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Pot Shots  

Basil moves to block broad alliance using 'elephant' as bait


Mahinda Rajapakse 
and
Basil Rajapakse

Weeks after the conclusion of the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council elections, the government seems to continue to enjoy its victory at the polls by harping on it via the state media.

However, the true motives of the government can only be found out when one observes, like a fly on the wall, the discussions taking place between members of the government.

Although the government boasts of victory at the recently concluded elections, it is still unsure of its position as regards future elections.

Soon after the conclusion of the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council elections, the President decided to conduct an islandwide survey. It was handed over to an American firm that conducts political surveys in Sri Lanka.

President Mahinda Rajapakse needed to know for himself the possible results if he called for a snap general election.

Interim report

Within a few days, the company released an interim report on the findings, especially because of  the urgency of the President to know the outcome.

The  interim report revealed that the results of a snap general election at the present time would not be beneficial to the government and it would not be able to secure a clear majority at the polls.

Soon after receiving the interim report, the President made a special statement. He said there would not be a general election till 2010. However, given the present political situation, the President has no option but to have a snap general election some time in 2009. He has also told confidants including Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapakse that there are no plans to go for an early presidential election after completing four years and that it would have to be a general election first.

"Please be clear that I received a mandate for six years and I do not intend to reduce it by two years by calling for an election after November 2009. I will serve the full term so tell the party organisers to work hard and ensure the party emerges victorious at the general election," the President had said.

Meanwhile, last week, the President received the final survey report. A special request made by the President was also surveyed and its results were included in the report.

Possible impact

He requested to know the possible impact a broad alliance formed by the UNP, SLFP (M) Wing and SLMC would have at an election. The President has been keeping a close eye on the developments taking place between the opposition parties and this request was a result of it.

Being the seasoned politician that he is, President Mahinda Rajapakse knows very well that the formation of a broad alliance among the opposition parties will pose a huge challenge to the government. Therefore, the President held several discussions with brother Basil Rajapakse on the measures that could be taken to counter the impact of a broad alliance.

The President wanted to block the formation of a broad alliance from within the UNP ranks. He knew that there would be a definite drop in the government's success rate at a general election. The survey report also cemented his fears.

The President was quite disturbed by the results of the report. He told Basil to launch a campaign to immediately prevent the formation of the broad alliance between the opposition parties. He also told Basil to take any measures to ensure this.

Divide and rule

Basil informed the President of the possible measures that could be taken to prevent the formation of a broad alliance. He said the best issue that could be taken up to prevent the formation of the alliance was the issue of the UNP's symbol, the elephant.

He said an impression ought to be created that the UNP will be unable to win any election without its traditional "elephant" symbol. He said the UNP defectors in government ranks could also be used for this purpose to sow the seeds of dissension.

Basil began working on his task immediately and has already taken several steps and has had several rounds of discussions on creating a rift within the UNP.

It is believed that although the results of Basil's discussions have not come out so far due to the already existing issues within the UNP, it would surface soon enough.

Meanwhile Basil continues with his plan of action.

The President is disturbed as 2009 is viewed as a year in which elections will definitely be held.  The President has to make some difficult choices at the elections, especially since he would be completing four years in office in 2009. The country's constitution permits the President to do so  if he/she so wished to call for a presidential election after the completion of four years in office.

Leading the President's agenda at the moment is the holding of a presidential election before a general election. If the President is planning on holding a presidential election before the general election in 2009, the election has to be announced before December 2009.

An obstacle

However, the discussions on forming a broad alliance between the opposition parties have now become an obstacle to the President's plan. That was also one of the main reasons why he announced that there will be no early presidential elections.

The President has told confidants that a broad alliance would pose many challenges to the government at an election. He had also said that if the broad alliance says the executive presidency would be abolished during either the presidential or general election campaign, it would cause a problem to the government.

According to the President, if the board opposition alliance takes the abolishing of the executive presidency as an issue at the election campaign, even the JVP would silently support it.

The President has revealed to  Basil and a few close confidants that winning even a presidential election in such a backdrop would not be easy. Therefore, the latest task given to Basil by the President is to launch a plan to create a conflict within the UNP over the dropping of the elephant symbol by the broad opposition alliance.

Basil was informed to create an issue among the UNP MPs that facing an election without the elephant symbol would be a problem.

Basil is expected to launch a full scale operation in the next few days. The plan will be launched as soon as talk of the broad opposition alliance comes out in the open. It will then be known who would dance to Basil's tune in the UNP.

Action

During a discussion on the matter, the President had said to  a minister close to him, "I know that it would be disadvantageous for us if the UNP takes the initiative in creating a broad alliance."

"If the opposition forms such a broad alliance what action would you take?" the Minister had asked.

"Ha, if that happens I have what it takes to address such an issue. However, I would not leave room for the formation of such an alliance. There is a large number of UNP MPs who are opposed to dropping the elephant symbol. All I have to do is to work them up. If that does not happen, I will dissolve parliament before that. If parliament is dissolved, it would be difficult for the opposition to get together during a presidential election," the President had said.


Opposition draws first blood over fuel

The UNP's parliamentary group met on Monday evening at the parliament complex.

One of the key topics taken up for discussion was the fuel prices. Parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake broached the topic first.

"The price of a barrel of crude oil in the world market is on the decline. But the government has not passed on the benefit to our people. Although oil is purchased at a low price, the local fuel prices have not been reduced. It is wrong by the public. Besides, it is unethical. When the price increases, local fuel prices are also increased, but when the price declines, there is no change in the price of local fuel.

"It is the same with gas. We have to take up the issue in parliament immediately. Otherwise, Mahinda Rajapakse will reduce the price of fuel in the budget and say he has reduced prices. After selling fuel at high prices for months, at the budget, the price would be reduced and he will take political mileage out of that as well. Therefore, we have to expose this now," Karunanayake said.

Request for debate

The UNP parliamentary group agreed with Karunanayake and said a debate should be requested on the matter immediately.

It was Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena who addressed the meeting next. He said that the Mahinda Rajapakse administration was getting commissions not only from oil but also blood.

"Our Parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake spoke about corruption and fraud. But the government is sucking the blood out of the people by selling the war as well. See, during the past weeks we got hold of the blood thieves as well. They were caught with the goods. When we said expired blood kits were being used, the government through the state media responded in an ugly manner. They said there was a conspiracy to prevent people from giving blood to the war heroes.

The truth

"But I managed to go to the blood transfusion centre and point out the truth to  those who hold high office in the Health Ministry. The director of the national blood transfusion centre has been interdicted. It must be understood that the Health Minister has to be held responsible for this situation. He is not only the health minister, but also the leader of the house. Also, Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva is the head of the World Health Organisation. But he is silent. It is the opposition that exposed this robbery.

"If this incident happened when we in government, the People's Alliance would have created a huge stir. But we still have not taken this issue to the people. Please remember that what these people have done is to get a commission from the people's blood. We should not keep quiet. We have to take it to the people and get maximum mileage on it. We have to request for a parliamentary debate on the matter," he said.

The parliamentary group agreed and said they would request for a debate on the matter.


How Ranil carried the day at the UNP Working Committee

The UNP's Working Committee met last Thursday (11) under the chairmanship of Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe amidst expectations of it turning out to be a heated affair due to the issues that were scheduled to be discussed.

The committee was to discuss the final proposal relating to the party reforms. The meeting therefore began with Party Secretary Tissa Attanayake handing over the proposals of the committee of party seniors that had been tasked to present a report on the reforms.

The party seniors committee consists of Joseph Michael Perera, Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, Renuka Herath, Sarathchandra Rajakaruna, Amara Piyaseeli Ratnayake and John Amaratunga.

Attanayake then presented the final proposals of the senior's committee on the party reforms. The first proposal of the 14 proposals in the reforms report was the re-appointment of a deputy leader and an assistant leader. It was also proposed that any post in the party that falls vacant should be filled within a period of eight days and the power to be vested with the party leader and the respective committee.

New proposals

The third most important proposal was to form a student's organisation and a bhikku front for the party.

It was also proposed to evaluate the work of approximately  20  position holders in the party every three months.

Other proposals included the introduction of reforms to the legal unit of the party and to give a facelift to the Lakvanitha Unit, Youth Front and the Trade Union Wing.

However, Johnston Fernando, Lakshman Seneviratne and Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena objected to the 14 proposals. Many others expressed their views on the report.

Finally, Vajira Abeywardena said there was no point in presenting the report if the proposals were not accepted. Ravi Karunanayake said a final decision on the matter should not be taken at the time and that it should be postponed so that careful consideration can be given to any amendments. Sirinal de Mel said there was no need for a new constitution to make the party win. He said J.R. Jayewardene did not bring a new constitution to win the election in 1977.

However, finally a decision was arrived at on whether the report should be accepted or not.

Wickremesinghe spoke at this point. "No it should not be postponed. A final decision has to be taken. If it is postponed, the blame will be taken elsewhere. Therefore, decide now if the proposals are accepted or not," he said. The majority believed that the final decision should be taken by vote.

Seneviratne opposed such a vote. Fernando said he opposed the proposal to create a post of deputy leader and one assistant leader. He too said there was no need for a vote to be taken.

Finally, Jayawickrema Perera and Abdul Cader proposed and seconded that the reforms report be passed. There was no objection to it and it was also accepted to implement the proposals outlined in the report.

Wickremesinghe spoke next and said that once a final decision has been arrived at after a lengthy discussion there should be no reason to create more controversies.

"The report has now been approved after taking into consideration all the issues. Therefore, please do not take these issues outside and do not create problems," he said.

Fernando then criticised the party's youth front saying it was inactive.

Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, who is generally quiet, responded by vehemently objecting to Fernando's allegation.

Argument

"Mr. Parliamentarian, please don't speak in this manner. You do not know what I have done through the youth front. I was appointed to parliament after receiving 84,000 preferential votes. I have formed 60 committees in my district. Other parliamentarians also do that, but can you please tell me what you have done in your district," he said.

Kariyawasam also listed the things he has done through the youth front. However, he kept quiet after being advised by the senior members not to create a controversy.

Opposition Leader of the Western Provincial Council, Kithsiri Kahatapitiya presented another view.

He said the provincial councillors have been meeting the past few weeks to propose that conflicts within the party should be kept inside the walls of Sirikotha.

Fernando said, "No that is not the case. The councillors criticised the party leadership."

Kahatapitiya did not accept the allegation. "It is a complete lie. None of the councilors criticised the party leadership. Everyone said the party leader has to be protected. Please don't give misinterpretations," he said.

Finally, the meeting ended and Wickremesinghe walked up to Fernando and Seneviratne and shook their hands.


The hunt for a deputy leader in the UNP

The UNP's Western Provincial Councilors last week diverted their attention towards the issues that have arisen with regard to the party's reforms.

The UNP councilors who met at the council's opposition leader's office last Friday morning held a lengthy discussion on the issue. All the councilors present believed that the controversies within the party needed to be resolved, especially since they would be the ones to face the greater difficulties among the party's grassroot level members.

It was therefore decided to  make a request from the UNP parliamentarians who are playing a key role in the party reforms.

"Yes, we have to intervene in this matter now. We have to make a request from our senior parliamentarians. We have to ask them not to take the internal party issues to the open. We are the ones who are always with our village membership and they ask questions from us. Then we are the ones faced with the problems. No UNP member likes to hear there are internal conflicts in the party. Therefore, we need to discuss with the parliamentarians the difficulties faced by us at the grassroot level," the Western Provincial Councilors said.

Meeting with MPs

It was decided to speak to Parliamentarians Johnston Fernando, Lakshman Seneviratne and Thalatha Atukorale immediately.  Fernando, Seneviratne and Atukorale said they too were interested in speaking about the matter with the councilors.

It was then decided to meet the following Monday. The question then was the venue for the meeting.

Councilor from Colombo North, C. Ram said the meeting could take place at his residence in Colpetty, but said a problem would arise with regard to parking of vehicles.

It was finally decided to hold the discussion at Councilor Sagara Senaratne's residence and Senaratne keenly accepted the request.

The Western Provincial Councilors arrived at Senaratne's residence by 5.30 p.m. last Monday. Thirty one out of the 35 councilors arrived for the discussion. Councilors Mohan Lal Grero, Jayantha Silva, Sarana Lal and Palitha Behenikumara did not attend the meeting.

At the end of the meeting, it was decided to oppose the request being made for the party leader to quit and to make sure Ranil Wickremesinghe remained the leader of the UNP. The decision was unanimous.

Absentees agree

It was also decided to inform the councilors absent at the meeting of the decision and to query their stance on it. Calls were immediately made to the four councilors and they too agreed with the decision.

As the discussion was nearing an end, Fernando, Seneviratne and Atukorale arrived at Senaratne's residence, who welcomed them in a cordial manner.

Getting things started Seneviratne said, "Let's discuss things straight. We are all from the same party. But if some one asks if  I  am going to leave the party, I will start by giving a good shot to that person's face. We are not going to leave this party. All we want is to win an election."

Everyone started to laugh at Seneviratne's statement - that he would give a good shot in the face. Fernando started to speak next and he criticised the party leadership. Seneviratne also agreed with Fernando.

"Mahinda Rajapakse speaks of the country. We speak of the stomach. The party leadership should accept the responsibility of losing the provincial council elections. The constitution needs to be changed like it was done in 1994. Party decisions should be taken by a panel. A panel has to be put in place for the purpose. Either Sajith, SB or Rukman should be made the deputy leader of the party," Seneviratne said.

Criticism

Fernando also joining in, criticised the party leadership for its actions when former President Chandrika Kumaratunga took over three ministries during the UNF government. Atukorale also backed these comments.

The councilors then expressed their views.

Senaratne spoke first. "We went around the island in the past few days. There is a lot of expectations about  Sajith Premadasa by the UNP supporters. Therefore, if Sajith is appointed as the deputy leader, we would get the grassroot level support," Senaratne said.

He said Premadasa would be able to attract the support of the youth and said he should be made the deputy leader.

Request

He also said he along with the other councilors were ready to make the request from Wickremesinghe and if he agreed to the request, they would ensure that all the actions against the party leader are stopped.

The discussion then came to an end and it was decided by the councilors to meet with the party leadership to discuss matters.

Senaratne then invited all those gathered for dinner at his residence. During the dinner, Senaratne received a call from one of his close friends - Sajith Premadasa.

Senaratne and Premadasa are in the habit of speaking to each other every night. When Premadasa called, Senaratne told him details of the discussion that evening.

"Oh really, then I too will come for a few minutes and meet the crowd and have some dinner," Premadasa said, and arrived at Senaratne's residence a short while later.


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