woos JVP but boos from others
By Our Political Editor
Two innocent village lads wind their way into the City yearning
to enjoy life there. Fascinated by the neat decor in a colorfully
illuminated building they ask an elder whom they meet what it was.
"It's a night club," the elderly man responds as commotion
erupts. By then a gun toting youth had popped out to seize a charming
by that eerie scene, the lads ask the senior citizen what was going
on. He replies again in Sinhala "that's Dutugemunu's Baappa
(father's younger brother) taking away a young girl."
was laughter all round in the audience. Students of S. Thomas' College,
Mount Lavinia, who were members of the Drama Society, were performing
on the stage. In the days of yore, King Dutugemunu was known for
his heroism, for the way he displayed courage and chivalry when
he took on the army of King Elara. But today, those who were laying
claims to an ancient warrior's lineage were different. They were,
as the drama tried to project, seizing other people's daughters
during their leisure from night clubs for their carnal pleasure.
doubt the drama projected a contemporary scenario. But there was
something more apt that many did not know. Playing the role of King
Dutugemunu's brother was none other than the young son of Prime
Minister Mahinda Rajapakse. The proud papa was there in person to
see his son perform.
Rajapakse, who will be the next President of Sri Lanka if he wins
the elections, the students including his son were giving a new
message. It was only days earlier he declared publicly that some
of the spiteful remarks Deputy Minister Mervyn Silva made to the
media at the Magistrate's Courts after his son's unruly behavior
at a night club did not represent the views of the Sri Lanka Freedom
Party. It was Mervyn Silva who had proudly boasted with heroic enthusiasm
that he was King Dutugemnu's Baappa months earlier.
it was after both the real life drama and the play he saw at S.
Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia, that Rajapakse went into further
action. Incensed by Mervyn Silva's remarks, also at the courthouse,
over a thousand persons of Indian origin marched to Temple Trees
to lodge their protests. He greeted every one of them with a packet
of milk. If Rajapakse's milk of human kindness soothed the protestors,
his remarks went beyond dissociating the Freedom Party from the
antics of an antiquated politician in Mervyn Silva. He voiced his
support to Ceylon Workers Congress leader, Arumugam Thondaman. Even
a protest was soothed with milk and turned into a campaign ground.
for those who believed that the worst, at least within the SLFP,
was over for Rajapakse as he readied to take on his rival, Opposition
and UNP leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe were mistaken. When he overcame
one pitfall, another was coming his way. The same hidden hand that
had placed many a hurdle before him was at work, at work with great
gusto. There is no doubt, he has to first surmount these odds or
face isolation that would make a victory for Wickremesinghe a cakewalk.
Overcoming these obstacles has become a more daunting task for Rajapakse
aides than embarking on an election campaign.
has set in motion several measures. Treasury Secretary, P.B. Jayasundera
is to formulate an economic policy. It would have to be exceptionally
sound for Wickremesinghe's strongest point, with a proven track
record during the UNF tenure, is a sound economic programme. Otherwise,
it would not entice the business community. Equally, Foreign Minister
Lakshman Kadirgamar, who was killed on Friday night (see separate
stories) was to formulate a foreign policy outline. These will naturally
be an extension of the present policies but the salient features
are to be articulated for better effect.
is with these measures in mind that Rajapakse wrote his first formal
letter to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) General Secretary,
Tilvin Silva, last week. Declaring formally that he has been named
as presidential candidate of the SLFP, he reminded the JVP about
its resolve in 2004 to work towards a common programme. He invited
it for a dialogue towards reaching understanding on a common platform
- in other words seeking JVP backing for his candidature.
JVP, no doubt, is in a mood to back Rajapakse. Contrary to reports
that it was to forge a common alliance with the Jathika Hela Urumaya
and field a common candidate, it has no such plans. But it does
need its own requirements met. Firebrand Wimal Weerawansa, during
a one-and-half-hour speech on the P-TOMS debate in Parliament this
week made one point very clear - there should be a commitment to
withdraw the P-TOMS by a presidential candidate who would receive
JVP's blessings. Weerawansa was critical of several ministers and
made particular reference to Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama,
who, he said, was "shopping for the premiership." Deputy
Minister Sripathi Sooriyaratchi intervened to moderate Weerawansa
but that was of no avail. In the meantime, Mervyn Silva advised
Sooriyaratchi to go and sit in the Opposition benches.
Rajapakse's advice to his party parliamentarians not to embark on
a confrontation course with the JVP during the debate seemed to
be of no avail. Here again, Rajapakse loyalists were worried whether
the JVP critics were under "orders" to hit hard thus distancing
Rajapakse from wooing the former junior partner in the Government.
Minister Dilan Perera, the staunchest voice to defend President
Kumaratunga nowadays, branded the JVP as a communalist party and
declared his Government's commitment to the P-TOMS. Rajapakse is
to approach even Rauff Hakeem to seek the support of the Sri Lanka
JVP has not yet responded to the Rajapakse invitation. But its politburo
had a lengthy discussion on the matter last Wednesday. There were
views both in favour of backing Rajapakse and fielding its own Presidential
candidate. The majority appeared to subscribe to the latter view.
The ultimate decision was one of significance. It was decided that
the politburo would take an immediate decision on whom to back or
whom to field as a candidate if an announcement is made that presidential
elections would be held in 2005. If it was going to be next year,
the matter will be held in abeyance until a later date.
Rajapakse loyalists are worried about a number of other developments.
This week Kumaratunga was in Parliament in her capacity as Minister
of Education. She was chairing a meeting of MPs who were members
of the advisory committee on education. Whilst the meeting was under
way, JVP student unions were staging a protest in the Fort against
education reforms. The Police baton-charged them causing injuries
to many. When JVP student unions gathered at Kelaniya on Thursday
to protest over this, they were baton-charged again.
loyalists see these developments as a sinister move to distance
the JVP from him. More so, because Rajapakse had spoken to DIG Colombo,
Pujitha Jayasundera and told him that the Police should not take
a tough line against the students. In this Police crackdown on JVP
students, needless to say, Rajapakse finds himself in a difficult
situation. His main rival Wickremesinghe has no such issues and
is a beneficiary of these developments. Hence, these loyalists ask
whether "such insidious" measures as crackdowns on the
students were being done to distance the JVP from Rajapakse and
make things difficult for him.
over this were heightened after Kumaratunga's visit to Badulla last
week. During talks with her party stalwarts, she declared that the
JVP was responsible for the student protests. She felt such measures
required tough action.
a separate development, Ranil Wickremesinghe embarked on a move
to forge a common platform of opposition parties in Parliament.
He wrote to party leaders including the JVP inviting them for a
meeting. However, the JVP did not attend the meeting.
developments come at a time when the ruling party has suffered a
great loss - the assassination on Friday of Foreign Minister, Lakshman
Kadirgamar. He has not only been a close confidant of Kumaratunga
(though not that close at the time of his untimely death) but also
a catalyst in relations between Kumaratunga and Rajapakse. It was
he who insisted soon after Rajapakse was named the Presidential
candidate that Kumaratunga's interests should be looked after.
a Foreign Minister, Kadirgamar was a man of many sorts. Last Tuesday
he attended a meeting of the National Security Council chaired by
President Kumaratunga. The issue of the LTTE's attempt on the life
of JVP's Trincomalee district MP, Jayantha Wijesekera was taken
up. Kadirgamar raised issue over the MPs security. Kumaratunga promptly
responded by ordering that he be provided with not only escorts
but also with an escort vehicle. For the JVP which is not happy
at all with Kumaratunga, this was a pleasing moment.
were happy she had acknowledged the need to protect an opposition
parliamentarian. Similar concerns were also taken up for discussion
when Speaker, W.J.M. Lokubandara chaired a meeting of party leaders
in Parliament. This was to discuss the provision of security to
parliamentarians. The three armed forces chiefs Lt. Gen. Shantha
Kottegoda (Army), Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri (Navy), Air Marshal
Donald Perera (Air Force) and senior DIG Bodhi Liyanage representing
the Police Chief were present on the occasion.
absence of Kadirgamar's role as a major catalyst in relations between
the SLFP and the JVP, no doubt, will be a critical factor now. More
so when Rajapakse has to overcome the difficulties placed on his
way as he aspires to become the president of Sri Lanka.