- President shows the door to disgruntled ministers
- Anoma breaks coconuts at Kovil at same time as Mahinda takes oaths
When the government of former Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike was christening the Katunayake Airport in 1970 as Bandaranaike International Airport , Mahinda Rajapaksa the Present President of Sri Lanka was a fledgling young Member of Parliament. In 1977 when the UNP Government came to power it changed the name of the Airport to Katunayake International Airport.
Seventeen years later when the SLFP regained power in 1994, the former President Chandrika Bandaranaike reverted to the former name Bandaranaike International Airport. Thereafter, as the UNP could not win the presidency, the name of the airport remains the same. Some are questioning how the airport underwent name changes and whether the same fate will befall the Hambantota Sea Port which President Mahinda Rajapaksa has named the ‘Mahinda Rajapaksa Port’. People realised that the Port has been named thus only after the plaque was unveiled by the President to mark the inauguration. It was earlier to be named the Magampura Harbour.
No matter what, the ministers and MPs who went to Hambantota on the occasion of its opening were in for a rude shock when they were met by the sight of the huge pandal bearing the photograph of Namal Rajapaksa. This pandal had been erected on account of the country wide celebrations associated with the commemorative week to mark the second swearing in ceremony of Mahinda Rajapaksa as President. This pandal with Namal’s photograph had been erected despite the orders issued to ministers and MPs that only pictures of President Rajapaksa should be displayed and not those of the ministers and MPs. In any case this order had been flouted in Hambantota.
One of the ministers who was travelling to Hambantota for the port opening had remarked that this directive must have been sent out to preclude any other person emerging as leader except Namal. There was also a notable absentee at the opening ceremony organised by Namal, and that was Minister Basil Rajapaksa, brother of the President. It is to be noted that he did not even attend the earlier ceremony – the salt water release event at Hambantota. His absence being conspicuous became the topic of conversation among the Ministers and MPs and also sparked diverse speculation.
Meanwhile Mahinda’s decision not to have the cabinet reshuffle as scheduled was because Ministers Basil Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena including other senior party leaders and astrologers advised against it. But this decision was however changed at the last moment. It is learnt that this was because Namal who spearheaded the campaign of enticing UNP and Opposition MPs to join the Government and helped secure a two third majority to pass the 18th Amendment had exerted pressure to go ahead with the reshuffle on the grounds that promises made to the Opposition MPs who joined the Government must be honored. But, as Mahinda was aware that giving portfolios to the MPs who joined the Government without giving ministry positions to those of the SLFP and the alliance could trigger problems, had consented to go ahead with the reshuffle without making many changes to the existing portfolios.
The astrologers who asserted that they cannot determine an auspicious time for the cabinet reshuffle had also been compelled to somehow ascertain an auspicious day for the reshuffle. Mahinda’s Astrologer, Sumanadasa Abeywickrama who is in charge of all the President’s astrological calculations had stated that Monday is an auspicious day for the reshuffle. Although the media reported Monday as the day for the reshuffle even at the end of the week the cabinet reshuffle had not been finalised. In fact Mahinda had told a minister whom he met that he has yet to receive the cabinet reshuffle proposals. The loose tongued talk of the ministers regarding the reshuffle had also provoked the ire of Mahinda.
At the cabinet meeting last week Mahinda had berated them, according to reports. ‘I know what the ministers are talking about at various places and at corners. I have also information of those who are threatening to sit in the backbenches in parliament if their portfolios are changed. I am aware that some ministers are even saying that if they do not get the portfolios they desire, they will teach us a lesson. I am also aware about those who are having discussions with the opposition parties in this regard. Don’t think of playing pranks with me. I will not play second fiddle to anyone. The door is always open. Anyone is free to go,’ Mahinda had sternly warned, it is learned.
At the cabinet meeting this week he had also retorted that both salary increases to government servants and mega development projects cannot be carried out simultaneously. Mahinda has then said that the union representatives who met him had been apprised and they had agreed with him confirming that mega development projects are paramount for the country. If these projects are to be carried out the salary increases you demand cannot be granted Mahinda had told the ministers, adding that monthly salary increases if any will not exceed Rs. 1500.
It is significant to note however that Mahinda who emphatically stated that there is no money to grant salary increases to Government servants had spent over Rs. 5,000 million on his swearing in celebrations making it the biggest ‘Mega project’. It is also interesting to note that while Mahinda was taking oaths at 10.14 a.m. Friday at the auspicious time, at exactly the same time Anoma Fonseka, the wife of former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka was performing the ritual of breaking coconuts at the Modera Kovil. While Mahinda is spending all the time and money on his swearing in ceremony his rival presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka is made to spend all his time in prison enduring the worst suffering. Fonseka was rushed to the hospital of the Welikada prison because he had suddenly taken ill.
The doctor who examined him had recommended that he be warded since he had not been provided with the necessary drugs prescribed for his lung ailment. Fonseka’s lung was damaged when he was attacked by a suicide bomber inside Army Headquarters when he was the Army Commander.
Despite the Prison’s Doctor earlier instructing the Prisons Commissioner to provide him with a treadmill to facilitate his exercises medically prescribed for him, that instruction had not been followed. Moreover, during the torrential rains over the last several weeks which inundated Colombo, his prison cell was also submerged in water. The General had to toil alone taking a bucket and throwing out the water. This may have aggravated his sickness.
When the lawyers for Fonseka explained all this to the Colombo High Court during the ‘white flag case’ trial to excuse his absence, the Court ordered that he shall be provided with the exercise equipment. No sooner it became known that Fonseka has been admitted to the prison hospital than the DNA MPs Tiran Alles and Arjuna Ranatunga paid him a visit. The Deputy UNP Leader Karu Jayasuriya too visited him.
As Mahinda was preparing to take oaths for his second presidential term with all the pomp and pageantry, there has also occurred a revolutionary change within the UNP. This sudden change is the Working Committee of the UNP giving the green light for the election of party leader and other appointments to party positions by ballot. In addition it was decided to hold the party convention on December 12 when the new constitution will be presented for ratification.
Though Ranil during the recent past was systematically postponing the new party constitution and the party convention by having recourse to various subterfuges, the MPs on the other hand who were agitating for party reforms, slowly but surely propelled their plan forward creating a general consensus within the party that reforms are imperative. Finally, when that got established as the party’s unwavering stance, Ranil was left with no option but to give in. The earlier MPs who demanded party reforms crossed over to the government nursing the belief that their campaign will not succeed. Wijepala Mendis, Nanda Mathew, Karu Jayasuriya and S.B. Dissanayake were members who joined the government based on that belief. Ranil took advantage of this by allowing those who clamored for reforms to cross over in order to suppress the party reforms.
Unfortunately for Ranil, he could not succeed this time because Sajith Premadasa and his group on this occasion relentlessly pursued their campaign for reforms while staying within the party. Even after a powerful member of the group, Lakshman Seneviratne left them and joined the government they did not lose heart nor desert the party. Ranil’s attempt to appoint Sajith as the deputy leader also flopped; neither could he entice any member of Sajith’s team to his side by offering party positions.
Ranil then tried another ploy; through a third party he tried to file legal action against the convention where the party’s new constitution was to be ratified and have it postponed. Sajith’s team after getting wind of this, exposed it in the media and thus forestalled Ranil’s move. Since the day Ranil took over leadership of the party he had been obstructing every move brought to introduce party reforms. But now that all his maneuvers and manipulations have failed, he is forced to remain silent. This being his first and biggest defeat in his 16 years as party leader, he was so disillusioned that immediately after the Working Committee meeting was over, he made a face saving announcement to the media that he won and Sajith lost. It was the view of Sajith’s group that after Ranil claimed at the previous Working Committee meeting that these party reforms were a government contract, and later taking a contradictory stance to support the party reforms, clearly constitutes a defeat for him.
During the week when the date for the Working Committee meeting was being decided, Sajith’s group despite the fact that the party was defeated at the elections island wide, went round providing relief to the victims of the floods in Colombo, the ‘heart’ of the UNP where it was victorious. However Ranil did not find the time to meet these flood devastated victims which confirmed his widely acknowledged weakness. Colombo District UNP MPs Rosy Senanayake, Sujeewa Senasinghe and Wijedasa Rajapakse toured the flood ravaged areas of Colombo along with Sajith. One other MP who could not join them, Mohanlal Grero had over the phone regretted his inability to participate as he was out of Colombo.
Later, Sajith and the other MPs with him had met at the residence of Bodhi Ranasinghe to discuss the strategies that must be adopted at the Working Committee meeting. It was the view of the majority that even Sajith’s proposal that the party leader and the other party officials be appointed by ballot, and the provincial councilors and municipal councilors be given voting rights at this voting, may be used by Ranil to postpone the convention at the next Working Committee meeting citing Sajith’s proposals. It was hence decided that measures should be taken to defeat that move of Ranil. It was also resolved that Sajith’s proposals shall be included in the minutes of the Working Committee meeting, and the resolution for party reforms be somehow steered through. It was then pointed out that when Sajith brought forward this proposal earlier and the Moneragala District MP Madduma Bandara presented this resolution, it was not included in the minutes and was put off for the next Working Committee meeting. Hence it was decided that the proposal of Sajith be presented in written form so that Ranil will be pushed to a corner where he would have no choice except to include it in the minutes of the meeting.
In order to iron out any issues prior to the Working Committee meeting, Sajith’s group accepted the invitation extended by Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya and Tissa Attanayake. Later Jayasuriya, Attanayake and Gamini Jayawickrema Perera had discussions with Sajith and Dayasiri at Sri Kotha. Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena too took part in the discussions. When Karu stated that it has been decided to hold the party convention at Sri Kotha, Sajith objected to it. The latter explained that the conventions on earlier occasions have been always held at the Town Hall grounds where large numbers of party members can congregate. Hence, this year too it should be so held. Karu had informed that the decision cannot be changed.
At the Working Committee meeting following this discussion, the resolution for the new party constitution was passed, and it was to be presented for ratification at the convention. Sajith standing up at that moment said the adoption of the party reform resolution is a great victory for all those who agitated for it. Speaking further he explained how his proposal for party reforms had disappeared from the minutes of the Working Committee meetings. ‘Since there is a conspiracy to make proposals disappear, I am presenting my proposal in writing today,’ he added. In the written proposal, resentment against refusal to accept his proposals was expressed, while giving approval for the party reforms.
Later on, the vituperative verbal exchanges which had been going on between Tissa Attanayake and Ranga Bandara MP surfaced again, with the arguments heating up. The reason for this hostility was the alleged procrastination resorted to by Attanayake in taking disciplinary action against a Puttalam District Organiser over the attack launched on Ranga Bandara by the former. Bandara said, if the party is meting out this treatment to him, he is not going to join a people unfriendly government but certainly he will join when a leader, a true Buddhist personality, emerges. However when Bandara said that the General Secretary is only accustomed to going to bed with women, Attanayake had risen to assault him. Bandara too had got up ready for fisticuffs, yelling out ‘you do not dare come to Puttalam’. When John Amaratunge MP was hindering Bandara when he was speaking, Bandara passed a hint at John that politicians who go on junkets on government expense cannot understand these issues. John who was obviously enraged retorted ‘don’t try to come for arguments with me’. When this drama had reached a critical pitch, some members who were at the meeting had walked out disappointed over the break down in discipline within the party. The General Secretary’s conduct also came in for heavy flak.
After the meeting was over, Ranil left for Thirupathy, India with his wife. It is reported that he went to participate in a special pooja and to secure astrological advice. The object of his tour was to seek the intervention of the Thirupathy Deity and the astrologers to save his leadership after the party convention. Whether the deity will pay heed to his petition is an entirely different matter. At any rate, whether the deity had heeded him or not will surely be known after the UNP convention.