committee was to meet last Friday, Rajitha told the media at the Cabinet press briefing on Thursday that Mahinda would get nothing from the SLFP and UPFA at the next elections. He stated that Mahinda will not even be permitted to come on the National List.
In that backdrop, Dilan Perera chose to predict that there would certainly be a split in the SLFP if Mahinda was not included. He called a Maithri confidante and said, “Our committee decided that if Mahinda is not given the premiership at least to offer him nominations. We can discuss the appointment of the PM at the next Parliament”. The Maithri confidante replied, “No, nothing can be done. The President has decided against all such moves”. Dilan shot back, “Then there will be a split in the party and we will also have to take stern decisions”. The matters regarding Mahinda went to sleep in that atmosphere by last Friday as the UNP planned future strategies the same morning.
Meanwhile, Ranil sent a letter to Maithri under ‘confidential cover’, the contents which are yet to be disclosed by both parties. Thereafter, the duo met for a one-on-one meet. It is reliably understood that the date of dissolution of Parliament had been discussed between the two leaders and Ranil is now aware of it.
In the wake of that development, Ranil summoned an emergency meet of his Working Committee last Friday morning. The UNP planned to gear itself for an election at any given moment. The Working Committee gave full powers to Ranil to brace the party for the polls and also to name the nomination board. It is learnt that despite representing different political parties, the President and the Prime Minister are working together with an understanding on national issues.
Maithri-Mahinda no talk
Maithri and Mahinda have been avoiding each other in the recent past but they met at a wedding ceremony last week to sign as attesting witnesses. It was at last Thursday wedding of Vinil Gem owner’s daughter at Cinnamon Grand Hotel. A son of the Vinil Gem owner is already married to UNP’s Wayamba Opposition Leader J.C. Alawathuwala’s daughter. Maithri was to attest the bride while Mahinda came to sign for the groom. The entire hotel was crowded by the presence of politicians that day. Maithri arrived just a minute ahead of the auspicious time. Mahinda arrived early, occupied his seat and was chatting with his political friends. Even at the time of signing, the two leaders never looked at each other. But Mahinda asked Maithri whether the latter went to the event that was held at Waters Edge that morning. Maithri replied in brief saying, “yes’. Maithri later posed for a photograph with the couple and left the venue. Mahinda too left after the Maithri’s departure. As Mahinda was leaving, Vijithamuni Soysa arrived and Mahinda patted him on the back saying, “Hello, Soysa Mahaththaya”. All in the gathering burst into laughter recalling the ‘Appachchi mala” (Father died) quip of Soysa.
China has not given up hopes on resuming the controversial Colombo Port City project halted by the Maithri government. Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera told Japan’s NHK last week that the country will review its China-dependent foreign policy and boost ties with other nations. Samaraweera held an interview with NHK last Thursday. The NHK stated, “He is visiting Japan for the first time since the current government was launched under the new President Maithripala Sirisena. Sirisena won a presidential election in January by defeating the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa promoted a foreign policy that relies on China. Foreign Minister, Samaraweera referred to Sri Lanka’s relations with China. China overtook Japan as Sri Lanka’s biggest source of assistance in 2009. He indicated that Chinese aid led to rampant corruption under the previous government. He said the Sri Lankan Government has suspended a project to improve port facilities in the nation’s largest city, Colombo, and is now reviewing it. He added the project may not have followed appropriate procedures. Samaraweera stressed that Sri Lanka plans to advance a balanced diplomacy that strengthens relations with all countries, including China. The minister said Japan rose from the ashes of World War II and became one of the most powerful nations. He said Japan provides a good lesson for Sri Lanka, which went through a civil war. Calling Japan a consistent friend of Sri Lanka, Samaraweera called on Japan to provide more aid and private investment”.
Despite somewhat sour relations with Colombo, Beijing seems to forge ahead in diplomatic ties with Colombo using every opportunity to renew relations. A Chinese delegation arrived in Colombo last week to review the technical aspect of ongoing Chinese-founded auditorium complex at Sri Lanka Military Academy (SLMA) in Diyatalawa. The Defence Ministry said the six member delegation, headed by Major General Cheng Jiang, Political Commissar of the Department of Military Training of General Staff Headquarters of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was welcomed on arrival at the SLMA jointly by Major General Mano Perera, Commander, Army Training Command (ARTRAC) and Brigadier R.W.W.A.D.B. Rajaguru, Commandant, SLMA. The visiting Chinese technical and experts had lengthy discussions with those engaged in the construction project which was a long felt requirement of the SLMA. Exchange of mementoes by Major General Mano Perera and Brigadier R.W.W.A.D.B. Rajaguru with the Chinese delegation brought the review programme to an end. China plans to send more delegations to Colombo on projects already undertaken during the Rajapaksa regime to ensure that those projects would proceed towards completion unlike the Colombo Port City Project.
With China making various efforts to ensure that the Colombo Port City Project would go ahead as planned during the Rajapaksa regime, all channels are utilized to convince Colombo to restart the project. Beijing spends colossal sums of money on publicity and propaganda to see that the project is not abandoned. Even three-wheelers running in Colombo have put up stickers on the project. In the latest development regarding the halted project, the Cabinet last week decided to reconsider the recommencement of the Colombo Port Coty Project following a complete Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, Cabinet Spokesman Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said. Dr. Senaratne said it was also decided to hand over duties of the project to the Urban Development Authority (UDA).
There were many reports in the recent past that former Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was planning to enter politics. Gotabaya too had been making references to that effect but has been playing his cards smartly when questions are directly put to him by the media. Last week he dismissed media reports that he would enter Parliament through the National List and be a minister in the Rajapaksa government.
He did so when he visited the Chief Prelates of the Asgiriya and the Malwatta Chapters of the Siam Sect in Kandy last Wednesday (17) afternoon. Earlier, the New Indian Express quoted a source as saying that the Former Defence Secretary will enter Parliament through the National List. It added, “By not being a candidate, Gotabaya will be free to campaign for the Rajapaksa group’s candidates all over the island nation. He is the second most popular leader in Lanka and every electorate will need his services as a campaigner”. However, the Prelates had thanked Gotabaya for the valuable services rendered to the nation during the terrorist war and had told him that he should now take a rest.
The government and the Foreign Ministry are now working close to establish the domestic mechanism with regard to war crimes and human rights violations as wanted by the United Nations which has prepared a report against Sri Lanka. This report was suspended till September this year in March as Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera sought that postponement assuring that a domestic mechanism would be put in place prior to September, this year. Deputy Foreign Minister Ajith Perera told the media last week that the domestic mechanism would be put in place by beginning July. Perera added that the government had already started drafting the legal framework of the Commission, and the appointment of the Commission would be finalized by end July. Colombo will go before the UNHRC in September, hopefully with a new government installed in office. President Sirisena is very likely to attend the September sessions.