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Pot Shot

 It's tamasha time in Paradise


How Mahinda took Wimal for a ride over the post of deputy speaker


Priyankara, Nandana and Wimal

The filling of the post of deputy speaker in parliament following Geetanjana Gunawardena's resignation became quite a task for the government with many names being proposed for the slot.

Several names were proposed for the slot with many of them being names of SLFPers. Interestingly, in the midst of all these names, the name of JVP defector and head of the National Freedom Front (NFF), Wimal Weerawansa also figured suddenly in the list of names.

However, in keeping with Weerawansa's style there is an interesting story behind how his name was proposed to the slot.

Since their defection from the JVP, Weerawansa and his colleagues have on many occasions discussed the need to join the government - accepting ministerial portfolios without coming into direct confrontation with the JVP. Although the request was conveyed to the President by Weerawansa through Basil and Gotabaya Rajapakse, the response received was to ask the defectors to continue to work for the government without joining it.

Ready to make a move

Weerawansa therefore had to cast aside his desire to become a minister in the government. However, with Gunawardena's resignation as deputy speaker of parliament, Weerawansa felt the time had arrived for him to make a move to establish his position in parliament. He summoned his parliamentary group immediately for a meeting.

During the meeting it was discussed whether the NFF should be given the  chance of filling the vacancy. Everyone believed that if the government agreed to allow the NFF to appoint its nominee as the deputy speaker, it would help build the image of the defectors and the newly formed party. The group unanimously decided that Weerawansa's name should be proposed to the post.

However, Weerawansa declined to be nominated for the post of deputy speaker and the party finally settled on Nandana Gunathileka to be nominated to the post.

Meanwhile, President Mahinda Rajapakse had also held discussions with SLFP Secretary, Minister Maithripala Sirisena on who ought to be selected to fill the vacant slot. It was proposed that newly appointed member of Parliament, Priyankara Jayaratne should be appointed to the post.

Minister Dinesh Gunawardena pointed out that the person to be nominated to the post of deputy speaker should be well conversant with the parliamentary standing orders and should be someone  who is well-accepted by parliamentarians.

New nominee

Rajapakse then said that although Nirupama Rajapakse's name was initially proposed to fill the vacancy, she had declined to accept it. The President casting aside Gunawardena's objections spoke of nominating Jayaratne as the deputy speaker.

A few hours after the President decided that Jayaratne should be nominated to fill the vacant slot, he learnt of the NFF's desire to appoint a member of its party to the slot.

Weerawansa informed of his party decision to Gunawardena, who then communicated it to the President. Rajapakse however responded by saying that it had to be a SLFPer who should be appointed as the deputy speaker.

Weerawansa then called the President and informed him of his party's decision and requested for Rajapakse's support to appoint Gunathileka to the slot. The President informed Weerawansa that he had no objections to the proposal.

Weerawansa from then on commenced his operation to get Gunathileka appointed as the deputy speaker.

During his campaign to get Gunathileka appointed as the deputy speaker, several people inquired from Weerawansa as to why he did not want to be appointed to the slot.

High hopes

Weerawansa's response was that he did not want to be appointed to the slot as the President had plans of appointing him as the deputy defence minister and the highways minister. Weerawansa made this statement to several  of his close confidants, creating the impression that he was soon to hold high office in the government.

It is in this backdrop that Weerawnasa later found out that the President had already given his consent to appoint Jayaratne as the deputy speaker. It was further confirmed by Gunawardena when Weerawansa inquired from him. However, Gunawardena had also told Weerawnasa that in his personal opinion, he preferred Gunathileka to Jayaratne to be appointed to the post.

Weerawansa also said that if the government wanted to strengthen his party politically, the slot should be given to Gunathileka.

The next step was to check the support Jayaratne had from the President. During his investigation, Weerawansa found out that Jayaratne was not a specially favoured member of the President. Based on the information received by him, Weerawansa continued with his operation to get Gunathileka to be appointed as the deputy speaker.

When members of the NFF inquired from Weerawansa as to the progress made with regard to getting Gunathileka appointed as the deputy speaker, he said, "There's no problem, the President does things just as I have asked him to. Nandana's job is done."

Message

Weerawansa also sent a message to the President through Gotabaya that Gunathileka should be appointed to the vacant parliamentary slot.

However, the President informed Sirisena and Gunawardena to silently continue with the necessary work to appoint Jayaratne as the deputy speaker.

The day before the parliament met, the government group met at 3 p.m. at Temple Trees. It was that morning Weerawansa found out that Jayaratne's name was not taken out as the nominee for the slot.

Weerawansa immediately called Jayaratne and informed him that his party had already decided on nominating the person to be appointed as the deputy speaker and that the President had already consented to it. He asked Jayaratne to withdraw his name from the appointment.

Weerawansa also told Jayaratne that the 12 JVP defectors were saving the government in parliament and therefore, due consideration should be given to the fact before any decision was to be made.

Request to step down

Jayaratne then informed Weerawansa that he had no intention of being appointed as the deputy speaker, but was forced to accept it as it was a request made by the President. Weerawansa continued to ask Jayaratne to step down and make way for Gunathileka to be appointed to the slot.

Weerawansa also sent out a message that Jayaratne was trying to get the slot by selling the President's name. Hearing of the story being circulated by Weerawansa, the President immediately called Jayaratne and asked him what he had told Weerawansa. Jayaratne said that he had informed Weerawansa that he would step down if the President asked him to do so.

The President angered by this statement had  said, "Why on earth did you mention  my name? That would create an impression that I am the one who is backing you. I told you at the beginning to carry out this work by  leaving my name aside."

Jayaratne then asked, "Mr. President, then what do you suggest that I do now?"

"You don't have to make decisions based on what someone says; You say that you will go ahead. We will take a vote, but don't use my name," the President said.

Rajapakse then said that the matter would be resolved at the parliamentary group meeting.

The meeting got underway at Temple Trees and the President broached the topic of appointing a deputy speaker. He said that two names have been proposed to fill the slot. That of Jayaratne and Gunathileka.

In the middle

The President then said that he had no desire to interfere with  parliamentary work and proposed that the issue be resolved in a democratic manner by the parliamentary group. He also said that he was not going to canvas for either Jayaratne or Gunathileka to be appointed to the post. The President proposed a ballot to decide on the nominee for the post.

Rajapakse when inquiring  whether there was any objection to it was informed that the parliamentary group was agreeable to it. By this time, an unofficial message was sent to all the  SLFP members to cast their votes in favour of Jayaratne. The message also said that it was the wish of the President.

Soon after the President's speech, it was Minister Mahinda Wijesekera who spoke. He said: "Mr. President, when we make decisions like this we have to think far. We are engaged in politics. In politics, you have to make the right decision and win instead of making  the wrong ones and lose. I entered politics through the JVP, but I defected from the party later on and formed another party. But that did not make any difference as there was no change in the JVP vote base. If you look at the party's history, on four occasions, leading figures in the party have tried to defect and break the JVP's vote base. None of those were effective. That is the truth and reality.

JVP vote base

"I say with great responsibility that no matter how hard Wimal Weerawnasa and his group try, they will not be able to break the JVP's vote base. By trying to allow Wimal's group to appoint a deputy speaker in parliament, are we trying to lose any future opportunity of having any transaction with them? That is my opinion. If we think of the political future, at a decisive moment, it would be the JVP that we would need to support us. Therefore, there is no need to give this slot to Nandana and create an unnecessary issue."

The President agreed with Wijesekera by nodding his head. He then called for the vote. "Those who say that Priyankara Jayaratne should be appointed to the post raise their hands," the President said.

The whole parliamentary group raised their hands and voted for Jayaratne.

After smiling at the group, the President jokingly said, "Does that mean there is no one who wants Nandana? That is not good, so at least I will raise my hand to support him."

The President then said that since the whole parliamentary group had voted for Jayaratne, he would be appointed to the post.

After the voting ended, many members began to say that there was sentiment being built that the government was working against the media. After listening to what a few government members had to say, the President said, "What is this joke? Who says that there is media suppression? That is a blatant lie. The problem is that our own people are going around saying these things. That is our problem.

Mervyn's guardian angel

"For example, take Mervyn Silva's issue, it was our own ministers who said that action should be taken against him when the Rupavahini issue took place. That was when the whole campaign started. Even I was told that action should be taken against him. I told those people that I had no problem and asked them to show evidence to prove that Mervyn was at fault. It was then that I found out that Mervyn had not assaulted any one, but was assaulted. All this talk of media suppression is a blatant lie."

The whole parliamentary group was shocked by the President's words where he completely white-washed Mervyn Silva. After listening to the President the government members decided that there was no point in pursuing the issue and thus remained silent.


The twist in the Srikotha story

The UNP parliamentary group met last Tuesday at the parliamentary complex.

At the beginning of the meeting, Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe spoke of the unfair treatment meted out to Parliamentarian Alick Aluvihare.

"Our Alick has had to undergo a great injustice. He is not well and has requested for money from the President's Fund, but the request was turned down. This is a very sad situation because the fund was established by our former President J.R. Jayewardene to provide funds for people who are seeking treatment for various illnesses. The President's Fund is not any one's private property. We need to raise the issue in parliament immediately," Wickremesinghe said.

Next to speak was MP Ravi Karunanayake who said that the country's foreign debt that stood at US$ 4,200 billion has increased to US$ 5,800 billion. Then Palitha Ranga Bandara raised another issue.

Bomb lorry still at large

"During the Jana Rala campaign of the Jathika Sabha,  the former IGP said that there was a lorry laden with bombs that had entered Colombo. This lorry has not yet been apprehended," he said. Everyone laughed at the statement.

The group also discussed  the statement made by the new IGP to photograph  those who try to attack you. Again the group had a hearty laugh.

Another issue taken up for discussion was the story carried in the state media that two cameramen attached to ITN who were filming the UNP headquarters, Sirikotha, were shouted at in obscene language after they had been summoned inside. The UNP after condemning the story had also made a complaint to the Police

Commission on the manner in which the police handled the situation.

The so-called employees of ITN had arrived in front of Sirikotha last Tuesday evening when a meeting with the civil security committees was in progress. Party Secretary Tissa Attanayake and Ranga Bandara had attended the meeting.

Although the two ITN cameramen had said they were filming the road outside the party headquarters, at the time they were questioned by the Sirikotha security personnel, they had been standing beyond the main entrance. The security personnel had asked the so called media men as to what they were doing there.

On tape

"We are from ITN and we have been asked to get these visuals," they had said.

The security officer had however informed what was happening  to Attanayake, who had asked them to be brought to his office. Even when the two cameramen were taken to the room where Attanayake was, they had had their cameras on.

Attanayake's conversation therefore was caught on tape. He asked the two cameramen as to why they were acting in such a manner. "Is it right to come in by force and video the place? If you told us what you wanted, we would have helped you," Attanayake had said.

However, one of the ITN cameramen started to speak of his rights. "We have a right and we can do it. These are orders from higher offices," he said.

Attanayake then called the police emergency service and asked them to look in to the matter. He also called the OIC of the Mirihana Police and informed him of the issue. It was the police who had taken the cameramen away.

The story however was given a different twist after they went back to the ITN head office. The story that was released was that the media men were threatened and almost assaulted inside Sirikotha.

Remanded

In line with the conspiracy, the Sirikotha security officer who was taken to the Mirihana Police to record a statement was put behind bars. As soon as Attanayake, Karunanayake, Ranga Bandara and Sagala Ratnayake heard of the incident, they went to the police station to inquire into the incident. They then learnt that the police had arrested the security officer at Sirikotha without even recording a statement from the ITN cameramen.

"This is very unfair. I was the one who called the police and informed them of the incident. If we wanted to harass them, we could have at least taken their videotapes. They haven't erased the parts where we spoke," Attanayake said.

Finally, the ITN cameraman was also arrested by the police, and it was around 2.30 a.m. when Attanayake and the crowd left the police station. However, the following morning the ITN cameraman was granted bail.

The Sirikotha security officer was produced before court and was remanded for a period of 14 days.

Attanayake made a complaint on the matter to the Police Commission last Thursday.


Lanka averts diplomatic nightmare in Vatican

Last year, when senior foreign service official, Sarala Fernando left her post as the permanent representative of Sri Lanka in Geneva, she also left vacant a key diplomatic post of the country; the post of ambassador of Sri Lanka to the Vatican.

 Her departure came on the heels of the President's official visit to the Vatican in  April 2007. The government, upon her departure, nominated her successor Dayan Jayatilleke as permanentrepresentative in Geneva and also concurrently as the Ambassador to the Holy See. Months later, the Vatican, in a very diplomatic and cordial manner, called on the GOSL to 'withdraw' the nomination as Jayatilleke was 'unacceptable' due to his 'declared civil status.'

The government soft-peddled it for many months with no Sri Lankan ambassador being officially accredited to the Vatican.

Thus when the incidents involving the Madhu Church arose, there was no official government view that could be expressed to the Vatican authorities directly in the absence of a duly accredited envoy. All the government could do was to lobby the Apostolic Nuncio in Colombo.

But then Sri Lanka's Ambassador in Rome, Hemantha Warnakulasuriya,muscled his way into the Vatican, violating according to diplomatic sources, all accepted norms of diplomatic practice and started issuing press release after press release on how he got the Vatican to do this and that vis-a-vis the Madhu situation.

 Vatican authorities,firstly through the influential Catholic Sri Lankan clergy in Italy and then directly, called on the government to get its act together and diffuse the unpleasant situation. It was then that theForeign Ministry appointed Sri Lanka's Ambassador in Berlin, T.B. Maduwegedera as the concurrent Sri Lankan ambassador to the Holy See.

Ambassador Maduwegederahad an audience with the Pope just last month. Simultaneously, the Foreign Ministry also instructed the Ambassador in Rome to keep off Vatican affairs at the behest of the influential Sri Lankan Catholic community. It is reported that this ambassador is a PNG (persona non grata) within the Catholic community in Italy.


Basil's sulk over Beliatte and Namal's victory

The fact that the country lay solely at the hands of the Rajapakse brothers is no secret now. Apart from President Mahinda Rajapakse, it is his brother Basil who wields immense power in governing the country.

Basil, although only a presidential advisor, plays a leading role in the country's governance. From the beginning he interfered with the work of every ministry. Finally, he was appointed to parliament from the national list.

Basil entered parliament adorning the President's trademark kurakkan satakaya, giving the impression that he would be the SLFP's next presidential candidate. However, it has now been revealed there is more to Basil's satakaya than just making a fashion statement.

Story behind the satakaya

Upon being nominated to parliament Basil was asked by his brother, the President, to adorn the kurakkan satakaya in keeping with the Rajapakse tradition. Basil objected saying that he  did not like the idea of wearing a satakaya as it did not suit him. The President then said that if Basil was to be appointed as the organiser of the Beliatte electorate previously held by him, it was necessary that his outer  appearance be built in a manner that would appeal to the people in the area.

Finally, due to his desire to be appointed as the Beliatte organiser, Basil agreed to wear the satakaya.

However, before long, the Beilatte electorate became a family problem. First Lady Shiranthi Rajapakse kept telling the President to appoint eldest son Namal Rajapakse as the Beliatte organiser and bring him into politics. Namal had in fact already begun working in the area and built a support base among the youth, independent of the President. Rajapakse then said that he had already promised it to Basil and therefore could not make the appointment immediately.

In order to resolve the issue, at least temporarily, the President called Namal and asked him to take over the Tharunyata Hetak movement.

Rajapakse told Namal to build his image first by doing social work, before entering politics. Hence the Beliatte problem was temporarily resolved.

However the problem re-emerged after the Eastern Provincial Council election.

Basil's desire

Basil, who carried out the eastern election campaign informed the President of his desire to enter active politics. He said that in order to be engaged in active politics, he needed the Beliatte electorate. Basil said that he also needed to be appointed as a cabinet minister. The President agreed to Basil's requests.

Before long, Shiranthi and Namal heard of the deal between the two brothers, which formed the beginning of the family dispute. The President's family objected to the idea of appointing Basil as the Beliatte organiser. The dispute with Basil has been a long running one due to his operational style which is resented by Shiranthi and Namal who are more circumspect when it comes to men and matters.

The President's plan to appoint Basil to Beliatte and then take it back from him backfired. Namal said that if Beliatte was given to Basil, he too would have to take several decisions and said that it would be done in an unofficial manner.

The President then asked Basil to forget about Beliatte and take over Gampaha to strengthen the party's base there. Basil however was firm in his request and asked for Beliatte. Basil who realised that the President was trying to avoid appointing him to the post continued to push for the position.

Left for LA

Finally, an angry Basil left for Los Angeles with his wife saying that he needed a holiday. Hearing of his departure, friends and family began to call to inquire as to why he left so suddenly. Basil responded by saying that he needed a holiday but what Basil did not do is inform several cabinet ministers he had given appointments to that he was taking flight.

Meanwhile, requests to appoint Namal to Beliatte began to flow. Chamal Rajapakse also said that Beliatte ought to be  given to Namal.

However, in order to temporarily resolve the issue, the President came up with a plan. He said that a person who could be later removed should be appointed to the electorate.

That was when Nirupama Rajapakse's name was proposed to Beliatte.

Nirupama, who is currently the co-organiser of Mulkirigala was accordingly appointed as the organiser for Beliatte.

The President last Monday informed SLFP Secretary, Minister Maithripala Sirisena to prepare the letter to appoint Nirupama as the Beliatte organiser. The appointment was made on  Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Temple Trees.

The following day, the President left for Beliatte with Nirupama by helicopter.

The President then made a sudden trip to India last Thursday to take part in several rituals at the Thirupathi Kovil and several other kovils in India. He was accompanied by Namal and eight other persons.

A plant

However as a diversionary ploy, the Presidential Secretariat planted a story in the media  that the President was winging his way to Delhi for discussions on the SAARC Summit

After appointing Nirupama to Beliatte, the President sent a message to Basil telling him to return to Sri Lanka. The President may have thought that he had managed to temporarily resolve the issue.

However, Basil's response put paid to such thoughts. Basil said, "Even if I come to Sri Lanka and do politics, I will never wear the kurakkan satakaya. I do not need the satakaya now that I don't have Beliatte. The satakaya was given to me by my brother who is the President saying I will be given Beliatte. Now that I don't have it, why would I need the satakaya?"

But party insiders say for all the bravado, Basil will return to the country and assert his authority because he has too much to lose by keeping out of politics and the President knows it only too well. Further, they believe with the story of the satakaya coming out, Basil will continue to wear it to avoid embarrassment.


PB brings Hettige down to earth

A clash between a presidential coordinator and Treasury Secretary, P.B. Jayasundera came out in the open last week.

The President's Coordinator for Parliamentary Affairs, Kumarasiri Hettige was at one time a journalist attached to the Lankadeepa. During his days as a journalist, Hettige was very enthusiastic about reporting on Mahinda Rajapakse. Finally, after assuming office, President Rajapakse appointed him as a presidential coordinator.

A few months later, Hettige became well-known not for his work as the presidential coordinator, but as the person who took a police officer to task for not saluting him and not clearing the path when his vehicle was approaching parliament.

It is in this backdrop that Hettige, using his high office called Jayasundera.

Upgrade

Hettige called Jayasundera, who is also the chairman of SriLankan Airlines and told him that he needed the economy class tickets of Red Cross Head Jagath Abeysinghe and another accompanying him to London upgraded to business class. Hettige also told Jayasundera that it should be done immediately.

However the response Hettige received brought him crashing down to earth. Jayasundera had said; "Please understand who I am. I am not here to upgrade tickets. Besides, we are managing this airline with losses and therefore if we go on to give special upgrading on tickets like this, we will go bankrupt."

Unwilling to accept Jayasundera's response, Hettige had started to drop names of highly placed officials in the government saying he could do just about anything.

"No matter whom you know and whose names you use, there's nothing I can do," Jayasundera insisted.

Not about to give up Hettige called Jayasundera the following day and said, "I am Kumarasiri Hettige here, I spoke to you yesterday as well. I spoke to this person Boralessa, who works for Chamal and he also said he could not do anything. Let me know if you can do this or not."

Verbal barrage

Not stopping at that, Hettige continued; "The Red Cross extends a great service to the country and the government. Can't you understand that?"

Jayasundera responded by saying that he was not interested in knowing the great services extended by the Red Cross to the country and the government. He had then said that it was the Red Cross' duty to extend its services to the country and disconnected the line saying he was busy.

Before disconnecting the line, Hettige told Jayasundera, "We are the ones who brought the President and the government to power. Where were you then? It is those who tried to prevent the President from succeeding that are trying to show their colours to us today."

Jayasundera, who had had enough of Hettige, disconnected the line.


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