Intra-party Conflicts on the Rise as the Election Campaign Heats Up
By Gagani Weerakoon
The verbal feud between Minister Prasanna Ranatunga and SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekara ended last week. Though their verbal joust has ended, the SLFP decided to take further action against Prasanna in a bid to halt latter’s scathing criticism on SLFP Leader Maithripala Sirisena. It was officially revealed last Tuesday that the SLFP would take Prasanna to Court.
This was mentioned during a Media conference convened by former SLFP General Secretary Prof. Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa. It was also attended by a few lawyers affiliated to the SLFP.
Prof. Piyadasa said that legal action would be taken against Prasanna on charges of violation of the SLPP alliance, criticism directed at Sirisena and exhorting the electorate to refrain from voting for Sirisena.
At the time when Prasanna received this news he had been engaged in his election campaign work in the Gampaha District. He was engaged in a discussion with SLPP activists regarding the campaign for the coming Poll. One of his Secretaries conveyed to Prasanna that the SLFP has resorted to institute legal action against him.
Prasanna said that he was not afraid of facing legal action because he had not lied and insisted that he had only warned the public of a danger that could be imminent in the future.
On the same day in the evening Prasanna had convened the SLPP Gampaha District team to formulate their future plans regarding the Poll. Among those involved with the discussion were Nimal Lanza, Prasanna Ranaweera, Dulip Wijesekara, Milan Jayathilaka and Sahan Pradeep. The main topic at the discussion had been the criticism that had been levelled against Prasanna by Dayasiri. Milan said that Dayasiri was continuing to allege that Prasanna had only passed the eighth grade and urged the latter to respond to it.
Prasanna said that there was no need for him to respond to Dayasiri’s flak as the people of his District were well aware of his educational qualifications. He further stated that before stepping into party politics he had served as a Manager of an insurance firm and that he had obtained that post following his education received at Orara College in Australia. He said it would be tough for a person to seek such a post after only having passed the eighth grade.
Lanza said that due to the views expressed by Prasanna the SLFP had been rattled and that was the reason they had decided to sling mud at him. However, Prasanna refused to cave in and said he would carry on his campaign unperturbed. Lanza said that if the SLFP were to take legal action against Prasanna the latter would enter the history books. Prasanna wanted to know how. Lanza stated that Prasanna would be the first person against whom legal action had been taken after he strived to protect the SLPP.
During the past week the emergence of COVID-19 positive cases from the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre caused anxiety in the country. With the detection of new COVID-19 cases, the Government promptly decided to close down schools for a week in order to curb the spread of the virus. Around this time the Opposition mooted new plans to further postpone the coming General Election.
They said in unison that due to the possible second wave of COVID-19, the August Poll should be postponed forthwith. A topic that was discussed at the Cabinet meeting held last Wednesday was the latest situation in the country.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa stated that with the detection of new COVID-19 infections here some had attempted to create a panic situation. He, however, assured that the situation had been brought under control by the Government and hence there was no need for the people to unduly panic over the situation.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa responded stating that the Government was well and truly in control of the situation and that all measures regarding the tackling of the illness has been taken by the Government. At this stage Prasanna said that both Ranil and Sajith were clamouring to get the General Election further deferred in view of the new situation. However, PM Mahinda replied saying that it was the nature of the duo and hence there was no need to be unduly concerned about their behaviour. President Gotabaya stated that like the manner in which the Government had effectively combat the COVID-19 situation last March they would take similar measures to tackle it this time as well. After the end of the Cabinet meeting a special discussion was held at Temple Trees and it was helmed by former Minister Basil Rajapaksa. It was held concerning the future activities of the SLPP. When Prasanna came for the meeting Basil inquired from the former whether a legal case was filed against him.
Prasanna said that he was ready to face any type of legal case in order to protect the SLPP but insisted that he will not stoop to the level of Dayasiri. Basil said it was good to see Prasanna taking up the challenge with a political leader like Maithripala. Prasanna said he had spoken the truth and that he had spoken according to his conscience and Basil asserted that what had been uttered by Prasanna had been accepted by the people.
Yapa vs Yapa
Meanwhile, there are a few Districts that have become competitive ahead of the next month’s Poll. This competitive nature has been created due to several reasons and one such District is Matara.
One of the most competitive Districts for SLPP candidates is the Matara District. Among those in the fray under the SLPP ticket are former Ministers, popular youths and relatives of prominent politicians. Another reason for the increase in the competitiveness is one seat from the Matara District being allocated to the Moneragala District.
During the past week in order to display their political prowess all candidates of the SLPP contesting the Matara District had organised propaganda rallies. The rally that was held under the aegis of PM Mahinda Rajapaksa was one such prominent rally. This was organised by former State Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena at Makandura.
The main feature was PM Mahinda and former Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena visiting Lakshman Yapa’s residence. Two families who were politically divided for decades had come together under one umbrella and this was the notable feature. Even the PM did not forget to mention this at the rally he attended. He noted that the two Abeywardena families had now joined forces and due to this reason the people of Matara would benefit in the future. Afterwards PM Mahinda had spoken glowingly of the service rendered to the people of Matara by Lakhman Yapa and insisted even the President had been impressed by his service. The next rally was staged in Deniyaya area.
Ranil turns to YouTube
The UNP Election operation has now reached its climax. Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and other candidates have given their best shot in taking their message across to the public through digital media, public rallies, television, newspapers and radio.
The specialty is that the Leader, who is not generally keen in appearing in YouTube channel videos, has now also held discussions on such platforms. Upon an invitation made to him by one of the main television channels, the leader paid a visit on Thursday where he gave a critical interview.
The same evening, he arrived at Sirikotha, for the launch of his party election manifesto for the upcoming General Elections.
‘’In 2015, we were handed over a country that was in a huge debt and was isolated amongst other countries. We managed to repay loans, regain our space in the world, to retain a reasonable price for goods and fuel, increased salaries with increased relief while upholding the democracy of the country, but with the change of Governments, there was an unbearable burden on the public. The economy collapsed even before COVID-19 and we, through our manifesto, have elaborated on measures that we will take to return the country to normalcy’’ he said at the launch.
Concessions, generation of jobs, mitigating the spread of COVID-19, upholding democracy and the identity of the country while looking into the issues faced in the education sector, those faced by women, the youth and students will be implemented while the lives of those impacted by COVID-19 will also be strengthened, the manifesto read.
The postal votes took place amidst of the fear of a second wave of COVID-19 among the public.
‘’The Government ignored the number of warnings given by the UNP and the Opposition in preventing COVID-19 entering our country. When we warned of the second wave, we were blamed of hypocrisy and now the country has become prey to the wave. The Government discarded the health drafts given by the Opposition while they have not gazetted health guidelines to be followed during the General Election for over one and a half months and it is the rulers who have to be blamed for this,’’ he said.
‘’Health guidelines have not been gazetted as the Government intends to hold the election as per their will making the public a prey,’’ a member of the UNP said.
The Government exploited the public with high priced electricity and water bills and as the Opposition and several social media raised their concerns in this regard, the Government, closer to the General Election, was forced to provide relief.
‘’We hope this relief would not be a hoax as the price reductions promised for dhal and salmon,’’ the leader of the UNP said amidst of chuckles of laughter from the gathering.
Although the leader of the UNP, on several occasions questioned the Health Minister, Pavithra Wannairachchi of how the foreign funds and those from various organisations that have been received to aid Sri Lanka’s battle against COVID-19 has been utilised, her failure to answer has raised concerns among the UNP.
The statement of the Health Minister that COVID-19 will be eliminated by19 May followed by a good news on 25 May has now become a joke while she, together with other heads of the Government without a face mask held public rallies which is also problematic to the UNP.
While the Prime Minister of New Zealand ordered the NZ Health Minister to step down after having received complains for having gone on an excursion without a face mask, our Health Minister, along with other notable heads of the Government, is encouraging public gatherings paving the way for an imminent danger, the UNP noted.
‘’The Government that prohibited the celebration of Vesak and Poson festivals attempted to get down workers overseas for the elections. Yet they failed to facilitate the return of over 35,000 workers stranded abroad; this will all be looked into and fixed by us following the election,’’ the leader noted.
A party election office was opened on Thursday evening in Alfred House amidst of a huge crowd gathered in accordance with heath guidelines in the presence of the leader and other members of the UNP.
Journalism lessons from Sajith
Leader of Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Sajith Premadasa met heads of Media institutions at Galle Face Hotel last week. Sajith who most of the time had a close rapport with journalists in the past, failed to convene a meeting with them in the run up to last year’s Presidential Poll, due to him being preoccupied with addressing the political rallies at the time.
“I am a person who prefers to work closely with journalists and Media institutions. I also directly call most of the journalists on the phone amidst being engaged in organisational work,” he stated.
General Secretary of the SJB Ranjith Madduma Bandara spoke to journalists on the phone and invited them for the meeting convened by his leader Sajith. In the meantime Sajith’s Private Secretary Ravi Jayawardena had also sent them an invitation adding more value and importance to the meeting.
At around 8:30 a.m. on Monday, Sajith arrived at the Galle Face Hotel and proceeded to take breakfast with the journalists present. All journalists and Media heads who were there had personally known Sajith and hence there was no need for them to be introduced to the SJB leader. The meeting with the journalists only got underway after they all had taken breakfast. At the outset former MP Eran Wickremaratna briefed the journalists regarding the vision and policy statement of the SJB and afterwards Sajith began his meeting with the journalists and Media heads.
“At the last Presidential Poll the floating votes were captured by my opponent. However, the floating voter is presently in our camp,” Sajith began his powwow, while remarking in a jovial manner that certain media outlets were in the habit of doing a cut and paste job of his views.
A Media head then posed a question to the SJB leader seeking his views with regard to how he would manage to work with the incumbent President in the event him being elected as PM at next month’s Poll.
“There is no impediment for me to work with the President. I intend to work without either silencing or privatising politics after the General Election. I also look forward to work for the masses as their servant having eschewed underhand agreements or deals of Ministers,” Sajith replied.
Another question posed was what was his view regarding the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. “I will be protecting and further strengthening the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. If there are shortcomings in it I will look to remedy them,” he replied.
A Media head wanted to know as to what the shortcomings in it were. Sajith said that what had to be rectified in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution are various political standpoints, and shortcomings that are highlighted in that respect.
A journalist then asked from Sajith as to why he was striving to capture power at Sirikotha. He said “Capturing power at Sirikotha and accepting responsibility are two different things. It was only through this cut and paste Media culture that this view got spread out in the society.”
Another question posed was whether the SJB would tie up with any political party or alliance in case they struggle to muster the 113 seats needed for a working majority in Parliament.
Sajith then determinedly replied that they do not even think for a split second they will muster less than 113 seats.
A question posed by the Tamil Media was what solution is proposed by the SJB for the North. “Through the 13th Amendment we will opt for maximum devolution of power. I am also not in the habit of uttering one thing in the North and then contradicting it in the South. I express similar views whether it be in the North or the South,” he said reminding the journalists of his visit to Jaffna during the course of the SJB election campaign.
Another question asked was what the standpoint of SJB is regarding federalism. “We will strive for maximum devolution of power within a unitary Lanka. For this the people of North are in agreement and also the Provincial Council system also has to be protected.”
After the meeting Sajith continued to be engaged in deep personal conversations with journalists and Media heads present.
He said referring to a Media head that the latter is a diehard UNPer. “He was previously an Elephant but now the jumbo has made way to the Telephone,” replied a journalist prompting hearty laughter from those present.
After completing his proceedings with the journalists, Sajith arrived at the Nelum Pokuna Theatre. That was to take part at the SJB Women’s Convention. It had been organised by Sajith’s spouse Jalani Premadasa and former MP Hirunika Premachandra among others.
“We published a policy statement on behalf of the womenfolk here during last year’s Presidential Poll. After the coming Poll we will look to legalise it,” Sajith gave an assurance while airing his views concerning overcoming malnutrition among women and turning them into healthy mothers.
In the meantime, a video had been released to the social media and gone viral concerning Hirunika who, too, was present at the event.
“As I am pregnant and as it is easy to step into the stage Jalani Premadasa showed me a seat close to the stage. By showing about two seconds of that incident now my rivals are slinging mud at me,” Hirunika explained the incident.
The SJB Media Unit convened on Thursday morning under General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara and Tissa Attanayake. Among the topics discussed had been future campaign tactics of the party as well as how to counter the propaganda activities of their rival parties.
“There is talk that a group from the UNP is set to come over to the SJB side. What is the situation and why are you not taking them on board,” asked a member of the SJB Media Unit from Madduma Bandara and Ravi Jayawardena.
“We are holding talks with those who are planning to join our party. Not only that they also have to talk to our leader Sajith as well. However, those who are implicated in the CBSL Treasury Bonds scams will not be allowed to join. Some of them who have been charged with the scams have even spoken to us saying they would like to crossover to the SJB. But, they will only be accepted if they come clean and once they are acquitted from the charges filed against them,” pointed out Madduma Bandara.
A Media Unit member asked as to what the party would do to those who have been charged with the CBSL scams.
At this stage, Ravi Jayawardena noted that under a SJB regime the law will be enforced against wrongdoers and stressed that those found guilty of crimes will be duly punished.
Another member of the SJB Media Unit stated that in the coming weeks there was a possibility to sling mud targeting SJB politicians of the calibre of Harin Fernando, Dr. Harsha de Silva, Manusha Nanayakkara and Ajith P. Perera by the SLPP.
At this point Tissa Attanayake opined that the SLPP had decided to sling mud at the aforesaid politicians of the SJB because they had become a challenge to the Government and insisted that they need to formulate a solid counter offensive for it.
Sajith is busy these days taking part in SJB political rallies ahead of the August Poll. He also continues to seek views from the public regarding failure to grant relief for electricity and water bills by the Government.
He also asked some to raise their mitts as to whether they had received relief for electricity and water bills. But, there was no one to raise their hands.
He then mentioned that the Government is attempting to disconnect the electricity of the public. He noted that before they strive to do that the SJB would disconnect the Government.