The Sunday Leader

Budget Battles Rage In Pradeshiya Sabhas

In a feverish attempt to reverse this disastrous trend, the Presidential Secretariat started a fresh inquiry into the matter.

Despite various attempts made by the senior members of government to prevent the erosion at the local government level, last week too, the ruling party continued to lose budget votes of several important local government institutions. One of them was the Embilipitiya Pradeshiya Sabha whose Chairman was M K Amila, son of the late provincial councilor M K Ranjith, also known as Chandi Malli. Ranjith was a close associate of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and was killed in 2003 following a shootout that took place in a high security zone.

D. M. Jayarathne, Upali Samaraweera, Geetha Kumarasinghe and Sujeewa Senasinghe

After his demise, Chandi Malli’s son was brought into politics and was given the top position of the Embilipitiya Pradeshiya Sabha. It is clear that members of the Embilipitiya Pradeshiya Sabha have slapped the decision to make him the Chairman by defeating the budget-vote. What is apparent is that the ruling party members of the Embilipitiya Pradeshiya Sabha, who voted in favour of opposition, haven’t considered Amila’s affiliation with the top echelons of the government as a serious factor.

Homagama budget ends in fisticuffs

Another instance was the budget vote of Homagama Pradeshiya Sabha which ended in fisticuffs. When the budget was presented to the Pradeshiya Sabha, there was a heated argument between the ruling party and opposition representatives as it imposed 71 new taxes.

In the middle of this argument, a person who was sitting in the gallery threw a chair at the PS chairman. He was immediately rushed to the Colombo National Hospital and the culprit was arrested. This incident is suggestive of the fact that budget votes presented to local government bodies can not only jeopardize the positions of the councilors, but also their lives.
However, in a feverish attempt to reverse this disastrous trend, the Presidential Secretariat started a fresh inquiry into the matter. The main objective of the inquiry was to find the actual reason behind developments that do not augur well for the government. Although it is a known fact that this shows the lack of popularity on the part of local government heads, the Presidential Secretariat went deep into the matter, and the inquiry managed to unearth several important points with regard to this trend.

One important point is that several national level politicians – who are at loggerheads with LG heads representing the same electorates – are behind this matter. The Secretariat, The Sunday Leader learns, has already finalized a list of names of politicians, representing national and provincial council levels, who should be responsible for the defeats of several local government bodies. The report will be presented to President Mahinda Rajapaksa when he returns home from his visit to Kenya.

MR to protect UNP legacy

Hours before President Mahinda Rajapaksa left for his official visit to the African region, he had a conversation with a group of members of the UNP led Seethawakapura Urban Council. Its head, Susil Premalal Pinto (UNP), along with several members of the party, met the President at Temple Trees to discuss some important matters with regard to his budget. He sought the assistance of President Rajapaksa to get his budget passed at the council with the support of UPFA members. His budget had been defeated by the UPFA group with the assistance of a group in his own party. Before the second vote was taken, he met the President to make sure that all UPFA members in the council would support him to get the document passed.

Apart from President Rajapaksa and members of the Seethawakapura Urban Council, there was another familiar face that joined the meeting. He was none other than Udaya Prabhath Gammanpila, Legal Advisor of Jathika Hela Urumaya and Minister of Agriculture, Agrarian Development, Minor Irrigation, Industries, and Environment of Western Provincial Council. Gammanpila was the one who actually coordinated and facilitated the meeting between the group of UNP councilors and the President.

There is another interesting story behind this move. Seethawakapura has been a UNP stronghold for nearly 37 years and now this legacy has been threatened. To protect the UNP legacy in the area, the UNP urban council members have now sought the assistance of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is the leader of the UPFA, pledging that he would toe ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ manifesto – so much for unity and conciliation.

Cat Snake’s whereabouts revealed

While the government has entangled itself with budget-vote issues, the parliamentary committee that inquired into the Forsten’s Cat Snake which was found inside the office of Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe has come up with its report. The report assures that it is not an inside job nor is it an outside job. It suggests the snake must have come along with flower pots that were brought to Parliament the previous day.

This was not the first instance where a snake was found in Parliament. Parliament officials say that snakes had been found in the ground floor and first floor of the parliamentary complex in the Parliament. But, this is the first time a snake was found in the third floor of Parliament, where the Opposition Leader’s office is also located. However, the inquiry report also notes that there are serious lapses on the part of the Parliament security when screening flower pots and other similar objects that are brought to Parliament. This particular snake, which sent shock waves through the Opposition parliamentarians, was found behind a flower pot and it further corroborates the findings of the committee.

Thavarasa – Samaraweera clash at UNP WC meeting

Apart from the snake committee report, there was another important development that drew the attention of the rank and file of the United National Party. That was the Working Committee meeting of the party which came ahead of the UNP’s General Assembly, scheduled to take place on the December 21. When the UNP’s Working Committee meeting met at Sirikotha on Tuesday (10), notable absentees were the Sajith Premadasa faction. Neither Sajith Premadasa nor his close allies, such as Thalatha Atukorale and Ranjith Maddumabandara, were present at the meeting. The only person who represented the Sajith faction was Upali Samaraweera, Provincial Councilor of Uva.

As the meeting commenced, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe addressed the Working Committee members and read out four proposals drafted by the Leadership Council to be presented to the General Assembly of the party on December 21. The proposals included a) granting powers to the Leadership Council b) abolition of Executive Presidency c) protesting against skyrocketing cost of living d) getting everyone on one page when speaking to media.

Some of the party seniors who addressed the committee after the opposition leader – namely John Amaratunga and A J M Muzammil – stressed the need of reappointing Sajith Premadasa as a member of the Leadership Council. But this opinion was strongly criticized by Gauri Thavarasa, who is usually not the most outspoken member of the committee.

“It is clear that Sajith is avoiding the Leadership Council and distancing himself from the party. Do we have to wait for him eternally? I am of the belief that the UNP, as a party, should go forward instead of waiting for certain individuals,” Thavarasa said in his speech.

This statement earned the ire of Upali Samaraweera who engaged in a heated argument with Thavarasa over her remarks on Sajith. But the argument did not last long, perhaps due to the absence of other members of the Sajith group.
Although some expect that there will be fireworks at the General Assembly of the party, inside sources of the UNP say that the proceedings will be very peaceful as the General Assembly will not bring about earth-shattering changes. It is predicted that Kabir Hashim, Kegalle District MP of the UNP, would be appointed as the Chairman of the party at the assembly – the position which was previously held by Gamini Jayawickrama Perera. Meanwhile, another group of MPs are of the view that Kabir Hashim should be made the General Secretary of the party, replacing Tissa Attanayake. They also suggest that Attanayaka should be made the Chairman of the party – a relatively less dynamic position.

UNP CM candidate is still a blank

The UNP is now faced with a new problem in finding a Chief Ministerial candidate for the Western Provincial Council election. Since the party is entering the election campaign on a bad wicket, potential candidates are reluctant to risk their political careers by opting to become the UNP’s CM candidate. That was the case with Dr Harsha de Silva, prominent economist and Parliamentarian, whose candidacy was promoted by none other than Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of the party. But Harsha de Silva was reluctant to step into the contest knowing it would be a huge challenge that would jeopardize his political career.

Then, a group of Opposition MPs attempted to promote former Chief Justice as a potential common candidate for the opposition. Although it was viewed as a wise move at the outset, the group now finds it difficult to get everyone on one page on the matter. The JVP has already decided that it would contest the election on their own, without coalescing with any other party. Therefore, the JVP is not an option where forming a common Opposition is concerned. Then, the only option for the UNP is stepping into a common front with the Sarath Fonseka led Democratic Party. By observing the developments on the ground, it is not so difficult to fathom that the common alliance between the UNP and Democratic Party is not working out. So, the UNP, at the moment, is running out of partners.

It is in this context that another proposal has been made to field Ruwan Wijeyawardena as the CM candidate for the Western Provincial Council. The popular young parliamentarian, who represents the Gampaha District, presently heads the youth wing of the party. With the Senanayake-Jayawardena-Wijeyawardena legacy behind him, some view Ruwan Wijeyawardena as a good solution to the conundrum which the UNP is currently experiencing. However, the proposal has to be approved by the Leadership Council of the party – the supreme decision making body. Although the Leadership Council met on Friday (13), no concrete decision was made with regard to the matter.

Geetha vying for the top position in South

Along with the Western Province Council election, the government is also planning to hold the Southern Provincial Council election – which will be a relatively easy terrain for the government. The UPFA is to field a star-studded list of candidates for the provincial council election, with two popular actresses, namely Geetha Kumarasinghe and Anarkali Akarsha. Kumarasinghe contested the last general election but failed to secure a parliamentary seat. This time she is testing her luck at the provincial level, representing the Galle district as a candidate.

Following a meeting held in Thavalama, Galle, a provincial journalist asked Geetha Kumarasinghe about her future political plans. In response, Kumarasinghe indicated that she should be the Chief Ministerial candidate of the ruling party for the Southern Provincial Council election.

When contacted by The Sunday Leader, Kumarasinghe affirmed the statement saying the people in the South want her as the Chief Ministerial candidate.

“People want me to take up a new role. They are the ones who requested me to contest for the provincial council as there is no general election in the foreseeable future. Most of the people who spoke to me wanted me to become the Chief Ministerial candidate. It was their wish, not mine. But, ultimately, the President will decide who the CM candidate is,” Kumarasinghe said.
However, sources from the ruling party claimed that chances are meager for Kumarasinghe to become the Chief Ministerial candidate. As of now, Shan Wijayalal de Silva, the present Chief Minister of the Southern Provincial Council is the front runner for the position although there will be a few new faces on the list. Anarakali Akarsha, who is already a member of the Southern Provincial Council, has confirmed her candidacy at the forthcoming election.
It is reported that the two provincial councils – Western and Southern – will be dissolved on January 3.

Anti-PM voice comes from within

Prime Minister D.M. Jayarathne found himself in hot waters last week when the Jathika Hela Urumaya, a constituent party of the ruling coalition, pushed for his resignation due to his alleged involvement in a heroine scam. Then the baton was taken over by the UNP with Sujeewa Senasinghe, one its outspoken young MPS, questioning the Prime Minister’s involvement in the issue in Parliament. The Prime Minister distanced himself from the incident saying he has already sacked the Coordinating Secretary. On the contrary, the Coordinating Secretary, speaking to media, said he had not been sacked, but stepped down from the position to facilitate the inquiry against him.

There are reasons to assume that the heavy outcry against Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne is actually triggered from inside. It is a well-known fact that the Prime Minister’s position is one of the most coveted positions in the government and several senior members of the cabinet are eying on the portfolio. After the last General Election, a senior member of the ruling party who holds a powerful position in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party was of the firm belief that he would be handpicked as the Prime Minister. Some ministers openly declared that there were several members of the ruling camp who could fit into the role of the Prime Minister. It would not require Einsteinean wisdom to realize that there are many who eagerly wait for the Prime Minister’s exit. Putting two and two together, one can easily fathom where the noise is actually coming from.

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