of the missing monks
saga of the missing monks proved to be the final catalyst
which decided the future of D.E.W. Gunasekera - the nominee
for the pivotal post of speaker by the new government
- while Sri Lanka's 13th parliament marking its maiden appearance
last Thursday was thrown into chaos and confusion.
political parties connived and jostled to elect a speaker of their
choice, the atmosphere reached fever pitch, and into this
fractured political sphere the newly elected nine Buddhist monks
were catapulted feet first into the fray.
hither and thither, the monks - yet in a stage of political
infancy - were gasping for air at the end of the first vote in
parliament last Thursday, which resulted in a tie for the post of
the alliance nominee for Speaker, D.E.W. Gunasekera and the
opposition nominee, W.J.M. Lokubandara.
entered Sri Lanka's political sphere in the run up to the April 2
general election, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) had hardly made
its cradle call before the party became the deciding factor for
both main political parties, the United People's Freedom Alliance
(UPFA) and the United National Front (UNF).
this powerful bargaining tool was not lost on the Buddhist monks.
Basking in the afterglow of an impressive electoral performance,
the monks however never in their wildest dreams envisaged the
depths to which their more seasoned political counterparts would
stoop for political gain.
they were soon to be tools in the hands of political pirates
caught the dhamma preaching prelates flat-footed and wet behind
monks were easy prey for the staging of a fake abduction of two
out of the nine elected monks, in order to swing votes in favour
of the alliance candidate D.E.W. Gunasekera.
the youngest political party in parliament did not deter two of
the nine monks to start running before they could crawl. Striking
a division within the infant party even before the monks could
enter the House with dignity, two of the priests threw their lot
in with the Freedom Alliance, casting the JHU into furious
sudden disappearance of Ven. Aparekke Pannananda elected from the
Gampaha District and Ven. Kathaluwe Rathanaseeha from Colombo
threw the Buddhist monks head first into stormy waters. When the
two monks went missing, the JHU having done its own detective work
arrived at some conclusions and accused the alliance of having had
a hand in the staged abductions.
Aparekke Pannananda had already publicly criticised the JHU
charging his religious allies with bribery and corruption. He has
maintained that the JHU monks have accepted black money to finance
their pre-election campaign and voiced more support for the UPFA
than for the JHU during his campaign.
comments were not lost on the JHU and Party Secretary, Tilak
Karunaratne, who charge-sheeted the monk calling for an official
hardly had Karunaratne set the wheels of discipline into motion
before Ven. Pannananda was already swinging a deal hatched in
haste and secrecy that would shake to the core the infant JHU.
Pannananda had an ally as well. Colombo District JHU MP, Ven.
Kathaluwe Rathanaseeha, also engaged in the dissent and joined
Pannananda in his mini rebellion.
actions of course leaked to the other monks in the JHU and when
President Chandrika Kumaratunga paid a swift visit to the monks
last Tuesday in a desperate bid to lobby their support for D.E.W.
Gunasekera for the post of speaker, the monks accused the alliance
of hiding the monks.
by her Adviser, Kusumsiri Balapatabendi and D.E.W. Gunasekera,
Kumaratunga appealed to the monks to support Gunasekera's
candidature for speaker. "I need him in the chair. If not, I
will not get the aid I require and they will successfully impeach
me," she told the priests.
monks however were angry and upset over the mysterious
disappearance of the two other elected priests and told the
President, "How can we support you when your party has been
responsible for hiding the two missing monks?" to which the
President replied earnestly, "Deiyanne, I don't know anything
about this. I suspected Anura but when I asked him he said he had
nothing to do with it. Arun thamai meka karala thiyenne" she
said referring to the JVP.
President meanwhile tried to make a deal with the prelates. She
told them the alliance was willing to forego the seat of speaker
to a monk chosen by the JHU. Kumaratunga's cunning offer swayed
the politically naive priests for a while, who momentarily at
least appeared to consider the carrot dangled by the President.
for some reason the name of Commerce and Consumer Affairs
Minister, Jeyaraj Fernando-pulle was being bandied about as being
a possible suspect in having masterminded the fake abduction of
the missing monks.
rebel monks were well and truly on the run when Ven. Uduwe
Dhammaloka Thero telephoned Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and said,
"We have some information that you are hiding these two
monks. Is it true?" to which an indignant and agitated
Fernandopulle had responded saying, "Definitely not. I don't
know anything - I have never even met these two priests. Though
Ven. Pannananda is from Gampaha I have never even seen what he
looks like. I am the MP for Katana and my area is at least 25
kilometers away from Gampaha. There is no way I am involved."
his conversation with the monk to The Sunday Leader, Fernandopulle
said, "Ven. Dhammaloka Thero is a dear friend of mine and I
would never do anything to cause disrepute to the JHU." He
added that Ven. Dhammaloka Thero had called him back an hour later
that day and said, "I am sorry, it was a mistake.
We now have information that you are not involved in
however was extremely upset and until he was certain he was not on
the list of suspects of the JHU kept telephoning the monks on the
hour, pleading his innocence.
though the mystery of the two missing monks remained unresolved,
this did not deter either the UPFA or the UNF and they both
stepped up their campaigns to lobby support from the remaining
seven elected monks.
Kumaratunga's Tuesday visit to the Asapuwa at Sulaiman Terrace at
Jawatte Road, which houses the monks, Minister Douglas Devananda
followed suit that same day.
politely hosted by the prelates, Devananda told them that if they
voted for the opposition candidate, W.J.M. Lokubandara, they would
in effect be supporting the LTTE and their choice of candidate.
sooner had Devananda departed having delivered his words of wisdom
that the monks discussed amongst themselves Devananda's arrogance,
asserting he had the gall to caution the monks against the LTTE
after having terrorised the north for eons.
Kumaratunga did not have much faith in Devananda's missive to the
monks and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse also followed suit, as
the Asapuwa became the most sought after address in the books of
the two main political parties.
less than 24 hours to go before voting was to take place on
Thursday at around 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 21, the Premier made
a house call on the monks and reiterated the President's plea,
seeking the support of the JHU for the parliamentary election of
the new speaker.
reiterated the deal made by Kumaratunga to the monks where she had
offered the post of speaker to a parliamentary member of the JHU.
The offer however was conditional based on a pledge the monks
would have to support a UPFA candidate as deputy speaker and
another as deputy chairman of committees in the House.
discussion with Rajapakse was cordial and the monks remained non-
committal, appearing undecided on the matter.
had not yet departed before the monks had another after-dusk
caller. This time it was the former Premier, Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Accompanied by the UNF Deputy Leader, Karu Jayasuriya and the UNF
candidate for speaker, W.J.M. Lokubandara, Wickremesinghe was
immediately informed of Kumaratunga's offer to the prelates.
told the JHU that irrespective of whether the monks decided to
contest the post, the UNF would still field its selected
candidate, W.J.M. Lokubandara.
appeared to be the decisive point as far as the monks were
concerned and the seven elected Buddhist prelates opted to abstain
from voting the next day.
meantime had also met with members of the Tamil National Alliance
(TNA) who had decided to vote for Lokubandara.
Tamil MPs with 22 seats in parliament were also lobbied by the
UPFA. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and Finance Minister, Dr.
Sarath Amunugama met with Parliamentary Group Leader, TNA, R.
Sambandan and appealed for the support of the TNA to support D.E.W.
Gunasekara's candidature as speaker of the House.
one to mince his words, Sambandan told Amunugama the TNA could not
be expected to lend support to the alliance given that the
President had appointed EPDP Leader, Douglas Devananda as Minister
of Agricultural Marketing Development, Hindu Affairs and Tamil
Language Schools and Vocational Training to the north.
visibly angry Sambandan sternly told Amunugama that Devananda's
appointment was a blatant rejection of the recent mandate given by
the Tamils in the north and east and a clear violation of
this charge Amunugama responded claiming that Kumaratunga had not
yet gazetted Devananda's ministries and his appointment was still
at large due to the virulent opposition publicly stated by the TNA.
MP Gajan Ponnambalam later said, "This was not correct. The
President had indeed gazetted Devananda's ministries."
reiterated, "We essentially decided we will vote for W.J.M.
Lokubandara purely as a protest vote against the actions of the
new government and the President."
hard to convince the TNA otherwise, Amunugama had also told
Sambandan that the President had already spoken with the
Norwegians in an attempt to kick-start stalled negotiations with
the LTTE. The truth
of this statement could not be verified.
a meeting between all TNA MPs and LTTE Leader, Velupillai
Pirapaharan in the Wanni, the matter came up for debate and the
Tiger chief had maintained that he did not want to force a
decision on the TNA as he did not want to give the impression to
the international community that he was reacting in any manner
that would shut the doors to future negotiations with the new
the TNA did decide however they immediately informed the Tiger
chief asserting their support for Lokubandara would be purely to
mark their protest and displeasure of Kumaratunga's recent
actions. A moot point, Pirapaharan had agreed with.
drama meanwhile also ensued within the camps of the Sri Lanka
Muslim Congress. On the day of the election, SLMC Leader, Rauf
Hakeem informed Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe that he had
information some of his members had been approached by the
alliance with offers of Rs. 5 million each to vote for the
SLMC members however before the vote pledged to support opposition
candidate, W.J.M. Lokubandara.
April 22 drew to a close, the UPFA read the writing on the wall
and realised their chances of an alliance member being voted in as
speaker were slim. Thereby came into play the role of the two
missing monks who had by this time pledged to vote in favour of
when the other seven prelates of the JHU entered parliament for
their inaugural sitting on Thursday they were treated not only to
a historic spectacle of parliamentary behaviour - one that will
certainly stay firmly imbedded in their minds - but also to the
appearance of the two missing monks who defiantly voted with the
was despite all nine Buddhist monks having being previously
informed in writing that the JHU would collectively abstain from
voting on the election of the speaker.
results of round one of the election revealed a tie of 108 votes
for each candidate with one rejected ballot.
chaos broke out with files being thrown at the seven monks who had
abstained from voting and name-calling became the order of the
day, the monks still harbouring the belief that their presence in
the House could only instill calm were seen desperately attempting
to calm their wild and raucous counterparts. Their attempts were
in vain and the bewildered monks were forced to concede defeat,
their dreams of a dharmarajya momentarily laid to rest.
when it was announced that a second vote would be called, the
seven prelates disowning the two rebel monks desperately summoned
help and the more politically mature JHU Secretary, Tilak
Karunaratne was contacted. He immediately dispatched post-haste to
parliament his trusted lieutenants, Udaya Gammanpila and Champika
at the House, the two conferred with the seven monks and it was
decided they would give two of their votes to the UNF in order to
balance the two rebel votes given to the alliance by the two
dissenting priests. This way, they figured the JHU would not be
the deciding factor in the election of the speaker but merely
provide a balance.
Minister Mahinda Rajapakse meanwhile also got to work and invited
Gammanpila and Ranawaka to tea in his chambers. While the trio
were conferring, the President telephoned Rajapakse and insisted
she knew nothing of the Alliance having staged the disappearance
of the rebel monks.
told Kumaratunga that Ranawaka and Gammanpila were in his room and
she asked to speak to them. Ranawaka refused to talk to her but
Gammanpila accepted the phone.
theatrically exclaimed to Gammanpila, "I swear upon my two
children I know nothing of the PA having had a hand in staging the
disappearance of these two monks. I am sure this has been done by
responded asserting, "Madam the JVP is also part of the UPFA.
If you are blaming them then you must hold the entire alliance
continued to hotly deny any knowledge of the faked abductions,
pleading with Gammanpila to convince the other seven prelates to
vote for D.E.W. Gunasekara.
the President's call came too late. In the face of the appearance
of the two missing monks and their blatant defiance of the JHU by
voting in favour of the alliance had decided the fate of the
election for speaker as far as the monks were concerned.
her telephone call, Ven Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero had been approached
by Dr. Sarath Amunugama in the House who allegedly told the priest
that if they voted in round two for the alliance candidate, the
sandhanaya would ensure the resignation of the two rebel monks.
by itself was an admission of the role played by the alliance with
the two rebel prelates and served as the final nail in the ballot,
tipping the scales in favour of opposition candidate, Lokubandara.
round three was polled, two monks from the JHU voted in favour of
Lokubandara and this swung the election in favour of the
opposition candidate. The
result effectively destroys Kumaratunga's forced attempt at
appointing a constituent assembly to alter the constitution and
thereby abolish the executive presidency.
Speaker would have to chair the constituent assembly and the UNF,
JHU, SLMC and TNA have already said they will not support such a
monks to be charge-sheeted
Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), Tilak Karunaratne said both
rebel monks Ven. Aparekke Pannananda and Ven. Kathaluwe
Rathanaseeha will be charge-sheeted for their recent
if the two monks are to be sacked from the JHU, Karunaratne
said, "Not yet. We have a disciplinary process to
follow and it is long and tedious before punishment is