By Shamindra Ferdinando
Civil society organisation Viyathmaga has emerged as an influential group within the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) parliamentary group with eight out of nine contestants gaining entry into parliament at the just concluded general election.
The SLPP won 145 seats, including 17 National List slots. The parliament comprises 196 elected and 29 appointed members.
Of the winners, retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera (328,092) and Dr. Nalaka Godahewa (325,479) polled the highest preferential votes in Colombo and Gampaha electoral districts, respectively.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fielded the group on the SLPP ticket whereas former Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal and Dr. Seetha Arambepola were accommodated on the National List.
Of the successful Viyathmaga members, only Weerasekera has represented the parliament before having served the Navy for over three decades. Weerasekera represented Digamadulla electorate during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second tenure (2010-2015) as the President.
Viyathmaga nominees Prof. Channa Jayasumana (Anuradhapura/133,980), Gunapala Ratnasekera (Kurunegala/141,991), Nalaka Kottegoda (Matale/71,404), Tilak Rajapaksha (Digamadulla/54,203), Dr. Upul Galappatti (Hambantota/63,369), and Udayana Kirindigoda (Mahanuwara/39,904) entered Parliament at the expense of those who represented the last parliament on the UPFA ticket.
A second Viyathmaga nominee Businessman Anura Fernando who nursed Colombo (north) electorate failed to get returned.
At the onset of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s entry into active politics, the wartime Defence Secretary launched Viyathmaga in early 2016 to take his message to the masses. Viyathmaga was followed by second civil society group Eliya that focused on countering moves to introduce a new Constitution at the expense of the country’s unitary status.
In the run-up to the Aug 5 election, Rear Admiral Weerasekera told The Island that he had moved from Digamadulla to Colombo at the behest of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Weerasekera said that having successfully contested Digamadulla at the 2010 general election he felt comfortable with joining the fray there in spite of being unsuccessful at the 2015 parliamentary election.
Weerasekera said that there hadn’t been a previous instance of a President fielding a team of his own for parliamentary election since the introduction of the proportional representation system.
Dr. Arambepola quit the post as the Governor of the Western Province to join the SLPP National List.
The emergence of the Viyathmaga as a political entity at the 2020 general election was a significant development that would shape the political landscape and give President Gotabaya Rajapaksa strength, Dr. Godahewa said during his campaign.
Dr. Godahewa, who had held several important public sector appointments, including SEC Chairman, pushed SLPP Gampaha District leader Prasanna Ranatunga to the second place by topping the preferential vote count there, whereas Weerasekara polled more than National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, the second highest recipient of the Colombo vote.
Prof. Channa Jayasumana came second in the Anuradhapura District. Six others were elected on the SLPP ticket.
Speculation is rife that the Viyathmaga will be represented in the Cabinet. In terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, the Cabinet has to be restricted to 30 members.
Parliament is scheduled to meet on Aug 20.
Political sources told The Island that the emergence of Viyathmaga contestants as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s nominees caused issues in some districts though the ruling party managed to prevent untoward incidents.
Viyathmaga sources said that though SLPP National List nominees Ali Sabri and Charitha Herath hadn’t been named as Viyathmaga members; they earnestly backed the project. Sources added that Viyathmaga campaign had got underway even before SLPP secured Election Commission recognition on Nov 1, 2016 as a political party.
In addition to Viyathmaga, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa paved the way for Yuthukama to field Anupa Pasqual on the SLPP Kalutara District list. Pasqual polled 97,777 preferential votes to be sixth out of eight elected from the Kalutara District by the SLPP. Yuthukama leader Gevindu Cumaratunga, who campaigned for the change of UNP-led government since 2015, has also received an SLPP National List slot.
Both Viyathmaga and Yuthukama campaigned for Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the 2019 presidential election.
The Samagi Jana Balavegaya, the UNP and the JVP-led Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB), too, accommodated half a dozen civil society activists in their National Lists. Among them were former National List MP Saman Ratnapriya Silva (UNP), attorney-at-law Lal Wijenayake (JJB), Dr. Harini Amarasuriya (JJB), Maheem Pradeep Mendis (SJB), Shiral Lakthilake (SJB), Chamira Perera (SJB) and Anuruddha Pradeep Karnasuriya (SJB).