- Much speculation about Mahinda – Ki-Moon tête-à-tête
- Ranil – Sajith ceasefire breaks down
- Mahanayakes shocked by Mahinda’s disregard for them
- Fonseka rejects asking for pardon
President Mahinda Rajapaksa returned to the island on September 29 at 4 a.m. Two files on his table greeted him when he went to the Presidential Secretariat afterwards to resume work. One file had been forwarded by the Ministry of Defence in connection with the jail sentence delivered by the second military court against former Army Commander Fonseka.
The other file related to the letter signed by the Mahanayakes of the four chapters requesting the President not to ratify the judgment meted out by the military court to Sarath Fonseka. This letter sent under registered cover on the 27th had been received by the Presidential Secretariat on September 28.
The President who read the contents of the letters attended the Cabinet meeting later in the evening. However, he did not discuss anything pertaining to Fonseka’s issue at the Cabinet meeting. Presumably, this was because on the earlier verdict of the first military court, he met with opposition at a meeting when he called for the members’ opinion with some members raising objections to it.
Nevertheless, the President had discussed this latest verdict with those of his inner circle. They had advised him to give due consideration to the letter addressed to him by the Mahanayakes, whereupon the President had stated, ‘if I am to desist from ratifying the decision of the military court after my own self appointing it, the whole exercise will become a joke and the butt of ridicule.’ In any case, he will consider a pardon if that is requested, the President has added. While saying this, he has placed his signature ratifying the court sentence. Accordingly, Sarath Fonseka had been sentenced to 30 months rigorous imprisonment.
Even as the President was signing the ratification for the jail sentence, preparations had been made to dispatch the former army commander from Navy Headquarters where he was held in custody during the case and pending the verdict to the Welikada jail. Coincidentally, it is interesting to note that Fonseka was being transferred to the ‘S’ ward at Welikada, where Vijaya Kumaratunga was, the actor turned politician and the husband of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike when he was jailed during the late J. R. Jayewardene’s government on naxalite charges.
No sooner the Mahanayakes heard that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had ratified the military court judgment disregarding their letter, they were driven into a state of grievous shock. On the earlier occasion when the judgment was delivered by the first military court against Fonseka, Anoma Fonseka, the wife of the former army commander and leaders of her husband’s political party met the Mahanayakes of the Malwatte and Asgiriya chapters and requested them to intervene on their behalf. The Mahanayakes had then told them that Mahinda was expected to visit the temple shortly, where they would have occasion to discuss this matter with him. When the Mahanayakes discussed with the President later, the latter had said that if Sarath Fonseka would ask for a pardon duly and directly from him, he would consider. When this was conveyed to the former army commander, he had replied, as he has committed no wrong he has no need to ask any pardon from anyone.
Even on this occasion, when Anoma Fonseka met the Mahanayakes, she had reiterated her husband’s stand, that as he has done no wrong, he is not prepared to ask for a pardon. After the verdict was given by the second military court, Anoma Fonseka along with the DNA leaders had met the Mahanayakes of all four chapters. The Mahanayake of the Malwatte Chapter whom they met, had stated that he would discuss with the other Mahanayakes too and speak to Mahinda when he returns after his New York tour. The Mahanayake of the Ramanya Chapter has also expressed the same sentiments when they met him.
The Mahanayakes who held a discussion, finally arrived at a decision to address a letter signed by all of them jointly to the President. In that letter they urged Rajapaksa to take into account the yeoman service and the patriotic contributions of the former army commander and to desist from ratifying the court verdict overlooking the wrong, if any committed by Fonseka. Mahanayake Thero of the Asgiriya Chapter was away in India for medical treatment when this letter was prepared. Upon his return to Sri Lanka on Sunday evening, the Mahanayake of the Malwatte Chapter forwarded the letter to the Mahanayake of the Asgiriya Chapter to enable him to place his signature after reading it. After his signature was obtained, the Mahanayakes decided that this letter shall be on President’s table before he arrived — that is, last Wednesday. They posted the letter under registered cover on Monday.
The Mahanayakes of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters were the most grieved and disillusioned on hearing that Mahinda Rajapaksa had ratified the court verdict despite their letter. It is worthy of note at this juncture, that the Mahanayakes of the Asgiriya and Malwatte chapters conferred the title of ‘Sri Rohana Janaranjana’ on Mahinda when he was a minister in former President Chandrika Bandaranaike’s cabinet. This title was bestowed on him because of their conviction that Mahinda was a leader who always paid heed to their anusasanas (advice). In the year 2000, when Chandrika’s government proposed a political package to resolve the ethnic issue, these two Mahanayakes opposed it. They advised Mahinda that he must oppose this package like them, regardless of the fact that he is a minister in the government; otherwise they would strip him of the title ‘Sri Rohana Janaranjana.’ But, in the present circumstances, it is impossible to imagine that the Mahanayakes can exert the same pressure on Mahinda to make him yield to them.
No matter what, jailing Fonseka is not going to relieve the government of the raging problems it is confronted with. This is in view of the fact that a previous complaint made to the Human Rights (HR) Commission in Geneva on HR violations pertaining to Fonseka is coming up for investigation in Geneva next week. These investigations can be conducted via two modes. Either in public or in camera. As the investigations in camera have been concluded, open investigations are to be commenced. Meanwhile, there is also going to be a hearing at the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva to inquire into the breaches of parliamentary privileges committed on the former Army Commander Fonseka and the harassments inflicted on him as a Member of Parliament (MP) of SL including the denial of his privilege to attend parliament even before he was sentenced.
In addition, as the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has not conducted a proper investigation into the deaths of three MPs: two TNA MPs, Raviraj and Pararajasingham and a UNP MP, Maheswaran, a public hearing on this is to be held with the participation of 154 countries in Geneva. As Mahinda Samarasinghe was in charge of human rights issues in SL, though he is the Minister of Plantations now, the government had sent him to Geneva to counter the accusations leveled against the government. He was therefore very busy liaising with the Attorney General’s Department with a view to exploring solutions before he left for Geneva.
But right now, the most controversial topic is whether Fonseka will lose his parliamentary seat following the sentence passed against him. The opinion expressed by MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara, a very close and old political friend of the President is, Fonseka will not lose his MP status thereby.
It is the consensus that though the President disembarked at the Katunayake airport after the UN tour gleefully and with all smiles, he had not been able to make a success story of his meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Though the government communiqué had stated that Ban Ki-Moon has explained that the panel is not a penal entity, according to UN sources, Ban Ki-Moon has not made such a statement.
Of course, on the first occasion there had been a meeting between the President and Ban Ki-Moon and the delegations they were leading. Next, a friendly discussion had been held between Mahinda and Ban Ki-Moon, when the former has invited Ki-Moon to SL, so that these issues may be sorted out by Ki-Moon meeting the relevant parties, without having recourse to the panel.
Though the GoSL is making a big din that Ki-Moon has agreed to visit SL and it is only a date that has to be fixed for his arrival, the UN and Ban Ki-Moon are tight-lipped in regard to the tête-à-tête between Mahinda and the UN Secretary General. According to UN sources, following the results of the preliminary fact finding mission, the panel is going to ask for a legal body to inquire into SL’s war crimes. The reticence of the UN and Ban Ki-Moon has been construed as portending grave signals in the course of action they are going to take. In that event, the GoSL must brace itself for a serious international issue.
It is not that the intensity of the heat of these international pressures are not being felt by Mahinda, for immediately after his arrival in SL, at the first Cabinet meeting, he declared that the CMC which he planned to convert into an authority, will not be given effect to. The President has explained that this change was contemplated after a study of the development programmes in other countries, though Gotabaya’s name was unnecessarily linked to this proposal. Indeed, even the French ambassador had got the wrong end of the stick and inquired from Gotabaya about him being made the authority, he had added. Wimal Weerawansa interjecting has said, it was his announcements which have created a misunderstanding. The President continuing has remarked, ‘now you see, I have no interest in this. Right now, there is a driver who is the mayor, so I do not care even if a cleaner becomes mayor at the next CMC elections.’
Though the President openly made these denials and denunciations, according to UNP reports the hidden truth is that it was in fact planned to bring the CMC under an authority. In fact, the plan was to amalgamate the municipal councils of Colombo, Dehiwala, Mt. Lavinia and Kotte under a single authority. The underlying reason was, the government is fully aware that it cannot win the CMC elections going by past election results — the UNP having a very strong voter base in this area.
After having carefully analyzed this, the government thought of drawing a ten year plan to capture power from the UNP in the municipal council limits. The government decided to oust some of the residents in Colombo claiming they are in unauthorized shelters. These displaced inhabitants were sent to the suburbs. Meanwhile, plans were also afoot to bring the municipality under an authority and to bar the holding of municipal elections for ten years, by when the government believed it can weaken the UNP voter base and capture power.
The government also got wind of the fact that the UNP lawyers were studying the sinister programme of the government and were preparing to go into litigation on the basis that this impending transformation of the CMC, bringing it under an authority without holding an election, is a violation of the law. The President getting jittery after becoming aware of this move, coupled with the international pressure brought upon him, decided on the safest course of action – to abandon his plan regarding the CMC. All his melodramatic behaviour at the Cabinet meeting with the backing of his hypocritical crony, Weerawansa was a face saving exercise. Despite the drama enacted by the government, the Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who attended a Colombo North meeting on the 30th confirmed that this change is going to be effected by the government.
Even though the UNP may be successful in saving the CMC from the crisis it is plunged into by legal measures, the crisis within the UNP itself seems unending and deepening. The Ranil faction and the Sajith faction decided to declare a cease-fire for 10 days, which ended last Tuesday. One of the conditions in the cease-fire proposed by Sajith was, no disciplinary action shall be taken against members of his group. Yet, the media reported that disciplinary action has been instituted against the Kurunegala UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekera, who was the most vociferous in the campaign for UNP reforms. The UNP MPs are viewing with raised eyebrows on how it is possible for the UNP leader to initiate disciplinary action against Dayasiri, while not taking any action against John Amaratunge, the chief opposition whip who went on the UN jumbo tour of the President.
Besides, Dayasiri is critical of the President and the government, whereas John Amaratunge is extending support and is servile to the President and his government. Indeed, Dayasiri had been castigating the President even at the last UNP Working Committee meeting. It is a widely raised question now among UNP circles, whether Ranil is also fawning on the President going by his not taking any action against John Amaratunge, but scheming against Jayasekera who is loyal to the party.
When UNP Gen. Secretary Tissa Attanayake was questioned by the media at a media discussion on the 28th as to what progress has been made during the last ten days’ cease-fire, he said, the mediator Kabir Hashim is meeting the leader with the proposals and a final solution will be announced during the weekend. But, when Sajith was asked about it by the UNP Municipal Council members when he was touring the Anuradhapura District on the municipal elections campaign, he had replied that no agreement has been reached and that he will be issuing a statement to the media in this connection. After the media announcement was made by Sajith, there had been over 25 telephone calls from Ranil to him. However, Sajith has had no time to answer them as he was busy with the campaign going from village to village.
The mediator Kabir Hashim too — who is now disgusted — it is learnt, is trying to accept a three months’ UNDP assignment as Advisor to the Rehabilitation Minister, Afghanistan. Kabir has made a last ditch attempt to find a solution by meeting Ranil with the proposals. Kabir has met Ranil on the 29th at 1.00 pm. Ranil however had stubbornly rejected the proposals and told Kabir, if there is anything Sajith wants of him, to come and meet him with the proposals directly.
Kabir had intimated Ranil’s message to Sajith’s group when he met them that evening. The Sajith group had requested Kabir to issue a media communiqué revealing the factual position as Ranil is manipulating the media and distorting the true picture. Thereafter, Kabir issued a statement to the media underlining the fact that no solution has emerged so far.
The UNP crisis took a dramatic turn when the UNP MPs broke coconuts at the Deiyatakandiya kovil for the unseating of Ranil from the leadership. It is very unfortunate that the UNP leader does not want to step into the realm of reality. May be Ranil will be awakened from his dream world only after he is stunned by the municipal council election results. Meanwhile, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the leader of the SLFP, is in an entirely different dream world, that he cannot be extricated from his illusive dream or his omnipotent presidential power.
When Ranil steps out from his dream world, he may see himself fallen outside the UNP Headquarters, Siri Kotha, unattended. But, when Rajapaksa steps out, he may find himself thrown out not only from Temple Trees, but also from the frying pan and into the fire.