Another New Political Alliance in the Offing?

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 8 2022
Ceylon Politics Another New Political Alliance in the Offing?
By Gagani Weerakoon

When State Minister Susil Premajayantha went to the Delkanda Pola last weekend and openly criticised the government’s ongoing agri policies, no one, except those who carefully read between the lines, would have expected him to be immediately stripped of his portfolio as there had been many other State Ministers who voiced similar sentiments. 

Premajayantha said, the whole country was in trouble because the government tried to do things that could not be done. He also said that the Ministers-in-Charge of the subject and those who took policy decisions were responsible for the food crisis.

 He said, the Minister-in-Charge of food supplies and the Minister of Agriculture were responsible for the increase in commodity prices, adding that the Minister of Agriculture was a complete ‘failure’.

He pointed out that the dollar crisis in Sri Lanka was created by certain individuals. “It is true that I am in the government. But, I am not invited for meetings where they make these policy decisions. I don’t think the government is in a position to resolve these problems. Only another group can find solutions,” Premajayantha said. 

Premajayantha held the portfolio of State Minister of Education Reforms, Open Universities and Distance Learning Promotion.

The President had recently stated that the government’s activities should not be criticised while serving as a Minister in the government. 

In no less than hour of Premajayantha being sacked by the President, speculations were mushrooming that SLPP MP S.B. Dissanayake was being considered to replace Premajayantha. 

Dissanayake has been known to defend the government on several occasions in the recent past. 

The Cabinet Ministers, meanwhile, appeared divided and issued contradictory statements on whether Premajayantha’s dismissal was informed to the Cabinet prior to announcing it to the media. 

Cabinet Spokesperson, Dullas Alahapperuma, during the Cabinet media briefing, said that no discussion took place at the Cabinet meeting on Monday (3). Transport Minister Gamini Lokuge, addressing a separate media briefing, said he got to know about Premajayantha’s removal from a text message. 

However, Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara told the media that removing Premajayantha from the portfolio was a collective decision taken by the Cabinet.

Cabinet Spokesman Alahapperuma said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will in the near future announce the cause behind Premajayantha’s dismissal. 

He said Premajayantha’s firing does not signal the end of freedom of expression or that anyone who criticises the government will be dismissed from their position.

He noted, referring to Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila, who was also present at the media briefing, that if the President is really removing persons who criticise the government’s conduct, he would first remove Gammanpila who even filed a petition with many other Ministers in the Supreme Court against the Yugadanavi Power Plant deal. 

“The decision was taken entirely by the President in accordance to the powers vested in him. The Cabinet had no discussion regarding dismissing Premajayantha. So, we do not know why he was fired from his State Ministerial post,” Alahapperuma noted. 

Mixed reaction

Premajayantha, who came out of his Ministry after speaking to his staff and handing over all his belongings, including vehicles, said there were those in Parliament who held responsibilities, but did not even qualify to be minor staff, lacked knowledge and did not know the value of education. 

Premajayantha made these statements on his return from office following President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s announcement to the media that Premajayantha had been removed from his ministerial portfolio. He said, he learned about his removal through the media and that it came as a blessing for his political future.

When questioned on what had led to his expulsion, he said such things were not major issues.

“I was appointed as a Minister in 2000. I have worked for three different Presidents. I have a legal career that needs to be completed, which means I will have to go to Court. However, the expulsion was not communicated to me. We are rarely informed about these things,” he said.

In response to a question, he said there was no need to provide explanations for his removal because the President has the authority to remove anyone whom he wishes.

Premajayantha recalled an incident that took place on 2 January, when he went to the market place and the media queried from him about the skyrocketing prices of essential commodities.

“I believe a discussion about me had taken place in the Cabinet on 3 January. There are those in Parliament who do not even have the qualifications to be junior staff. They do not recognise the importance of education. Perhaps I am not a senior person in the eyes of the current administration. I have fulfilled my responsibilities as a politician in the country under every President,” he lamented. 

Noting that his dismissal came as a blessing for his future political career, he said that given the way the country was now operating and the way the economy is fluctuating, elected MPs and Ministers should speak up on behalf of the people.

When questioned if this means there are issues within the government, he replied in the negative.

He did, however, say that losing his State Ministry would be a watershed moment in his political career, and that the government should focus more on the decisions they take rather than on him.

Meanwhile, Minister of Highways Johnston Fernando said, Premajayantha should have known better before taking a stance against the government while remaining a Minister. 

 “He being a senior politician should have known better. He as a State Minister representing the government has responsibilities and should have acted within limits. He has a responsibility to protect the government and its policies. If there were shortcomings, there were many forums where they could have been raised. There are many occasions when the President meets the Ministers. Premajayantha should have raised the problems or opinions he had about the government policies then. Leave alone a minister, anyone who has played in a team, knows the importance of teamwork. As a senior, Premajayantha is expected to set an example to the new MPs. We are bound by our duties and responsibilities and should uphold them. People have voted for us for that purpose. No one should do the Opposition’s bidding, while remaining in government ranks. Such actions would only please the Opposition. We cannot allow that to continue,” the Minister said.   

Premajayantha, who was sacked from his State Ministerial portfolio, by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, for criticising the Government, was seen going home in a three-wheeler after leaving the Ministry.

He was seen strolling out of the Battaramulla Ministry after taking his personal belongings from the office, telling reporters outside that he had even returned his official vehicles. He was seen boarding a three-wheeler and departing the Ministry grounds.

Premajayantha said he had to take the three-wheeler because he does not own a car. 

“I think I will be able to purchase a car after resuming my legal career,” he claimed.

Warnings on others

The spat between the SLPP- led Government and Premajayantha intensified when Janaka Tissakuttiarachchi, addressing a Media briefing, organised by SLPP backbenchers on Wednesday (5), said SLPP MP Susil Premajayantha was not sacked only because of the statement he made at the Delkanda fair. 

“He was removed after analysing intelligence reports,” Tissakuttiarachchi claimed. 

He also warned other Government members, who are critical about the Government’s conduct that they also could face the same fate as Premajayantha. 

“Premajayantha is the first victim. There could be more. We all are of the view that those who criticise the Government’s conduct while being in the Government should be sacked without considering facts such as seniority,” he stressed.

Premajayantha came up with a strongly worded response to Tissakuttiarachchi. Premajayantha, who unexpectedly visited the Court to resume his legal profession, after being removed from the State Ministerial Portfolio, stressed, when questioned by reporters, that it should be immediately probed how intelligence reports were leaked to Tissakkuttiarachchi. 

“This is a serious red flag. I request the State Intelligence Service (SIS) to commence a probe into how intelligence reports were leaked to someone like Tissakuttiarachchi. I am not the kind of person whose name should be on surveillance list. The intelligence forces should look into this and must deploy its resources to report to the Government on the issues in the country, especially on the people’s issues,” Premajayantha said.

Meanwhile, former President and SLFP Chairman Maithripala Sirisena said removing one or two Ministers will not help the Government overcome its current internal crisis. 

Sirisena said stripping Premajayantha of his portfolio could be seen as the first election result in the New Year. 

“Last Saturday (1), Premajayantha went to the weekly fair as usual. He was asked by the Media about the conduct of the Government and he gave a response. After several hours, the election result of the New Year I mentioned earlier was issued. The President removed Premajayantha. The Government will not be able to avoid what is going to happen in 2022 by removing one Minister. If they take the correct path and recognise real issues faced by the people, they will be able to prevent that crisis,” Sirisena stressed. 

“Premajayantha was sacked as a result of a comment he made after visiting the fair, but no action was taken against State Minister Nimal Lanza when he made a stronger criticism than that in Gampaha recently. I know the reason for that. They will never touch Lanza because he knows everything that is happening in the Government,” he alleged.

He made these remarks in Matale on Tuesday and the very next day in Anuradhapura, Sirisena said, “I spoke harshly just to show that we too could air our views strongly if we want to. This is because some are of the mistaken opinion that we can’t. Some political parties have already formed Governments and they are of the view that they have become the President. Some are also of the view that they could do as they please. Since 1956 from the Government of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike all Governments that had been formed up to now have been coalition Governments and not a single party had been able to form a regime of their own.”

 He said this while addressing the SLFP Anuradhapura District Convention recently. It had been organised by SLFP National Organiser State Minister Duminda Dissanayake. 

Speaking further Sirisena said “I really want to ask the present Government if they were honest in resolving the fertiliser issue concerning the farmers here. If that was the case then they would never have taken a haphasard decision to dispense with chemical fertiliser overnight. Even I had been a former Minister of Agriculture and during my stint I too had attempted to introduce carbonic fertiliser and it was I who formed a Carbonic Fertiliser Authority for the first time here 15 years ago. But, those efforts came a cropper due to various reasons. We all hail from traditional farming families in the Districts of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa but it is sad to see the pitiful state of this country’s agriculture industry presently. After the speech I delivered on 4 January in Matale most rang me to commend me over it. But, some said that I had been too harsh. Why I delivered such a strong speech was that just to show that if the occasion demands it we too could deliver such speeches. That is because some tend to think that we are unable to deliver such speeches or do not have the spunk to do it. I do not think there will be an overwhelming enthusiasm of the public to vote at the next national election as they are fed up to the core with politics of this country. We need to introduce a brand new political culture to this country that eschews frauds, corruption, nepotism, craze for power etc. If I had not clashed publicly with the UNP top brass during the previous regime then I could have gone on a smooth political journey but I was forced to do so for the sake of the people here. Someone told me the other day to rethink if the SLFP should remain with the present Government or not. But, I need to say that the SLFP is not a political party that will tag along behind other political parties. We are not prepared to become the tail of any political party. We are presently undertaking the task of reorganising the SLFP countrywide and slowly but surely we are determined to retake our deserved place in the local political firmament. We are currently the third powerful political force in the present House.”

Cabinet reshuffle

With a crack in the ruling alliance being visible with constituent parties of the SLPP-led Government trading charges at each other following State Minister Susil Premajayantha’s sudden removal, a possible Cabinet reshuffle coupled with a possible reorganisation of top Government bureaucracy is tipped to take place after 12 January 2022. Some speculates this could happen even on 10 January.

According to internal political sources, Secretaries to the Ministries as well as Chairpersons of State Corporations and Heads of statutory boards would be replaced. 

Meanwhile, a number of Ministers have spoken of a possible Cabinet re-shuffle that is expected to take place soon. Minister of Highways, Johnston Fernando said it was the President’s prerogative to carry out a Cabinet- re-shuffle.

Minister of Trade Dr. Bandula Gunawardena, said if he is unable to carry out the obligations entrusted to him or has exploited State power, his portfolio should be revoked, and that this change should take place both in Cabinet ranks as well as in State entities.

Meanwhile, Minister of Education Dinesh Gunawardena debunking the Cabinet re-shuffle story said it was a media fabrication and the Constitution gave the prerogative to the President to change portfolios of Ministers at any given time.

Minister of Health, Keheliya Rambukwella said matters were being handled as they should be and that he will continue to do his best till the end.

According to sources, at least six key Ministries, including the most chaotic Agriculture Ministry, is likely to get new faces. With President Rajapaksa recently expressing his displeasure over three Cabinet Ministers, Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila and Vasudeva Nanayakkara, for breaching collective responsibility, many speculate that these Ministers are also likely to lose their portfolios. However, political analysts believe otherwise. 

Ranil’s prediction

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe headed to the Party Headquarters Sirikotha last Monday to commence work for the New Year. Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardena and General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara were already present. Both the leader and the deputy leader went there on an invitation from Range Bandara. 

The General Secretary had organised a warm reception, for party activists, to herald the New Year. After the leader arrived many party activists began to extend their New Year wishes to him. The leader reciprocated and then headed to his office to begin work. After a short while the leader left the office allowing the deputy leader to carry on the work. The Deputy Leader, General Secretary and Chairman Vajira Abeywardena attended a tea party that had been organised for party activists.

Afterwards, the leader met party activists last Tuesday. Before they could discuss future party activities they were presented with the news that State Minister Susil Premajayantha had been fired from his portfolio. The leader said that though there have been political differences between the sacked State Minister and the UNP, the former State Minister was a seasoned politician who could carry out whatever duty entrusted to him with aplomb. 

Ruwan Wijewardena then said that the grapevine has it that Susil along with Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and John Seneviratne were planning to charter a new political journey. The leader then predicted that many others would join that bandwagon gradually but insisted that they all will need the backing of the UNP to achieve their political aims.

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 8 2022

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