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World Affairs








Pot shots  

Beliatte battles stump Thilanga

Mahinda Rajapakse and Thilanga Sumathipala

The Rajapakses have for some time now been facing the issue of deciding on the next person to take charge of the family bastion of Beliatte in Hambantota.

The Rajapakse family has held on to the organiser post of the Beliatte electorate since the advent of the SLFP itself and now the President's brother, Basil Rajapakse, has made several requests that he be appointed as the next organiser for Beliatte.

Basil, who entered active politics after Mahinda Rajapakse assumed office as President believed that taking over as Beliatte organiser would be the ideal base for him to build his political future.

However the President's wife, First Lady Shiranthi along with most of the other family members had other plans. They believed that Beliatte should be handed over to the President's eldest son, Namal. Shiranthi believed that her eldest son was the natural heir to the Beliatte borough.

Beliatte organiser

Due to this cold war within the family, the President did not appoint anyone as the Beliatte organiser, a post that fell vacant after Rajapakse assumed office way back in 2005.

However, it was only last year that the President decided to hand over Beliatte to another Rajapakse as an interim measure. Accordingly Nirupama Rajapakse was appointed to Beliatte based on several conditions. Key among the conditions was that she would have to hand the electorate back when such a request was made by the President. Another condition was that Namal would have all the freedom he needs to carry out propaganda work to build his image within the electorate.

Soon after this appointment and unable to stomach the disappointment over the President's move, Basil left the country for a few months.

However, the shrewd politician that he is, Basil was not about to give up and decided to launch his own campaign for the Beliatte post from far away LA. The plan was to get the President to dissolve parliament and call for a general election soon after the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council elections that were being held at the time.

Soon enough Basil returned to the island to take charge of the campaign himself.

Although the President went along with Basil at first, he later realised his younger brother had bigger ambitions than what was apparent. Rajapakse also realised that if he dissolved parliament and called for a general election, his son Namal would not be able to contest at the election. Namal at the time was completing his studies in England.

Not to dissolve parliament

Shiranthi also realised that Namal would be left out if the elections were to be held at that time. She therefore requested the President not to dissolve parliament and to do so at a time Namal would be able to contest the election.

The President therefore decided not to dissolve parliament and said that he was unable to go for a snap poll because of the JVP and the JHU. He said that if parliament was dissolved then  most members of the JVP and the JHU who helped in his election would not be entitled to a pension, as they would not have completed five years as legislators.

Basil then shelved his plan for a snap poll.

However, the President did not wish to upset Basil and told him to launch his political career from the Bandaranaike bastion - Gampaha. He told Basil to take over the leadership in Gampaha and Rajapakse appointed him as the head of the committee to coordinate the Gampaha District.

This way, at least temporarily the President managed to sidestep the issue with regard to Namal and Basil.

It was then decided to dissolve the North Western and Central Provincial Councils and hold elections in these two provinces and then proceed to dissolve the three remaining councils - Western, Uva and Southern.

During the discussions held on the matter between the President and Basil, several issues surfaced.

Chief ministerial candidate

Basil had informed the President that he was interested in contesting as the governing party's chief ministerial candidate for the Western Province. He then requested the President not to dissolve the Uva and Southern Provincial Councils at the same time as the Western Provincial Council so that the entire strength of the state could be used to win the Western Provincial Council election. He believed that the state resources would have to be divided among the three provinces if the provincial polls were held simultaneously.

Basil had told the President that he would then be able to first win the Western Provincial Council election and later contest the general election from the Gampaha District.

Hence, Basil spent most of his time in Gampaha with a view to break the Bandaranaike stranglehold on the district. However during his visits, he realised that it was not going to be an easy task to break in to the Bandaranaike vote base.

This made Basil think twice about announcing his decision to take over Gampaha and he decided to discuss the matter further with the President.

The final outcome of the discussion was to dissolve only the Western Provincial Council and utilise the state election machinery to win the council with a decent majority.

Party's campaign

One man who was not impressed with this strategy was former Western Province Chief Minister Reginald Cooray who was visibly disappointed by the dissolution of the Western Provincial Council. Both the President and Basil have not been on good terms with Cooray for some time because the two believed Cooray was a close friend of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

However, before the dissolution of the council, the President held a discussion with Cooray. During the meeting, Cooray had expressed his displeasure at the premature dissolution of the council.

The President unwilling to change his mind, had said he would dissolve the council whenever he wanted and that he was only informing Cooray as he was the chief minister of the council.

The President had then given another message to Cooray. "I don't like to make you the party's chief ministerial candidate once again. I want to put one of my men there," the President had said.

Shocked by the statement, Cooray had asked, "Why Sir? Am I not yours? Don't you see me as a candidate of the SLFP?"

"No, you contest from Kalutara at the general election. Then you can enter parliament and even hold a cabinet portfolio," the President had responded.

New face

It is in this backdrop that former Sri Lanka Cricket Chairman Thilanga Sumathipala came in to the limelight. He has been vying to contest as the ruling party's chief ministerial candidate for the Western Provincial Council for some time now. Sumathipala had also received several invitations from the President to take over an electorate in Colombo. However, due to his desire to be nominated as the party's chief ministerial candidate, Sumathipala did not accept the post of electoral organiser.

Soon after the dissolution of the Western Provincial Council, Sumathipala had sent several messages to the President. Through these messages he had informed the President of his desire to contest as the party's chief ministerial candidate.

The President soon after making the dissolution order left for his official residence in Kandy and then sent a message to Sumathipala from Kandy. The message was for Sumathipala to meet the President in Kandy.

Sumathipala immediately left for Kandy with his family and several friends. During the meeting the President had told Sumathipala not to expect to be nominated as the party's chief ministerial candidate, as he already had someone else in mind. He told Sumathipala to contest the election and accept a portfolio after recording a good victory.

Sumathipala was not in a position to ignore the President's request.

Rajapakse had then invited Sumathipala to join him in the chopper that flew him to the Hanguranketha election meeting. That was the consolation prize for Sumathipala to abandon his dream of becoming the Colombo District leader and the chief ministerial candidate of the UPFA.

Chamal second time unlucky

The victories achieved by the military in the north have been and are to be used to the maximum by the government in carrying out its political agenda.

The military victories are being used as a cover for corruption, mismanagement and suppression of democracy by the government. As such, apart from the government ministers, the provincial council contestants are also using the military victories as part of their political campaign. Some of the ruling party candidates have printed posters with their pictures along with those of the security forces in the battlefront.

Rude shock

However, the fact that the government members cannot always hide behind military victories was revealed last week during an event in Wemidilla in the Matale District.

The opening ceremony of the Wemidilla reservoir was scheduled to be held under the patronage of Ministers Chamal Rajapakse, Janaka Bandara Tennekoon and Jayatissa Ranaweera. However, the VIPs were in for a rude shock upon their arrival at the event.

Chamal is President Mahinda Rajapakse's brother and a seasoned politician. However, the incident that took place  proves that the people do not treat Rajapakses any different.

Chamal on an earlier occasion also had to face the wrath of the people during a public event which was splashed by the media at that time. During that incident, it was Chamal's security contingent that had to intervene and rescue him from harm. Chamal had to face a similar incident last week.

Families lose land

The Wemidilla reservoir was renovated using a sum of Rs. 250 million to provide water to 1,800 acres of paddy land in the area. However, there was an allegation that due to the renovation of the project, some 225 odd families were to lose their lands and houses.

Although the people had been given alternative land in Laggala in the Matale District, they were not happy with it.

Therefore, the people started a protest campaign at the reservoir project from the day prior to the opening. When Chamal and the other ministers arrived for the opening ceremony, the people had stepped into the canal protesting against the government and its decision to open the reservoir.

The people started to shout slogans against the government while a shocked Chamal and other VIPs watched helplessly.

All attempts by the police and VIP security personnel along with the organisers of the event to bring the situation under control failed. The protest intensified and finally ended with the people throwing stones at the VIPs.

The VIP security personnel had to once again take Chamal and the VIPs to safety.

'Cutting' Azwer down to size and SB's rise

The campaign for the Central Provincial Council has intensified and the governing party members have been worried by the large crowds attracted by UNP Chief Ministerial candidate S.B. Dissanayake.

Senior government members have expressed shock and disbelief at the support garnered by Dissanayake at a time the government had launched a full blown campaign capitalising on the military victories in the north.

President Mahinda Rajapaske himself spent most of his time last week campaigning for the Central Provincial Council election from his official residence in Kandy. In order to strengthen the party's election campaign, the President presided over many meetings in the province. People from different sectors and religions were also invited for meals at the President's House in Kandy.

Large number of Muslims

As part of this campaign a large number of Muslims were invited to President's House. This task was allocated to Minister Faizer Mustapha.

One particular incident that took place during one of these events caught everyone's attention.

Former UNP MP A.H.M. Azwer, now a presidential advisor was present at the event. However, he was not given any part in the programme and was not invited to make a speech. Although he had tried to make a speech, he was prevented from doing so.

The reason for distancing Azwer had been due to the President's realisation that keeping Azwer close to him was 'harmful' to his popularity.

The President was informed of the attack on Azwer by certain Muslim parties that held a protest meeting at the New Town Hall in Colombo over the Palestine issue. It was an eye opener for the President.

Sidelining Azwer

The President had then decided to sideline Azwer. In front of thousands of Muslims, the President made an interesting comment about Azwer. "During the last presidential election there was a campaign that if Mahinda Rajapakse became President, the Muslims would not be able to pray. One such person who said it at the time is now with me - Azwer. Look at the difference, Azwer who spoke of me in such a manner then is now with me," the President had said.

Everyone gathered had started to laugh at the President's comment. Azwer had no option but to grin and bear. Later Azwer had told the President, "Sir you 'cut' me very badly."

"So Azwer, it is the truth, I did not say a lie. Besides, it cannot be hidden. All those present at the gathering knew what you had said. Don't worry. One cannot be afraid to speak the truth," the President had said.

Readying for the hustings

Amidst the election campaigns for the Central and North Western Provincial Councils, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was to visit Elpitiya last week to speak to tea and rubber small holders.

During a meeting there, a large number of tea and rubber smallholders complained to Wickremesinghe about the problems faced by them. The meeting that was organised by Galle District Parliamentarian Gayantha Karunathileka was attended by Parliamentarians Vajira Abeywardena and Sagala Ratnayaka as well.

Addressing the gathering, Wickremesinghe said that the problems faced by exporters would only be solved under a UNP government and not by President Mahinda Rajapakse's government.

Meanwhile, UNP chief ministerial candidate for the Central Provincial Council, S. B. Dissanayake had organised a meeting at the Cooperative Hotel in Nuwara Eliya. Party Secretary Tissa Attanayake and Parliamentarians Renuka Herath, Ravi Samaraweera and Rukman Senanayake attended the meeting.

Emotional speeches

Many Tamil politicians contesting the election also participated at the meeting. They made emotional speeches pointing out that under the present government, the movement of estate Tamils had been drastically restricted and that a majority of the estate community was preparing to vote for the UNP at the election.

Soon after the meeting, everyone attended the district leaders' meeting organised at the residence of Nuwara Eliya Mayor, Chandana Silva. Senanayake, Samaraweera and Herath chaired the meeting.

At the meeting Samaraweera alleged that district organisers in Badulla were divided due to the actions of Harin Fernando.

"Mr. Secretary, please look into this. The organisers in the district  earlier worked in harmony. Since Harin Fernando was appointed to Badulla, there has been a division among  the organisers. Although he is the organiser for Badulla, he organises social events in other electorates and attends them without informing the relevant organiser. Please advise him about it," Samaraweera said.

Resolve issue

Since Fernando was also among the gathering, Attanayake immediately took steps to resolve the issue. Attanayake told Fernando to have cordial relations with other organisers and to inform them if and when he organised a social event within an electorate that is not under his purview. Fernando accepted his 'mistake' and assured that he would not act in such a manner in future.

Silva had organised lunch for the gathering at his residence. Everyone was surprised to hear a story related by Silva.

He said that Minister Maithripala Sirisena had visited his residence and had tea with him recently. He also said that Sirisena had changed his clothes before leaving his residence.

Attanayake then said, "He can remove his clothes and change them, but you don't try to fit into his discarded clothes."

Campaign work

The UNP Political Affairs Committee was to meet last Monday. Since most of the members were engaged in campaign work in the two provinces, only Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya and Attanayake were summoned for a discussion at Cambridge Terrace.

It was also the first meeting held after the dissolution of the Western Provincial Council. As such, the discussion centered on the future course of action to be taken with regard to the newly dissolved council.

It was decided to appoint a nominations committee and an election steering committee after the conclusion of the Central and North Western Provincial Council election on February 14. Wickremesinghe also informed that those who wished to contest for the Western Provincial Council from the UNP should be permitted to submit their applications.

Wickremesinghe then attended one of the main UNP rallies organised for the North Western Provincial Council election in Wennappuwa. Since the meeting was scheduled for 2 p.m., Wickremesinghe visited former UNP MP Festus Perera at his residence and inquired after his health.

Propaganda meeting

It was Perera's wife, UNP MP Mary Larine Perera, who had organised the meeting. Parliamentarians Karu Jayasuriya, Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, Tissa Attanayake and Palitha Range Bandara also participated at the meeting.

Soon after the meeting everyone proceeded to another propaganda meeting organised by North Western Chief Ministerial candidate Shamal Senarath in Narammala.

Last Tuesday, Wickremesinghe spent time at his Colombo office making the necessary arrangements for the ceremony to mark the 61st Independence Day celebrations with the participation of opposition political parties in Kundasale, Kandy.

Apart from the UNP members other political parties like the SLMC, New Left Front, etc., also participated at the event.

Addressing the gathering Wickremesinghe said that in order to ensure the people's supremacy the UNP had to be made the victor and if the bullet was to rule the country the present Mahinda Rajapakse administration should be made victorious at the elections.

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