Will Things Really End for UNP With Ranil As Leader and His WC Playing Pandu?
BY Gagani Weerakoon
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his 20-minute long policy statement said that the nation has arrived at an important landmark in history and assured that he will never do anything that would undermine the ‘massive’ mandate received or the faith kept in him by the people of the country.
He also said, it should always be remembered that the prime responsibility of a people’s representative is to serve the public. “We will be sensitive to fulfilling the needs of the people, keeping in mind that all these positions are responsibilities and not privileges,” he added.
“The people have given the current Government a massive mandate. We have been given the responsibility to take the country towards prosperity, while safeguarding the people and protecting the sovereignty of the country without succumbing to any force. The present generation must fulfil that responsibility for the sake of the future generations. This is the Motherland of all of us. Hence, the time has come for all of us to join hands for the sake of the country irrespective of race, religion or party differences.”
The President noted that simple issues have not been resolved even after 72 years of freedom. Re-iterating the steps will be taken to introduce a new Constitution, the President also noted that an unstable Parliament that cannot take firm decisions and succumbs to extremist influences very often is not suitable for a country.
“While introducing a new Constitution, it is essential to make changes to the current electoral system. While retaining the salutary aspects of the proportional representation system, these changes will be made to ensure stability of Parliament and the people’s direct representation,” he affirmed.
Following the presentation of Policy statement all MPs, foreign dignitaries and VIP guests were escorted to the MPs’ Canteen where the traditional Tea Party was held. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa arrived at the venue accompanying Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa. Many representatives from Government as well as from Opposition joined the tea party. While Premier Rajapaksa was engaged in friendly conversations with the ambassadors, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with his wife Ioma Rajapaksa joined the tea party. Foreign diplomats were seen engaged conversation with the President, too.
Meanwhile, Premadasa left the tea party soon after he joined without having a conversation with the President or Premier. Even though Premadasa did not talk to President or Premier, the other representatives of Opposition had a healthy conversation with Prime Minister Rajapaksa and the President. Colombo District Parliamentarian S. M. Marikkar was the first from the Opposition to congratulate Premier and then Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Kurunegala MP Ashok Abeysinghe and J.C. Alawathuwala, Hambantota District MP Dileep Wedaarachchi, SJB National List candidate Mayantha Dissanayake had a chat with the President and Prime Minister. Dissanayake was talking about the awful situation that his brother Navin Dissanayake had to face with the Premier, while Wedaarachchi was talking about the grassroots level politics as both of them are from Hambantota.
On the sides of the tea party, Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) Leader, MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake and MP Dilan Perera were having a conversation about the current situation in the country. JJB MP Vijitha Herath and JJB National List MP Prof. Harini Amarasuriya were also there at the tea party. The Prime Minister after having his tea, walked to MPs and Ministers and was seen exchanging at least a few words with everyone. Not only the MPs, but also their family members and the staff of the House were so enthusiastic to capture selfies with the Premier and the President and they two were also seen enthusiastically obliging to selfie requests.
In the meantime, Tamil National Alliance MP M. A. Sumanthiran was having a conversation with Prime Minister when the latter tiptoed towards two very special MPs who seemed to be involved in an interesting conversation. The two MPs that caught Premier Rajapaksa’s interest were Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara and MP C. V.Wigneshwaran. Daughter of Nanayakkara is married to Wigneshwaran’s son. Prime Minister Rajapaksa interrupted the conversation saying “the two in-laws are in a deep conversation,” and Wigneshwaran together with Nanayakkara greeted the PM and welcomed him. Even the photographers were excited to capture this moment.
On the sidelines of the first session of the Ninth Parliament, various other interesting events also took place. In one such incidence, former Mayor of Kotte Municipal Council, Madhura Vithanage who was freshly elected as a Colombo District Parliamentarian arrived for the inaugural Parliamentary Session by a boat.
Arriving at the Parliamentary Complex by boat, Vithanage said, it was a practical mode of transport as Parliament is located in the middle of a lake. He noted that he chose a boat ride to Parliament to avoid traffic congestion which is generally experienced on the roads leading to Parliament in peak hours. Vithanage explained that the President had initiated the boat service, as an alternative to reduce traffic congestion, but lamented the public showing little faith in this mode of transport. He said, he plans to promote the use of the boat service in future by continuously taking a boat ride to Parliament as it is a convenient mode of transport.
It was not only boat rides that were promoted during the first day of the Ninth Parliament. Apart from President and Prime Minister Rajapaksa, it was the attire of Dayasiri Jayasekara State Minister of Batik, Handloom and Local Apparel Products that turned many eyes.
He was clad in Batik attire in a bid to promote his Ministry and was in the middle of attention of many. Senior women officials of Parliament and even fellow female colleagues were seen discussing about Batik dress with the Minister at length.
Jayasekara stated that a law will be enacted to make it mandatory for State workers to report to duty wearing batik or handloom apparel once a week. Accordingly, prices of batik and handloom apparel will be reduced to enable employees to purchase the products.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party has appointed a committee to prepare proposals for amending the Constitution as their 15 members representing the Government is crucial to the two-thirds majority required for a constitutional amendment.
There is a widespread perception in the political arena that the SLFP is trying to negotiate a two-thirds majority by appointing a committee to propose a new constitutional amendment. The Committee will also be headed by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva.
Meanwhile, MP Shantha Bandara has informed the Central Committee of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party that he will be stepping down from the position of the Sri Lanka Freedom Youth Front.
He added, this decision was taken to allow another to assume the post.
General Secretary of the Party, Dayasiri Jayasekara stated that he informed the same at the Central Committee meeting which was held Thursday (20). Rumour is that Bandara is planning to join hands with the SLPP by taking its membership.
Debate on Policy Statement
Matara District SLPP MP Nipuna Ranawaka, a nephew of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa kicked off the debate on the Policy Statement of the Government presented to the House by the President on Thursday. Ranawaka who entered Parliament from the Matara District got the unique opportunity to kick off the important debate during his maiden speech to the Legislature. Ranawaka used the speech to thank his voters and extend support to the President’s economic policies which would focus on strengthening local industry. Leader of the House Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said, a large number of young MPs have been elected to the House for the first time this year and the President and Prime Minister are keen to see them develop as proficient lawmakers. There are 26 newly elected MPs between the ages of 25 and 40 this timer of which five are between the ages of 25 and 30 which makes up around 13 per cent of all MPs elected. There are 67 MPs between the ages of 41 and 50.
A total of 126 departments, boards, authorities and statutory bodies or 29 per cent of all such bodies come under the purview of the ministries headed by the members of the Rajapaksa family, Galle District SJB MP Manusha Nanayakkara told Parliament. This is out of the total of 434 departments, boards, authorities and statutory bodies in the country, Nanayakkara disclosed while participating in the debate on the Policy Statement of the Government presented to the House on Thursday: “The President and Prime Minister are from the same family.
There are two Cabinet Ministers from that family - Chamal and Namal Rajapaksa. Sasheendra Rajapaksa is a State Minister. Chairman of the District Development Council is Nipuna Ranawaka. Prime Minister has three Cabinet Portfolios – Buddha Sasana, Finance and Housing and Urban Development. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has 23 institutions. The Prime Minister has 49 under the Finance Ministry, 11 under the Buddha Sasana Ministry and six under the Urban Development Ministry. He has 66 institutions under him. Namal Rajapaksa has seven. Sasheendra has six. In addition seven other institutions including BoI, Telecom, Telecommunications and Regulations are under the COVID-19 task force under Basil Rajapaksa. There is one Shipping Industry State Minister he does not have a single institution under him because he is not a member of the Rajapaksa family,” the SJB Minister said. He said that there were questions over the President holding certain portfolios which are not permitted under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. He said the ‘sahodara samagama’ was back in force and all power is now concentrated in one family.
State Minister Nimal Lanza found fault with Nanayakkara for criticising the Rajapaksa family. He said Nanayakkara who is not a person who does not have any regard to family values is not qualified to criticise others. “He does not care about his wife or children at least. He does not provide them with food,” Minister Lanza said.
MP Nanayakkara: “This is wrong. I once married and then got divorced. Thereafter I married again. I do not run brothels all over my district as my critic does.”
Maithri’s monkey business
Former President Maithripala Sirisena told Parliament that the monkey population in the country has increased to become a serious problem.
Participating in the debate on the Government’s Policy Statement, the former President said that farmers were confronted with a serious issue where crops in the country were being destroyed by animals. He said that when he was Agriculture Minister there were around one million monkeys in Sri Lanka. “However, today the number has increased to over two million monkeys,” Sirisena said adding that the increased monkey population has become a threat as they destroy the crops and plants cultivated by people.“These animals are not harmed here because ours is a Buddhist country. In addition there are animal rights groups who will oppose such an act,” he said. Sirisena said that Sri Lanka is the only country where animals are given protection as opposed to food grown for human consumption. He said that coconut cultivations were the most affected by the monkeys.
MP Sirisena said that monkeys destroy coconut trees by trying to pluck just one nut. “Suppose a single monkey destroys the harvest of a single tree to pluck one coconut, we would have to forego the harvest of around 1.5 million trees. This would result in shortage of coconuts,” he said.
SJB Gampaha District MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka said that Sirisena was wrong in his estimates. “It is wrong to assume that monkeys have nothing else to do but to engage in a campaign to destroy coconut trees. According to him, monkeys eat only coconuts and keep on plucking coconuts. That is far from the truth. Monkeys destroy other crops, too. It is sad that he sees that as an issue of high importance. There are many other burning issues in this country,” Fonseka said.
It is evident that the United National Party failed to represent in the new Parliament after 73 years while amidst of the internal political turmoil, the setback in the General Elections, controversies on the change of party leadership and the failure to finalise the National List.
Although the submission of the names to the UNP National List was due to end on 17 Friday, the UNP sought additional time to so submit. If this took place accordingly, John Amaratunga, whose name was the first on the list sent to the Election Commission by the UNP, could have been appointed as a Member of Parliament.
However, the leader of the UNP together with the Working Committee is yet to decide on a name for the seat for it to be sent to the Commission.
The incumbent leader of the UNP has decided to remain amidst the battle for leadership with over eight members attempting to get hold of the position. A further debate within the UNP is that handing over leadership to members who have been defeated would affect the future of the party.
Amidst such a backdrop, over 15 monks including Ven. Thiniyawala Palitha and Ven. Bopitiye Dhammissara arrived at Sirikotha on Wednesday to meet the leader and handed over a letter to him requesting for something that the leader would not have expected.
“You have been in the leadership over the past 26 years. You have been defeated while you were also unable to retain the victory gained and therefore, you have to step down and hand over the leadership to Karu Jayasuriya and you should sign this letter and hand it over to us,’’the letter read.
Outraged by the request, Leader Ranil set aside the letter while attempting to clear certain things.
“You came to express your liking towards the appointment of Karu while his name was already one of the names forwarded to the Working Committee. There is no issue with that but it is not me who makes the leadership decisions, it is the Working Committee and such decision will take a minimum of two months,’’ the UNP leader explained.
Meanwhile, several monks who had come with them had left the place. It is learned that the relevant monks were sent to the leader by a prominent member attempting to get hold the leadership of the party. Following this, Sagala, Shamal, Senarath, Saman Ratnapriya who were there at the time had shown a video recording to the monks after their conversation with the leader.
Its content was that of Karu representing candidates who had contested for the Telephone symbol for the Colombo District for the General Election.
They questioned the monks on the controversies that would arise by handing over the leadership to an individual who is in support of a candidate belonging to a party that had severed from the UNP.
Following this, the monks held a Media briefing and spoke against the UNP leader.
“The UNP leadership does not provide sufficient care to monks and therefore, under the incumbent Government, we hope to have an addition of 14,000 monks.” They said while a prominent member of the UNP who overheard this made a call to the leader.
“The Rajapaksas would not have affiliations with such monks who cause trouble as they know that the monks would leave them if they do maintain such affiliation,’’ he said.
On Thursday, a journalist questioned the UNP leader about the party’s reforms and revival plans to which the leader replied that it is the responsibility of the new leader to revive the party.
‘’Are you really stepping down from the leadership of the party?’’ the journalist questioned.
“It is up to the Working Committee to decide that” the leader replied.
UNP sources stated that although initially Ravi Karunanayake and Daya Gamage proposed the name of Karu Jayasuriya for the UNP leadership, only one of them are still of the same opinion while certain others have claimed that Navin Dissanayake’s reluctance to state his stand point is problematic.
“Did the UNP General Secretary Akila threaten to not sign if his name is not sent for the national list?’’ a prominent UNP member questioned the leader.
“No one threatened me and there is a difference between a threat and a request.” the leader said.