The Best Among Equals
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
Over 1.5 million voters in the Colombo District now face the daunting task of deciding whom to vote for. The April 8 general election will see hundreds of governing party and opposition heavyweights battle it out to gain the top slots in the preferential list in the District. The most interesting battle would be witnessed between the two main candidates from the two opposition alliances. Opposition and UNF Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and newly formed Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Leader General Sarath Fonseka will contest the election from the Colombo District. Apart from Wickremesinghe and General Fonseka, among those vying for the top slots in the list to enter parliament are many senior government ministers and provincial councilors who topped the preferential vote lists at the 2009 Western Provincial Council election.
Here’s a look at some of the heavyweights who are entering the fray from the Colombo District…
Ranil Wickremesinghe (UNP)
Leader of the Opposition and the UNP, Ranil Wickremesinghe is one of the veteran politicians to contest the forthcoming election. With his party having experienced 12 major electoral defeats, Wickremesinghe is hopeful of the UNP led coalition posing a challenge to the governing party at the election. Although defeated at key elections, Wickremesinghe has always polled the highest preferential votes from the Colombo District at general elections since 2000. In 2000 he received 363,668 votes, in 2001 received 415,686 votes and 329,524 at the last general election in 2004. Wickremesinghe was Prime Minister of Sri Lanka twice, from May 7, 1993 to August 19, 1994 and from December 9, 2001 to April 6, 2004. He was appointed as party leader in November 1994. He is also the leader of the United National Front, being appointed as the head of the alliance in October 2009. Since the UNP’s defeat at the 1994 general election, the party has experienced many electoral defeats and he has experienced defeat as the UNP’s presidential candidate.
Former Army Commander and Chief of Defence Staff General Sarath Fonseka is to contest the general election from the Colombo District as the leader of the newly formed Democratic National Alliance (DNA). A few months after his defeat at the presidential election, General Fonseka is now gearing to contest the general election while in military custody since February 8. On November 29, 2009, Fonseka formally announced his candidature at the 2010 Presidential Election. The main opposition parties endorsed his candidacy, and Fonseka became the main opposition candidate challenging President Rajapaksa. He campaigned under the sign of a swan and the slogan “Vishvasaneeya Venasak.” He polled over 4 million votes though losing to President Rajapaksa. Fonseka was arrested in February, soon after the presidential election, and the government announced he is to be court-martialed for committing “military offences.”
UPFA Western Provincial Councilor, R. Duminda Silva came on to the scene following his victory at the 2004 Western Provincial Council election where he polled 56,558 votes. Silva topped the Colombo District list for the UNP. Silva joined the UPFA in 2007 and contested the 2009 Western Provincial Council election.
At this election Silva polled 165,756 votes, which was the highest in the province. He is also expected to have the biggest advertising budget. The President appointed Silva as the SLFP organiser for the Kolonnawa electorate.
A close runner to Duminda Silva, UPFA Western Provincial Councilor and Sri Lanka Freedom Party chief organizer for the Borella Electorate in Colombo District, Thilanga Sumathipala polled the second highest preferential votes at the 2009 Western Provincial Council election.
He received 159,603 preferential votes. After his victory at the Western Provincial Council election Sumathipala decided to contest the general election following a request by the President.
Former JVP member and current leader of the National Freedom Front (NFF), Wimal Weerawansa polled the highest preferential votes in the UPFA at the 2004 general election. He received 237,185 votes in 2004.
After entering politics through the JVP, Weerawansa defected from the party in 2008 and formed his own party, namely the NFF with several other JVP defectors. Weerawansa fell out of favour with the JVP leadership as he insisted publicly that the party should support the Rajapaksa government during its military campaign against the LTTE. He was expelled by the JVP but Weerawansa was immediately given a key role in the government. First elected in 2000, Weerawansa represented the JVP in parliament till his defection in 2008.
JHU Theoretician Patali Champika Ranawaka is the current Cabinet Minister of Environment and Natural Resources in the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration. Originally a member of the Sihala Urumaya, a Sinhala nationalist political party, he joined the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU).
When the JHU decided to join the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2007, Rev. Dr. Omalpe Sobitha Thero resigned from his seat in parliament thus making way for Ranawaka to be nominated to parliament as a national list MP. Ranawaka is an electrical engineer by profession and passed out from the Moratuwa University.
Ravi Karunanayake (UNP)
Ravindra Karunanayake is a politician and an accountant by profession. He has been a Member of Parliament from 1994 and is the current UNP chief organiser for the Colombo North Electorate in the Colombo District and the Colombo District Leader of the Party.
He was the former Cabinet Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs in the UNF government between 2001 and 2004. He first entered parliament through the national list. He contested the 2000 and 2001 general elections and was elected to parliament. Karunanayake polled 69,975 votes at the 2004 general election.
Lands Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga is the nephew of the late actor turned politician Vijaya Kumaratunga and nephew of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
An actor by profession, Kumaratunga has held several portfolios under the PA and UPFA governments.
At the 2004 general election, Kumaratunga came seventh in the Colombo District UPFA list after receiving 51,583 votes.
Secretary of the UPFA, Susil Premajayantha is the Education Minister in the present administration. Polling 100,074 votes at the 2004 general election, Premajayantha came fourth in the UPFA Colombo District list. A lawyer by profession, Premajayantha entered politics in 1991 by contesting for the Kotte Urban Council under the SLFP. In 1993 he was elected to the Western Provincial Council. In 1999 he contested the Western PC elections and was elected as the Chief Minister.
He was elected to parliament from the Gampaha District in 2000 and was appointed Education Minister. He was later elected to parliament from the Colombo District in 2001. In 2004 he was again elected to parliament from the Colombo District under the UPFA and was appointed as Power and Energy Minister. Premajayantha was reappointed as Education Minister after President Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed office in 2005.
Dinesh Gunawardena is a socialist politician and leader of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP). He is the Cabinet Minister for Urban Development and Sacred Area Development in the present administration. He polled 82,626 votes at the last general election in 2004. He contested the general election of 1977 unsuccessfully, but won a by-election for the Maharagama constituency in May 1983 . In 1989, he contested the general election from the MEP in the Colombo District, and was successful. In 2000 and 2001, the MEP was a constituent party of the PA, and he was elected in the general election from Colombo District. He was appointed Transport Minister in 2000. In 2001 he was elected again from the Colombo District in. In 2004, Gunawardena was appointed Urban Development and Water Supply Minister and Deputy Education Minister. In the cabinet re-shuffle of February 2007, he was appointed Minister of Urban Development and Sacred Areas Development.
Leader of the Sri Lanka National Congress, Moragoda first entered parliament as a national list Member of Parliament in 2000 under the UNP. In the general election of December 2001, he contested from the Colombo District as the organizer for Colombo East and was elected to parliament. He was re-elected to parliament in the general election of April 2004 as an UNP MP for the Colombo District. In early 2005 the UNP appointed him as Chief Organizer for Colombo West in addition to his responsibilities as Chief Organiser for Colombo East. At the 2004 general election Moragoda polled 99,146 preferential votes. In 2008 he switched over to the UPFA.
He functioned as Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s lawyer for a while and later for Chandrika Kumaratunga. Rajapakse was a member of the SLFP Central Committee and Chairman of the Disciplinary Committee as well. Rajapakse entered parliament in 2004 through the UPFA national list and was appointed as Banking Development Minister. He resigned from the post four months later. Once in parliament, Rajapakse headed COPE.
In November 2007, he crossed over to the opposition and functioned as an independent legislator. Rajapakse joined the UNP in December 2009 and was appointed to the party’s Working Committee and as the Maharagama electoral organiser.
A.H.M. Fowzie is a senior politician and the SLFP Colombo Central organiser. The current Petroleum and Petroleum Resources Minister, Fowzie entered politics in the late 1950s through the UNP and joined the SLFP in 1975. Fowzie was the Deputy Mayor of Colombo and was later elected as Colombo Mayor in 1974. He served as Colombo Mayor till 1977.
In 1993, Fowzie was elected to the Western Provincial Council. He entered parliament in the 1994 general election under the PA. Since 1994, Fowzie has represented the PA and the UPFA in successive parliaments and held many portfolios including Highways, Transport, Railway, Health, Social Services and Environment. He received 49,719 votes at the 2004 general election.
Rose Senanayake nee Ramanayake is a politician, activist and beauty queen. At present she is the Leader of the Opposition in the Western Provincial Council and UNP Chief Organizer for the Colombo West Electorate.
She has served as the Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Malaysia and as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund. She is seen as the foremost woman politician in the island and has a substantial personal following among the common people.
The former Kurunegala District Parliamentarian, Rohitha Bogollagama is to contest from the Colombo District at the coming general election. He is currently the UPFA organizer for the Kotte electorate. Bogollagama is the Foreign Affairs Minister since January 2007. As a member of the UNP, Bogollagama was elected to parliament in 2000 from the Kurunegala District. In December 2001, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed him as Industries Minister. While in opposition in 2004, he was appointed to serve as chairman of COPE. Bogollagama crossed over to the government in November 2004. He was appointed as the Advanced Technology and National Enterprise Development Minister on the same day. He became Enterprise Development Minister on November 23, 2005.
Gamini Lokuge was a former Tourism Minister in the UNF government until his party lost power in 2004. He was the UNP Kesbewa organiser.
Lokuge remained in opposition until early 2007 when he crossed over and became Sports and Recreation Minister under President Rajapaksa.
Lokuge continues to serve in this position. Lokuge received 53,810 votes at the 2004 general election.
Sunil Handunnetti (DNA)
JVP member Handunnetti is a Colombo District candidate for the DNA. Handunnetti entered parliament following the 2001 general election. He was re-elected to parliament in 2004 when he contested under the UPFA. He was appointed as the Deputy Small and Rural Industries Minister in 2004. However, he resigned from the portfolio along with the other JVP ministers when the party decided to withdraw from the UPFA. Handunnetti received the second highest preferential votes in the Colombo District at the 2004 general election. He polled 152,942 votes. This time, Handunnetti would be contesting the general election with General Sarath Fonseka who is currently in military custody.