Mini Cyclone Developing in SLPP-led Government
|By Gagani Weerakoon|
A remark made by Minister Wimal Weerawansa in an interview to a Sunday newspaper stirred up a mini cyclone in the SLPP-led Government. The clash between the Government and Wimal goes back to the deal of East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Port.
Weerawansa, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Udaya Gammanpila and a few other party leaders held meetings allegedly in support of the trade union struggle against the selling of the ECT to India. This was strongly criticised by the Secretary of the SLPP Sagara Kariyawasam and SLPP was of the view that it would be a violation of the collective responsibility.
This cold war was lying low until remarks made by Weerawansa to a weekend newspaper about SLPP fanned fire. The SLPP group including Sagara, Sanjeewa and Renuka called a Media conference to respond to Weerawansa very next day. Launching a scathing attack on Weerawansa they pointed out that the latter has no business to comment on SLPP matters.
It was against this backdrop that the ruling party group meeting was held in Committee Room No.1 of Parliament last Tuesday. Minister Prasanna Ranatunga came to the meeting with the newspaper page containing Weerawansa’s interview. After discussing the week’s Parliamentary proceedings, Nimal Lanza raised the issue of Weerawansa’s statement.
“I want to make a clarification about a remark made by Minister Weerawansa at last Cabinet meeting about a remark made by me to the Media. I spoke from the standpoint that the country needs investments. I was responding to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB). Therefore, do not get me involved in this. I want to tell him not to use what I said as a shield,” Lanza said.
“He’s not here now…you tell these things in his presence,” Vasu said.
“Then he talked in my absence. That’s what I’m talking about. I have to clarify things when he lied about something which I did not say,” Lanza said.
“Mahinda Rajapaksa is our leader. Minister Weerawansa tells this newspaper that the President is lacking experience and that the UNP is also attacking the President because he lacks experience. What happens to our reputation when Ministers in our own Government say such things to newspapers,” Prasanna Ranatunga said waving the newspaper page in his hands.
“Wimal is not here. We shall talk about this when he is here,” Gammanpila said.
“I am talking to the Prime Minister, the leader of our party and we have the right to say this here,” Ranatunga said.
“We don’t go around saying things like some do now. We talk things where it should be said,” Lanza said.
“I think this is not ethical. This should be said when he is here,” Vasu said.
“Then is what he has said ethical?” Ranatungaa asked.
“I mean, Prime Minister, if we have a problem with the functioning of the Government, we need to talk about it inside the Government. We should not talk about it outside,” he added.
Opposition to Vasu
Vasu did not give up either. On several occasions, he interrupted Ranatunga by asking him to discuss it when Weerawansa is present.
“Minister, we respect you. Let us speak on this issue. Do not lose that respect,” Ranatunga retaliated.
Following Prasanna Ranatunga’s statement, backbenchers of the Government began to protest against Vasu. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa immediately intervened and told the MPs to remain silent.
Wimal ready to apologise
At the time of the ruling party meeting, Weerawansa was attending an event in Negombo. A journalist asked Wimal about Sagara’s statement.
If it was wrong to work for Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory in 2005, to leave the JVP and support victory in the war, and to work towards the victory after Mahinda’s defeat in 2015, I am ready to apologise to the nation, Weerawansa responded.
Also, if it was wrong to say that Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be made the Presidential candidate and work to make it a reality, I must apologise to the nation, he added.
He was responding to comments made by several members of SLPP that Weerawansa should apologise for a statement he had made to a newspaper recently about President Gotabaya and the SLPP.
“Gotabaya should be given a top post in the SLPP, the main political party in the current Government. That is what I mentioned. However, it did not mean that Mahinda should step down from the leadership of the SLPP. While Mahinda leads the party, if Gotabaya was given a high position in the party, relations with other forces could be further enhanced. It will help the Government move forward and the country to prosper,” he said.
He also added that nowhere in the Constitution was it stated that there was no possibility of commenting on another political party. In that context, we cannot talk about the United National Party, the JVP or any other party, he said.
Recalling certain persons’ claims that there are two doctors who were paid by foreign intelligence in NFF, he requested the President to instruct the IGP to take a statement from those who claimed so, and launch an investigation into the incident.
The Prime Minister had convened a meeting of party leaders on Monday evening to resolve the conflict.
“Now let’s end this conflict. When there is an unnecessary dispute between us, it is to the advantage of the Opposition,” Mahinda said.
Meanwhile, Wimal and Sagara met face to face in Parliament last Wednesday. Prime Minister Rajapaksa was coming out of the MPs’ canteen after having lunch. Ministers and MPs Sagara, Lohan Ratwatte, Lanza, Mahinda Amaraweera, Dayasiri Jayasekara and Sanath Nishantha were also with the Prime Minister. Meanwhile, Weerawansa was coming to the canteen for lunch.
“Where were you? I did not see you this morning, “Prime Minister asked.
“I had to attend to a work Prime Minister, I just got back,” Weerawansa said.
Both Weerawansa and Kariyawasam came face to face yet they were just exchanging side glances and those who witnessed this could not help a smirk on their faces.
Harin meets Ranil
UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe stayed at his home in Colombo expecting the arrival of an ‘old friend’ last Monday. It was none other than MP Harin Fernando. He was there with the intention of uniting the SJB and UNP, which are divided due to political issues.
Fernando greeted Wickremesinghe, asking how the latter was doing.
Replying that he was doing well, Wickremesinghe asked what brought Fernando to visit him suddenly.
“We need to form a united front against the anti-democratic conduct of this Government. We must all unite for that. It would be good if the UNP also joins with us,” Fernando said.
Wickremesinghe said, “I have now handed over the party to a new group. I support their journey by backing them up. You guys worked together anyway. Talk to Ruwan Wjewardene about this.”
Fernando left the house after a lengthy discussion. Although the meeting was not heavily publicised by the Media, neither Fernando nor Wickremesinghe went on to say much about it. Their meeting ended with leaving many secrets behind.
Wickremesinghe, UNP Deputy Leader Wijewardene, General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara, Chairman Vajira Abeywardena and other party leaders met at the Sirikotha to discuss future activities.
The discussion focused on strengthening the party. The appointment of new party organisers was also discussed. “If we fail to bring something new to the people with new faces, it will be difficult for us to move forward. We must work towards 2024. That is how the late President J.R. Jayewardene came to power in 1977,” Range Bandara said.
“The people elected someone who was not a leader of our party as the President in 2015. They also elected someone who was not in politics as the President in 2019 again. But neither of these succeeded,” Abeywardena noted.
“Before we go to the villages we need to get our team ready. We can move forward with a new structure and with new organisers,” Wijewardene suggested.
In response, Wickeremsinghe said, “We should not aim for Parliamentary elections here. We should aim at the next Presidential Election. Everyone was with us during the Presidential Election, but we could not win. They were now divided into three parts; one part voted for us, the second part voted for the group that left us and the third part did not vote.
“We should try to get the support of all these factions. When appointing organisers, they should be made to represent all these three parts: those who were not with us, those who did not contest the election and those who are about to join the party.
“Different political cultures introduced by two Presidents during the past 10 years failed. People are not satisfied with either of those cultures,” Prof. Ashu Marasinghe pointed out.
“Before we go to meet the people, we need to have a good analysis of what’s going on in the country at the moment,” Wickremesinghe said while everyone nodded in agreement.
After deciding to rectify the shortcomings and fill the vacancies at the Sirikotha, everyone left to meet the people present as it was the Public Day.
As usual, activists, including party leaders, visited the Wickremesinghe residence on Thursday to discuss the current political situation.
“The Prime Minister has said in Parliament that he will allow burying bodies of deceased COVID-19 patients,” Sandith Samarasinghe started a conversation.
“This is a well-planned thing targeting the UNHRC session in Geneva. Look at exactly what the Prime Minister said in Parliament. There is a rumour that he did this in a planned manner. If it was during your tenure, people will slam you saying that it is a deal. But now people have come to know who has the real deals.” Range Bandara said anxiously.
“Statistics related to COVID-19 pandemic are not accurate. People dying of COVID-19 have become a common thing now. PCR tests are piled up due to lack of facilities. Patients are wandering in the community, but the Government is ignoring the seriousness of the issue,” Prof. Marasinghe said emotionally.
“Yes, it is true. Environmental destruction is also taking place seriously. Environmental organisations say that this Government has cleared forests more than MP Rishad Bathiudeen did. Those who shouted at Bathiudeen then are now blaming the environmentalists,” Wijewardene said sensitively.
“They are trying to use the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into Political Victimisation to exert pressure on the Opposition, the Judiciary and the Attorney General,” a legal officer diverted the discussion.
“This report states that the Anti-Corruption Office was set up with the approval of the Cabinet to take money from the budget. Then the whole Cabinet and Parliament should be wrong because this has been approved by the Cabinet and on the other hand the whole Parliament has been allowed to pass the budget. This is a joke. This is an attempt to abolish the democratic rights of the opposition MPs named in this report, including our leader,” Abeywardena said impulsively.
“In this report, the Commission has aimed at the Courts and the Attorney General. It appears that the Commission has exercised a power not even vested in the President by the Constitution,” the legal officer reiterated.
Wickremesinghe said that they should go before the Courts as one united front regarding the PCoI report. He also instructed everyone to organise for that, concluding the meeting.
Pic by Amitha Thennakoon