the UNP derailed the SLFP
- Sitting pretty
Draws first blood
Sigamani - Rocks
the SlFP boat
Alliance plans to oust Prime Minister Ranil Wickreme-singhe's government
by December suffered two devastating body blows last week and sent
President Chandrika Kumaratunga scurrying back to the drawing boards in
a bid to salvage a hopeless situation.
confident she can send Prime Minister Wickremesinghe packing home to his
Fifth Lane residence in time for Christmas, the President and her
loyalists made it public the previous week, the launch of a public
agitational campaign on Friday, October 24, will culminate on December
16, the eve of the third reading of the budget.
only did the PA through former Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera make
this announcement but the party went so far as to claim several UNPers
would join the final rally on December 16 prior to the President moving
to take control of government with their support.
thus appeared, the PA already had firm pledges of support from a group
of UNP MPs that made it supremely confident the ouster of Premier
Wickremesinghe was not long in coming.
least that was the public perception created and the President too said
as much when she addressed the party organisers the previous week,
egging them on to bring a million people for the demonstrations, which
she said would pave the way for the formation of a PA dominated
it was not idle talk either because the President knew only too well,
having pitched her campaign at the level she has, there will be no
second chance. It was going to be an all out blast.
with time running out for her presidency, a failed attempt in December
was going to set the People's Alliance back by months if not years with
not a snowball's chance in hell of recovering before the February
Wayamba Provincial Council polls. From thereon, as Gampaha District MP,
Anura Bandaranaike himself said, it was going to be the domino effect
and the decimation of the PA, if victory was not assured.
motivating the people and bringing them on to the streets in the
thousands with no immediate prospect of changing a government is almost
impossible and prohibitive, costwise too. That is why December was going
to be decisive for the PA and the only motivation for the people to take
to the streets was the prospect of the formation of a government, not
four years from now, but immediately.
thrown the gauntlet and made her party's intentions clear, it was going
to be an all or nothing battle for the President and her loyalists with
failure bound to also cause deep divisions in a party already at odds
over an alliance with the JVP.
President in going for Premier Wickremesinghe's jugular at a time the
peace process was also set to restart would not have not taken into
account the finger pointing the likes of Anura Bandaranaike and his
loyalists would indulge in furiously for failure to link up with the JVP
if her strategy of ousting Wickremesinghe with a group of UNPers failed.
given Prime Minister Wickremesinghe's laid back style of governance even
in the face of a hostile President, he would have neither found any
sympathy nor support from his members and party loyalists if no counter
strategy was employed to counter the President's threat and fully
conscious of this reality, Wickremesinghe too moved into action.
he did by detailing several ministers and Party Chairman Malik
Samarawickrema to tap potential PA members who were disenchanted and woo
them for a counter strike, and that this team set about doing speedily
no sooner they got the starting orders from the Premier.
Prime Minister told his ministers, having secured full international
backing for the peace process and economic revival of the country, which
is already showing positive results, he will not allow a few power
hungry individuals to drag the country back into chaos.
also told his members that the government was providing for a handsome
salary increment for the public servants as well in the forthcoming
budget, which plans he said would all be derailed if the PA is allowed
to disrupt the smooth workings of the government through a
that said the members assigned the task moved into action and the likes
of Ministers G.L. Peiris, John Amaratunga, Ravi Karuna-nayake, S.B.
Dissanayake, Rajitha Senaratne, Mahinda Samarasinghe and UNP Chairman
Malik Samarawickrema made immediate contact with identified members of
the PA and got them to stand by for a crossover if the need arose.
UNP had as a buffer at least 12 PA MPs who had agreed to cross over
during the 19th Amendment debate and it was to those members the party
once again turned and received firm assurances of support.
that alone was not going to be enough and the PA had to be sent a
decisive signal, they were only pipe dreaming if any hopes were
entertained of wooing a crossover from the UNP and the signal was for
the party to draw first blood and call the PA's bluff.
and clear message to the PA
got at least eight PA MPs to stand by, it was thus decided a loud and
clear message would be sent to the PA and possible UNP defectors that
the ouster of Wickremesinghe was not just on by making a show of one
sample in parliament on the eve of the SLFP's campaign launch scheduled
for Friday, October 24.
Commerce Minister Ravi Karunanayake took upon himself the task of
ensuring a PA parliamentarian would accordingly do the needful and deal
a devastating blow to Kumaratunga's campaign and send the SLFP off the
so decided, Karunanayake zeroed in on PA national list MP, V.
Puththrasigamani, a hand-picked nominee of Kumaratunga, who during the
previous parliament was an elected UNP MP from the Nuwara Eliya
District. Karunanayake had a close rapport with Puththrasigamani over
several years, the latter's son having worked in Karunanayake's private
after making some initial soundings through a mutual friend and
receiving positive signals, Karunanayake arranged for them to meet on
the night of Tuesday, October 21, at the five star Trans Asia Hotel
night club, The Library.
location was selected to ensure no suspicions will be aroused even if
they were observed together and with the venue fixed, Karunanayake
invited his wife Mela who the previous day celebrated her birthday to go
dancing with him that Tuesday night to The Library.
in the dining room at the Library at the time Karunanayake arrived were
Puththrasigamani and the mutual friend, identified as Mr. K.
on the table
long after his arrival, with the lights dimmed and Disc Jockey Steven
belting sound tracks from the material girl Madonna, Minister
Karunanayake slipped into the dining room and after some small talk
about Puththrasigamani's son laid his cards on the table.
Karunanayake - "Siga, we go back a long way and I am happy you are
prepared to consider supporting the government in this crucial period.
You have played a pivotal role for the UNP in the Nuwara Eliya District
and in the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers' Union in the past and the good
work you have done should not go to waste."
Karunanayake pointed out the government only the previous session
introduced legislation to grant citizenship to the outstanding stateless
persons and was well on the way to solving the ethnic issue as well.
economy is also taking off and salary increments are in store for the
people. Tourism is booming and we have ensured a continued tea market in
Iraq. The PA and the JVP are out to sabotage all this work and plunge
the country back to war. They are calling the people on to the streets
on Deepavali Day to oppose the peace process. As a Tamil, can you with
any dignity continue as a PA MP?" Karunanayake asked.
listening to the Minister for a few more minutes, Puththra-sigamani said
he was deeply embarrassed to be among racists at a time Prime Minister
Wickremesinghe and the UNF government were doing their utmost to bring
peace to the country.
feel deeply offended the SLFP has decided to oppose the peace process on
Deepavali Day. It is a day we as Hindus should feel free to engage in
religious activities and enjoy our festival without fear. I have decided
to extend my fullest support to the Prime Minister and his government.
The time has come to strengthen his hand to bring peace for all our
people," Puththrasigamani said in a voice filled with emotion.
Minister and MP continued to discuss the current political situation and
the role the MP can play in the future and the duo parted with
Karunanayake informing Puththra-sigamani he would speak with the Prime
Minister and revert to him.
following morning, Wednesday, October 22, Karunanayake met the Prime
Minister at parliament and briefed him of Puththrasigamani's decision,
which Wickremesinghe welcomed.
the Prime Minister: "I am also surprised the SLFP decided to pick
of all days Deepavali Day to launch their anti-peace campaign to oust
the government. I have no problem meeting with Siga."
as Karunanayake was speaking to the Prime Minister, the PA MP called on
the Minister's cellular and Wickremesinghe agreed to meet with him at
Karunanayake's residence near parliament at the end of the day's
session. And by the time Prime Minister Wickremesinghe arrived at
Karunanayake's residence, UNP Chairman Malik Samarawickrema,
Puththrasigamani and Mr. K. were already in attendance.
the outset, Karunanayake explained to the Prime Minister once again the
reasons behind the PA MP's decision to quit the alliance and called on
the member to voice his concerns directly to Wickremesinghe.
Sigamani: "Sir, it is with great difficulty I waited in the
alliance. Their whole outlook is racist and the last straw was the
decision to take to the streets against the peace process on Deepavali
Day. I was astonished the SLFP even considered a pact with the JVP. The
JVP is not only racist, they are even trying to divide the Sinhalese on
religious lines. You would have seen Sir Wimal Weerawansa's reference to
the President as Dona Catherina and the Christian influence within the
PA. How can I wait in a party that deals with such people?"
listened to the MP, the Prime Minister gave a lesson in history, with
regard to the role of Dona Catherina and the Portuguese and said
whatever the political deferences, it was unbecoming of any member to
refer to the President on those terms.
the Prime Minister asked Puththrasigamani how he plans to show his
opposition to the PA and the MP explained his position.
will support you to see the peace process to a successful conclusion but
I intend sitting with the Tamil MPs in parliament. I will be making a
statement in parliament of my decision to move out from the PA benches.
So they will be one member short. It will be a signal to all MPs. For
me, it is a matter of conscience, particularly because I feel my
religious rights are being violated," he said.
Chairman Malik Samarawickrema who is coordinating the crossers over for
the party said he was the leader of the pack with several more to follow
if the President persists in destabilising the government.
that said, the Prime Minister shook hands with the PA MP and departed.
very night, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe briefed party elders, Karu
Jayasuriya and Tilak Marapone and other cabinet members the following
there was general euphoria at the development, a note of caution was
struck by Muslim Congress Leader Rauf Hakeem who told the Prime Minister
a PA MP decamping at this stage would upset the cohabitation between the
government and the President and force her to act irrationally, a view
that was rejected by other ministers, particularly S.B. Dissanayake,
Rajitha Senaratne and Ravi Karunanayake.
Ministers said it was a joke to talk of cohabitation when the President
has publicly pledged to oust the government during the third reading of
Senaratne: "They are taking to the streets tomorrow and has said
some UNPers will join the SLFP on December 16 to defeat the government
on the 17th. There will be some parties that will be in every
government. But we as UNPers must ensure our government is strengthened.
Are we going to wait till she defeats us in the foolish belief
cohabitation is going to work with her?"
Hakeem was not satisfied and said a crossover at this stage would
trigger off a dissolution of parliament, which suggestion was also
pooh-poohed by the ministers.
Karunanayake, "What dissolution? Let her try it. She will be routed
at an election. The PA is in disarray and she will be in no position to
dissolve following a crossover. In any event, if she is going to
dissolve she will do it anyway. For once shall we act on our strategy,
without waiting for her to cut the grass under our feet and then react?
After all it is the UNP that will then be left holding the baby while
other parties will happily join a new government."
was also pointed out that there would be no need for any crossover if
the Muslim Congress was in a position to ensure the support of all the
party's MPs to the government, which it was unable to do given the
Hakeem was told it was not reasonable to stop the government from taking
necessary action to ensure its stability by making provision for the
uncertainty of the numbers from the SLMC.
this point, Chief Government Whip, Mahinda Samarasinghe also said there
was no question of turning back and Puththrasigamani would have to make
an exit as decided.
too at this stage agreed it was in the overall context a prudent step
and word was sent for the PA MP to make his entrance.
followed had the PA and JVP MPs in parliament completely stumped and
dumbfounded as Puththrasigamani made his statement and crossed over from
the PA benches to the TNA and took his seat.
no sooner the parliamentary session ended, Puththrasigamani went to
Karunanayake's house for tea with Minister Senaratne and hardly had he
sat, his wife called him on the mobile.
wife said PA Kandy District MP, Mahindananda Aluthgamage had called and
was quite agitated at the turn of events.
said you have let the entire side down and that 11 UNPers including Karu
Jayasuriya and Navin Dissanayake were waiting to crossover after the
SLFP demonstrations and your crossover has derailed all their
plans," Puththrasigamani's wife had said.
calmed his wife down and explained what transpired in parliament,
Puththrasigamani repeated to Senaratne his wife's comments.
Senaratne: "They may have used Karu Jayasuriya's name just to
mislead us but obviously they are devastated. This is the only language
Chandrika understands. She tried to destabilise us and paid the price
for it. Now we will bring out at least eight other MPs in stages if she
continues to undermine us."
Lands Minister earlier in parliament also challenged the PA to produce a
single UNPer if they can as threatened, since the government has already
drawn first blood.
it was just the previous day in cabinet, Karunanayake had a running
battle with the President with a flurry of exchanges that saw
Kumaratunga shouting out words like "bullshit,"
"rubbish" and "gal pelana boru."
stage for battle was laid after the President initially proposed the
grant of duty free vehicles for provincial councillors to which both
Finance Minister K.N. Choksy and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe objected
stating it was against government policy.
Karunanayake a straight forward "no" did not suffice and saw
it fit to needle the President over the issue stating it was she who in
1994 made a big issue over duty free vehicles and the purchase of luxury
Benz cars and BMWs, though indulging in greater frenzy the purchase of
such luxury vehicles while in office.
you want duty fee vehicles for provincial councillors. That makes no
sense because there are only four more months for the elections. It is a
vulgar abuse of power to do so. The people are against it. The
government is against it. If necessary, we can consider a salary
increase but not duty free vehicles," Karuna-nayake said.
realising she was on weak ground the President shifted gear and asked
Minister Choksy what type of salary increments he was contemplating in
the budget and the response received shocked Kumaratunga.
Finance Minister said the economy was ticking over quite nicely and
salary increments as high as 50 percent were contemplated in some
the President: "As high as that?"
Choksy "We are working towards that."
is in this backdrop, the cabinet paper over the President's Fund and
Karunanayake's observations thereto came up for discussion with
Kumaratunga disputing the Commerce Minister's claim of 50 percent for
President said while Mahapola has no legal claim over the President's
Fund monies, the shortfall for Mahapola scholarships was because the
Minister had used the funds to put up a building.
back Karunanayake: "If you study the document, you will learn that
Mahapola is a 50 percent stakeholder of the President's Fund. As for the
shortfall of funds, you are perfectly right, putting up a building has
contributed to it. But what you must know is that it was you and your
then Trade Minister Kingsley Wickremaratne who were responsible for
using Mahapola monies to put up the building and not me."
went on to say the President's Fund spent more than its income in the
year 2000 and deprived the students of their scholarship funds.
the President, "All lies, all lies."
Karunanayake: "Well, why don't you read the report of the Auditor
General and find out for yourself. I will make a copy available to
back Kumaratunga, "Bullshit, I ran it properly."
Karunanayake, "You ran it so well, there was a Rs. 21 million loss
and the auditors have queried the expenditure."
a voice shrill with anger, the President said the allegations levelled
were similar to those made against her with regard to the purchase of
luxury vehicles and the Rubber Manufacturing Corporation.
that time you accused me of robbing," the President said.
back the Minister, "I still say it. Why don't you call for the
inquiry report and read it. This is the price we have to pay for
back Kumaratunga, "You accused me of giving land to Ronnie Pieris
in Kotte and you have now given it to Sumal Perera who withdrew the
cabinet paper on it."
Karunanayake, "I restate the same position. Why don't you read your
own secretary's report on it and see who has done this deal."
the President put up her hands in resignation and said, "I don't
want to discuss this anymore."
Karunanayake had not finished and advised the President to act in
keeping with the dignity of her office without attempting to bulldoze
her way in the face of difficulty.
the Prime Minister moved in and said the issue can be settled by
Karunanayake producing the auditors' report at the next meeting, which
the Minister agreed to do.
was the following day, Thursday, that Karunanayake extracted his pound
of flesh from the President by ensuring the exit of Puththra-sigamani
and derailing the SLFP campaign.
make matters worse, the Prime Minister had cornered the President on the
foreign policy as well with the release of a far reaching joint
statement with Indian Premier, Atal Behari Vajpayee (see Editorial).
in all, it was a terrible week for the President and the SLFP and it was
gonna be back to the drawing boards even as the sands of time are fast