crisis and SB's surrender
B. Dissanayake, Milinda Moragoda, Wimal Weerawansa and
While the battle between the SLFP and
JVP intensified last week signalling the end is nigh, the
opposition UNP decided to launch its presidential election
campaign this week with a massive show of strength at the May
In doing so however, the UNP had to
first get one issue out of the way, that of imprisoned
National Organising Secretary of the party, S.B. Dissanayake,
who was clearly getting restless with each passing day.
Though Dissanayake was all gung ho and
the picture of defiance following the Supreme Court ruling
late last year, with the passage of time, despondency started
setting in and under pressure by the family too to obtain his
release, avenues of appealing for a pardon to President
Chandrika Kumaratunga began to be explored.
Appealing for mercy
But given all the earlier tough talk
including a tell-all book to be published, Dissanayake himself
appealing for Kumaratunga's mercy was considered infra dig and
several emissaries were despatched to lobby the President in
their private capacities. And Kumaratunga, though not ruling
out the possibility of a pardon, did not in fact take any
action in that regard, biding her time instead.
One such emissary who spoke to
Kumaratunga recently was Ven. Bellanwila Wimalaratne Thero and
the President, while agreeing to do the needful, did not make
good on her promise.
Instead, what the President wanted was
not only for Dissanayake to eat humble pie but instill maximum
political damage on the UNP by getting Dissanayake to sow the
seeds of discontent within the party before granting a pardon
and towards this end, despatched national list MP, Wijedasa
Rajapakse to negotiate with the former minister.
Other UPFA members who called on him
with advise were Minister Felix Perera, Deputy Ministers Dilan
Perera and Mahindananda Aluthgamage, all confidants of the
This task was made easier with
Dissanayake now confined to the Merchant's Ward, giving easier
access to visitors as opposed to Welikada Prison.
Dissanayake's release, if to be, was to
come at a price. And a heavy one at that not just for himself
but also for the UNP.
At the same time, another domestic aide
of Kumaratunga also kept in touch with Dissanayake's wife,
Tamara, coaxing her to meet the President and seek a pardon on
behalf of her husband, a step Kumaratunga herself took in the
early 1980's with President J.R. Jayewardene to obtain Vijaya
In the midst of these developments,
given the conciliatory approach of the government by allowing
Dissanayake to remain at the Merchant's Ward, pressure was
mounted on the UNP as well by close aides of Dissanayake and
family members to push for the member's release whilst
publicly, Dissanayake took up the position he would never seek
a pardon from the President.
The UNP was told, unless the party
secures the release of Dissanayake, his wife Tamara would be
compelled to make a personal appeal to the President on the
strength of the party's failure.
Release at any cost
And given his frame of mind,
Dissanayake also started demoralising every individual member
of the party who visited him of their chances of victory,
putting one member against the other.
It had, to Dissanayake, become a case
of securing his release at any cost and tried every
conceivable trick in the book to achieve that objective
irrespective of the political consequences for the party and
its membership that were at the butt end of UPFA antics.
It will be recalled, no sooner the
Supreme Court passed judgement on Dissanayake, from the floor
of the House, Matara District MP, Mahinda Wijesekera appealed
to the President to pardon her former confidant, an appeal
that fell on deaf ears.
Likewise, Kurunegala District MP,
Dayasiri Jayasekera too made an appeal on behalf of his
colleague but was once again treated with disdain by the
By this time pressure was mounted on
Party Leader Wickremesinghe to personally make an appeal for a
pardon but the overwhelming opinion within the party was he
should not do so since it would appear as if the UNP as a
party was on bended knees before Kumaratunga, seeking a pardon
over a judgement which the party had not only publicly
condemned but also gone to the UN Human Rights Commission.
In fact, that was exactly what the
President was looking for if a pardon in fact was to be
granted since it would also ensure immunity for all her
actions after her term of office ends as a quid pro quo in the
event of the UNP returning to office.
Thus, whilst these behind the scenes
manoeuvering was going on, Dissanayake took up the public
position the party should not appeal to the President for a
pardon since it would emasculate both the UNP and himself
politically but instead called for individual members to do so
By this time, the fight had gone out of
Dissanayake and he together with the family were exploring
every possible avenue of obtaining his release, irrespective
of the political damage to himself and the party. The man was
slowly but surely beginning to show signs of being made not of
iron but straw.
It was in this backdrop UNP Colombo
District MP, Milinda Moragoda paid a visit to Dissanayake at
the Merchant's Ward accompanied by Matara District MP,
Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene.
Dissanayake and Moragoda have at the
best of times not hit it off given their different political
ideologies and snide remarks the former has made against the
latter but in a show of goodwill and solidarity the Colombo
District member recently visited his colleague in hospital and
offered his support.
Moragoda to the rescue
Moragoda told Dissanayake he was of the
view, no political opponent should be victimised and it was a
decision he arrived at after being grilled by the CID during
the PA tenure over the Douglas Peiris and Batalanda fiasco.
The Colombo District member said he will do everything in his
power to help Dissanayake including making representations to
the international community.
To Dissanayake, this offer presented a
new opportunity and he told Moragoda, given his good relations
with the President, he should call on her personally and seek
a pardon on his behalf, a proposal Moragoda duly conveyed to
Party Leader, Wickremesinghe.
Dissanayake of course later told
confidants it was Moragoda who offered to meet with the
President and seek a pardon to which he had no objection but
the fact remained, a pardon was what Dissanayake was looking
for. No Nelson Mandela, he.
However, even after this discussion
with Moragoda, the position Dissanayake took was that the
Colombo District MP should not seek the pardon on behalf of
the party but at a personal level given the healthy respect
Kumaratunga had for Moragoda.
But Moragoda in turn said he could only
go and meet the President if sanctioned by the Party Leader
since he could not act as a lone ranger as requested by
That a pardon sought on behalf of him
by the party would destroy the myth of Dissanayake being both
politically and personally macho obviously was not lost on the
member who was looking to have the cake and eat it as well.
That way, Dissanayake ensured he had no
I.O.U. to the UNP or the President and was free to hitch his
tent in any camp of his choosing after his release.
The man's failing health did not make
matters any easier and with each passing day, messages were
being received by the party, Dissanayake's wife would make the
appeal to the President if the party did not move in that
Still there was opposition to the move
within the party and the likes of Rajitha Senaratne and Ravi
Karunanayake amongst other party stalwarts took up the
position it would be politically suicidal for Dissanayake if
Moragoda was to at a personal level seek a pardon from the
President. Further it would set a bad precedent and leave the
door open for individual members of the party to cut deals
with Kumaratunga on varying issues, it was said.
And with Moragoda himself stating he
would only meet the President if authorised by the party, the
Dissanayake family relented and when Moragoda did ask
Wickremesinghe for his blessings yet again last week to meet
the President, the UNP Leader consulted the party hierarchy
and gave his blessings citing Dissanayake's failing health.
The irony is that Dissanayake is in
hospital and receiving medical attention and a pardon is not a
prescription for his ill health but the fact remains the UNP
has now authorised Moragoda to meet the President and seek a
pardon on behalf of Dissanayake.
Moragoda for his part soon after
getting Wickremesinghe's approval left the country and was to
seek an appointment from the President upon his return over
That this move would do irreparable
damage to Dissanayake's political standing there is no doubt
but how the party grassroot membership now responds to him
despite all the bravado having
prostrated before the President albeit by proxy remains to be
The irony of the situation is that
Dissanayake, though now holding the UNP responsible for his
plight, brought about his fate upon himself by trying to
strike a private deal in his case using the good offices of a
notorious businessman contrary to advice given by the Party
Leader and other senior members.
For President Kumaratunga, this
overture to be made by the UNP given the problems faced with
the JVP may well be a blessing in disguise and the chances are
she will seize the opportunity with glee.
But that will in no way help overcome
the mounting problems within her government given the head on
collision with the JVP in the build up to the May 16-17 donor
conference before which some hard decisions have to be made by
Kumaratunga with regard to the joint mechanism and the
economic reform agenda.
That the government's handling of the
post tsunami reconstruction has been an unmitigated disaster
has not helped matters either with even former US President,
Bill Clinton having decided not to visit Sri Lanka as
scheduled in May.
Clinton's visit called off
Clinton, appointed by UN Secretary
General, Kofi Annan as special tsunami ambassador was to visit
Sri Lanka in May to help raise funds for the reconstruction
drive but bungling by the Foreign Ministry put paid to that
The allegations of corruption
surrounding the disbursement of tsunami funds and planned
protests in the south timed for Clinton's visit over
mismanagement of tsunami funds may have all factored in the
former US President calling off his visit but the official
line is the miscommunication by the Foreign Ministry.
According to explanations given for the
mess up, the Foreign Ministry had despatched the invitation to
be delivered to Clinton through the Washington Embassy which
had reportedly not sent it to the correct address.
As a result, Clinton, working on a
tight schedule, had already fixed his itinerary and Sri Lanka
had to be left out, which decision the former US president had
in a telephone conversation with Presidential Advisor, Harry
Jayewardena said he very much regretted.
On top of this comes the murder of
journalist Sivaram Dharmaratnam just days after the Patriotic
National Movement and JVP Propaganda Secretary, Wimal
Weerawansa called upon the people to attack journalists they
considered sympathetic to the LTTE and prevent them from
walking on the streets.
Coming days before the donor meeting,
this murder of a journalist is going to have a telling effect
on the government though it may well strengthen the JVP's hand
to derail the establishment of the joint mechanism through
this spanner some group has thrown in the works of the May
The government too realising it is hard
put to present a consistent politico, socio and economic
agenda to the world given the internal contradictions within
the alliance has now opted for a different strategy to raise
That strategy is, to put it in layman's
terms, seek a sovereign rating for the country whereby Sri
Lanka will be equated to a company and a share valuation done
following which funds will be raised internationally through
the release of bonds. (See Editorial)
This decision the government arrived at
last week and hopes will minimise its dependency on donor
funding including the dictates of the likes of ADB, World Bank
and the IMF with regard to the economic reform agenda.
However, in seeking a sovereign rating,
the government could well run into further problems with the
JVP since the party would be hard put to explain to their
membership why they endorsed selling shares of 'Sri Lanka
Limited' to the world thereby bartering future generations, to
use the Marxists' jargon if you will.
The rating itself will come at a cost
of approximately US$ 1 million and will be done by an
internationally reputed rating agency but the rating depends
on several factors including the investment climate in the
country, political stability, peace and economic consistency,
just to cite a few factors.
Now, given the government's inability
to get the peace process started, move the economic reform
programme due to political instability and the general decline
in the economy and security climate in the country, a rating
at this point of time may well boomerang on the country and
seal its fate permanently and leave her completely at the
mercy of the donor agencies.
In fact, the UNP administration in 2003
considered going for a sovereign rating and was advised
against it at the time by the then Governor, Central Bank, A.S.
Jayewardena citing political uncertainty in the country and
the situation today to say the least is far worse.
And what better example to underscore
this point than the continuing battles within the alliance
over the joint mechanism, economic reforms and now over the
Western Provincial Council (WPC). Though issues of corruption
are cited by the JVP as the reason for their move, the real
motives are quite different.
The JVP frontliners, Somawansa
Amarasinghe, Tilvin Silva, Wimal Weerawansa and Nandana
Gunatilleke all hail from the Kalutara District and want to
make it a bastion of the JVP akin to Hambantota District by
absorbing the SLFPers.
But the one man standing in their way
in the district is SLFP strongman and Chief Minister, Reginald
For the UNP, it was an ideal
opportunity to fish in troubled waters and they have jumped in
with glee leaving the SLFP gasping for air. This development
in fact forced the President to cut short her holiday and
return to the country a week earlier in a bid to diffuse the
crisis which was threatening to split the UPFA.
Thus, all of last week, the focus
remained largely on President Chandrika Kumaratunga's return
to the country especially in light of the myriad crises that
the government had been forced to deal with during her
President Kumaratunga touched down in
Colombo at 2 a.m. on Monday and was scheduled to meet with the
SLFP and JVP members of the WPC at 10 a.m., but two hours
before that the President had summoned a meeting of her most
trusted legal advisors to study her options.
Realising fully well that there was no
way the JVP was going to back Cooray, following her session
with the lawyers, President Kumaratunga decided to prorogue
With her mind thus set, Kumaratunga
held cordial talks with the warring SLFP and JVP provincial
councillors. At first, the President spoke rather emotionally.
She said her entire life was committed to protecting the UPFA.
"There is no way we can allow
conflicts like this to develop," she said. The President
even went further than the JVP members expected her to.
"Before I went to London, I gave
the JVP an assurance that I would not be signing the joint
mechanism agreement. Barely had I stepped out of the country
after assuring them, Wimal and them started to attack me with
statements about quitting the government. What Wimal did was
wrong because I had already assured them. This led to a
totally unnecessary conflict," said the President.
Having sufficiently softened up the
fiery JVPers with this speech, the President then got down to
business. "The problem in the WPC cannot be allowed to
continue. If it does, it will be a problem for the alliance. I
have read the charges against Chief Minister, Reginald Cooray.
I have decided to conduct inquiries into seven of them through
an independent committee. I cannot say whether Reginald stole
money or not. But if he has abused his power, the allegations
must be looked into immediately. If this is proved true, he
will be removed not only as chief minister, but from all other
positions he holds as well," assured the President.
She told the members gathered that this
was by far the best way to save the provincial council.
"Before 12 noon today, I will issue a statement saying
that an inquiry against Reginald is to be conducted. But you
have to go when the council meets tomorrow and vote against
the no confidence motion and defeat it," the President
President loses her cool
However, JVP Group Leader, Waruna
Rajapakse was against this option. "We came here after a
decision was made by the JVP politburo. We have decided that
Reginald Cooray cannot continue as chief minister. We are
against it. So we will abstain from voting tomorrow. We cannot
agree with your proposal Madam," said Rajapakse.
President Kumaratunga lost her cool at
this response. "How can you people make such a decision?
When you're a coalition partner, decisions must be made
together. By making decisions any old way you please, all
you're doing is giving the UNP an advantage. This is an
alliance government. So you can't work according to your whims
alone," snapped the President.
Despite the President shedding her
previous calm demeanour and raising her voice, the JVP members
were unmoved. They continued to maintain that there was no way
they could agree to the President's proposal.
However, as the discussion grew more
heated, Rajapakse tried to compromise. "Fine we will let
you resolve this crisis. By midnight today, Reginald Cooray
has to resign. Then we will go to the council tomorrow and put
an end to the conflict. But we can't agree to any other
proposal. The decisions in our party are made by the
politburo. So we cannot commit to anything without consulting
with our leaders," he said.
Seeing no other choice, President
Kumaratunga advised the JVP provincial councillors to revert
to the party hierarchy and decide on the matter. Thereafter,
the President met with the SLFP PC members for which meeting
Cooray arrived late.
At the very beginning of the meeting
President Kumaratunga stated clearly, no matter what problems
the SLFP members had with Cooray, they were to remain united
during the conflict. She said when the SLFP was facing the
threat of invasion from various other political entities, it
was essential that the party stayed united. Since the response
of the SLFPers was positive to this suggestion, the
discussions did not last long.
About 20 minutes before the meeting was
adjourned, Cooray walked in, bearing several files and
documents. He took his seat right next to the President.
Opening up the files Cooray said, "I have here all the
responses to the various charges against me."
By the time this meeting was concluded,
a group of JVP members who had met the President earlier that
morning, including Group Leader Rajapakse, had arrived at
President's House. Kumaratunga summoned them in immediately.
She thought they came bearing good news for her. Also present
at President's House at the time was Western Province
Governor, Alavi Moulana.
But the JVP had not changed its stance.
The JVPers told the President there was no way out but to get
the Chief Minister to resign. They added if this was not done,
they would also have no choice but to vote in favour of the no
Pointing out that Cooray was with her
as they spoke, President Kumaratunga even suggested they get a
response out of him even now. But the JVPers snapped back that
if the Chief Minister could not answer their charges when they
first brought it up, there was no need to give him the
opportunity to do so now.
Realising there now remained no way
out, Kumaratunga conceded defeat. "Then this is a
conflict between the two political parties. We shall have to
discuss this with JVP leaders," she said, instructing one
of her officials to summon JVP Parliamentary Group Leader,
Wimal Weerawansa to President's House immediately.
Almost everyone left after the
President declared the meetings over, except Moulana and
Cooray himself. President Kumaratunga also summoned to her
side several legal advisors.
It was at this meeting that it was
finally decided to prorogue the provincial council. It was
also decided at the same discussion to refrain from letting
anyone know the WPC was eventually going to be dissolved. For
all intents and purposes, the conflict was on its way to being
resolved, the President stressed at the meeting.
"You can see now, you can't work
with them. They're trying to trap me. But they don't realise
where the power really is. I will show them," the
Returning a short while later, the
official instructed to summon Weerawansa came back to the
President with bad news as well. "Madam," said the
officer, "I gave Weerawansa your message, but he said
that since he was not the leader, he could not come to meet
"He said that the JVP Leader was
Somawansa Amarasinghe, I should tell him. But the Presidential
Secretariat does not have Somawansa's number. When I asked
Weerawansa for it, he also refused to give it saying that for
security reasons Somawansa's number is not given. He said he
also doesn't have it," the official added.
By this time, various people were
trying to mediate to resolve the crisis. Many of them with the
hope of winning favour with either the JVP or the President.
One such wanna-be mediator was Deputy Minister, Lasantha
Speaking to Weerawansa, Alagiyawanna
said if this problem was to go any further it would result in
the collapse of the UPFA. He added the JVP's lack of
flexibility on the issue had incensed the President. But
Weerawansa just scoffed.
"Do you think that there is an
alliance today? We thought there wasn't because all these
deputy ministers and the President act like there is no UPFA,
so we had given up the idea of being in the alliance,"
the JVP MP said.
"You people remember the alliance
only when you have been pushed against the wall," he
When all his attempts to facilitate
consensus failed, Alagiyawanna informed the President. She
told him it was no longer necessary for anyone to get involved
in trying to resolve the crisis since she had made all the
necessary decisions regarding the matter.
This new crisis only underscored the
inevitable break up of the UPFA, and the President clutching
at straws may still emerge victorious by attempting to strike
a deal with a section of the UNP over the S.B. Dissanayake
That is politics for you in sunny Sri