Political games at Rupavahini
By Sonali Samarasinghe
Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) last week refused to accept the advertisements of Opposition Leader Ranil......
> Weerawansa moves to sideline Somawansa
Political games at Rupavahini
Reminder on the SLFP's 2004 campaign outstanding balance, SLRC election rate card stating only cash payment will be accepted, Credit invoice from SLRC to PM's Media Secretary
and The Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation are shown above
By Sonali Samarasinghe
Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) last week refused to accept the advertisements of Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The refusal came despite the Elections Commissioner directing the state media to remain balanced, and President Chandrika Kumaratunga warning state electronic and print media to abide strictly by the law to ensure a free and fair election at the up-coming presidential poll.
Refusal to accept money
On September 30 an advertisement of the UNP candidate consisting of a narration, was broadcast on Rupavahini after due upfront payment.
However the same advertisement was refused by SLRC officials three days later on Monday, October 3.The marketing division accepted the commercial schedule of the UNP ads but refused to accept the money. Up front cash payment is a condition of broadcast according to the Rupavahini election rate card.
The marketing division officials stated they had been directed not to accept any more advertisements without the approval of the Chairman, SLRC, M.M. Zuhair.
Chairman Zuhair told The Sunday Leader he had decided not to broadcast any advertisements until he had clarification from the Elections Commissioner regarding the issue. (See box for full interview)
However this explanation is thin considering that the very same advertisement was in fact broadcast by Rupavahini on September 30.
On Thursday, October 6, the UNP on behalf of its candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe gave the SLRC another set of commercial time schedules booking space for the final two weeks of the election campaign that is from November 1 to 14.
Surprisingly this time the SLRC not only refused to accept the money which according to their own rate card must be paid in advance but they also refused to accept the time schedules.
On refusal to accept any UNP advertisements the SLRC officials stated they were directed by the Chairman not to accept any advertising until the Elections Commissioner gives the SLRC clear directions on the matter.
Furthermore the Rupavahini election advertisement rate card issued by the marketing division categorically states under its terms and conditions clause that:
(1) All payments must be done on cash basis in advance;
(2) If payment is made by cheque, advertising would start only on realisation of the cheque;
(3) Commercial schedules should be submitted during weekday working hours two days prior to telecast.
However the condition of upfront payment that is so assiduously followed when it comes to other candidates is thrown out the window when it comes to the advertising campaign of SLFP presidential candidate Mahinda Rajapakse.
For instance Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse's Media Secretary, Chandrapala Liyanage wrote to the Marking Manager, SLRC on a letterhead bearing the legend 'Presidential Election Propaganda Coordinator Office.' The letter was dated September 20.
The letter according to the frank was however received by SLRC on September 19. He requested for four advertisements to be placed under the 'Dinawamu Sri Lanka' campaign launched by the Prime Minister. These advertisements were accordingly broadcast at the scheduled times without any upfront payment.
It appears that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse is able to run his ads on credit. And his credit period seems to last forever.
Take invoice No. 6029 sent to Prime Minister's Media Secretary Liyanage. The invoice relates to an advertisement run on September 5 on Rupavahini. The ad cost Rs.132, 250.00.
The due date for payment for the ad is stated as September 20 even though the ad was broadcast on September 5.
In the light of stringent payment conditions foisted on the other candidates, pray are these actions by the nation's state media conducive to holding free and fair elections?
However the UPFA government certainly seems to have unlimited credit to conduct its propaganda campaigns whether it's a general election campaign or a presidential one.
Remember the 'Rata Perata' campaign at the general election in April 2004? Outstanding balances owing to the SLRC as at March 31, 2004 pertaining to that campaign amounted to some Rs.6, 583,045.29 + VAT. Even as at May 14, 2004 the bill had yet not been settled by the incumbent UPFA government. (Document displayed elsewhere on this page)
The Prime Minister however seems to treat the SLRC as his own personal backyard. He has now requested the Rupavahini Corporation to forward to him a large number of video clips of various scenes both featuring himself and those of only scenic and cultural value.
Sources in the Prime Minister's Office say he intends to use these tapes to put together video clips for his election campaign. Indeed the contents of the clips themselves give a clue as to how he would like to run his campaign.
On September 25, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse's Advisor Anura Siriwardena sent a letter to Zuhair on a Prime Ministerial letterhead requesting BETA CAM copies of 48 programmes on various subjects.
The clips requested included the Prime Minister in the midst of the farmers, the Prime Minister speaking with labourers, the Prime Minister waving to the crowds and the Prime Minister meeting artistes among other clips.
But the requests were not only for clips that featured the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister's Office also requested the SLRC to send them video clips filed in their library of various artistic and cultural scenes.
These included a sunset, a sandakada pahana, the Kataragama Devale and its perehera, the Kirinda Deevara Waraya, Independence Square, the Green Tiger Movement, a lotus filled pond, a flickering flame, a fish stall, a clip of ocean waves breaking against the shore together with the noise, fishermen pulling in their nets, distressed children,
women demonstrating on issues, etcetera.
Prime Minister Rajapakse by his actions seems to be exploiting his position and misusing the extensive facilities of the SLRC including the Rupavahini Corporation Library to further his personal presidential election campaign. If this is the case it is a shameful misuse of state property for electioneering purposes.
In fact on October 3, PM's Media Secretary Chandrapala Liyanage, on a Prime Minister's Office letterhead wrote to the SLRC again.
This time the letter was addressed to Director General, SLRC, Nishantha Ranatunga.
The letter requested 30 video clips stating they were needed by the Prime Minister's Media Unit to put together a programme and should be made available to the Prime Minister's Office immediately.
The video clips requested include scenes of the sun rising at Siripada, the Sinharaja forest, wild animals including peacocks, leopards, elephants and waterfalls.
The Prime Minister's propaganda outfit also requested the SLRC to provide them with clips of scenes demonstrating Sri Lanka's destitute people, the Sinhala people running behind white tourists begging. Scenes of LTTE terror, killings, bomb scenes, baal dances, the LTTE having discussions with the Norwegians, scenes from the Kadirgamar
assassination and the Millennium City incident.
Bagful of requests
They also requested cuts of relevant leaders making a case for federalism, election rallies, election queues, cuts of Soma Hamuduruwo, and a voice and visual cut of Prime Minister Rajapakse stating that when he wins the presidential election he would bring about not war but a time of peace.
But this does not seem to be all that the Rajapakse camp would aspire to use in their election campaign advertisements.
There would possibly be a ship sailing out to sea. An airplane cutting across the skies. The moon slowly rising in the night sky. A rocket zooming into the air from a space centre. Children from an international school working on laptop computers, scenes from the British Museum, citizens reading books in a modern library, close up of school
bands and scenes of school children walking along the street in their uniforms.
The pertinent point is this. Can the Prime Minister of this country misuse state property and state personnel - many hours will have to be dedicated by library staff of the SLRC to find these clips for the Prime Minister - for the purpose of a campaign?
Not for commercial purposes
Will the SLRC have at the disposal of all other presidential candidates its library in order that they too may request clips of various subjects in order to further their campaigns?
Chairman Zuhair told The Sunday Leader the SLRC would normally issue copies of clips to public figures who are featured on programmes run by the television channel. He said the clips would be issued free of charge unless it is for a commercial purpose.
Be that as it may, the state media must play a level field. It cannot play politics. Unlike private media, the state media is run with public money. Therefore it is answerable in every detail to the public.
In terms of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, the Elections Commissioner has the power to appoint a competent authority to monitor the state media.
With regard to the private media in terms of the constitution the commissioner only has the power to issue guidelines but there is no provision for an implementing arm such as a competent authority that could enforce those guidelines.
Thus when former Media and Ports Minister Mangala Samaraweera angrily requested Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake to look into the practices of the private media as well, Dissanayake was to quickly point out that he was unable to issue anything other than guidelines to the private media under the law.
Dissanayake pointed out the legal draftsmen should have taken this matter into consideration and the legislators should not have approved the 17th Amendment with this shortcoming in the law.
Be that as it may this election is vital for the future of the country. It cannot be marred by state institutions run on public funds supporting any one candidate. This is an election which will either usher this country into an era of peace or plunge it into an abyss of war. No advertisement must be allowed to incite the public against any
race or religion.
It is the responsibility of the state media and the Elections Commissioner to monitor closely the campaign of all candidates in this regard. The national interest must prevail.
Chairman, Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC), M.M. Zuhair speaking to The Sunday Leader said that a decision has been taken by the SLRC to carry the advertisements of all candidates with effect from Friday, October 7.
While the Chairman was earlier awaiting a direction from the Elections Commissioner on the matter, he said, "As of now we have decided to follow the past practice which is to run all campaign ads and we are now accepting ads by the presidential candidates."
Zuhair explained that not only the UNP ads, but all ads were stopped until a clear direction came from the Elections Commissioner with regard to the issue. He said that airing of advertisements of candidates by the state media was debatable under the Presidential Elections Act and the constitution, and
that there is a responsibility cast on him to ensure that the law was not violated.
Q: Why were UNP ads refused on October 3 but the same ad carried on September 30?
A: We were waiting for a clear direction from the Elections Commissioner on the matter. The constitution clearly states that no telecast must affect the nature of a free and fair election.
Q: But you ran the JHU ads?
A: No. We stopped all ads till we got a clarification.
Q: Why are the rate card conditions of upfront payment stringently followed with regard to the UNP and why are the Prime Minister's ads given on credit? There are documents to prove this.
A: I am not aware of this. This is done by the Marketing Division. I will look into it.
Q: Can a candidate ask for video clips from the SLRC library and what is the procedure to grant the request?
A: Yes, anyone may ask. It is looked at on a case-by-case basis. Usually if it is for a commercial purpose then we charge. If not copies are issued free of charge. Anyone in public life may ask for video clips in programmes they participate in.
Q: But for an election campaign?
A: If it is not a commercial purpose we issue it free. Any candidate may ask for video clips.
Q: Do the advertisements have to emanate from a presidential candidate or its party or can any party which is merely supporting a candidate also run ads under their name? For instance can the JHU run a campaign advertisement?
A: The ad must come from the candidate or his/her appointed agent or a person authorised on his behalf. No one else. We therefore insist on a formal letter from the party secretary or someone in authority.
This is important so that the candidate and his/her policies are not misrepresented which again is essential for a free and fair election. This is further enumerated in Section 117 of the Presidential Elections Act as amended by Act 16 of 1988.
Weerawansa moves to sideline Somawansa
While political disagreements have made their way to Temple Tress, the JVP headquarters at Pagoda Road, Nugegoda too has not been spared.
The JVP problem started with Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe's speech at Mahinda Rajapakse's inaugural rally at Town Hall where he said that the armed forces should be disbanded. The party has been getting quite a bit of flak over the speech and Wimal Weerawansa suggested that Amarasinghe take a backseat during the campaign without addressing
rallies and may be take a foreign sojourn. Party General Secretary Tilvin Silva too was in agreement.
Amarasinghe was not ready to play ball, he insisted that he would be attending all JVP rallies and reminded Silva that the JVP's anti-armed forces stance was not anything new.
"From '71, we have had a policy that went against the forces and the police. We are on the people's side and we attacked them from there. It is because of such a policy that lakhs flocked to us. Wimal not knowing these things is not my problem," he said.
However Silva informed Amarasinghe that the decision to sideline him from the podium was not Weerawansa's alone and that Rajapakse and Mangala Samaraweera both had been of the same opinion.
"I am not going to do politics the way Mahinda, Mangala or Wimal wants," Amarasinghe screamed back. "Even at the last election, Wimal wanted me to go out of the country. I have my doubts whether this man wants to undermine the party."
Silva said that the JVP was in charge of organising 107 rallies for Rajapakse. "The Prime Minister has informed us this. Since the SLFP cannotorganise these rallies, we have to look after all 107 main rallies. This is a good chance for us. No matter what Wimal says we will take the chance for you to speak at least in some of the
rallies." Silva also raised some issues that JVP members were facing at grassroot level.
"We have already told our supporters to vote for Mahinda Rajapakse. They cannot go from house to house, so we will organise the rallies and say that 80 to 90% of the victory was ours. That Rajapakse is our candidate," he said.
Whatever the outcome of the JVP decision, Amarasinghe has two outstanding invitations to visit Japan and France to address party officials.
Exit of Thondaman
That Kingmakers Arumugam Thondaman and Rauf Hakeem play a key role in the country's political arena is a widely
acknowledged fact. The reason being, the one million voter base of Thondaman and the 600,000 voter base of Hakeem.
The Upcountry People's Front of P. Chandrasekeran, considered the second political force within the
estate community followed Thondaman and Hakeem and announced the party's support to the UNP candidate.
It has been a common practice of all main political parties to try to woo Thondaman and Hakeem to their sides in times of elections. This time around, each party has been on an intense race to woo the SLMC and the CWC as the 2005 presidential poll would be a decisive one for the country.
Be that as it may, Thondaman, Hakeem and the UPF have already declared whom they plan to support in the forthcoming election.
Although Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse in a state of panic entered into agreements with the JVP and the JHU, he soon realised that it would not suffice for him to win the great battle on November 17. With that came the realisation that the support of Thondaman and Hakeem was necessary for his victory.
The task of wooing both Thondaman and Hakeem was assigned to Rajapakse's brother, Basil and Mangala Samaraweera. While Basil held discussions primarily with Hakeem, Samaraweera held discussions with Thondaman.
While discussions were in progress, it was Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi who while addressing a gatheringin the presence of Premier Rajapakse attacked Thondaman in public. This happened at a time when Thondaman was about to join forces with Rajapakse.
Sooriyaarachchi is a relatively new entrant to the political arena. Although it was President Chandrika Kumaratunga who brought him to politics, she did not assign him any responsible tasks. The reason was that in Kumaratunga's eyes
he was still an immature figure in the political arena.
After being named the SLFP's presidential candidate, Rajapakse has received numerous complaints about Sooriyarachchi and his excuse to all of them has been that he is still not mature in the political front and that thereforeshould be excused.
Rajapakse was also informed by several senior SLFPers that Sooriyaarachchi's conduct while attending political discussions on Rupavahini cannot be accepted.
Sooriyaarachchi was then summoned to Temple Trees.
"The manner in which you berate opponents at political talk shows is unacceptable. If you behave like this, I will lose the votes I'm going to get, so please keep this in mind when you next attend a show and behave accordingly," Rajapakse told Sooriyaarachchi.
Sooriyaarachchi's next blunder cost Rajapakse quite a bit as it was made at a time when Thondaman was on the verge of deciding the party he would support at the elections.
At one of the well-known gatherings at Temple Trees, Sooriya- arachchi addressing the crowdsaid that Rajapakse could win the elections without the support of Thondaman or Hakeem.
Although Sooriyaarachchi and Rajapakse did not realise the gravity of the situation at the moment, it was Samaraweera who first understood the impact it would have.
Thondaman contacted Samaraweera and informed him that the statement made by Sooriyaarachchi was serious and all efforts made by Samaraweera to calm Thondaman seemed futile.
"Sripathi is immature in the political arena. Don't take notice of what he says," Samaraweera told Thondaman.
Thondaman's reply was to highlight the gravity of the situation - the fact that he made the statement in Rajapakse's presence.
Samaraweera who was angered by the turn out of events called Sooriyaarachchi and after berating him for his foolish act said that he would have to be held responsible if Rajapakse lost Thondaman's support.
Sooriyaarachchi's response to Samaraweera was that he did not mean what he said at the gathering.
Unsatisfied with the answer, Samaraweera said, "Everything was in place to get Thondaman and we could only win this election if we had his support. The Hela Urumaya does not have a proper vote base. Now after you made that speech, Thondaman can easily go and join Ranil Wickremesinghe and Thondaman will make your speech an excuse."
Samaraweera informed Rajapakse of the latest turn of events.
Angered by the turn of events, Rajapakse wanted Sooriyaarachchi immediately knocked out of the presidential campaign. Rajapakse also blamed Samaraweera for keeping Sooriyaarachchi in the frontline.
"I did not like to get him close. Basil and Dulles asked me to keep him away. You were the one who sent him to me. Now you will have to resolve the matter with Sripathi," Rajapakse told Samaraweera.
Samaraweera then requested Rajapakse to make a statement that would satisfy Thondaman.
"I can make a statement. Tell Thondaman that I will make a statement rejecting Sripathi's statement," the Premier said.
However, it was all too late for Rajapakse. Just as Samaraweera took the message to Thondaman, he was informed that the CWC had already decided on which candidate to support.
"We waited several days to see if you people would respond, but it did not happen. Although we respect the Premier it is now too late, we have already decided to support the candidature of Ranil Wickreme-singhe," Thondaman informed Samaraweera.
Not satisfied with Thondaman's reply, Samaraweera pleaded with him to reconsider the decision saying that Rajapakse was ready to accept any proposal forwarded by him.
"I'm sorry, We have already made a decision. We will walk out of the government like gentlemen. We are calling a press conference as well, but before all that, I will meet with the Premier to bid him adieu," Thondaman said.
In the evening, Thondaman paid a visit to Temple Trees.
Rajapakse already knew Thondaman's decision as Samaraweera had earlier informed him of it.
When Thondaman arrived at Temple Trees, a depressed Rajapakse was on the first floor and was in no mood to meet with him. Rajapakse summoned Basil and asked him to speak to Thondaman and inform him that Rajapakse was unable to meet him as he was attending an emergency meeting.
After waiting for 10 minutes, Thondaman was informed by Basil that Rajapakse was held up at a meeting.
"I knew that the Prime Minister will not come. I came here as it was my duty to personally inform him of our decision. We have to be in politics irrespective of who wins at the elections," Thondaman said.
Thondamangave the reasons for his party's decision and also said that they were greatly disappointed by the comment made by the Deputy Minister.
"We made our decision at the last minute. We have no intention of supporting people who say they do not want us," he said.
Basil responded that Sooriyaarachchi was not a wise person and asked Thondaman not to take notice of what he says.
After wishing Rajapakse for the success of his campaign, Thondaman was all set to leave saying he was on his way to meet with Wickremesinghe.
However, Thondaman's parting words to Basil were, "Basil, please inform the Premier that if he wants to gain votes at the elections, then he should get rid of people like Sripathi from his campaign."
Ronnie pole vaults yet again
There is nothing new if Ronnie de Mel, the renowned polevaulter who had switched sides many times before, wants to do it yet again. He is a past master in the game of switching loyalties. There is also a section of the public that pays
attention to the side that receives Ronnie de Mel's support. There is a reason.
That's because there is a well-founded perception that the side Ronnie de Mel supports tends to lose elections. In 2004 when de Mel joined the UNP, the party lost the poll. The senior politician did not wait to drink the bitter gall of defeat but went abroad. He returned to Sri Lanka only after the presidential election was announced.
Quickly gauging the mood, he called on UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at his Cambridge Terrace office and discussed the strategies and programmes of the UNP at great length. Then he wished Wickremesinghe well and returned home, only to send Wickremesinghe a note two days later through a senior UNPer turned messenger.
The note disclosed the undisclosed intent behind his visit - that de Mel expected some kind of invitation from Wickremesinghe. In his note, de Mel expressed disappointment that it was not done. This surprised the UNP Leader no end.
" How can I read his mind? This is a presidential election. That means I do not have anything to offer him politically. If he wants, there is nothing else he could do but to work towards my victory," said Wickremesinghe. The messenger was of the view that if a portfolio and a national list slot were pledged, de Mel would most
definitely work for him.
This amused Wickremesinghe. He smilingly noted that the UNP had been in the opposition for one and a half years. " We have gone through a lot during the brief period. We have been attacked. Our seniors are in prison. People who did not remain with the party suddenly return and demand
portfolios. That cannot be done.
"There are enough and more people within the UNP who have toiled so much and deserve recognition. They have truly worked for the UNP's welfare and their sacrifices have to be recognised first and foremost," observed Wickremesinghe. The only promise Wickremesinghe was willing to give was that de Mel was welcome to work for the UNP
if he so wished.
He also made it clear that the senior politician was also free to take any other decision. But the messenger urged that some promise be given to retain de Mel within the UNP folds, and this angered Wickremesinghe. "I cannot lie. I have not lied before and am not ready to start
now. I don't want to base my campaign or leadership on falsehoods," thundered Wickremesinghe, infuriated by the suggestion.
The message was duly conveyed and within 24 hours, the UNP received a letter from Ronnie de Mel. It succinctly stated that though he obtained UNP membership in 2004, he now wished to resign his membership. A Kurunegala District UNP parliamentarian, delighted by the decision of the CWC and SLMC
to extend support to the UNP leader exulted, "their joining is a great strength. And Ronnie leaving is a great omen of a political victory.
"I will light crackers the day he joins a different political party,"The MP enthusiastically declared. And now de Mel is no longer a UNP member. He has extended support to Rajapakse in exchange for an assurance he would be accommodated in the national list of the UPFA.
Nauzer and Bharatha lock horns in public
Temple Trees has been trouble ridden since the announcement of the fifth presidential poll. There are crises and clashes of all kinds taking place there. A recent meeting was held at the same venue with both SLFP and JVP electoral organisers
to discuss the organising of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse's election rallies.
The two-hour meeting was chaired by the Premier's brother, and campaign manager Basil Rajapakse. He announced that the JVP had been entrusted with the organising of 107 meetings. Suddenly SLFP organisers were seen speaking in hushed tones.
Basil Rajapakse threw a stone among the pigeons next by saying that even if the SLFP organisers had any objections to the decision, there was no way-out to alter it. "We did a complete survey for a month and the report was handed over to the Prime Minister. It was only after that we decided to allow the JVP to be in charge of organising
the rallies and meetings." he said.
This pleased the JVP members present there and they tried to explain the work they have done so far to ensure Rajapakse's victory at electoral level. All the while, the SLFP organisers remained silent. A meeting with SLFP Colombo District organisers followed this meeting. By then the JVP organisers had left. The purpose of the meeting was to
explain how the Colombo rallies should be dealt with soon after the handing over of nominations.
But the meeting came to a premature end due to a verbal clash that took place even before the discussion could get underway. SLFP, Colombo North Organiser, Nauzer Fowzie was on his feet explaining electoral organisational work when Borella Organiser and Advisor to the Prime Minister, Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra intervened. He ordered
Fowzie Jr. to immediately stop talking and be seated.
But Nauzer Fowzie was in no mood to be brow beaten so he demanded to know why Premachandra was issuing him such orders. Premachandra responded, " You speak at a tangent and say what is needed as well as not needed. What is possible as well as impossible are spoken of. I find your speech confusing. You are a person who had not even
contested a parliamentary poll still. Don't talk big." Fowzie Jr. was enraged by these remarks. "If I have no right to speak, then the same rule applies to you.
"You have lost so many elections. I have won my electorate nine times. Remember we are the Fowzies. Just because you know a few thugs from Borella, we will never dance to your tune," he challenged. Equally angry now, Premachandra shot back that the Fowzies were now history. While the battle raged, the silence maintained by Basil
Rajapakse got on Nauzer Fowzie's nerves. He demanded to know whether the Colombo organisers were wanted there or not.
"Tell us clearly. We are ready to leave" Fowzie added. It was then that the keen sibling of Premier Rajapakse pacified the angry Fowzie by asking him to meet him after the discussion. Fowzie lodged his protest against the manner in which Premachandra spoke. However, news of
the clash reached the Premier only that night. He telephoned Premachandra and gave a piece of his mind. " You damn well keep your mouth firmly shut. Because of you, a lot of people have got angry with me.
"If I receive any more complaints, I will drive you out of the party. I don't care whether I receive your votes or otherwise," Rajapakse thundered. Prema-chandra's attempts to explain himself also fell on deaf ears. " Don't you dare destroy the few votes I have there?
Just stay at home without aggravating problems," instructed an angry Prime Minister.
Premier's Secretary wishes to quit office
By now it is public knowledge that Temple Trees, the official residence of the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka has been conveniently converted into a dansala in the run up to the presidential poll. The main opposition UNP had alleged that
public funds are being utilised to provide free meals to political lackeys and the official residence of the Prime Minister is nothing but a campaign office.
First the UNP comments were ignored but following a letter sent by UNP Deputy General Secretary, Tissa Attanayake to Secretary to the Premier, Lalith Weeratunga, the continuous political dansala became a cause for concern. Attanayake sought an explanation from Weeratunga as to how the official residence of the Premier had been converted into
a campaign office in violation of all regulations and misusing budgetary allocations made for the Premier's office to entertain sections of the public.
The letter included a veiled threat that upon winning the elections, the UNP president would inquire into such expenses and further alleged Premier Rajapakse was singularly responsible for the activities that were in stark violation of the election laws of the country. But this was not the only worry Weeratunga had. He is also neck deep in
the Helping Hambantota scam. His statement was also recorded by the CID, an inquiry that was halted by a Supreme Court order.
Thus Weeratunga got quite flustered by Attanayake's letter particularly as a result of the domestic pressures he was subject to due to him getting entangled in the political controversy. He was so disturbed by the series of nerve-wracking events that had been taking place at Temple Trees, he took the letter and rushed to see the Prime
Minister. All he wanted from Rajapakse at this point was to permit him to relinquish his job as Prime Minister's Secretary. The Premier wanted to know why and the reply was that he was compelled to remain answerable for the goings on at Temple Trees.
He in fact observed that there were concerns about some of the expenses and some corrective action should be taken in this regard. But Rajapakse was confident. He told Weeratunga not to overreact or to get scared. " Everything will be fine. I am the Prime Minister and I have the privilege of entertaining people." He further said
that as nominations have not yet concluded, there was nothing to worry about.
"It is only then the election laws would be strictly enforced. We don't have to stop anything," he said. But Weeratunga said that he wished to exercise caution as it was he who was finally answerable to the public for the goings on at Temple Trees. In fact he informed the Premier that he had discussed the matter with Basil
Rajapakse, the Prime Minister's brother about putting an end to the tamashas once nomination papers are accepted. The topic weighed on the minds of the campaign managers despite the Premier's assurances.
On Tuesday (4), a special meeting was convened to discuss ways and means of launching a counter attack on the UNP for the continued dredging of issues involving the Prime Minister. The Premier expressed his views first and next posed a query to SLBC chairman Hudson Samarasinghe as to how President Premadasa handled the bad publicity given to
his tamashas. "Hudson, you were very close to President Premadasa.
"He also entertained a lot of people at Temple Trees. Didn't he use large amounts of public funds for that purpose," queried Rajapakse. Agreeing that he was a confidant of Premadasa, Samarasinghe insisted that the late President never provided liquor and cigarettes at his parties. " He would have provided lunch or dinner but
he never used public funds for that either," Samarasinghe assured. The next question was as to who picked up those bills.
"He knew it was bad to use public funds in such a manner. There was a separate group of persons to settle the entertainment bills. There is one thing. President Premadasa never offered a single glass of liquor to anyone as long as he lived here," noted Samarasinghe.
Premier Rajapakse was quite disturbed by these statements. He wanted to know how the expenses could be best explained to the public without causing a further scandal and whether the receptions should be stopped altogether. Most were of the view that a meal, however good did not
ensure the diner's vote.
In fact some were of the view that excessive entertainment at Temple Trees had now become the standard joke where people were encouraged to dine at the Premier's residence and to vote for Ranil Wickremesinghe come November 17. A crestfallen Premier then announced that the grand receptions should come to a halt by October 7 when nominations
concluded. Next was a discussion with the state media bosses on how they could support his election campaign.
It was decided that the SLRC and ITN should play a more decisive role in campaigning for Rajapakse's political victory. It was agreed that both stations should continue to telecast news and views that would prove damaging to Ranil Wickremesinghe and his campaign. " The distortion of his speeches should continue," the Premier
instructed and said that there was a very good response to such news items.
In addition to the distortions, he was of the view that Buddhist clergy should be used to attack Wickremesinghe. " That would carry more weight," he said. In full agreement was Chairman, ITN, Newton Guneratne who said that already there was a group of monks who were willing to do just that - a group that he promised to make good
use of throughout the campaign .
PM's manifesto battle
Soon after returning from the US, President Chandrika Kumaratunga decided that the SLFP presidential candidate's manifesto had to be formulated by the party.
She set up a special committee for the task and informed the party that the decisions of the committee had to be submitted to the SLFP central committee after her return from France.
She checked with General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena and confidant Ratnasiri Wickremanayake from France whether the committee had sat. Sirisena thereafter convened the committee but found out that the majority of its members were not present.However to the members who had turned up, Sirisena said that Rajapakse had already made the
decision not to accept the committee's suggestions and reject any such manifesto.He warned that if the party was to proceed with formulating a set of policy proposals for Rajapakse it would lead to an internal battle and that Kumaratunga had taken a hasty decision by setting up the committee.
Afterwards during a meeting with Rajapakse, Sirisena briefed him on the situation and said that if he were to reject the party proposals, they should formulate a valid reason for that before the President's arrival.
"Winning this election or losing it is in my hands. I have taken the candidacy, so now even if she stands on her head and gives me the proposals I will not agree. You call her and tell her that what I will present will not be proposals from Chandrika or Anura," Rajapakse said.
Sirisena warned that if he conveys such a message, no one can be sure what sort of action Chandrika would take once she returns. " She can take any decision she wants, I don't care. I will not come for those committees or agree to the decisions. I have my own committee that is going through the manifesto preparations and it will be
ready by October 9," was Rajapakse's reply.