Political circles are abuzz about the many ‘behind-the-curtain’ political games were played out over the days from the Presidential Election Day. They speak about conspiracies to retain power while the then administrators dismiss these allegations. However, the truth of many stories about political game-play is yet to be established. The latest political game unfolding states, it was hatched by none other than the former SLFP National Organizer and Cabinet Minister Basil Rajapaksa.
His plan had been on that election night to grab the opposition leader’s post. When the results were being announced on 09 January, it was clear that Mahinda Rajapaksa was on the side of defeat by about 2:00 a.m. Having evaluated the North, East and the Nuwara-Eliya district results, Rajapaksa was aware that he was losing. He began to plan out a peaceful transfer of powers to his successor, Maithripala Sirisena.
Basil was aware that the powers of the government was moving towards the UNP and mapped out a strategy to gain the position of opposition leader in parliament.In that backdrop, President Rajapaksa was busy preparing to leave Temple Trees to hand over office to Sirisena. Meanwhile, Basil began to contact senior SLFPers and parliamentarians to muster support for him to become the opposition leader.
Many seniors in the SLFP and the UPFA lodged their strong opposition to Basil’s request. Some started to telephone colleagues to say, “Basil was the one who destroyed the government and now he is vying to be the opposition leader to destroy the future opposition”. However, amidst opposition by many seniors, Basil managed to muster the support of some second and third ranked members in the then government in his effort to seek the opposition leader’s post. With the support of the numbers he had collected in his favour, Basil informed Mahinda that he (Basil) wanted to meet him.
Basil told Mahinda that if he (Basil) could become the opposition leader, the Rajapaksas’ could hold on to the powers in the party and the opposition. Mahinda outrightly rejected the views of Basil and noted that the people had given a verdict and he (Mahinda) would bow to that verdict. He said the new post of leadership should be democratic right of the SLFP membership. It ended Basil’s plan to gain power as opposition leader. Basil then decided to abandon political plans and take wing to America to reside at his second home.
Basil bails out
Basil contacted his airline in Colombo and booked two return tickets for him and his wife to America. The tickets indicated his return to Colombo on 22 January. He planned to re-commence his political journey upon returning from America. His departure caused much dissension within the UPFA rank and file as many accused him of abandoning Mahinda and running away. They charged Basil for the defeat of Mahinda at the hands of Maithripala. Parallel to those charges, the media began to expose massive corruption and waste of public funds under the ministries Basil held. After arriving in America, it was reported that Basil took two decisions about his future. First was to accept responsibility for the defeat and resign as National Organizer. The second decision was not to return to his motherland for some time. He decided to cancel the date of return with the airline.
With the exit of Basil, another issue cropped up with regard to the SLFP leadership in the Gampaha district. The name that has surfaced on top of the list of contenders is reported to be of Western Province Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga. Accordingly Ranatunga has decided to plan out strategies to contest the upcoming General Election by vacating the office of the Chief Minister. The present parliament is expected to be dissolved by the President on April 29 in keeping the 100-day programme of the government. In the event Ranatunga decides to quit the Council to contest the general election, he is likely to get the district leadership.
Raid on Carlton
In addition to the new government’s 100-day plan of work, the state machinery has directed the law enforcement authorities to probe corruption and malpractices of the previous regime. Raids and probes are conducted on a daily basis by the police and the criminal investigation department to track down culprits responsible for corruption and abuse of state resources. Media reported the detections about several racing cars hidden in many places. A light aircraft was also found. Container loads of goods and an armoury afloat in the ocean down South too were detected. Luxury vehicles reported to be belonging to the presidential secretariat too were found at other locations.
It was alleged that most of the valuable items found belonged to the former president or his son Namal though they were yet to be established on ownership. In that backdrop, a dejected Namal told the media last week that he could not even visit even a friend because the police habitually started to raid those homes. He said he was ready to answer allegations levelled against him stating that such allegations were baseless and unfounded.
Last week the law enforcement authorities were informed that a sea plane and a Lamborghini car was hidden at the Carlton residence where the former president was in occupation after defeat. When the police arrived at Carlton at Weeraketiya, the former president had left to attend a funeral in the area. The police searched the house and drew a blank. They returned empty handed.
Mahinda in Kandy
The former president who was aware of the raid maintained his silence on the issue until he reached Kandy last Wednesday to pay homage to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Dalada Maligawa). There he said the Rajapaksas’ had engaged in politics from 1931 and at no time had their houses been raided by the police. He added that if something had been found he had no objections.”This is nothing but political revenge’, he asserted. On seeing the former president Dalada Maligawa, crowds gathered to pay homage surrounded him and expressed their pain of mind over his defeat.
“We lost you Sir. We will never leave you and will always stay with you”, the women folk in the crowd said shedding tears. The screams of women weeping went beyond control and the former president himself had to intervene to console them saying, “Do not cry here. This is place of religious worship. If you scream and cry how could others worship? I am a leader who will never forget my people. I will never abandon them”.
As the former president gathers public momentum after his defeat, a section in the SLFP is planning to invite the former president to active politics targeting the next general election. They plan to get nominations to the former president from the Hambantota district to bring him to parliament. However, the former president is yet to decide on continuing in politics. In the event he decides to re-enter politics, the future of other Rajapaksas’ from that district in the mainstream of politics looks to head towards a crisis.
At present three Rajapaksas’- Chamal, Namal and Nirupama represents parliament from that district. If the former president enters the fray, the number of Rajapaksas’ from the district would rise to four. Political sources noted that there was the possibility of only two Rajapaksas’ getting nominations at future elections and if Mahinda returns to politics it would be him and his elder sibling Chamal. Then Nirupama and Namal are likely to be left out from the nomination list.
There is also the possibility of Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa deciding against contesting the next general election. Then it would be Mahinda and Nirupama, party sources pointed out. If that happens, Namal’s political future hangs in the balance. In that scenario, the political future of Namal will depend on the decision that would be taken by his father.
While those developments are taking place, another group in the SLFP is planning to bring former presidents Chandrika Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa and incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena on the same SLFP platform at the forthcoming general election campaign to strengthen the party. SLFP sources said the strategy would help the party to obtain more seats in parliament than the UNP and the SLFP could form the next government.
Maithri- Mahinda residences
During the presidential election campaign, Maithripala Sirisena pledged to the country that he would not occupy Temple Trees as his official residence in the event he was elected as president. Following the defeat at the elections, the former president moved to his private residence at Medamulana, Tangalle despite the fact he was entitled to an official residence in Colombo as the former President.
In that backdrop, the incumbent president has chosen to occupy the residence used by late President Dingiri Banda Wijetunga which was later occupied by Keheliya Rambukwella as then Media Minister. Accordingly, it had been decided to offer the present residence of President Sirisena at Wijerama Road to the former President. Earlier it was used by former Foreign Minister, late Lakshman Kadirgamar.
Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne who closely associates with the incumbent President was extended an invitation by the latter in the decision of shifting houses. President Sirisena contacted Rajitha and told him to stay closer to him at his new residence. The President offered Rajitha the adjoining house which was earlier occupied by former Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Rajitha, now the trusted confidante of the President is likely to get top positions in the SLFP. He is to be appointed as National Organizer, a position vacated by Basil Rajapaksa. Many SLFP seniors too had supported the move to have Rajitha as the National Organizer.
With Rajitha confident of being made the SLFP National Organizer, there’s much debate within the UNP and the SLFP on how to contest the upcoming general elections. During the presidential election campaign, it was mooted that those in the then opposition alliance should contest as separate parties at the next general elections.
Now the tide has turned and there are proposals for all to contest under the ‘Swan’ symbol. Some in the UNP are reported to have agreed to contest the general election under the common symbol- ‘Swan’ as many others who supported the then opposition may not win if the parties contested under different symbols.
Others in the UNP point out that Maithri won mainly from the UNP vote though he contested under the ‘Swan’ symbol and the UNP as a party should use the party symbol to contest the general election. They have further stressed that the UNP as a single party could muster the highest number of seats to form a government. However, UNP leader and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has yet to respond to these proposals, party sources said.
Chandrika or Vimukthi?
All political parties are now busy mapping out plans to contest the forthcoming general election. In that perspective, the SLFP seems to experience certain difficulties to decide on who would lead the party campaign. President Sirisena is likely to remain apolitical as President during elections allowing political parties to carry out their campaigns. However, upon assuming office as President, Sirisena took control of the SLFP as the new leader with Nimal Siripala De Silva appointed opposition leader.
In that backdrop, party sources said it was unlikely that President Sirisena would remain independent and request Kumaratunga to lead the campaign. Hence, it appears that the SLFP campaign would be led by President Sirisena. It is reported that after leading the next general election campaign for the party, the President is likely to hand over the organization of the SLFP to Chandrika Kumaratunga. In the event the Rajapaksas’ decide to lead the Hambantota district at the general election, it is said that either Chandrika or her son would lead the Gampaha district, the stronghold of the Bandaranaikes’.
However, it is reported that Chandrika is now in demand at district and national level to re-enter politics. The district is of the view that Chandrika should return to parliament and also bring Vimukthi into active politics to represent parliament. Astrologers have predicted that the time is now good for Vimukthi after last November while Chandrika’s time is also strong according to astrologers. The forthcoming general election would be crucial for both Bandranaikes’ and Rajapaksas’ in the field of politics.
While political parties in the government and opposition seem to be busy planning strategies to contest the forthcoming general election, a former senior minister in the UPFA is busy trying to form a new alliance to contest the polls. He is the Leader of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) Dinesh Gunawardena. He had committed his party to help the SLFP at crucial times to ensure a SLFP victory at many elections. This Dinesh had done from the time of Sirima Bandaranaike up to the Rajapaksa regime.
He is known to be a clean leader and respected as a politician above-board. As the first step towards establishing a new coalition, Dinesh embarked on talks last week with several former ministers like Bandula Gunawardena, S. B. Dissanayake, Kumara Welgama, and others to discuss plans on how to contest the next general elections. Several key decisions were taken at that meeting and the group met again last Thursday at the Speaker’s residence for further talks.
Udaya at CID
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera complained to the CID recently that Prof. G. L. Peiris, former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Udaya Gammanpila joined in a conspiracy to disrupt the election results in the early hours of 9 January to prevent the victory of Maithripala Sirisena. Gammanpila told the media, “I have never even used a catapult in my life. I was engaged in fisticuffs only once in life. Prof. G. L. Peiris too is same. Therefore, to implicate us in a military conspiracy is a joke. Had there been such a conspiracy, it would be recorded as the first such legal conspiracy in history as advice had been sought by the Attorney General’.
ASP CID Shani Abeysekere subsequently informed Gammanpila that they needed to record a statement from him. Gammanpila visited the CID in the company of western province chief minister Prasanna Ranatunga and several councillors. The media was already there to get a comment from Gammanpila. As the media sought a comment, Gammanpila quipped in a lighter vein; “Some who went to the Fourth Floor never returned. Dodampe Mudalali reportedly jumped from that floor. Wait till I return. If I return I will speak to you”.
On the Fourth Floor Gammpanpila engaged in a cordial conversation with DIG Ravi Seneviratne. Later ASP Shani Abeysekere and Inspector Munasinghe questioned Gammanpila in a cordial manner for nearly two hours and recorded his statement. He told the CID that he was present at Temple Trees on 9 January from 2:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. and no such military conspiracy was discussed as the former President was preparing to transfer powers in a smooth manner. He told the CID that the complaint was false and fabricated.
Mohan and Shirani
The crisis over the position of Chief Justice stemmed this week with Dr. Rajitha Senaratne being quoted in the media as stating the incumbent Chief Justice Mohan Peiris had agreed to step down during talks held with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Later, a spokesman for the Chief Justice denied media reports which quoted Dr. Senaratne.
With the news breaking about the exit of CJ Mohan Peiris, legal circles buzzed stating the impeached Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake would return to the bench. The Sri Lanka Bar Association held several protests opposite the Colombo courts complex demanding the resignation of Justice Peiris. It refused to accept Justice Peiris as the Chief Justice.
A controversy surrounded Chief Justice Mohan Peiris over reports that he was present at Temple Trees in the early hours of 9 January when the election results were being announced. The failure to deny his presence gave room for the Bar Association launch attacks on him demanding his resignation. President Sirisena during his polls campaign vouched to restore the rights of Dr. Bandaranayake who was impeached by the Rajapaksa government.
Sirisena was sworn in before the senior most judge in the Supreme Court, Justice K. Sripavan though Chief Justice Peiris held office. Dr. Senaratne was questioned by the media at last week’s cabinet press briefing about the continuance in office of Chief Justice Mohan Peiris. Dr. Senaratne said it was news to him as it was earlier reported that the CJ was vacating office. In the event Chief Justice Peiris steps down, legal circles wonder whether Dr. Bandaranayake would return to the bench as CJ for a brief period. Dr. Bandaranayake’s party claims she has time to end her period as CJ till 2023 and she would not return for a brief period which would undermine her integrity as a Chief Justice.
SLFP Central Committee
The SLFP Central Committee met last Friday to discuss several appointments. Accordingly former Ministers Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene and S. B. Dissanayake were appointed as Vice-Chairmen while Mahinda Samarasinghe and Dilan Perera were made deputy secretaries in the party. The Central Committee decided to discuss election plans at a later meet of the committee. Meanwhile, the Sirisena government was busy making important key appointments to state sector institutions last week.
Arjun Mahendran was appointed as the Governor of the Central Bank and Ajith Dias as Chairman Sri Lankan Airlines. Meanwhile, the Foreign Minister on Friday recalled twenty nine diplomats assigned by the previous administration from Sri Lankan Missions overseas. The entire machinery is to be revamped by the Sirisena administration before the end of this month.
Courtesy: Ceylon Today