Champika Ranawaka, Rauf Hakeem,
Ban Ki-Moon and Ranil Wickremesinghe
crisis within the main opposition UNP has assumed
gigantic proportions and it reached boiling point last
Wednesday when the UNP's decision-making body, the
Working Committee met.
Sirikotha meeting experienced frayed tempers coupled
with gentle coaxing while the beleaguered party leader
Ranil Wickremesinghe maintained stoic silence when
members issued him an ultimatum to announce a voluntary
decision to gracefully step down, the period being three
leadership dilemma of the UNP is not a new phenomenon.
Frustrated by repeated electoral defeats and a pro-LTTE
label the party has failed to shake off, if the leader
now refuses to quit the party's top post, a devastating
split is imminent.
a rebellious group of legislators were gathering
signatures calling for the convening of a special
parliamentary group meeting to discuss the party's
future, the Working Committee where the Western
Provincial Council (WPC) election was to be the key
topic, instead turned into a virtual battleground with
several parliamentarians requesting Wickremesinghe to
step down without causing further friction and faction
within the party.
Despite the turmoil within, the members collectively
agreed not to divulge any information with regard to the
discussion on the leadership as it could harm the party,
especially on the eve of a crucial provincial council
we respect you and your leadership. You have made a
significant contribution to the party and held it
together during difficult times. But now the people need
to see a change and the party must evolve," said
Kurunegala Parliamentarian Dayasiri Jayasekara who
belled the cat.
Jayasekara himself who proposed that the details of the
discussion should not be divulged.
like party senior Gamini Jayawickrema Perera too
intervened to add that the members held Wickremesinghe
in high esteem but the UNP deserved an opportunity to
evolve. "Sir, you should step down on your own.
Otherwise, some members might even feel compelled to
resort to drastic action," said Perera.
members even predicted a stinging presidential defeat if
that precedes a general, and further predicted it would
devastate the party and destroy the political careers of
the remaining UNP legislators.
he did not elaborate, Perera's claim had the ring of
truth. Some of the parliamentarians are determined to
see Karu Jayasuriya replace Wickremesinghe as party
leader for an interim period and vow to sit as a
separate opposition group in parliament if their demand
is not met.
group also conceded that Wickremesinghe should continue
both as Opposition Leader and a senior advisor to the
Thought MPs spoke with feeling, they paid tribute to
Wickremesinghe's long innings and his contribution to
the party, with the majority speaking of the party's
continued electoral defeats combined with the UNP's
policy on the war causing serious erosion in the party
base at grassroots level.
Wickremesinghe maintained stoic silence and listened
intently, speaking for the first time on the issue of
leadership was Hambantota legislator Sajith Premadasa.
The MP has come under severe criticism in the recent
past for not being a team player and not speaking on
issues of importance including the need for a
replacement in the party leadership.
signatures were being gathered for the letter urging
Wickremesinghe to summon a special parliamentary group
last week, some UNP parliamentarians openly critiqued
Premadasa for not being willing to speak about the
leadership crisis despite being one of the three people
who would be direct beneficiaries of the action they had
Premadasa spoke of the need for internal democratisation
that led to defections and a deep crisis within and
proposed that it was time for the party to look at new
faces and begin to evolve before the Grand Old Party
becomes a thing of the past. He was promptly backed by
Gamini Jayawickrema Perera and Earl Gunasekera who spoke
of increasing frustration amongst party cadres.
the meeting, some of the members expressed their
unhappiness not over Wickremesinghe but his right hand
man, Malik Samarawickrama. Some MPs openly faulted
Samarawickrama for creating cliques and causing
dissention within the UNP to the extent that it added to
the growing unpopularity of Wickremesinghe.
were others who envisaged a much larger role for
National Organiser S.B. Dissanayake. MP Ravi
Karunanayake expressed the view that he could enter
parliament at the next general election while R.M. Abdul
Cader professed that Kandy would prove an ideal base for
Dissanayake who could aspire for national leadership on
a future date.
that the matter of an interim leader has been discussed,
the group is eager to further pressurise the leadership.
group is now agitating that UNP Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe should appoint a leader for an interim
period, namely Karu Jayasuriya and immediately step down
allowing a new leadership to emerge thereafter.
MPs are however confident that the beleaguered
leadership may agree to an interim agreement and
relinquish his powerful position in the party within a
On a trip
leadership crisis was not the only topic that was
discussed at the UNP Working Committee last Wednesday.
There was UNP Vice President Rukman Senanayake attacking
the slain Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge
and both The Sunday Leader and its sister publication
Irudina alleging the two newspapers caused the downfall
of the party.
diatribe did not find much support within the UNP given
that other members had others concerns well over
settling scores with a newspaper and a deceased editor.
Suffice to say that Senanayake had been in the UNP for
decades and made less than significant a contribution to
the party founded by his own grandfather except to
piggyback on the Senanayake name.
also pertinent to mention that such bravado was not
exhibited when Wickrematunge was alive as he sought to
blame a newspaper group for the inability of the
country's largest political party to capture the
imagination of the electorate time and again.
the poll date being announced for the Western Provincial
Council (WPC) election, political parties are now back
at their drawing boards to strategise their victory. All
the main political parties are now getting their
electoral assessments well ahead of the April 25
election fever begins to slowly rise in the province
with many UPFA candidates already on the prowl, some of
them have already launched their house-to-house
campaigns and poster campaigns in a prelude to stepping
up campaigns in the coming weeks.
Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) convened a special meeting to
discuss the WPC last week. Having both its candidates
defeated at the recently concluded Central and North
Western Provinces, the JHU was playing on the back foot.
Having reaped no gains last month, the party officials
are now worried about having lost its original following
before five years are out.
special meeting last week, the JHU also took a critical
view of the party's political future. But the meeting
turned into a mini battle between the lay members and
the saffron clad.
lay members blamed the monks, all nine of them for not
being effective politicians and for their failure to
articulate the JHU's many positions in parliament. They
further alleged that the monk MPs have done little to
nurture their electorates to qualify for nominations. A
JHU senior accused: "At least you all have not visited
the electorates since getting elected for the mere
purpose of delivering a sermon at a party faithful
enraged the monks who in turn turned their guns on
Environment Minister Champika Ranawaka.
claimed that people voted for the monks because they
respected the saffron robe but blamed the lay
politicians for being divided and fighting amongst
themselves, the reason for the decline of the Sihala
then proposed by some that hereafter only lay candidates
should be fielded, a proposal that met with vehement
opposition by the monks.
interesting proposal emerged next, to assign new
districts to the nine monk parliamentarians. The
reasoning behind this suggestion was that the JHU
priests were unpopular in their respective districts and
the party should not run the risk of allowing them a
re-run in their original electorates.
then decided to shift Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero from
Kalutara to Gampaha District. It was further decided
that Champika Ranawaka should contest from Colombo and
Ven. Ellawala Medhananda Thero should retain his
national list slot as the party leader.
none other that President Mahinda Rajapakse who wanted
the JHU to contest the previous provincial council
elections to test their popularity and is now pushing
the party to contest the WPC polls.
the erosion in its party base, the JHU has misgivings
about running for office in the decisive province with a
much diluted vote base but feel compelled to demonstrate
they are still a force to reckon with.
party membership was of the view that Udaya Gammanpila
has an unblemished record and hence to field him as the
party's chief ministerial candidate. He resigned his
post of CEA chairman before signing his nominations and
is now conducting a polythene free and environment
friendly election campaign.
the JHU was settling inner disputes and getting geared
for the polls, former WPC chief minister Reginald Cooray
who originally did not wish to contest this time
nevertheless submitted his nomination papers.
Cooray was informed by President Rajapakse in no
uncertain terms to not harbour any chief ministerial
ambitions. The cold war between Rajapakse and Cooray is
an old one that stems from the belief that Cooray was a
Kumaratunga loyalist who also played a role in the
former president's drive for peace through a negotiated
supporters were however livid to learn that their
candidate, the last chief minister has been reduced to a
mere ordinary candidate. As opposition to the decision
grew, the President's compromise formula was to appoint
him as the Kalutara District Leader with Prasanna
Ranatunge to head Gampaha.
undeterred Cooray has already commenced his campaign,
not making any bones about the fact that there is an
inner party conspiracy to destroy his political career.
Meanwhile, President Mahinda Rajapakse did not rest on
his laurels either. He was not too pleased with the poll
analysis following the two recent provincial victories
and told his confidants that it does not augur well for
a country to have over a million voters not casting
UPFA's nomination lists for the WPC were signed on
Monday. Candidates placed their signatures at the
Presidential Secretariat between 2- 6 pm except one.
Thilanga Sumathipala signed his nomination papers at
UPFA General Secretary, Susil Premajayanth's residence.
Like many other politicians, Sumathipala too is guided
by the stars and had an auspicious time according to his
birth chart to place his signature.
UNP nomination board too, predictably ran into a mini
storm with three organisers from the province refusing
to contest despite an earlier decision by the party to
have all electoral organisers contest this time.
nomination committee had its plate full when Kolonnawa
Organiser Karunasena Kodituwakku, Colombo West Organiser
Bodhi Ranasinghe and Dehiwala Mt. Lavinia Mayor Sunethra
Ranasinghe declined to run. The party leader and then
nomination committee were of the view that if unable to
contest, they should resign their electoral organiser
posts. However, a final decision on this matter, true to
UNP style, was postponed until later.
were others who were not keen to contest such as Colombo
West Organiser Rosie Senanayake. She was summoned by
Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to the Cambridge
Terrace office where it was explained to her why it was
important that she contests. Senanayake later included
her name in the nomination list.
the finalisation of UNP nominations, the party appointed
Lakshman Abeygunawardene as Colombo District Leader for
campaign purposes, Kithsiri Kahatapitiya for Kalutara
and Lawrence Madiwela in charge of Gampaha.
CM not named
the names of Karunasena Kodituwakku and Imtiaz Bakeer
Marker were proposed for the top post, the UNP decided
not to name a chief ministerial candidate. Importantly,
both the main political parties have so far not named
their chief ministerial candidates.
Meanwhile, the SLMC this time around has decided to go
it alone. The SLMC leadership earlier proposed three
SLMC candidates be given nominations. When the UNP
discussed the number of slots that could be offered for
the SLMC, the response was that it needs to be discussed
with the SLMC High Command.
such, the UNP nomination papers were signed in two
stages. The UNP members signed their papers on Tuesday
and the other parties contesting on the UNP ticket
finalised their papers on Wednesday.
Tuesday, SLMC Leader Rauf Hakeem informed the UNP
leadership that the offered slots were not sufficient
and announced the party's decision to go it alone.
the UNP crisis and
Province already beginning to generate much political
heat, and fresh calls from the international community
and the LTTE to announce a no fire period came the UN
Security Council's decision to address the worsening
security and humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka.
island's Permanent Representative in the UN, H.M.G.S.
Palihakkara learned about the Security Council report
that was to emerge on Sri Lanka, and promptly informed
President Mahinda Rajapakse as Mexico stood poised to
call for action.
diplomatic manoeuverings taking place in New York and
Britain, the government managed to stem some of the bad
publicity it could have received internationally.
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council issued a report dated
February 26 expressing grave concern over the prevailing
situation in Sri Lanka.
significantly noted with concern that the Sri Lankan
government has rejected calls by the
UK, Japan and the EU for a negotiated truce and are
looking for an unconditional surrender from the LTTE.
added that the LTTE has indicated a desire for a
ceasefire but are unlikely to agree to surrender their
arms, a pre-condition of the Sri Lankan government for
further records that on February 6 the Secretary-General
spoke to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse about
the worsening humanitarian situation in the conflict
zone and conveyed his strong concern about the heavy
casualties, including children.
February 24 the Secretary-General called for a
suspension of fighting to allow safe passage to
civilians trying to flee the conflict, it adds.
Security Council report added that in the last month,
the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the
rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) appeared
to be moving into a decisive phase.
recent months, the Sri Lankan army has succeeded in
confining the area controlled by the LTTE to about 34
square miles. Humanitarian groups estimate that there
are about 250,000 people trapped in the area and that
the combination of its small area and intensity of the
fighting was leading to disproportionate risks for
added that civilians trying to leave the war zone have
been targeted and recruitment of child soldiers is on
the increase and the troops were indeed moving into the
LTTE's last bastions.
Security Council report listed among the suggested
action, for the Council members to discuss the issues
relating to protection of civilians in the conflict
zone, encourage the Secretary-General to continue the
organisation's effortsto assist in solving the
humanitarian crisis and to urge preventive measures be
taken to prevent further recruitment of child soldiers
and the release and rehabilitation of those caught up in
the European Union also reviving its call for a truce on
Monday, Sri Lankan diplomat in
Ravinatha Ariyasinha commenced further diplomatic
manoeuverings to impress upon the EU not to make any
attempt to breathe life back into the LTTE in its final
Despite the UN,
US, EU and now the TNA that comprises Tamil legislators
from the northeast joining the chorus, the government
has refused to announce a no fire period. The TNA's
position, strange as it may appear is to urge the
government to announce a unilateral truce and then to
mount pressure on the LTTE to consent.
Defence Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella last
week scoffed at the TNA proposal saying it was one that
refused to recognise reality. " The position has not
wavered. The government demands an unqualified laying
down of arms without which there will not be any
political discussion with the Liberation Tigers. In any
case, it is a matter of time," he claims.
58 Division pushes forward in the Puthukkudiyiruppu
area, it is the government's firm belief that the war is
almost at an end. But what is murky is the future that
lies ahead. While territory may be cleared, there
appears no possibility of a credible Tamil political
leadership emerging from the northeast.
present, those who enjoy political office as well as
others are mostly reformed militants or political
discards or spent forces. The ideologically rich are
already marginalized or cast off from the mainstream.
war, building a Tamil political leadership that can
deliver results to the northeastern civilians remains
the country's next hurdle. It is not a challenge that
could be so easily met.