Rajapaksa Govt Trying To Win Battles While War Looms

  • Pillay’s impending visit pushes MR govt into action
  • SLFP seniors displeased with Jayasekara’s defection

– Wendell L. Willkie

President Mahinda Rajapaksa last week was back at his usual game in the local political arena – that is to create instability within the opposition ranks. These antics the Rajapaksa administration believes would help sustain its power in the long term.

Mahinda Rajapaksa
, Dayasiri Jayasekara, Ranil Wickremesinghe and Navi Pillay

Soon after assuming office in November 2005, the Rajapaksa theory was to follow a divide and rule principle where measures were taken to strengthen the governing party by creating divisions within opposition political parties.

The defections that took place from the UNP and JVP resulted in the parties facing a period of crises. While the JVP has managed to regain its strength to considerable levels, the UNP it seems is still limping along marking its time until UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s target of an electoral victory in 2014 is achieved.

The growing dissention against the Rajapaksa government among the people and most of all from within the governing party ranks created hope among the opposition UNP supporters that its ‘dog days’ are finally nearing an end.
The forthcoming provincial council elections was to be the platform for the UNP to show its strength.

Be that as it may, UNP’s Dayasiri Jayasekara’s announcement of resigning from parliament and joining the governing party to contest at the forthcoming North Western Provincial Council election has undoubtedly caused a setback to the main opposition UNP campaign in the province.
It is no secret that the firebrand Jayasekara is a key attraction among the UNP voters in the Kurunegala district given the preferential votes polled by him at the 2010 general election. He was among the last in the UNP with excellent oratory skills that could reach out to the masses.

He has been disgruntled with the UNP leadership for several years now. However, after playing an active role with the pro-reforms rebel group within the party headed by then UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa, Jayasekara eventually decided to maintain a silent role and toe the party line.
Nevertheless, Jayasekara continuously felt that he was being sidelined for being critical of some of the arbitrary decisions made by the UNP leadership. The appointment of UNP MP Akila Viraj Kariyawasam as the UNP’s Kurunegala District leader and being sidelined from the party’s election campaign for the forthcoming North Western Provincial Council election were too much for Jayasekara to take.

His disgust at the manner in which the party functioned was made public by Jayasekara on

Wednesday when he announced his resignation from parliament.

He held nothing back in his parting speech in parliament.
Jayasekara said that he would resign from the parliament since he was elected on the UNP ticket from UNP voters and would join the governing party and contest the North Western Provincial Council election under the UPFA.

He charged that the UNP would not be able to win in the North Western Provincial Council election and that he would work for the victory of the governing party.
Jayasekara expressed his displeasure at the UNP by saying that the party leader would remain even if he lost the elections in 2014.

“If the lampposts within the Working Committee give him another term, he can remain in office for the rest of his life. His leadership is a blessing to the Government. We fought our battles within the party. I am no longer interested in staying in the party and leading a blind existence. After being defeated at the 2014 poll, the Opposition will attempt to attain power again only in 2022. I am not willing to wait till then. For 20 years, the people of this country have suffered because of this UNP leadership. It is not the UNP that is making them suffer, but the party’s leadership.

When compared with the UNP leadership, I don’t see the President’s leadership as being dictatorial. How can we look for democracy and fight against a dictator when it is not practised within,” he said, adding that the UNP had failed to campaign against key issues that the Sri Lankan public has been faced with in recent times.

Nevertheless, Jayasekara would find it difficult to now speak in support of an administration that he has severely criticized while being in the opposition.

UNP: Another blow

The UNP since 2006 has been steadily losing its outspoken front liners who were instrumental in keeping the party in the limelight whenever the country was faced with a serious issue.
The number of UNP MPs who have crossed over to the governing party reached an astounding 65 with Jayasekara’s defection last week.

It was a disheartened UNP stalwart who said after hearing of Jayasekara’s move that the only person now left to defect to the government is the party leader and once that happens the SLFP could easily be re-named the UNP since a majority of the SLFP’s membership at present are UNP defectors. Although said tongue in cheek, it is now a sentiment shared by many UNPers.

The story of a man who had to run naked in Deraniyagala after losing a bet over Jayasekara’s defection to the government indicated the level of confidence the former UNP member had among party loyalists.

Despite rumours of Jayasekara planning on defecting to the government, even senior UNP members were not willing to give up.

UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake was one who was adamant to see all forces within the UNP working together at the forthcoming provincial council election campaign.

It was Karunanayake who pushed for a meeting between Jayasekara and Wickremesinghe to iron out their differences.

Wickremesinghe for his part reluctantly agreed to the meeting and asked Jayasekara to work towards a party victory.

UNP seniors were hopeful that following many internal rifts that have now been resolved, the party would be able to put forward a united front to show its strength at the provincial council elections.

However, Jayasekara’s move last week sent the message to the UNP supporters island wide that all is not still well in their beloved party.

UNP Leader Wickremesinghe has in the past few months shown a great improvement in his people skills where he has been seen mixing around with people at various forums. Wickremesinghe’s actions along with the silence maintained by the rebel groups in the party that were towing the party line created an aura of confidence that even had the Rajapaksa government quite nervous.
All these would be indications that the Rajapaksas would definitely strike hard to create an imbalance in the UNP.

The seasoned and strategic politician in Wickremesinghe, while keeping his loyalists close, should also start giving merit where due if he is looking at a UNP victory in 2014.
SLFP crisis

Be that as it may, Jayasekara’s defection has created ripples within the SLFP as well.
Jayasekara’s indication that he would be the governing party’s chief ministerial candidate for the North Western Provincial Council has irked senior SLFPers.

A few days back, SLFP General Secretary Minister Maithripala Sirisena told the media that the party had decided not to give nominations to the party’s parliamentarians to resign from the legislature and contest at provincial polls.

Sirisena charged that the SLFP would give opportunities to newcomers to contest at provincial polls.
The key reason for such a decision was the SLFP leadership’s decision to prevent more problems within the party.
Senior Minister S. B. Navinna a few weeks earlier expressed his desire to resign from parliament to contest as the governing party’s chief ministerial candidate at the North Western Provincial Council election.

Neither the President nor the decision makers in the government were agreeable to this proposition given the disadvantage it could have on some newcomers and the offspring of some government ministers in the Kurunegala District who are to contest for the North Western Provincial Council.

On the other hand former Chief Minister of the North Western Province, Athula Wijesinghe has also demanded that he be named as the governing party’s chief ministerial candidate.
In response to this issue, UPFA General Secretary, Minister Susil Premajayantha said the governing party would not name any chief ministerial candidates and would instead name group leaders.

In this backdrop, Jayasekara’s defection to the governing party is viewed by senior SLFPers as an addition to the lot that is now displacing the traditional SLFP members.

The increasing number of UNP defectors in the SLFP has now become a discomforting thought not only to the UNP rank and file, but also to those in the SLFP.

This could be viewed easily whenever an opposition defection takes place. The defector is always surrounded by the other defectors or backbenchers and not by senior SLFP members. A video clip telecast on a private television station of Jayasekara’s meeting with the President soon after his defection showed the displeased faces of several senior SLFP members.

The Rajapaksa government will eventually head towards a crisis of massive proportions when the internal party crises reach a crescendo.

CHOGM platform

The Rajapaksa government that is trying to steal the thunder once again in the local political scene is unlikely to receive the same recognition before the international community.
The EU and British parliamentary delegations that visited the country recently have not been impressed with the lack of progress in several fronts in post war Sri Lanka.

High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Navi Pillay is to visit Sri Lanka next month and is to present a report during the September session of the Council on Sri Lanka.
The Rajapaksa government that is trying hard to turn a blind eye to the international concerns is also aware that the time is running out fast where the post war progress report is concerned.
It is this reason that prompted President Rajapaksa to order the appointment of a Presidential Commission to inquire into the disappearances that have taken place during the 30 year long conflict.

The directive came four years after the end of the war and one month prior to Pillay’s visit.
The government has also taken steps to arrest the suspects in the murder of five university students in Trincomalee in 2006 and has expedited the inquiry into the murder of 17 aid workers in Muttur also in 2006.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo this November is now fast becoming a nightmare for the Rajapaksa government.

The announcement last week that British Prime Minister David Cameron would press UK concerns on Sri Lanka on its assessment of the situation in the country during his visit to the country in November was not a pleasing bit of information for the government.

Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, as reported in Colombo Gazette, has told the House of Lords that Cameron and UK foreign secretary, William Hague will raise their concerns when they attend the Commonwealth Summit in Sri Lanka in November.

Britain believes the CHOGM in Sri Lanka will either highlight the country’s progress and respect for Commonwealth values, or draw attention to the absence of such progress.

Baroness Warsi has said the British government regularly raises concerns about lack of progress on post-conflict reconciliation, accountability and the current human rights situation with the Government of Sri Lanka.

“We have ongoing human rights concerns about Sri Lanka, including on freedom of opinion and expression, and judicial independence. Our up to date assessment is available online as a ‘Country Update’ to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Human Rights Report for 2012,” she has said in response to a question raised on Sri Lanka.

A day after Baroness Warsi’s comment, on Friday, Defence Secretary had reportedly cancelled his scheduled meeting with a visiting British parliamentary delegation.
Sources have told the Colombo Gazette that the meeting had been pre-arranged but was cancelled at the last minute.

The delegation, which had visited the north as well as the southern areas, met Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem on Friday. They were scheduled to meet External Affairs Minister Professor G. L. Peiris later Friday night.
Head of the delegation, Eleanor Laing MP has said the visit was planned as a prelude to the CHOGM in November.

“There is a lot of hope for the future. We are very positive about Sri Lanka. I believe reconciliation is important. We should not rake back the past,” she has said to a select group of journalists before ending the tour.

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