Ranil’s impending Parliament entry stirs Opposition
|By Gagani Weerakoon|
With the UNP Working Committee passing a resolution that UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe should swear in as the Party’s National List MP, he was flooded with phone calls inquiring whether he would be actually accepting the offer.
Opposition members of parliament, diplomats, friends, and the media all were curious whether he would be sworn in or not on 8 June when Parliament is convened. Wickremesinghe responded to all those who asked “Are you taking oaths in Parliament tomorrow?” with an ease “No, not so soon”.
The news of the UNP Leader’s impending entry to Parliament, on the other hand, caused a political uproar, with many MPs believing that once the Leader arrived, opposition parties would rally around him and form an opposition force.
Others, meanwhile, predicted that Wickremesinghe would take over the leadership of the Opposition. On 8 June, the common topic amongst opposition MPs was Wickremesinghe’s entry to Parliament.
With heat building up, former UNP MPs and party officials joined a Zoom call to communicate with the Leader.
“Many were unaware that the Leader was not going to Parliament last week, so they assumed he would be sworn in on the 8 June, and even news conferences were held against the Leader,” UNP Chairman Vajira Abeywardena said.
UNP General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara summed it up well, saying that he did not expect that a single person could intimidate groups, and that as a result, the public got to know how divided the main Opposition is.
“I never expected it to reach a point where they would hold a vote of confidence,” he added.
UNP Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene bemoaned the fact that the importance of the Leader was recognized by both the public and MPs only now. They agree that the country should be led by an experienced mature and visionary leader, “like our leader”.
He went on to say that as a result of this, those who were afraid of Wickremesinghe began slinging mud at him, claiming that there is a Rajapaksa connection. Those who claim the Leader is making deals with the Rajapaksas are the same who have made deals with the Rajapaksas night after night in order to save their brothers and cover personal scams. Sandith Samarasinghe remarked in all seriousness that no one is discussing Wickremesinghe removing the Rajapaksas from power in 2015. The Leader stated that there is no need to defame or criticise anyone, and that, despite being a target of everyone, he will always focus on the harm done by the Government to the country and its citizens.
“Regardless of what the Opposition says, if we do the right thing, the people will decide who is correct. I’m going to Parliament on behalf of the people and to speak with the Government about the issues that the people and the country are facing,” the Leader added.
Following that, the group discussed in length about the Supreme Court’s ruling, which resulted in the dismissal of over 75 Municipal Council, Urban Council, and Pradeshiya Sabha members of the UNP for supporting a rival party during the last parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, a group of about 20 local government councillors was debating how to bring the Party back together through various groups, but the consensus is that those who left should be expelled and replaced. The majority feel that the party’s position will be maintained whenever a new group is appointed.
Several meetings were held on Thursday evening via ZOOM on those who will join the party following the Court decision. Party activists met the Leader through Zoom technology on Thursday morning to discuss the current political crisis.
“There have been numerous concerns raised thus far. The fertiliser scarcity has impacted farmers in our area particularly hard. I’m not sure if people will go hungry after the COVID-19 outbreak is over,” Samarasinghe expressed his remorse over the situation.
Wijewardene underlined the benefits of organic fertilisers over chemical fertilisers.
“It is a good plan. Only if a 10-year plan is implemented. There will be no shortage of fertiliser and the crop would not be harmed. The problem is in the hasty manner the Government acted in introducing it,” he said while quoting the recently resigned Secretary of the Agriculture Ministry.
Furthermore, Abeywardena stated that a lack of rice, due to a problem with organic fertiliser, could be a major issue and that businessmen are also afraid to import rice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that food is not transported from one country to another in Europe.
Range Bandara recalled how, in 1965, when late Indian Agriculture Minister Chidambaram Subramaniam introduced chemical fertilisers to India, late Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake did the same in Sri Lanka. Seeds are now engineered to adapt to chemical fertilisers. Organic fertilisers are difficult to use for seeds that are compatible with chemical fertilizers, according to Range Bandara.
Shifting the conversation to a different topic, Prof. Ashu Marasinghe stated that the Government is yet to respond to the Leader’s remarks on the ship.
Wickremesinghe concluded by saying if there is a nitrate acid leak, subject matter experts, Customs officials, and medical personnel should go to the ship first. The fire spread due to high winds, according to the Harbour Master. The Meteorological Department, on the other hand, predicted a strong wind 24 hours earlier. The other did not seek assistance from the international community. In fact, the damage caused by the fire that engulfed the X-Press Pearl ship, similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, could have long-term consequences for the country.
The Party Leader and activists discussed a variety of topics, including the COVID-19 pandemic and immunisations, and gave extensive advice on how to effectively communicate the party’s message to its members.
Vote of Confidence
During the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Parliamentary Group Meeting, a proposal had been unanimously ratified extending the Party’s unstinted support and loyalty to its leader MP Sajith Premadasa, stating that he should remain Opposition Leader.
SJB MPs who had been instrumental in tabling the proposal to support Premadasa’s leadership, were Chief Opposition Whip MP Lakshman Kiriella, Champika Ranawake MPs Mano Ganesan and Rauff Hakeem. The proposal had been seconded by Party General Secretary Ranjith Maddumabandara, Rajitha Senaratne, Sarath Fonseka and Ashok Abeysinghe.
However, this move did not sit well with many as concerns were raised whether there was a need to do so as it implies that SJB is affected by the impending entry of UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. It is also speculated that there is a group of SJB MPs who would pledge support to Wickremesinghe upon his taking a Parliament seat.
MP Harin Fernando, when asked, responded to media, stating that he would have never allowed such ‘naïve’ move to be taken had he being there.
“It was absolutely unnecessary and uncalled for,” he added.
The grapevine is that Fernando is in the top of the list of MPs that would join hands with Wickremesinghe. However, he did not acknowledge such speculation.
Meanwhile, SJB Leader Premadasa left hospital with his wife on Friday (11) after fully recovering. Both, he and wife Jalani Premadasa, were placed under medical care after being tested COVID-19 positive on 23 May.
Soon after leaving hospital the couple went to Gangarama Temple to seek blessings.