UPFA rebels to show their strength at Thursday’s anti-ETCA protest

As anticipated, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party has launched an offensive against the political protest rally to be held in Colombo on Thursday by the UPFA parliamentary dissident faction against the proposed ETCA economic agreement being negotiated with India.

In swift implementation of a party central committee decision, letters have been sent to all SLFP MPs prohibiting them from attending any rallies and demonstrations organised by other political groups.

Although the letter does not directly refer to the rally planned by the UPFA dissidents, who call themselves the ‘joint opposition’ in Parliament, the timing and tone of the SLFP letter indicated that it had some bearing on the dissidents’ event. The letter also says that those who violate the decisions made by the party Central Committee in this regard run the risk of disciplinary action.

At a recent meeting, the Central Committee decided to empower its disciplinary committee to take action against any member violating party discipline, irrespective of their positions in the party.

ETCA protest

This means the SLFP MPs supporting President Sirisena will not attend the demonstration against ETCA. Some Sirisena supporters have actually adopted a stony silence when it comes to the proposed agreement with India. Others, who hold ministerial portfolios under the national unity government, have chosen to support the move.

The ones who are vociferous about the proposed ETCA are the ones supporting former President Rajapaksa’s comeback bid. The SLFP seniors are of the view that the dissidents are latching on to the ETCA protest as they need fresh slogans to revive their political campaign.

As predicted in this column last week, the march against the proposed agreement will be a real litmus test of the political strength of the UPFA’s dissident parliamentary group known as ‘joint opposition’. It will demonstrate their real support-base within the SLFP camp and their ability to form a separate political party ahead of the next local government election..

However, a section of SLFP MPs have already decided to attend the rally, defying the Central Committee order.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer, a SLFP Parliamentarian who is a senior figure in the pro-Rajapaksa group, claimed that party dissidents had not received any warning letter from the Central Committee so far.

He insisted that the group supporting the former President would attend Thursday’s rally and that they were “ready to face any repercussion”.

These manoeuvres indicate that the anti-ETCA rally at Hyde Park, Colombo, on March 17 will be a decisive point for an SLFP grappling with a serious internal power struggle.

To counter the UPFA dissidents’ propaganda campaign against ETCA, the UNP too is now planning to stage its own public demonstration early next week.

Telecommunications and Digitial Infrastructure Minister Harin Fernando, a young and dynamic politician in the UNP, has been entrusted with the task of organising the UNP rally.

Occult on Women’s Day

The SLFP’s events to celebrate International Women’s Day was a clear manifestation of the current state of affairs in the party. Both warring factions in the party took measures to convene separate meetings to celebrate Women’s Day.

The SLFP, under the directive of the party chairman, invited its women’s branch members for a special workshop at the party headquarters to discuss ways to strengthen the party.

The party’s women’s wing members received telephone calls from the party headquarters with regard to the workshop and the SLFP managers had informed them that it was the ‘official’ function organised by the party to mark Women’s Day.

They were also informed that the event would be held under the auspices of President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

At the same time, local government politicians of the SLFP dissident faction supporting former President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited the homes of female party activists and invited them to join a coconut-breaking ritual event in protest against the Government also scheduled for March 8.

This latest coconut-breaking occult ritual came nearly a month after the now infamous coconut-breaking ritual organised by the Rajapaksa group at the Seenigama Devalaya where some senior pro-Rajapaksa parliamentarians got pick-pocketed!

It was all too evident that the coconut-breaking ritual was organised to spoil the official Women’s Day celebration of the SLFP.

The non-SLFP partners of the UPFA, most of them being smaller political parties backing the Rajapaksas, also supported the coconut ritual, which was held at the Navagamuwa Devalaya and had the participation of former president Rajapaksa.

UPFA Gen Secy

It was against this backdrop of infighting that the UPFA executive committee met at the President’s Paget Road residence last week to appoint the coalition’s new General Secretary. After former General Secretary Prof. Vishwa Warnapala’s demise, there were several potential candidates eyeing the key-decision making post of the SLFP-led UPFA coalition.

Among them were Ministers S.B. Dissanayake, Mahinda Amaraweera, Dilan Perera and Susil Premajayantha. Meanwhile, the ‘joint opposition’ UPFA dissident faction had requested President Sirisena to appoint one of their members to the General Secretary post of the UPFA. The request, not surprisingly, did not elicit a positive response from the President.

However, the winner of the race was Mahinda Amaraweera, who positioned himself as a staunch supporter of President Sirisena after the Presidential election, last year.

President Sirisena proposed Amaraweera’s name as the new General Secretary of the Alliance and it was seconded by S.B. Dissanayake. There was no division in the UPFA Central Committee over Amaraweera’s appointment and the latter became the unanimous choice of the committee members.

Another prominent figure attending the UPFA’s Executive Committee meeting was former President Kumaratunga, a patron of the SLFP. She sat next to President Sirisena throughout the meeting.

Amaraweera, the new General Secretary, was among the few Sirisena supporters who secured their seats at the last Parliamentary election, contesting on the UPFA ticket. The appointment came ahead of important local government elections where the SLFP-led coalition’s political strength will be tested.

The first challenge for Amaraweera is to revive negotiations with the SLFP’s coalition partners in the UPFA.

The SLFP has already decided that it will not ally with ‘racist’ political parties in the future. Therefore, one has every reason to believe that Wimal Weerawansa’s National Freedom Front and the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya, led by Udaya Gammanpila, will be left out of any future alliance.

But, the UPFA’s traditional supporters like the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, Lanka Samasamaja Party and the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party are still open-minded about the future of the Alliance. Although these parties’ leaders were seen together with the UPFA dissidents in some recent media briefings, they are cautious about the activities of the ‘joint opposition’ due to its ultra-nationalist leanings.

This opens up a fresh opportunity for Amaraweera, a politician from the Hambanthota district, to open up a new dialogue with traditional supporters of the UPFA to form a formidable force at the local government election.

At his first press conference as the UPFA General Secretary, Amaraweera said he would focus more on building unity among the parties of the UPFA. At the same press briefing, he invited political parties who have distanced themselves from the activities of the UPFA to join together and form a collective force.

Ranawaka’s hit-and-run charge

Megapolis Development Minister and JHU stalwart Patali Champika Ranawaka found himself in the middle of a major controversy last week as a jeep belonging to his ministry was involved in an accident.

The accident, which occurred on Sunday, February 28, injured two riders namely Sandeep Sampath, a resident of Meegoda, and M. Abeysundera, a resident of Colombo 5. Sandeep received serious injuries on his head and is at the Intensive Care Unit of the Colombo National Hospital. His pillion rider Abeysundara suffered a broken arm.

According to eye-witness accounts, the jeep had failed to stop at the scene of the accident and another two riders who spotted the incident had followed the jeep. The chasers, namely Gayashan Vinura and Mohommed Sufai, were friends of Sandeep and Abeysundara and the group was on its way back after a motor show at the BMICH, Colombo.

“On February 28, six of us went to watch the Motor Show at the BMICH. Around 10 p.m., we headed towards Rajagiriya on our motorcycles. Two of our friends went ahead of us and we – Sufai and I – rode our motorcycles behind Sandeep and another friend. That was when Sandeep’s motorcycle was knocked down by a jeep. When that occurred, I saw that the vehicle that hit Sandeep’s motorbike drive away, so I gave chase to it with Sufai.

“I managed to obstruct the path of the jeep and attempted to open the front passenger side door to beat the driver up, when someone wearing sunglasses climbed out of the passenger side. We did not see anyone else in the vehicle. When he climbed out of the jeep, he took off his sunglasses and said ‘don’t assault me, I am Minister Champika Ranawake, it was my fault. I will go to the Borella Police with you.’ I didn’t want to go with him because I was scared. So I asked for his national identity card but he refused to give it. He was the only one in the vehicle,” the two riders, who gave two written statements to the Police with regard to the incident, told media.

“We then went to the Welikada Police to lodge a complaint over the incident. While we were waiting at the Police station, the vehicle involved in the accident, bearing registration number KT 7545 was also brought to the Police Station.

“In our statements, we stated how the accident occurred and that the driver was indeed Minister Champika Ranawaka. The Police officer wrote down the complaint in a small book but he did not allow us to read the complaint before he made us sign it,” they also added.

Meanwhile, Minister Ranawaka too made a statement regarding the accident, refuting statements made by the two youth. The statement first appeared on his official Facebook page which had over 225,000 followers.

Explaining his version of the accident, Ranawaka, an outspoken minister of the government, said certain media institutions and social media were disseminating false and biased news to tarnish his image.

He stated that the law had been followed and that his driver, who was involved in the accident, had been arrested and court had suspended his driving license.

“The Rajagiriya police is conducting investigations into the accident. Certain media are spreading false news that the driver of the jeep ran away after the accident. Police had arrested the driver on the spot based on statements made by onlookers”, Ranawaka said in his statement.

1000 cc bike

The minister also alleged the bike involved in the accident was one with a 1000 cc engine, banned on Sri Lankan roads.

The minister’s remark on the engine capacity of the bike was affirmed by Police media spokesman ASP Ruwan Gunasekera who said the Police had launched a separate investigation into the bike involved in the accident.

Soon after the incident however the rumour-mill was agog with stories relating the Minister’s movements. Commenting on this matter, a spokesman close to Ranawaka said such rumours were natural in the aftermath of an incident of this nature.

However, the developments relating to the incident over the past few days indicated that there was a blatant move by some parties to ‘politicise’ the incident for petty gains. Ranawaka’s erstwhile colleague, parliamentarian Udaya Gammanpila, now a front-line member of the pro-Rajapaksa group, was at the forefront of this manoeuvre.

Gammanpila allowed a group of Sandeep’s friends to hold a press conference at his party office in Kotte.

At the press conference, the speakers lashed out at the conduct of the minister, dubbing it as a hit-and-run incident. There was ample evidence to suggest that they were heavily backed by Gammanpila and his political party, the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya.

When asked as to why they chose to hold a press conference at Gammanpila’s party office, the speakers said they were advised by their lawyers to seek help from the ‘joint opposition’.

The same group has now organised a vehicle parade to express their support to the injured youth who is battling between life and death at the ICU.

The silent vehicle parade, scheduled for Saturday, will start from Maharagama and go to the Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya. The organisers who planned this silent vehicle parade took a cue from the Occupy the Square protest at the Independence Square in Colombo, which made headlines last week.

Fonseka on war-path

Regional Development Minister Sarath Fonseka, making his maiden speech in Parliament, launched a scathing attack on the previous government and its top echelons on multiple issues.

The most important aspect of Fonseka’s speech on Thursday was the position he took on international involvement in the investigation into alleged war crimes during the final phase of war.

Fonseka, in an interesting turn of events, stressed that investigations into alleged human rights violations, including the controversial white flag incident, should be conducted in a transparent and an internationally accepted manner. He said that the support of foreign observers and consultants should be sought in such probes.

The former Army Commander’s statement came as the government was doing the spade-work to set up a credible war crimes inquiry mechanism with the help and support of international stakeholders, as per the recommendations of the Geneva UN Human Rights Council resolution last year.

Commenting on the Geneva resolution to investigate alleged human rights violations, the Field Marshall said, “As the former Army Commander who commanded the war, I clearly state that these investigations should proceed transparently and in an internationally accepted manner. For that, we have to allow foreign observers and consultants to support in this regard.

“I commanded the war in accordance with all international humanitarian laws protecting human rights. If there had been a few who breached the law, they must be dealt with before the law.”

White flag

“The public, the international community and the people in the North and East have a right to know the truth behind the white flag story,” he said.

Fonseka also urged the President and the Prime Minister to carry forward investigations into some high profile killings in the past including those of Thajudeen, Prageeth Ekneligoda, Raviraj and Lasantha Wickrematunga in a proper manner.

“The same group was behind all these murders. Those who were holding power at that time were behind them. Both Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa attempted to accuse me for the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunga. Even now some CID investigations are going on the wrong path.

“I am not afraid of false accusations, and I urge the President and the Prime Minister to carry these investigations forward without any interference and punish the culprits,” he said, in his controversial speech, which caused ripples in Parliament.

Interestingly, when Fonseka made his speech, former President Rajapaksa was not in the House. However, the former Army Commander said in no uncertain terms that the former President must be watching the live telecast of the Parliamentary proceedings and making plans to “take revenge” on him some day.

He also requested the President, the Prime Minister and those in the legal field to expedite the investigations on corrupt politicians noting that 6.2 million people who voted to bring this government into power expected it.

“The former President offered to commit harakiri if anyone proves he had stolen a single dollar. I am ready to give him the blade. The blade I am giving is a new and latest one,” Fonseka said.

“We now hear various complaints from the Rajapaksa family when the law is being implemented. His words are ironic. If they had engaged in wrongdoings, they must be prepared to face repercussions. The charges against Mahinda Rajapaksa and his foreign accounts should also be investigated.

“The allegations include giving money to the LTTE through RADA, misusing Rs. 90 million for his parents’ tombs, misusing tsunami funds, the infamous Sil redi case and the LTTE gold that went missing in the North, among many others,” he stressed.

Minister Fonseka charged that the 2005 and 2010 Presidential Elections were totally corrupt. “In order to win the 2005 Presidential Election Mahinda Rajapaksa paid USD 2 million to Prabhakaran to get the people in the North to boycott the elections. This money was handed over to Prabhakaran by former Minister Basil Rajapaksa. I state this with responsibility, as I was privy to this information when once I met Basil Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat. Basil said that a hill country politician was also there when this happened. According to the PTA the punishment for the offense of financing terrorists is the capital punishment. We are still not too late to look into these incidents,” he asserted.

“In the 2010 Presidential Elections, six counting centres were attacked. There had been no counting of votes in Kandy, Kurunegala, Ratnapura, Gampaha, Anuradhapuara and Matale districts. The election results were manipulated and sent to the Elections Commissioner.

The then Elections Commissioner got ‘stressed’ and nobody knows his whereabouts now. He is afraid to talk,” Fonseka, the ‘common candidate’ of the opposition at the Presidential election in 2010, added.

The Minister also challenged MP Mahinda Rajapaksa to come to the House to listen to his speech, and added that he could take a point of order to counter challenge him.

He said there were plans to cheat the 2015 elections too, but those did not work because there were foreign polls observers.

“If not he would have done the same, and plans had been made to arrest the Common Candidate Mathripala Sirisena and a large number of his supporters by deploying the Army,” he said.

The former Army Commander also charged that the war tribunal process against him was completely flawed.

“I was arrested to take revenge because I contested against him at the Presidential Elections.

The lawyer who appeared for the plaintiff during the case against me was granted promotions and various other gifts. Recently, Basil Rajapaksa had accepted that they took political revenge from me.

They took revenge from 35 senior army officers who supported me,” he said adding that his son-in-law, Danuna Thilakaratne, had to play hide-and-seek games for over five years to avoid the Rajapaksa rule’s political witch-hunt.

Prabhakaran ‘yet alive’

Minister Fonseka said even though Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa tried to get the full credit for the war victory, they were even unaware of the date the war actually ended. “When Mahinda Rajapaksa made the victory speech in Parliament, the war was still going on and Prabhakaran was alive. The body of Prabhakaran was found later that day,” he said.

“I had to leave the country in the last week of war due to an urgent matter, but I knew that the war would come to an end by that time. It was during that week, disgraceful acts such as the white flag incident happened.

These tarnished the good image we had,” he said.

Fonseka also said that if Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera was arrested for keeping a wild elephant illegally, former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa should also be arrested for the same offence. He said this illegal activity had been done with the knowledge of the then ruler of the country.

Illegal elephants Magistrate Gamage faces JSC query

With the arrest of Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera in connection with the alleged illegal possession of elephants, it was widely speculated that Magistrate Thilina Gamage too would be arrested by the CID regarding a similar offence. However, two days after his arrest, Ven. Dhammaloka was granted bail by Colombo Additional Magistrate Nishantha Pieris.

The law enforcement authorities are yet to take action against Magistrate Gamage who faces similar charges. Last week, news media reported that the Judicial Services Commission had sought an explanation from the magistrate regarding the same issue.

Ven. Dhammaloka Thera’s bail application was filed by Senior Attorney Neville Abeyratne. When the Thera’s lawyers sought bail on the grounds that Dhammaloka Thera was actively involved in the organisation of the Asgiriya Mahanayaka Thera’s funeral, Counsel Dileepa Pieris appearing on behalf of the Attorney General’s Department and the Additional Magistrate responded positively to the request.

However, other arguments put forward by the defence seeking bail for the monk were turned down by court. For instance, the defence argument that the elephant calf could not be considered as belonging to Dhammaloka Thera merely because it was in the temple was rejected by the court.

In response to that argument, the Additional Magistrate observed that following the amendment of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance in 2009, elephants are considered public property. He further said it was the constitutional duty of all citizens to protect public property.

The defence also argued that no one was victimised by the fact that the elephant calf was in the temple. In response, State Counsel Dileepa Peiris argued that since elephants are considered as public property, the entire society and the State could be victimised by the unregistered ownership of the elephant.

Senior Counsel Nevil Abeyratne with Counsel Asitha Vipulanayake, Padmapriya N. Ranawaka and Kanchana Ratwatta appeared for the suspect in the case.

A large crowd was seen at the Magistrate’s Court premises when Ven. Dhammaloka Thera was granted bail. Among them was Azath Salley who recently announced his decision to resign from his position as a member of the Central Provincial Council representing the UNP

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