(Excerpts from “Temple Trees” column in “Ceylon Today” newspaper)
While the entire country was watching all agog the impeachment saga, in which the government and the Chief Justice were the main actors, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was playing a duplicitous role behind the scenes, which was known only to a few people.
There had been a secret understanding between the government and Wickremesinghe over the impeachment from its very inception. His visit to Venice for a vacation was a result of that understanding. So, when the debate over the impeachment was raging in the country, Wickremesinghe and his wife, Maithree were enjoying rides in gondolas in the beautiful city on water as we disclosed in our column last week. We are in a position to reveal more interesting details about Wickremesinghe’s visit to Venice.
Ranil had arrived in Venice with his wife, Prof. Maithree Wickremesinghe after having made arrangements to check into a super luxury hotel in Venice at the expense government. So Ranil immediately on arrival in Venice got in touch with Sri Lanka’s envoy in Italy, Asitha Perera, who happens to be a close relative of his. Asitha got his embassy officials to reserve a suite in the Hilton Hotel for a period of two weeks for the Wickremesinghe couple. The External Affairs Ministry here, in a matter of few minutes, learnt that Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Italy had reserved a hotel suite for the Wickremesinghes on the embassy account. The ministry high-ups lost no time in informing Asitha Perera that the embassy should not play host to Wickremesinghe and his wife at government expense. “If you are keen on hosting the couple, you may do so at your own expense,” ministry officials had told Asitha Perera.
Following, the External Affairs Ministry directive, Ranil had to reserve a suite in a less expensive hotel that cost only US$ 400 a day.
Ranil returns to hotel
A highly disconcerted Wickremesinghe lost no time in informing the government top brass here about the predicament he was in. Within minutes, the Sri Lankan Embassy in Italy received an order from a high government authority here that the Wickremesinghe couple be provided with all facilities for their stay in Venice adding if the embassy could not release funds for this purpose, the government could channel adequate funds to the embassy from a separate source to cover all the expenses in connection with the visit of the Wickremesinghes. The Sri Lankan Embassy in Italy lost no time, thereafter, to transfer the Wickremesinghe couple to the super luxury hotel they had initially reserved for them. And thus the initial hiccup easily got over; a trouble- free vacation in Venice began for the Wickremesinghes.
On hearing that the UNP Leader is on a vacation in Venice, the office- bearers of the UNP Branch in Italy, who were highly concerned over the developments in Sri Lanka, decided to discuss the current political situation in the country and the steps being taken by the party leadership to meet the political imperatives called for by the developing crisis over the impeachment process. These party activists who sought a meeting with Ranil were shocked by the response they got from the party leader.
“We have come to Italy to relax, not for politics,” was Ranil’s curt reply. “Why don’t you leave us alone? I will speak to you all when I visit Italy next time.”
Furore over notice on PSC
While Ranil and Maithree were enjoying gondola rides in Venice, Sri Lanka was witnessing a series of events assuming great political significance. One such significant event was the Court of Appeal issuing notice on the members of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the charges against the Chief Justice to appear in Court on 3 January. The developments that followed triggered a veritable furore in political and legal circles. When the government ministers kept telling the people at every public forum they appeared that the Court of Appeal had no jurisdiction to issue such notice on the PSC, the UNP, JVP and TNA members of the committee announced that they would be appearing in courts in response to the notice served on them. UNP’s Lakshman Kiriella, a member of the PSC, speaking on behalf of the UNP told media that he was appearing before Courts on 3 January as he too had received a notice from the courts.
Kiriella gets an urgent call from Italy
Kiriella’s public statement that he would be attending Courts on 3 January had sent UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake into a flurry. He had lost no time in contacting Kiriella. He had inquired from Kiriella whether he had obtained permission from the party leader to make public the party’s stand on responding to the courts notice. Kiriella’s nonchalant reply was that he would attend Courts as he too had been served with notice by the Courts. Tissa who expressed his displeasure over Kiriella’s action added he would get back to him after consulting the party leader.
Minutes later, Kiriella received a call on his mobile phone from Party Leader Wickremesinghe, who was on a gondola cruise in Venice. “Don’t attend Courts in response to the notice served on you,” Ranil told Kiriella. “You know that the government members are not attending. The decision taken by the JVP and the TNA to attend Courts is immaterial to us. Don’t attend Courts. This is my decision. I am working on a long-term plan….”
A highly perturbed Kiriella protested: “How can I ignore the notice? Besides, I have already announced that I would be attending Courts.” Ranil insisted that he had no option, but to toe the party line. A highly concerted Kiriella had decided that there was no purpose in arguing any further with an adamant leader.
Tissa calls a media briefing
Attanayake called a media briefing soon after at which he told the media that the UNP too was not prepared to respond to the notice served on the party members of the PSC because their stand was that the Court of Appeal has no jurisdiction to serve notice on the PSC members.
Attanayake’s statement embarrassed Kiriella in no small measure. He was further disconcerted when a large number of UNP MPs and the party’s people’s representatives at the periphery inundated him with phone calls inquiring whether he subscribed to the party’s stand announced by Tissa at the briefing. Caught in a catch-22 situation, Kiriella confided in all who called him what transpired in his conversation with the Party Leader and Attanayake the previous day.
Ranil uses the Pope as a shield
Several close associates of Wickremesinghe were among those taken by surprise by the party’s stand on the notice served on the PSC members as announced by Attanayake. They too rang up Ranil in Venice to inquire whether it was his decision not to attend the Courts. These inquiries from unhappy party confidantes sent Ranil immediately into the defence mode. Ranil told them: “Maithree and I called on the Pope in Vatican. On that occasion, he inquired about the present situation in regard to the impeachment against the Chief Justice. Later, the Holy Father asked me to support the government to overcome the crisis. “
Joint opposition furious over Ranil’s stand
The arbitrary decision taken by Wickremesinghe to boycott Courts on 3 January drew the first angry reaction outside the party when the representatives of the Joint Opposition met in Colombo to discuss the joint action to be taken by them on 3 January. Tissa Attanayake represented the UNP at this meeting attended by M. Sumanthiran, Wickramabahu Karunaratne, Siritunga Jayasuriya, Mano Ganesan and Sarath Manamendra as representatives of their respective parties.
Tissa Attanayake had to face the wrath of the representatives of the other opposition political parties when he announced the UNP’s stand on the notice issued by the Court of Appeal.
A visibly furious Wickramabahu shouted at Attanayake: “Mona wada me karana vikara weda? Mehema theerana aragena apita rata athule deshapalane karanna puluwanda? (What is this nonsense? If we are to take decisions like this, can we practise politics in the country with our clothes on?)” Dr. Karunaratne turned more furious when Attanayake protested that it was not his decision, but that of the party leader. The NSSP Leader charged that Wickremesinghe was only carrying out a government contract. Turning to Attanayake he continued: “You are also carrying out a government contract. If this is your way of doing things, I don’t think we can forge ahead in politics as a Joint Opposition. You go to hell, if you can’t attend Courts. But we all will be there tomorrow.”
“I can’t talk,” says Harsha in sign language
Attanayake’s servile obedience to Ranil and the government later became a major moot point among the UNPers. Some party members expressed the opinion that Tissa has been blackmailed into servility by Ranil and the government as they are in possession of some sordid details about his private life. They recalled that Tissa withdrew from the UNP campaign at the Colombo MC elections soon after some ministers warned him that they would not hesitate to expose him if he tried “to show too much muscle.”
Although Lakshman Kiriella kept away from Courts at Ranil’s behest, a number of UNP MPs who attended the Court of Appeal appeared jubilant over the Court rulings. Among the UNP MPs present in Courts were Karu Jayasuriya, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Ajith C. Perera, Range Bandara and Harsha de Silva. When Dayasiri Jayasekera was telling Dr. Harsha de Silva that Parliament should abide by the Court ruling, the latter placed his index finger on his lips indicating that he did not wish to open up on the subject. A Ranil loyalist, Harsha soon after walked away from the group of UNP MPs, taking long strides in his haste to distance himself from his `heretical’ colleagues.
The UNP MPs at the Court premises had to face another unpleasant incident when a woman lawyer confronted them and severely criticized Wickremesinghe and the UNP MPs for resorting to double dealing in regard to the impeachment affair. “If your `Lokka’ were here today, I would dash him on the ground like a frog,” the irate woman lawyer said.
Tissa treated to a stream of obscenities
The UNP has now begun reaping the harvest of what they had sown when they decided to toe the government line in disdaining the notice issued on the PSC members by the Court of Appeal. It was the lawyers of the association affiliated to the UNP that fired the first salvo at the party leadership. The UNP had summoned a special meeting of the party’s lawyers’ association on Saturday to discuss the steps to be taken in future in regard to the impeachment process. Attanayake on Thursday and Friday contacted the association’s outstation branches and some lawyers individually to remind them of the meeting scheduled for Saturday. However, the manner in which some lawyers had reacted to Attanayake’s reminder about the proposed meeting had left him stunned. For some lawyers had vented their anger on Tissa by abusing him with a stream of unprintable filth. Given the angry reaction, Tissa drew from lawyers seething with anger. Indications at the time of writing this column were that the proposed meeting could become a non-event.
Government in a `no-go’ mode
Some ministers of the government went into ‘the bluff and bluster’ mode to demonstrate their unconcern about the Supreme Court ruling that declared the PSC probe null and void in law. But the far-reaching implications of the ruling appear to have dawned on the government rather late in the day. The realization that they have been caught in a `catch 22′ situation has somewhat sobered the government leaders, who initially looked set to bulldoze their way through all legal and other obstacles come hell or high water. The government top brass who held council soon after the delivery of the Supreme Court ruling on Thursday to plan out their next steps towards meeting the legal challenge, had initially considered a proposal to summon an emergency session of Parliament to discuss the SC ruling. However, this proposal had to be shot down soon after as the procedure involved as stipulated in the Standing Orders was in the way.
Tissa finds a fall guy in Jayalath
Reacting to the statement made by Attanayake at a hurriedly arranged media briefing that the UNP would not accept the notice served on the PSC members by the Appeal Court as legally binding on them and therefore, the UNP members of the PSC would not appear before the Appeal Court as noticed, JVP’s Anura Kumara, at a media briefing held on Thursday lambasted the UNP leadership for their `great betrayal’ in regard to the impeachment process set in motion by the government. He charged that this betrayal encouraged the government to bring an impeachment motion against the Chief Justice. He slammed the UNP Leader saying that his duplicitous conduct had been suspect from the very inception of the impeachment.
Terribly hurt by the broadside launched by Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the UNP leaders hurriedly prepared a media communiqué to be issued as a reply to Anura Kumara’s attack. The media release carrying unethical references to the private life of Anura Kumara as well, was issued on Thursday morning under the name of the party’s media spokesman, Gayantha Karunatillake. Some websites had immediately carried the media release, while some other websites had made inquiries about the contents of the release. Gayantha, who was totally in the dark about the release issued in his name, had told all web sites that he had nothing to do with the release and he was totally in the dark about it until it was brought to his notice. An irate Gayantha, who took exception to the contents in the media release, had immediately rung up the UNP Media Unit and asked them to promptly recall the media release issued in his name. Frightened by the angry objection made by Gayantha, the UNP Media Unit had immediately recalled the media release.
The Media Unit had told UNP General Secretary, Tissa Attanayake that they had to issue the release under someone’s name. Tissa wracking his brain to think up someone who would be willing to take the responsibility for the release, decided that Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena was the ideal person as he would never miss an opportunity to grab some media publicity on any issue under the Sun.
When Tissa asked Jayawardena whether they could issue a media release under his name, the latter readily gave his consent.
Jayalath too was in the dark about the contents of the release, until the media made inquiries relating to matters mentioned in the release. In fact, some of the contents in it were such they could be used to attack Jayalath as well. Jayalath made a clean breast of things when our sister paper Mawbima made some inquiries relating to the release from Jayalath. “I never knew that the release carried this type of unfair references when I ‘okayed’ issuing the release under my name. This is really Tissa’s work.”
Asked why Tissa had used him as a fall guy, Dr. Jayawardena replied: “Tissa has to hide many skeletons in the cupboard. Therefore, he has to appear as a saint. When he wants to do some `gutter work’, he does it under somebody’s name.” COURTESY:CEYLON TODAY