blocks Mahinda through Mangala
By Our Political Editor
presidency of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) seems so close
and yet so far for the man from Giruwapattuwa, Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa.
He humbled his critics by winning last November's Presidential elections.
Last week's overwhelming victory at the local polls for the United
People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) came as further endorsement of
his leadership and popularity. Hardly any doubted he would have
to wait for longer than last Friday to become the SLFP leader.
was a matter of the Central Committee approving his candidature
on Thursday and the annual convention of the SLFP formally endorsing
it the next day. When Rajapaksa walked with beaming smiles to the
National Youth Service Council (NYSC) auditorium on Friday for the
SLFP's annual sessions, delegates shouted "we want Mahinda
as our party leader." But when he walked out when the sessions
closed, he was only made acting leader.
CBK's letter to SLFP secretay
a spring holiday, shuttling between London and Paris, her homes
away from home, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
found the time to keep Rajapaksa away from grabbing the SLFP presidency.
At least for the time being, she succeeded with the support of some
of her old faithfuls. Their loyalties, like unpredictable weather,
kept changing from time to time. The weather cock of the shape of
things to come, of course, was her brother Anura Bandaranaike.
he shouted hoarse against Rajapaksa before the presidential elections
and thus dashed all hopes of himself becoming the Prime Minister,
it was different after last week's polls. He showered all praise
on him. The sister was alarmed he may propose Rajapaksa's name for
the SLFP presidency. If he gave a few calls from London from podi
akka a slip, Brother Anura did answer the telephone later to assure
his sister that one Bandaranaike does not let down another. He even
went a step further to accuse politicians whom his sister "created"
for ignoring her. This week Anura Bandaranaike takes wings again.
The first stop is Washington D.C. for a tourism conference. Then
he will be off to his favourite spot, Los Angeles for the annual
April holidays. The fact that a Colombo businessman was mounting
pressure on Anura not to let his sister down was the talking point
in Government circles.
this backdrop, last Wednesday Kumaratunga ensured that a letter
from her was hand delivered to the SLFP General Secretary Maithripala
This is what the letter said:
Ref. letter handed over at my office on the 28th, dated 27.3.06,
you have invited me for an Executive Committee meeting and on the
same day others have been invited too. This give rise to some issues.
1. It is only 9 days before the meeting that the intimation of it
has been sent.
have not been informed about the programme of the meeting upto date.
It has been the practice for the last 45 years to obtain the approval
of the president for any subject to be discussed, decided on at
all central committee meetings, executive meetings and all island
meetings or other important major meetings. I don’t need to
remind you about that as same has been the form since the inception.
3. In my letter dated 6th March to you I have told you that I was
not able to cover the work of the president for several weeks, giving
I told you clearly that in the event of having anything where as
President I need to be informed or where my comment was needed,
or my approval sought, I can be contacted and how it should be done.
If you needed to have ex co meetings you could easily have discussed
the programme with me or arrived at decisions. You are aware that
a mere telephone call to my office could have settled the matter.
Under the circumstances and as many decision making items have to
be discussed, I shall request you to postpone the said meeting scheduled
to for April.
to hold the Executive Committee meeting and the central committee
meeting after the New Year holidays, around early May.
Please make arrangements to hold the meeting on a suitable date
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
that task over, Kumaratunga embarked on long distance remote control
handling of party affairs by using a telephone. Some of her old
loyal servants, did not respond. She tried to reach party secretary
Maithripala Sirisena but failed. Nor were Minister Nimal Siripala
de Silva and Deputy Minister Dilan Perera available when their phones
she succeeded in getting through to Deputy Minister Mahindananda
Aluthgamage and one of her erstwhile political buddies, Foreign
Minister Mangala Samaraweera. If she was once so personally close
to Samaraweera, she had later castigated him as an unreliable person
for dumping her and extending support to Mahinda Rajapaksa during
the presidential elections. She told both Aluthgamage and Samaraweera
that she had already made sure a letter was sent to Sirisena not
to take up any issues at the Central Committee or at the annual
convention. She wanted their support to ensure this became a reality.
From then on, Kumaratunga with the help of the Colombo businessman,
monitored what was going on within the SLFP hierarchy in Colombo.
Central Committee of the SLFP met at Temple Trees on Thursday evening.
Items on the agenda were to set the stage for Friday's annual convention.
The first subject of discussion was the endorsement of resolutions
which the annual convention would adopt on Friday. With that out
of the way, SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena proposed
that Mahinda Rajapaksa be made the President of the party. However,
he made no reference to the CBK letter. He had felt that the letter
was a mere attempt to prevent the party from taking up the issue.
Moreover, many SLFPers argued that Kumaratunga was continuing to
place obstacles in President Rajapaksa's way and no further room
should be allowed for her to continue such acts of what they called
this stage of the proceedings, many of those at the Central Committee
meeting were in for a rude shock. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera
declared that he had received a telephone call from Kumaratunga.
"She told me that a letter has been hand delivered to General
Secretary Maithriapala Sirisena Hence dissussing of any issue should
be put off until May by which time she would return," he said.
said he was also personally in favour of Mahinda Rajapaksa becoming
the president of the SLFP. But, in the light of her letter and the
phone calls, the Central Committee should give time to her. He said
he would propose that the matter be taken up for discussion in May.
Among those who were taken aback by Samaraweera's about-turn was
none other than President Rajapaksa. "If she wanted the discussion
put off till May, why couldn't she telephone me or Prime Minister,
Ratnasiri Wickremanayake," he asked. There was pin drop silence.
Surprising enough, there were no backers for Samaraweera's motion.
by the absence of any support for his motion, Samaraweera said "we
should not let people laugh at us. We must give time for Kumaratunga",
he insisted. It was President Rajapaksa who then came to Samaraweera's
assistance. He made it clear that it was not his intention to grab
the party presidency by any means, particularly in her absence.
He acknowledged that Kumaratunga had made a contribution to the
SLFP, and he did not want to demean himself. Hence he was willing
Angered by the move, many members of the Central Committee unleashed
a tirade against Kumaratunga. Giving a start was SLFP chief organiser
for Trincomalee district, M. K. D. S. Gunawardena. Joining in were
many others including Minister Janaka Bandara Tennekoon, who is
having a separate duel with Anura Bandaranaike on the sidelines.
terms of seniority of the present SLFP, Prime Minister Ratnasiri
Wickremanayake ranks number one followed by D.M. Jayaratne and Mahinda
Rajapaksa. Although Kumaratunga named Wickremanayake as acting leader
of SLFP before leaving for Britain, the Central Committee found
this action contravened the party constitution. Hence, octogenarian
Dharamadasa Wanniaratchchi was named acting president for that particular
meeting of the Central Committee. His tenure lasted a little over
a month. Now the mantle of acting leader has fallen on President
angry the Central Committee members were over Samaraweera’s
sudden turn-around was demonstrated when the meeting ended. Members
were invited to a buffet dinner. None spoke to Samaraweera. He was
seen serving his food and adjourning to a corner all by himself.
Doing Kumaratunga's bidding and reducing Rajapaksa to a mere acting
leader had earned him the ire of the Central Committee members.
Though Anura Bandaranaike was a conspicuous absentee at the Central
Committee meeting he turned up for the annual convention. A notable
absentee was Minister Sarath Amunugama, who was abroad.
this was the state of affairs in one of the country's premier political
parties, it was no different with the other. The United National
Party (UNP) continues to be in the throes of a worsening crisis,
particularly after its rout at the local polls. The Working Committee,
the party's policy making body, met at a crisis session on Friday.
Some of the party stalwarts including M.H. Mohamed, S.B. Dissanayake,
and Rajitha Senaratne criticised the sidelining of controversial
former Minister, Mahinda Wijesekera. They all agreed that the 'Matara
Marauder' as Wijesekera is known in some quarters, had exceeded
his freedom of speech to criticise the party leader in public, but
they argued that his dismissal was also handled wrongfully. But
UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe stood his ground.
said party members who talk out of turn should be dealt with. He
then said Wijesekera has not been sacked from the party or removed
as chief organiser for the Matara district. He explained that as
party leader he appoints Working Committee members and party organisers,
and he has the prerogative to reverse his decisions. Any suspension
or removal can only be endorsed by the Working Committee.
Information Minister Imtiaz Bakeer-Markar was the most vociferous
of the lot, though, smarting under newspaper reports that he was
involved with some of the rogues now in the middle of a CID investigation
into fraudulent VAT refunds. He went for his party leader's throat(More
detailed story is on our news page), but eventually it was agreed
that a disciplinary inquiry be held into the conduct of Wijesekera
for having criticised the party leader in public. It almost looked
as if the Wickremesinghe critics were led into the trap of choosing
to hold an inquiry on the man they were defending.
battles nevertheless lay ahead for Wickremesinghe and the UNP. One
such matter is the moves by some of his own party members to join
hands with the Government. Some months earlier, Parliamentarian
Rukman Senanayake had talked with President Rajapaksa's brother,
Basil, known to be a good political strategist about the formation
of a National Government. Insiders said these exploratory talks
had taken place with the consent of the UNP leader.
Basil Rajapaksa was away in the United States, Senanayake had also
discussed his ideas for a national government, a subject close to
his heart, with the 'Kandy Marauder' Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte, who
had originally introduced Senanayake to Basil Rajapaksa. UNPers
are speaking of another move of a crossover of 24 UNP MPs, but the
PA leadership denied such a large number was poised to come over.
There are further reports that appointed MP Dulles Allahapperuma,
a confidant of President Rajapaksa, is also engaged in efforts to
forge a common front of UNP frontliners, the Ceylon Workers Congress
and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress for a possible snap election.
The move is to edge out the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna from the infleuce
they peddle within the Government.
were also a number of other priorities confronting President Rajapaksa
this week. Most important among them is the upcoming talks between
the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in
Geneva. There were clouds of uncertainty over the event after gunmen
killed a strong LTTE activist in Trincomalee -Vigneswara Raja, the
Bank of Ceylon employee who was the main figure behind all the LTTE
backed Hartals in the district. The LTTE chief negotiator was to
raise this issue during talks in London yesterday with Norway's
Minister for International Development, Erik Solheim.
the run-up to the meeting, President Rajapaksa this week addressed
envoys of Donor Co-chairs of the peace process. He said continued
deliberations on the Ceasefire Agreement are not what are needed.
He said most importantly, the killings must stop, and that there
should be democracy and development for the people in the North
and East. He said he would appeal to the international community
to create the proper environment for this to happen.
was some light-hearted banter when Erik Solheim and Norway's new
Special Envoy for the peace process, Jon Hansen Bauer met Foreign
Minister Mangala Samaraweera. It was Solheim who asked Samaraweera
why he chose not to visit Norway when he has been travelling so
much in Europe. "I must have an invitation," replied Samaraweera.
Solheim said he had brought along an invitation for him from the
Prime Minister of Norway. That drew an answer from Samaraweera who
said "well, if I come I don't want a red carpet welcome. I
would prefer a pink carpet welcome." He was alluding to the
Norwegian Government laying down the red carpet when an LTTE delegation
visited that country after the February talks in Geneva. Unless
there was a hidden message in his referring to the colour pink.
these talks Samaraweera was armed with a thick file which contained
information about Bauer. "I note you have done a lot of research
on child soldiers," remarked Samraweera. He also noted that
Bauer was also an expert on oil exploration. This surprised the
new Special Envoy, as it surely would, the Sri Lankan public.