dirty tactics to swing MPs
the events following the government's defeat on the
Speaker's vote in parliament compelled President Chandrika
Kumaratunga last week to hurry a compromise with the JVP in
relation to the Mahaweli portfolio, shocking conspiracies
were also afoot to secure a simple majority in parliament
for the purpose of forming a constituent assembly and
abolishing the executive presidency.
entire exercise of calling
for a snap general election at the expense of stability in the
country and weakening the SLFP was to achieve the specific
objective of abolishing the executive presidency to ensure
continuity for Chandrika Kumaratunga at the helm of governance in
the country, but the election results failed to realise that goal,
compelling the President to look at other options.
the thinking at President's House was to proceed with the
constituent assembly formula notwithstanding the lack of a clear
majority in parliament but the defeat over the Speaker's post has
seen a shift in focus, primarily to secure a simple majority in
the House as a first step.
JVP for its part is also very keen to have the executive
presidency abolished since the Marxists know only too well it has
no stake in that office whereas upon abolition it will truly hold
the remote control of the government with its parliamentary
both the JVP and the SLFP have resorted to measures unbecoming of
any party claiming to be democratic and adopted strategies that
make the Watergate scandal look like a prayer meeting of the
cardinals in the Vatican. Mind you, this from a government that
pledged to introduce a new political culture to the country.
the drama over the two Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) monks lured by
the JVP and SLFP is the least of
it with a scandal of unprecedented proportions leading upto
President's House no less now threatening to shake the very
foundations of the new government following this bid to obtain a
simple majority by hook or crook.
scandal caught on both video and audio tape and in the possession
of this columnist is now being studied by a team of lawyers before
a final decision is taken to go public. Suffice to say all the
ingredients that make a blockbuster movie - a five star hotel,
forged identities, secret bills, false confessions, sex,
blackmail, bribery, hidden cameras and top politicians - all
feature in this sordid real life drama which brings out the worst
in man and woman merely in the pursuit of power.
this context, events leading upto the desperation shown by the
UPFA itself makes interesting reading and is a pointer to the
levels the new government will stoop to remain in office.
until the election of the Speaker on April 22, both the UPFA and
the JVP were confident they would clinch the post, having lured
two monks from the JHU and a member from the Sri Lanka Muslim
Congress (SLMC) to do the dirty, paving the way thereby to go in
for a constituent assembly.
fact, on Wednesday, April 21, when the issue was discussed by the
President with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and Commerce
Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, it was said there was no cause for
worry with Minister Mangala Samaraweera handling one aspect and
the JVP the other to ensure victory.
question of inviting Norway to resume peace talks was not even on
the agenda at the time given the hardline position of the JVP on
the issue and the TNA's 21 votes were not a factor at the time.
that very Wednesday night, Samaraweera who celebrated his birthday
with a bash at the official residence of the Ports Authority
Chairman, when asked by several MPs including Sripathi
Sooriyarachchi on their chances of success the following day, were
told not to have any worries.
Minister told his MPs they had to only be present and vote, with
the government assured of victory by two votes.
when the voting the following day saw a tie, panic set in and
Prime Minister Rajapakse at an informal meeting with his
colleagues Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, Mangala Samaraweera, Nandana
Gunatilleke and Wimal Weerawansa said the government must withdraw
from the contest and propose the name of a JHU monk.
said the UNF will insist on all their members showing the ballot
before casting at the next round thus forcing the member who
spoilt his vote to vote for W.J.M. Lokubandara.
JVP's Propaganda Secretary, Weerawansa was not easily swayed and
insisted staying in the race.
said having a JHU monk as Speaker would be worse than Lokubandara
and insisted, D.E.W. Gunasekera be kept in the race.
both Rajapakse and Fernandopulle said the government will
definitely lose if the MPs are asked to show the ballot and it
would therefore be safer to appoint Lokubandara with the blessings
of the government.
Weerawansa - "No, we can win and must contest."
Fernandopulle - "But if they win, don't blame the Prime
Minister. It is you who is insisting on this approach."
Weerawansa however stuck to his guns on fielding Gunasekera and
had his way only to see the UNF MPs voting by showing their ballot
which saw the UPFA in uproar preventing the vote.
a bid to break this deadlock, the Prime Minister walked upto the
JHU Spokesperson and Kalutara District MP, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana
Thero and asked whether the JHU cannot vote for the government
nominee to end the standoff only to be given a barrage of
criticism on the UPFA's conduct.
Rathana Thero to the Premier - "How dare you make such a
request having lied to us? You came and met us and said the
government had nothing to do with the two missing monks. Today the
government brought them to the House and they voted with you in
violation of a party decision to abstain. Is this the new
political culture you promised to introduce? When the President
met us she swore on the Lord Buddha and said the government knows
nothing about the missing monks. Don't come after us now."
this outburst, the Premier promptly withdrew and told his
colleagues the monks will be voting with the UNF and the
government should withdraw its candidate to avert certain defeat
but once again, the JVP insisted on a contest.
the same time, the President was also on the phone at regular
intervals with her ministers, giving names of SLMC and UNP members
and urging they be lobbied. By this time several members were also
highly disturbed to observe Samaraweera in the lobby talking
critically of the President over the telephone.
these developments, the JVP kept insisting the government fields
its candidate and an exasperated Prime Minister finally told
Weerawansa he will not take responsibility for a defeat and that
Weerawansa should do so before the President.
the meantime, a highly agitated President also gave the game away
in her bid to persuade the monks to vote with the government by
informing JHU's Udaya Gammanpila - who was with the Premier - over
the telephone that it was the JVP and a single SLFP member, C.B.
Ratnayake who were responsible for the case of the missing monks
and not the SLFP as a party or herself.
the end result being defeat, the President promptly changed gears
and decided to invite the Norwegians to resume the peace process
despite earlier claims by the President and UPFA members of their
"bias" and being "salmon eating busy bodies."
The idea was to neutralise the 21 TNA votes for the next round on
May 18 when the post of deputy speaker comes up for election.
on Sunday, April 25, the President also convened a meeting of the
SLFP central committee to arrive at a compromise formula on the
Mahaweli issue, with Mangala Samaraweera a conspicuous absentee.
Neither was Minister Fernandopulle present having heard in the
grapevine, he was to lose the government whip's post to Nimal
Siripala de Silva.
that as it may, having taken high ground on the JVP issue, the
President could not be seen eating humble pie and caving into the
Marxists in the face of defeat
and accordingly the self-proclaimed actress strode in for
the meeting all fire and brimstone.
Kumaratunga - "I am not prepared to settle this issue
according to the JVP agenda. Don't think that you as SLFPers can
also dance to the JVP tune and get away with it. This is the SLFP
central committee. Decisions taken here will be in the SLFP's
interest and not JVP's."
that said, Kumaratunga told the members as long as she is alive,
she will never allow the SLFP to disintegrate irrespective of the
strategies the JVP adopt.
said right along not to work in a way the SLFP's identity is lost
but some of you did it. They took the people closest to me and did
it," the President said, at which point Tourism Minister
Anura Bandaranaike walked upto his sister, whispered in her ear
and left the meeting.
by this distraction, Kumaratunga went on to say the JVP played a
key role in the UPFA's electoral victory and she would accordingly
honour the agreement reached on the portfolios.
she - "But they never asked for the Mahaweli Ministry. I had
fixed a meeting with the JVP for 6 p.m. today but will have to
postpone it for tomorrow. I have given several options to the JVP
but if they insist on Mahaweli, they will not get it."
President thereafter went on to outline the options stating the
first would be to appoint a JVP deputy under a SLFP minister with
the second being to give the portfolio after taking away some of
the key divisions including the armoury.
that said, the President with a side glance added for effect -
"Denava mama armoury eka munta."
they love agriculture so much, they can have that part of the
Mahaweli portfolio linked to the Agriculture Ministry. I will take
irrigation out. They also want that. So they can have the
agricultural parts of the Mahaweli Ministry linked to the
Agriculture Ministry. That is my last option. If they don't agree,
no further options will be given," she said.
following day, Monday, April 26, the JVP team comprising Tilvin
Silva, Wimal Weerawansa, Nandana Gunatilleke and Anura Dissanayake
met with the President where the options were once again given,
whereupon the JVP team informed Kumaratunga, the party's politburo
had earlier taken a decision not to accept only part of the
ministry and as such would have to once again revert to the
politburo for a final decision.
sooner the meeting ended, an emergency session of the JVP
politburo was convened with JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe
presiding and the issue thrashed out.
while several opinions for and against accepting the portfolios
were trotted out by the members, it was General Secretary Tilvin
Silva who finally clinched it for Kumaratunga as a tactical
argued that it was in the interest of the JVP to sustain this
government and build its base particularly in view of the upcoming
provincial council elections.
said all JVP candidates fielded for the Wayamba provincial
elections emerged victorious and the party should not upset the
apple cart until a similar result is achieved in all the other
provincial councils as well.
General Secretary went on to say the JVP could work on its agenda
and push their case after the provincial polls are concluded from
a position of even greater strength.
Silva's comments, the JVP politburo agreed to accept the
compromise formula of the President to carve out the agricultural
divisions of the Mahaweli Ministry and link it to the Agriculture
Ministry under a JVP minister.
at the first ever cabinet meeting attended by the JVP trio the
very day they opted to remain mere observers save on one occasion
when Anura Dissanayake spoke out.
was in relation to a proposal to provide the former prime
ministers with housing, transport and office facilities, a
proposal which first came during the UNF regime with a view to
providing accommodation for former Premier Ratnasiri
that time Wickremanayake himself studied the cabinet paper and
made his own amendments providing for a cook as well.
JVP's Dissanayake objected to the cabinet proposal stating it
would only provide Ranil Wickremesinghe with facilities to plot
and plan the government's ouster. The proposal was thereafter
having sorted out the problem with the JVP, the UPFA started
working round the clock to muster 113 MPs to form a constituent
assembly and the President started personally speaking to UNF and
SLMC MPs to woo them into the fold.
the President realised, while she would be in a position to invite
the minority parties to join the government with portfolios and
other benefits on offer, she would be hard put to get their
support for the abolition of the executive presidency or changing
the PR system.
achieve that objective, the President knew only too well she had
to lure individual members numbering at least seven to make up a
simple majority that will help the move towards a constituent
one person doing the bidding for Kumaratunga was none other than a
man presently in custody, Sri Lanka Telecom Chief, Thilanga
having failed to get former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to
use his influence to get the case against him dropped by the
Attorney General tried to woo the JHU monks, also without much
now he is playing the old game of power politics offering numbers
to a desperate President who has not called for his removal as SLT
chief either, despite the man still being in custody. And the
silence of the holier than thou Arjuna Ranatunga and over 40 SLFP
MPs who signed a petition to the Supreme Court is also deafening.
fact, Sumathipala has personally called a few UNP MPs and offered
to take them to meet the President with promises of a bright
future. Among the MPs he spoke to were one each from the districts
of Kandy and Kurunegala.
had told the Kurunegala District MP, Dayasiri Jayasekera he could
arrange for him to meet the President and secure a good position,
an offer the member declined.
had told Sumathipala he should not commit such sins to fulfill his
could the Prime Minister have done to help you? You were charged
because the Attorney General felt there was sufficient evidence
for a case. Now you want us to betray the party because you have a
problem. Don't do it. We have to think of the country, not
individual interests," Jayasekera told Sumathipala.
make matters worse for Kumaratunga, the opposition has been able
to zero in on its member who voted with the government on the
Speaker's vote thanks to a television cameraman having zeroed in
on the rejected ballot paper.
rejected ballot paper
rejected ballot paper, where the vote was cast for 'W.J.M.
Goonesekera' had the number 414 and was one issued to an
opposition member with SLMC membership.
investigations indicate the corresponding ballot on the fourth
vote, number 864 from the opposition, was cast in favour of D.E.W.
Gunasekera. That is the same minority member.
is these developments that have compelled the government to rush
through the job of enlisting opposition MPs to crossover, adopting
even scandalous methods to swell the numbers before May 18.
video taped evidence which surfaced as a result of this exercise
if made public in fact would for all time not only drive the
persons involved in the underhand tactics to political oblivion
but also social outcasts in the circles they move in.
apart, in a bid to ensure the numbers stay in favour of the UPFA,
Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar has made his own contribution
by stating in India according to a report published in the Island
newspaper the government will recognise the LTTE as the sole
representatives of the Tamil people for the purpose of
negotiations, which is in direct contradiction of the UPFA
simple strategy of the President is to get the peace process
started and neutralise the TNA in parliament, and to do so
recognising the LTTE as the sole representatives of the Tamils and
accepting to negotiate the interim administration proposal become
paramount and that Kumaratunga is now prepared to do for tactical
is why the President's invitation to the Norwegians went out only
after the Speaker's vote was not in favour of the government, a
tactic not lost on the LTTE when assessing the bona fides of the
these developments have once again put the JVP under pressure
given their earlier stance which, unlike Kumaratunga, the party is
not prepared to change overnight due to the credibility factor as
well as for fear of losing their base to the JHU.
despite Anura Bandaranaike claiming the Norwegians were invited
after clearing it with the JVP, the Marxists say otherwise and
Wimal Weerawansa has now reportedly written to the President
querying the basis on which the Norwegians were invited.
with Kadirgamar stating the LTTE will be recognised as the sole
representatives of the Tamils, the JVP has come under further
pressure by the JHU which has queried the Marxists' position on
it, factors which the JVP cannot dismiss by simply being critical
of those positions in view of their being part of the government.
is particularly so now with the JVP having accepted cabinet office
and being collectively responsible for all government decisions, a
fact the JHU has driven home with effect.
strong arm tactics
the danger in the emerging scenario is a tendency on the part of
the JVP to adopt strong arm tactics to bulldoze its way
notwithstanding accepted rules and norms as observed following the
defeat on the Speaker's vote.
the defeat helped the JVP to push Kumaratunga into a corner and
extract its pound of flesh on the Mahaweli portfolio but the
threat issued thereafter to force W.J.M. Lokubandara to resign by
surrounding his house and the UNP headquarters is what is
threat smacks of a tendency to move towards a dictatorship and the
UNP was quick to draw the attention of Speaker Lokubandara to the
threat on Thursday, April 29 with notice that a breach of
privilege motion will be forthcoming this week.
UNP meanwhile after much soul-searching last week where the
leadership came under criticism for the style adopted in
government has decided to make far reaching changes to its
organisational structure with a view to meeting the challenges
ahead and defeating the government within six months.
this politics of confrontation and a hung parliament, governance
for Kumaratunga, leave alone getting the executive presidency
abolished, is going to be a nightmare and one that the LTTE too
will closely study before deciding whether a fresh lease of life
will be given to Kumaratunga by resuming peace talks early.